In a nutshell: Key account management configurations and their effectiveness

Scientific articles contain valuable management implications, but are usually not very easy to digest. We summarize the core results so that you can use the latest research findings for your company.

download article


Two important areas in the key account management (KAM) literature deal with different KAM frameworks and KAM performance drivers.
In particular, scholars have derived taxonomies of KAM configurations and identified organizational determinants of KAM effectiveness and performance in the market.
This paper contributes to the KAM literature with a quasi-replication and extension of two seminal papers providing an update of different KAM configurations along with the determinants of KAM effectiveness and performance in the market.
Using recently collected survey data from a sample of 411 managers, and considering KAM capabilities and KAM communication, we find evidence of five unique KAM configurations that differ from the findings of Homburg et al. (2002), thereby doubtlessly reflecting a professionalization of the KAM domain.
Furthermore, updating Workman et al. (2003), we find that KAM capabilities are important determinants of KAM effectiveness and performance in the market, and that social media communication increases KAM effectiveness.
These insights contribute to building a cumulative up-to-date body of knowledge about KAM and provide guidance for managers to improve their KAM.

Key statements

Most companies rely on key account management (KAM) to support and strategically manage their most important customers. However, the way in which KAM is actually implemented differs from company to company. Still, previous research has succeeded in identifying certain commonalities and characteristics in the implementation of KAM in companies, and deriving a KAM typology from this.
The authors of this study now intend to review and update this KAM typology. Based on survey data of 411 managers from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, they can identify five unique KAM configurations that can be found in companies and that influence the effectiveness and performance of key account management.
Given the five KAM approaches, they conclude that cross-functional KAM that is strongly supported and driven by top management achieves the best results. Such key account management is also characterized by a high degree of formalization, proactivity, teamwork, and sufficient available resources, as well as a broad skill set of key account managers.
The following considerations can help you design a more successful KAM:

  • Avoid half measures: A “laissez-faire” KAM implemented half-heartedly based on trial and error is not effective, nor very successful. Instead, implement KAM consistently and professionally, and empower your key account managers on an ongoing basis. This has been proven to be the most successful approach.
  • More agility for key account managers: Rely on cross-functional teams to have all customer-facing activities coordinated and managed by the key account manager. Also give key account managers some latitude to act. Only in this way can they handle key accounts in a flexible and proactive manner, and tailor the entire organization to the customer.
  • Do not forget about social media: In addition to traditional communication channels such as telephone calls and e-mails, make greater use of social media. Evidence shows that this leads to penetration of the buying center on the part of the key account and to improved KAM performance. Therefore, use different communication channels skillfully to stay in touch with your primary key account contacts.

Herhausen, D., Ivens, B., Spencer, R. & Weibel, M. (2022). Key account management configurations and their effectiveness: A quasi-replication and extension. Industrial Marketing Management, 101, 98–112.