The Charybdis and Scylla of KAM: Too Much and Not Enough Methodology

A legend from ancient Greece tells about Charybdis and Scylla, two terrible sea monsters, wardens of a narrow passage on a crucial sea route. Charybdis was able to draw a whole ship into the abyss. Scilya, with its six heads, would take a toll on each crew by devouring a few of its members. The passage was so narrow, the two monsters so close one from the other, that ship captain’s had to make a tough choice on with which monster they would prefer to be confronted.

Jumping in a time lap from antique Greece to our Internet-focused time, there are two major reasons why a Key Account Management Programme sinks in the abyss of corporate failures or disappears because it has lost its few champions. The Charybdis and Scylla of KAM Programme Directors are Too Much Methodology (TMM) and Not Enough Methodology (NEM). .


Before examining these two KAM-Killers, let’s briefly review what a KAM Methodology is about. If you and your company have decided to “go for it” and launch a KAM Programme, the methodology helps you do the following:

  • Define the meaning of Key Accounts for your company
  • Select the Key Accounts with whom to engage
  • Appoint Key Account Managers and where required Key Account Teams
  • Conduct an in-depth analysis of each Key Account and build an Account Plan
  • Execute the Account Plan, develop the relationship and manage the various opportunities
  • Define and implement the cross-functions process required to drive the engagement with Key Accounts
  • Manage talents to serve the purpose of KAM
  • Clearly measure the impact of KAM at Account and Programme level

  • The Methodology and the associate tools and processes are intended to help Key Account Managers, their KAM Team and the whole organisation execute the KAM Strategy and, in the long run, make it of the company’s DNA. Whatever their industry and business models, the best-in-class companies in terms of KAM all have the above-listed elements in their KAM practice.

    Of course how these elements are implemented may vary a lot: a good practice of KAM adapts to the industry and to a company’s strategy and culture and there is nothing like a one-fit-all approach.


    The “Too Much Methodology” situation happens when the processes and tools used to manage the KAM Program and the Key Account Plans are too complex and too heavy. The Key Account Managers and other staff chartered to work on Key Accounts spend too much time in a treadmill of templates and reports filling that costs too much time and has too little impact on results.

    For example (this is a real life situation), a large industrial company has defined a lot of processes and IT systems to help manage all aspects of the commercial activity, including Key Account Management. In addition to the rich Key Account Analysis and very structured Key Account Plan, a lot of attention has been paid to processes and guidelines to help co-build and co-execute a specific action plan with each Key Account. All of this is impressive and when you review the tools and the associated IT system, you would conclude that this company must be doing extremely well on KAM. In fact, it is not the case. The sad reality is that each Key Account Manager is in charge of 25 to 40 Customers and it is simply impossible to apply the full process to all of them. What from the outside looked like an very comprehensive approach to KAM, turns to be a process-centric activity and a source of internal tensions despite the high relevance of the core ideas.


    Let’s now look at the opposite situation; not enough KAM Methodology. It happens when a team of Key Account Managers exists but there is no clear definition of what “Key” means and no standardized process to analyse an Account, build and implement an Account Plan and measure the results beyond volume and margin. Also, and this is probably the worse aspect in the long run, nothing is made to institutionalise KAM-related best practices in the organisation.

    Here is another real life example. A company in the food industry, world leader in its market, has a few Global Accounts who represent a large proportion of its revenue. In addition, these Customers are the most willing to buy the high-value part of the offering and some even want to engage in co-development. Therefore the company has appointed a few Global Account Managers, people with a broad skill set, true all-rounders with an in-depth knowledge of their own company. This is smart, but these GAMs do not share any tools, processes and best practice. Each of them operates in a specific way. While this has the advantage of empowering each GA Manager to try new things, it also has the bid disadvantage of not making KAM (in that case GAM) part of the DNA of the organisation with no shared processes, no global visibility and no systematic attempts to repeat best practices that bring results.


    The Too Much Methodology situation, is usually the fruit of enthusiasm or of a process-centric culture.

    Very often, when a KAM initiative is being started, the person or group of persons chartered to drive it go attend a KAM class or a full KAM Training Programme (most often quite expensive) or a prestigious training company is hired and delivers a standard introductory training to KAM. In addition, a team in charge of processes and systems elaborates the KAM tools and embeds them into a more global infrastructure. Even if there is nothing wrong in the starting point, this leads in most cases to a KAM system which is too theoretical, too big and has been designed taking into account neither the true specifics of the company nor the exact work context of the Key Account Managers. This is the KAM version of the proverb stating that Hell is paved with good intentions.

    The Not Enough Methodology situation is usually the consequence of a very vague definition of Key Accounts and of a lack of in-depth (pragmatic) thinking on what it will take to start a KAM initiative and engage in a special way with these Customers. It can also come from a view, as illustrated by the example above, that it is a better option not to give KAM a too rigid framework. This also is a very good starting point which, if not managed with enough methodology, sadly turns into a fundamental lack of replicability and sustained impact.

    An interesting point is that the two situations can co-exist in the same KAM Programme: for example one can have too much methodology in the assessment of candidate Key Accounts and in the building of the Account Plan and simultaneously not enough – often not at all – in the way to network with the customer’s organization and expand the relationship.


    My first advice will be: act – otherwise your KAM initiative will die – but don’t rush things and don’t over-react by ignoring and killing some existing good practice.
    Your “game” as the person or team chartered to fix the issue will be to understand the situation and to decide (or at least suggest) a way to improve either by incremental steps of via a radical change.

    Here are a few recommendations to explore the issue :

    • Check your definition of Key Accounts: is it clear and solid? (To explore this, you are invited to read another post on the topic)
    • Gather facts and discuss the matter with all involved parties (yes you will hear perception as much as facts, but remember, perception is reality)
    • Check the resources allocated to KAM and by Key Account. This includes checking the number of Accounts by Key Account Manager
    • Take an in-depth look at a samples of Account Plans and which results they have brought over time
    • Explore how the KAM tools are really used; it is about inadequate tools, unrealistic workload or a lack of proficiency and pragmatism using the tools (this can be a touchy subject and diplomacy will help)
    • And a few more recommendations on how to define the way forward :

      • Rely on collective intelligence: there is surely a lot of individual or collective best practices worth re-using and spreading
      • Show people that they have been listened to, but also make it clear that they are part of the solution
      • Adapt the tools and processes introducing flexibility in the system: it is normal to invest less time on a small Key Account than on the largest (or most strategic) one
      • Re-train people but don’t rely on classroom training and use additional measures to help your staff reach an adequate level of KAM proficiency: on-the-job coaching, experience sharing and digital tools for knowledge refresh are powerful instruments for doing so
      • Define clear metrics for improvement (including people’s perceptions) and closely monitor of change is taking place and if the expected results are here
      • If you manage to do the above reasonably well, your KAM Programme will be sailing more safely and you will be a (legendary?) ship captain not afraid of either Charybdis or Scylla. There will be other dangers and opportunities on the route of your KAM vessel. But, like ancient Greek legends, this is another story.

        This post can also be found on LinkedIn PULSE

        Stay tune for more upcoming posts!

        About Olivier Rivière
        I am a consultant helping companies of all size optimize their Marketing and Sales Performance and drive a Cultural Change. My focus is on General organisation dynamic, Sales Effectiveness, Key Account Management, Solutions Marketing & Sales, Prescritive Selling and Influencer Marketing. I am a European citizen of the world working in 3 languages and with a passion for diverse multicultural work environments.