The real definition of a “key account”


dream_graphBuyers who account for the majority of revenue for a given product are normally offered preferential treatment of some sort. This would seem fair, but to the surprise of many online professionals this is often not the case when it comes to software vendors or digital agencies.

Over the years I've talked to practitioners around the world from large and complex organisations who have been genuinely disappointed by how they have been treated by their vendors. Despite having been big spenders on licenses or in terms of consulting hours (or both), they still feel that the vendor is not listening to requirements and paying any real attention to their needs.

A good example is how Microsoft have treated their CMS customers in the past. The early adopters were left behind with Microsoft CMS 2002 without an upgrade option when Microsoft released SharePoint 2007. Large organisations, such as drinks giant Carlsberg, global manufacturer Danfoss and Royal Mail in the UK, did adopt CMS 2002 yet still Microsoft decided that it was best to ask customers to start all over again.

For smaller vendors, there are several worse examples of poor key account management that have left customers frustrated.

My usual advice is that it helps talking to vendors. It helps even more if you join up with other buyers. Even if you don't work in a large multinational or for a world-famous NGO, you can become a key account by using diplomatic skills and engaging in a dialogue with your vendors, so that your projects are visible inside the vendor organisation.

The real definition of a key account is not necessarily tied to revenue. You are a key account if the vendor listens to you, accepts your feedback, specifies appropriate actions and shares a timeline with you. You need to be patient, you need to be forgiving, you need to be reasonable, but the rewards in potential cost savings and ability to plan better should make it well worth it.

Thanks to @brendanquinn and @twentworth12 for valuable input.


Janus Boye
CEO and Group moderator

As founder and managing director at J. Boye, Janus has grown the business from an office at home in 2003 to an international operation today with members in Europe and North America.

Janus is a frequent speaker at industry events and chairs the renowned J. Boye Conferences held since 2005 in Denmark and since 2009 in Philadelphia, US. Among the organisations that have recently called upon Janus' expertise are  local government agencies, the UN in New York and companies such as Brother, Carlsberg and Red Bull.

3 Responses to “The real definition of a “key account””

  1. JON HAUGEN says:

    Janus, you wrote: “The early adopters were left behind with Microsoft CMS 2002 without an upgrade option when Microsoft released SharePoint 2007.”

    An _upgrade_ can both be related to migration and to licenses. All CMS 2002 customers could trade in their CMS 2002 licenses for MOSS 2007 (the “For Internet Sites” Edition) licenses.

    Migration is never trivial. We all know that… But it’s far better than discontinuing products. Wouldn’t you agree?

  2. Janus Boye says:

    Hello Jon from Microsoft,

    I was aware that you offered Microsoft CMS customers a MOSS license, but I have never heard any customer describe that as migration.


  3. JON HAUGEN says:

    Hi again Janus!

    Your statement was related to upgrading:
    “The early adopters were left behind with Microsoft CMS 2002 without an upgrade option when Microsoft released SharePoint 2007.”

    I still feel that my comment is relevant.

    JON from Microsoft

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