Effective Relationship Management : What are the vital data elements?

When you ask Key Account Managers (KAMs) to show you the relationships they established in their account, they will most likely show you some form of organization chart. Sophisticated KAMs have annotated those graphs with additional information about the people involved. Usually, this information is accompanied with the remark: “It is a bit out of date, but I just did not have the time to update it yet. Things are changing so fast in this organization”. A sustainable up-to-date view of your relations in a complex account starts with having a more granular view of the data elements you need to describe your relations allowing for more flexible faster updates.


The skeleton is the structure

Most organization charts I have seen from KAMs essentially describe hierarchical relationships between people. Yet, at the origin, organization charts describe hierarchical relations between job roles (and not people). As people tend to change roles faster than the structural organization change itself, if you have not made a distinction between the person and the job role, updating your organizational chart is going to be a complicated process.

Furthermore, the hierarchical organization chart is just one element which helps you understand how your customer’s organization works. It’s comparable to a human skeleton, it shows the structure. However, a skeleton doesn’t usually move on its own (except in horror movies).


The muscles are the power

In real life, the body needs muscles to move.

The analogue in an organization is the power the person has in a certain role. We all know that this power is not necessarily equivalent to the hierarchical position of the role. To understand how an organization works, you have to add the power component to your chart, describing your relations’ power position in your customer organization. In a more sophisticated scenario, you would also find information about the motivations and the source of the power of the person filling a certain role.


The nervous system carries information

Muscles and skeleton are both necessary but not sufficient for a body to move. Muscles need to be triggered by nerves.

In organizations, the analogue to nerves is conduits of information. In theory, this information flow should follow the hierarchical connections. In reality, information flow is actually governed by informal connections between the people working together. However, knowing that a certain relationship exists is not enough. For effective influence management, the quality of this relation must be assessed. Firstly, it is important to determine if it is an amicable or adversarial relationship.  Secondly, you need to determine the degree of strength of the feelings.


The senses show you the outside world

As a KAM, you want to influence the customer organization in order to select the right offering to solve a particular problem. Again, using the analogy of the human body, you need to stimulate the senses so the nerves in turn direct the muscles which then move the body into a certain direction.  Your ability to stimulate the senses of an organization depends on four things:

  • The quality of the relation you have with influential people in the customer organization
  • The attitude these influential people have towards your solution
  • Knowing how to deliver a message so it is heard
  • The roles people have in a buying process (additional to their hierarchical position)

With exception of the last element, these distinctions are often omitted and can lead to serious misinterpretations of a situation and thus derail a deal.



Effective systems for capturing relationship intelligence should thus distinguish as a minimum the following data elements:

  • Hierarchical relations between roles
  • People filling these roles
  • Informal power of the people in their roles
  • Informal connections between people (strength and quality)
  • Quality of your connection to influential people
  • Formal roles in a buying center differentiated by opportunity  
  • Attitude of the influential people towards your solution per opportunity


The ease with which you can present these elements in an up to date form also depends on the choice of graphical representation.

For complex organizations, there is a need for a tool that allows easy updates and automatic drawing of the graphic representation.

These topics require future blog posts. For now, you have a check list which will help you understand whether you track the right data for your relationship intelligence to be useful, and for defining influence management strategies.