Key account management was first introduced to Germany in the 1970s and actually originated in the capital goods industry. Highly complex products make it essential for buyers and sellers to work together especially closely and agree about things. This involves salespeople carrying out detailed analysis and managing and overseeing their most important clients in the long term. The overall aim is to get to a win-win situation for all parties involved: Clients are managed individually according to their needs and key account managers tie in important clients to the company in the long term. As part of his studies toward a Master of Business Engineering at the School of Management and Technology (Steinbeis University Berlin), Remko Binder examined the holistic approach taken toward global key account management in the international capital goods markets of Carl Zeiss IMT GmbH – from an internal and external (client) angle.
Carl Zeiss works in no less than five business fields and is divided into 13 strategic business units. Its industrial measuring technology division, Industrielle Messtechnik GmbH (IMT) – the company that sponsored Binder’s project – was founded in 1919 under the precision measurement department. IMT had transformed itself from a mere machine maker to a provider of complete business systems, gradually developing service bundles and end-to-end solutions. The aim of Binder’s project was to examine the current structures of key account management, to investigate the key factors affecting the new key account management – by drawing on business examples – and to analyze and demonstrate the possibilities of a new key account structure. Finally, his work should provide a basis for decision-making in senior management, supporting efforts to exploit the full potential of major customers.
Binder started his project by looking at the initial situation at IMT. Mainly for historical reasons, the existing key account structure was sometimes people-based, sometimes customer-based. Key clients were allocated to different IMT departments and differed from one another in terms of structure and the division of tasks. Just like a lack of uniformity in the division of tasks and processes, a lack of automated sources of information can lead to some resources not being used properly. This can be made worse by some areas of key account management focusing too much on operational issues. As a result, some topics that should be followed up for strategic reasons can be neglected.
The next step for Binder was to check and assess the factors affecting existing global key accounts, which he evaluated using a scoring system. To do this, he analyzed the potential offered by a global key account system, drawing on the example of a strategically important client. The organizational structure of the client was analyzed, as were issues relating to the sites where the client did not yet use IMT products and thus where there was potential for IMT. As a result of his analysis of potential, Binder concluded that the strategic client would welcome supervision from a key account manager at IMT.
Binder’s project highlighted the fact that there was potential to improve the current global key account structure at Carl Zeiss IMT. Even if IMT is less dependent on key customers than others in the industry, in the future more emphasis will be placed on key accounts and how they are managed. Cutthroat global competition and the difficulty of acquiring new customers and entering new markets have resulted in customer loyalty becoming one of the most important company objectives.
The next stage of the project will be to start implementing the new structure and business processes. Key proposals and a roadmap need to be developed for presentation to senior managers, complete with a detailed overview of key actions. Restructuring the organization and directly linking up key account managers with senior management can be beneficial, since linking a global key account structure to local sales often makes it difficult to focus clearly on individual clients. As a final step, the entire company must pursue the goal of checking its global key accounts and, based on this, developing next steps and strategies.