Retail Key Account Manager

Retail Key Account Manager

Key account managers (also known as brand managers) negotiate with brands on behalf of their companies (such as Danone, Unilever or Nestlé, for example), particularly to get their products onto shelves in the big supermarkets, like Auchan, Walmart, Tesco or Casino. These big brands generally group their purchasing teams together in central departments, which is where the exciting negotiations take place.

Retail key account managers represent their retail companies in terms of specific product categories. That makes them an almost unique point of contact with significant responsibility over the product lines they’re in charge of. For example, a single key account manager might represent all the different types of water produced by Danone and sold to the big supermarket chains like Auchan, Walmart, Tesco or Carrefour.

The life of a retail key account manager...

Negotiating terms of sale and maximising turnover

Retail key account managers are responsible for negotiating the following aspects of distribution deals with chains:

  • the sales price of all products they manage within their category

  • payment terms

  • delivery lead times

  • getting new products on the shelves

  • introducing promotional strategies

A key account manager’s main task is to maximise their company’s turnover with the retail chains they work with.

To do so, key account managers are like the conductors of a grand orchestra within their company, dealing with a variety of different stakeholders all the time, including product managers, category managers, financial controllers, merchandising managers, etc. It’s alongside all these key people they decide which products to sell in which stores, where they should appear on the shelves, and which promotional strategies they might employ (such as aisle-based advertising, billboards and poster campaigns in stores, etc.).

A year divided into 3 key periods

Before heading out to meet with all the different retail chains, key account managers spend up to 3 months preparing their negotiations in-house with all the various company departments, working alongside:

  • company management, whose role is to oversee the profitability of any promotional strategies implemented in the field;

  • marketing departments and category managers, with whom key account managers put together promotional action plans to be implemented with retailers.

An example of an action plan would be organising the launch of a new type of bottled water, where marketing teams would put together a promotional strategy - alongside the key account manager - based on having promotional staff in store, as well as flat screen displays in store entrances and perhaps even a poster campaign in supermarket car parks.

It’s up to key account managers to go out and negotiate with the retailers on ways of rolling out these action plans and the costs involved. Area managers would then deal with physically implementing plans on the ground, i.e. arranging the actual screens and posters.

The next 6 months of a key account manager’s year are typically spent exclusively dealing with their clients (i.e. the retailers). Key account managers may travel anywhere up to 5 times a week to see their clients (e.g. Auchan, Walmart, Tesco or Casino) in order to approve terms of sale action plans.

Finally, the last 3 months of the year are dedicated to analysing what they’ve achieved, as well as measuring their market share in comparison to any previously defined targets and return on investment.

Required skills

Key account managers must be excellent negotiators who can offer strong interpersonal skills and a diligent, professional character. The ability to coordinate lots of moving parts and instil confidence in others is also key.

Typical educational background

5 years of higher education, business studies

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