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Paper info: Key Account Management and the Post-Bureaucratic Turn


Key Account Management and the Post-Bureaucratic Turn


Alan Gilchrist
Lancaster University
United Kingdom
Alan Gilchrist , Andrew Pressey and
Markus Vanharanta
Lancaster University
United Kingdom
Markus Vanharanta

Place of Publication

The paper was published at the 27th IMP-conference in Glasgow, Scotland in 2011.


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Structured Abstract
The key account management (KAM) literature has argued for the benefits of formal KAM programmes. However a negative and somewhat paradoxical relationship has been observed between KAM formalization and profitability (Homburg et al, 2002; Workman et al., 2003). We identify this tension as stemming from the unintended bureaucratic properties of some KAM programme implementations, where creeping bureaucracy may gradually undermine the objectives of a KAM process. The study seeks to address the following research questions: (1.) how and why can the formalization of KAM programmes and practices hinder effective KAM implementation in some situations and (2.) how can the problems of KAM formalization be overcome in practice?
An 18 month (340 days) ethnographic investigation was undertaken in the UK-based subsidiary of a major US sports goods manufacturer. In total, 113 in-depth interviews were conducted, comprising: 51 pre-KAM implementation interviews, 35 interviews undertaken while KAM was operational, and 27 post-KAM interviews. In addition, 10 KAM steering group (implementation team) and 17 KAM sub-group (operational level) meetings were observed.
We identify how and why formal KAM programmes may have the unintended consequence of increasing organizational bureaucracy, which may in turn hinder the efficient functioning of KAM. We demonstrate how Post-Bureaucratic KAM practices can be used to overcome many of these challenges. We believe that this theorizing will contribute to improving the effectiveness and success rate of KAM practice.
Research implications:
The theorizing draws intellectual insights from the Post-Bureaucratic developments within organization studies, signalling the importance of a parallel Post-Bureaucratic turn in KAM. The Post-Bureaucratic KAM thesis addresses the limitations of formal KAM programmes; how and why formal KAM programmes may have the unintended consequence of creeping organizational bureaucracy, which may in turn hinder the effectiveness of KAM.
Practical implications:
Despite the potentially problems inherent in bureaucratic forms of control, we do not advocate the wholesale rejection of formal KAM programmes. We suggest a need for reflexivity in KAM practice; a reflexivity which actively guards against creeping KAM bureaucracy, without entirely abandoning formal KAM controls.
A new line of enquiry is identified; one which is gradually emerging in the extant KAM literature - the Post-Bureaucratic turn in KAM. We provide implications for marketing practice and theory. This new understanding calls for a Post-Bureaucratic KAM practice, whereby KAM is advanced by mitigating the potentially adverse effects of bureaucracy.
Paper classification: Research
Key words: Key Account Management; Bureaucracy; Post-Bureaucratic Turn.