In a nutshell: The role of formal information sharing in key account team 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.

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Team selling is a useful approach for retaining strategically important accounts in business-to-business markets. For key account sales teams, ensuring adequate access to information about customer needs offers sustainable competitive advantages. However, the internal alignment of market information remains a recurring managerial issue in key account team selling. […]
[Drawing on a data set comprising 37 key account teams], we investigate the impact of internal alignment on […] key account team performance from an information-sharing perspective. […]
At the team member level, we identify two antecedents (i.e., customer orientation and task interdependence) of a member’s formal information sharing and examine how they impact team effectiveness […]. [We find that] formal information sharing among team members leads to high team satisfaction and performance. […] We demonstrate that customer-oriented team members are internally driven to share information formally within their teams. In addition, when tasks are interdependent, team members are externally driven to involve themselves in formal information sharing. […]
As managers have no direct authority over fluid team members, and their unstable membership may reduce team commitment and cohesion, we propose informal professional control as an approach that could help managers establish shared visions and values for fluid teams. [We show that] managers’ exercise of professional control strengthens the positive impact that formal information sharing has on team satisfaction. However, the practice has a dysfunctional influence on the positive effect of task interdependence on formal information sharing. Firms with key account management (KAM) programs must decide whether the marginal benefits attained by advocating such professional control outweigh the possible drawbacks.

Key statements

In order to manage key accounts in a targeted manner, many companies follow what is known as a team selling approach, building fluid KAM teams to ensure staff are able to work together across various functions for key customers. However, KAM teams are not part of the formal organizational structure, meaning they do not report to one particular management body. Information on customer requirements needs to be shared across sectors and countries to ensure teams are able to work together effectively.
The key question is how to encourage team members to exchange information effectively within the team despite the lack of a formal structure. Drawing on a data set comprising 37 KAM teams, the authors in this study investigate the impact of internal alignment on the success rate of KAM.
They find that formal information sharing among team members, for example by holding meetings, not only increases team satisfaction, but also improves KAM performance. A customer-oriented mentality and interdependent tasks are two ways to develop a culture of shared information among team members. Companies should consider the following points to improve the way information is shared and thus increase the effectiveness of their KAM teams:

  • Make it all about the customer: Introduce initiatives designed to strengthen customer-oriented thinking in all departments on a regular basis. When putting together a KAM team, ensure that each team member has a customer-oriented mindset.
  • Set guidelines: Create the conditions to ensure and promote effective, efficient sharing of information. Regular (online) meetings can help to keep all team members up to date and create a shared set of values and practices.
  • Manage in moderation: When tasks in a team are particularly interdependent, micromanagement can have a negative effect on KAM team members sharing information. Companies should assess each case individually and decide which is more important: interdependence or greater managerial control.

Lai, C. J., & Yang, Y. (2017). The role of formal information sharing in key account team effectiveness: does informal control matter and when. Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 37(4), 313-331. Taylor & Francis Online