3M’s customer-centric transformation: a paradigm shift in key account management

Alessio Arcando, Fabio Ancarani November 27, 2023 4 min read

In a changing business environment where competitiveness and customer focus have become crucial, the 3M case study emerges as exemplary. This multinational company, recognized for its wide range of innovative technologies and products, faced a significant challenge: to reshape its approach to Key Account Management (KAM) in order to foster growth and improve customer satisfaction. This challenge became the subject of a case study developed for Bologna Business School by Alessio Arcando, under the supervision of Professors Fabio Ancarani and Daniele Scarpi. Aimed at an audience of executives and MBAs with 3-5 years of work experience, the case study also proves useful for senior managers, especially those involved in Sales & Marketing and HR. The intent is to go beyond simply understanding the opportunity presented by the KAM proposal to explore how different alternatives offer the opportunity to address complex challenges such as sales growth, organizational change, governance, and internal communication.

3M, with its presence in over 70 countries and an ongoing commitment to research and development, has always demonstrated a dedication to innovation and customer satisfaction. Despite its global success, the company has found itself having to reconsider the sustainability of its growth, especially in the EMEA region, where there was a decline in the growth of revenues, particularly those derived from core customers, and a decline in customer satisfaction. The EMEA VP’s proposal to adopt a customer-centric KAM model, although innovative and focused, was immediately met with heated internal resistance. These concerns reflected fears related to the possible impact on customer relationships and business operations. However, members of the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) Executive Committee agreed on the need for a change.

The VP’s proposal was based on research conducted by a leading consultant in corporate strategy and customer relationship management who had highlighted the need for a new approach, pointing out that resources and processes were not aligned with Key Account needs and highlighting the lack of adequate systems to monitor accounts’ performance. It also emphasized the need to improve internal communication systems and senior management commitment. At the end of the discussion, reported in detail in the case study, the need for a different Go to Market strategy was recognized, one that could not only address past weaknesses, but also put in place operational procedures and reporting structures that could ensure sustainable and accelerated growth with Key Accounts. This compelled further reflection and discussion on the selection and monitoring of KPIs for top accounts and the need to improve the customer experience in relation to pan-European contracts.

In conclusion, the 3M case study is not only an in-depth analysis of a significant business challenge, but also a learning opportunity to understand some complex dynamics within large matrix organizations. Indeed, it highlights the importance of a well-considered approach to change and the adoption of innovative customer-centric strategies. 

This article is based on
Is adoption of a Key Account Management approach to customer relationships the key to success at 3M?
Alessio Arcando, Fabio Ancarani