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Paper info: Key Account Management in the Industrial Field. The Account Team for an Efficient Reconfiguration of the Supplier - Customer Relationship


Key Account Management in the Industrial Field. The Account Team for an Efficient Reconfiguration of the Supplier - Customer Relationship


Catherine Pardo
EM Lyon
Catherine Pardo

Place of Publication

The paper was published at the 17th IMP-conference in Oslo, Norway in 2001.


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This communication deals with key account management (the management of a supplier'simportant customers) in an industrial field. It modifies the way we look at this managementthrough the notion of a key account team (the set of the supplier's resources used for themanagement of a key account customer) as compared to the notion of a key account manager(an individual running the management of a key account customer for the supplier).Key account management is a strategic choice for the supplier. The key account is ?created?by the supplier to be managed in a specific way. Managing in a specific way means a differentform of management that that usually used for his customers. More specifically, this meansthe creation of a new mission (thus the creation of a new job, new practices, etc) and itsintegration into the existing structure. This mission involves coordinating supplier informationand actions in time and space in relation to a customer in its entirety (geographical andhistorical).In this work, we are interested by the contacts between key account managers and supplier'sinternal resources. By resources we mean individuals with different functions and differenthierarchical positions who have a part to play in the management of a key account customer.Shapiro et Moriarty, (1984b) suggest the term 'support-systems? to designate these resources.We show that the key account manager and the support systems together form -for thesupplier- an account team we shall describe as follows : 1) The account team is a new team:the account team (as described by the managers and the support systems) offers somethingwhich is not necessarily available elsewhere within the firm; 2) The account team istransversal: it became clear, following the interviews, that the account team brings togetherindividuals from diverse (organizational) origins; 3) the account team is a-hierarchical:following analysis of the information gathered, we believe there is no formal hierarchical linkbetween the key account manager and the support systems; 4) the account team is plastic: ifthe key account manager considers himself to have access to internal resources (the differentsupport systems), similarly the support systems also consider the key account manager as aresource for them; 5) the account team is a team of information: basically, the account team begins to make sense for its members -and subsequently its observers- because at a givenmoment the members are in a position to share the same information concerning a keyaccount customer.We then show that the key account manager can be considered as a specific asset and also as ameans to reduce key account customer opportunism; while at the same time, allowing to avoidthe use of a specific contract which entails transaction costs. However, the key accountmanager does represent a cost (an organizational cost) which is supported by the supplier.We could therefore wonder whether such a system is beneficial for the supplier. We couldthen imagine that he supplier who is aware of this cost could try to reduce it. Once again, wecan return to the micro-economic model and imagine that the supplier dissolves hisrelationship with the key account manager by repositioning the market between himself (thesupplier organization) and the key account manager. The result is that there is no longer anyposition of authority between the supplier and the key account manager, but also no realmarket relationship (everything remains within the firm). This is a quasi-integration solution(or quasi-disintegration depending from how we look at it), mid-way between a position ofauthority and market relationship. If we are to understand that the supplier can be likened todifferent resources as presented by the support systems, then we are producing a sort oftheoretical explanation for the existence of an account team. Subsequently, we can finallyimagine the account team as a reconfiguration of the supplier - key account customerexchanges. This reconfiguration stems from the exchanges between the supplier and the keyaccount customer (inter-organizational outlook) and creates a correspondence to theexchanges between the support systems and the key account manager (intra-organizationaloutlook).Remembering this idea of a reconfiguration of an inter-organizational exchange in an intraorganizationalexchange, it becomes possible to reinterpret some of our initial fieldworkfindings: the leading role of the key account manager; how the key account managers areperceived by the support systems; problems encountered in the contacts between key accountmanagers and support systems? and to propose a discussion around the positioning ofmarketing in relation to key account management.