Everybody referred to them as being arrogant. People rolled eyes when mentioning they needed to be on board to nail a plan. Smirky comments often accompanied any stories about them.
It was the early months of 2010. Every possible performance indicator was below targets, below last year, below anything. The economic crisis had hit hard: consumption, sales were down. And so was people’s confidence.
Stress was palpable in the office. People came to work 15 minutes before official schedule began, and left two hours overtime.
The company had just moved its premises in the outskirts of the city, literally to the opposite side. During the years, employees had bought homes close to the old office.
Stories about being stuck in traffic for one hour and a half each morning were horrendous. If you left home at 6:55, you drove for 40 minutes. If you left at 7:05, you were stuck for 90 minutes.
No new hiring occurred in the past half year and there was no improvement in sight. Work — overflowing. Every month, contingency plans had to be designed and researched and executed, to make up for the sales loss in previous months.
Rarely did they succeed to bring the expected revenue.
Was it just consumers and shoppers? Were they not buying enough? Or weren’t we, the company, not selling enough? Weren’t our plans good enough? Or were they, the arrogant ones, showing their powerlessness?
They were Key Account Managers, in people’s eyes. People were… the rest of the floor employees. Mostly marketing and other commercial functions.
People didn’t like Key Account Managers too much. True, they weren’t deemed as horrible. Not that much. Just difficult. With an overrated share of voice in the company.
At that time, I was a recently employed intern and had no clue about corporate office life. Oh, an intern in the people’s area of the office. Not one of the people, neither me or people considered me integrated at that point.
It was easy to judge others. Both when we know what their job was about and when we had no clue. But criticism occurred, nonetheless.
I joined the workforce in hard times for the economy. That meant, I had to work hard to keep my job, learn, grow and so on.
Then, better times came. Economy was recovering. Consumption and sales bounced back.
Then, even better times came. The economic crisis was in the past. The new product development revenues began to exceed business plans. A breeze of relaxation was felt in the office. Especially on their side.
I was, at this point, part of the other people. I had a few years of hard work and big opportunities under the belt.
Then, through a twist of fate, I changed office. I went to the other side of the floor.
Given a Key Account Manager role, I wasn’t yet one of them. For a short period, I still heard the talking from the people’s area, about this one. Same smirky comments.
But this time, I knew… that I didn’t knew much!
Suddenly, what three months ago seemed, through my marketer glasses, like a solid plan that will ‘sell itself’, now seemed like just a piece of a big puzzle! A puzzle where I had some pieces, and some I had to create.
And it was damn hard!
The hardest piece to create is something simple, yet so hard to build! I discovered through the years that only gifted salesmen really understand its value.
The relationship with the customer.
It takes time, keeping your promises and a delicate mix of working for the customer, while working even more for your company.
I didn’t have this piece and for a while, I wasn’t even aware was missing.
I began to understand them. The Key Account Managers.
They weren’t arrogant in meetings to show superiority, they merely knew — and displayed — what I had just found. That what everybody else does, are ‘ingredients’ that they mix into different solutions for different customer needs.
They weren’t arrogant when you passed by their office and they didn’t happily engaged in chit chat. They were stressed. But kept it more to themselves, instead of trying to dismiss it with chit chat.
Now I too, being one of them, rolled my eyes when I heard things like ‘why would this customer want something different? Isn’t [what we proposed] good enough?’
And now, after more years in key account manager roles, I am even more amazed by how complex this role can be. What challenges it can bring about. What satisfaction when you resolve a thorny issue.
The roles I had in my job in the past decade taught me how I know so little and there’s always another perspective, with a bigger picture. How I am likely not right, and the ‘truth’ is within that bigger picture, that I know exists, but I don’t fully envision yet.
I still judge sometimes. Then, I get back to doing the best I can.
Learning the whys of non-judgement seems to be a long journey for me.
And at this point, looking back, I feel like waving to my former key account colleagues, who were part of them when I was not: Chapeau! Good job, guys! You did it back then. It’s our time now.