KAM in professional service firms: challenges and answers

28th January 2017 |   Rodrigo Guesalaga and Hayk Petrosyan

Surprisingly little research has been conducted to uncover the major challenges for KAM implementation in professional service firms. Here, the authors discuss how to identify and address them.

Professional Service Firms (PSF) provide specialised advice to their customers, and are characterised by knowledge intensity, low capital intensity (in fixed assets), and a professionalised workforce, which makes them distinct from companies in other sectors, such as manufacturing or retailing. Some examples of the services that PSF provide are law, business consulting, architecture, and accounting.

Due to the nature of their business – based on intangible resources and capabilities (mostly specialised knowledge) – PSFs are generally solution oriented as they need to adapt their value offerings to the specific needs of a particular client. Both relational and consultative approaches to customer management are commonly required, and usually a significant portion of a PSF’s business is concentrated in a few important accounts. Therefore, effective key account management (KAM) seems an imperative priority for professional service firms.

In our experience working and interacting with several PSFs, we have observed that these companies often struggle to implement KAM programmes. Sometimes there is a lack of teamwork in managing a key customer due to an individualistic attitude of the expert professional. This was the case at LawCorp1; as one of its executives said: “Some experts are used to working with their clients, want to do individual relationships, and don’t want to share them with other partners.” Another common problem that PSFs face has to do with the “ownership” of a client: how can PSFs make sure it is the company that owns the customer relationship and not the expert professional?

Senior Lecturer and Director of the Key Account Management Club

Rodrigo Guesalaga is a Senior Lecturer and Director of the Key Account Management Club and the Sales Director´s Programme at Cranfield University. His area of expertise (for teaching, research, and consulting) includes B2B marketing, service quality, strategic selling, and key account management. Prior to receiving his PhD from Emory University (USA), he worked for several years in industry in marketing and sales positions. Guesalaga has been invited to teach at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and University of Miami (USA). As a consultant, Rodrigo has worked with companies in several industries, such as print media, retailing, healthcare, wood manufacturing, and financial banking. You can contact him at rodrigo.guesalaga@cranfield.ac.uk.

Hayk Petrosyan is a project manager in a leading management-consulting firm in Armenia. He completed his Master’s degree in management at Cranfield University and has obtained postgraduate degrees and qualifications in strategic management and finance. Petrosyan has conducted research into Key Account Management (KAM) implementation in Professional Services Firms (PSF) and worked on the KAM programme of a London-based international law firm after his studies at Cranfield.