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The reflexive turn in key account management: beyond formal and post-bureaucratic prescriptions

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>11/2014
<mark>Journal</mark>European Journal of Marketing
Issue number11-12
Number of pages34
Pages (from-to)2071-2104
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Recent empirical studies have reported an unexpected negative relationship between KAM formalization and performance. This study seeks to address: (1.) how and why do formal KAM programmes hinder effective KAM management, and (2.) how can the problems of formalization in KAM be overcome?

An 18 month (340 day) ethnographic investigation was undertaken in the UK-based subsidiary of a major US clothing goods manufacturer. This ethnographic evidence was triangulated with 113 in-depth interviews.

We identify how and why managerial reflexivity allows for a more effective combining of Formal and Post-Bureaucratic KAM practices. While Formal KAM programmes provide a means to control KAM, they have an unintended consequence of increasing organizational bureaucracy, which may hinder KAM effectiveness in the long-run. Heightened reflexivity, including ‘wayfinding’, is identified as a means to overcome many of these challenges, allowing for reflexively combining Formal with Post-Bureaucratic KAM practices.

Research implications:
The thesis of this paper starts a new line of reflexive KAM research, which draws theoretical influences from the Post-Bureaucratic Turn in management studies.

Practical implications:
This study seeks to increase KAM implementation success rates and long-term effectiveness of KAM by conceptualizing the new possibilities offered by reflexive KAM. We demonstrate how reflexive skills (conceptualised as ‘KAM wayfinding’) can be deployed during KAM implementation and for its continual improvement. Further, the study identifies how KAM programmes can be used to train organizational learning regarding KAM. Furthermore, we identify how and why Post-Bureaucratic KAM can offer additional benefits after an organization has learned key KAM capabilities.

A new line of enquiry is identified: the reflexive-turn in KAM. This theoretical position allows us to identify existing weaknesses in the extant KAM literature, and to show a practical means to improve the effectiveness of KAM. This concerns in particular the importance of managerial reflexivity and KAM wayfinding, as a means to balance the strengths and weaknesses of Formal and Post-Bureaucratic KAM.