As sustainability becomes a greater priority for businesses, energy utilities play an important role as a trusted resource. Key Account Managers in particular are vital partners with business customers as they take on electrification and energy efficiency projects.
But how can Key Account Managers (KAMs) help business customers on their journey to greater sustainability? We spoke with those in the energy industry about best practices to support account electrification and greater energy efficiency.
“The Key Account position can play a big role in both supporting electrification and sustainability,” says Dale Odom, Supervisor of Business Development Services with ElectriCities of North Carolina. “It starts with being that single point of contact to your customers, listening to their needs and providing information when requested.”
Be a Trusted Partner to Key Accounts Customers
According to a recent study, 90% of business leaders think sustainability is a priority. However, only 60% have a strategy in place. For many businesses, the significant investment required for electrification and energy efficiency projects can be a challenge.
That’s why businesses are looking to their energy utility for valuable resources, education and advice. For KAMs, supporting account electrification starts with being a trusted partner to business customers.
“I focus on being a partner to our customers and meeting them where they’re at in their sustainability journey,” says Angela Koker, Regional Account Executive with Avista Utilities. “Key Account Managers should understand the goals of their business customers and then try to be that trusted resource.”
Some business customers may not have a clear picture of the path to electrify their business or make energy efficiency improvements. Equipped with deep knowledge about utility incentives and rebate programs, KAMs have a unique opportunity to help guide business customers every step of the way.
Understand Utility Customers’ Business Needs
According to Odom, the first step to support account electrification is to understand the unique needs of business customers. Questions to keep in mind include:
- What is the customer’s industry?
- What’s their approach to business?
- What does their business model look like?
- Is the business in a position to make changes?
For example, a hospital system, manufacturing facility and warehouse all have very different operations and sustainability goals. That’s why it’s essential for KAMs to have a strong understanding of each customer’s business.
“It’s going to be different from customer to customer,” Odom explains. “From an electrification standpoint, if you have good relationships as a Key Account Manager, it’s going to be easier to have those conversations. They will often be the first person to hear from their customer on sustainability goals.”
For many businesses, change can be uncomfortable. According to Rendall Farley, Manager of Electric Transportation at Avista Utilities, business customers can be hesitant to make operational changes, especially when it comes to electrifying their warehouse equipment or vehicle fleets.
“They want to know what electrifying their business will look like, the potential risks involved and how much time and effort the project will take,” Farley says. “You have to think about all of those things from a customer’s perspective — and every customer is unique.”
When supporting account electrification, KAMs should be mindful of customer concerns and the potential impacts on their business. “If you’re asking your customer to change a particular process, that’s a big ask,” Odom explains. “Instead of pushing them to make a change, it’s all about being a helpful resource and providing them with the information they need to make an informed decision.”
Schedule In-Person Visits with Customers
For a deeper understanding of how a business operates, Koker recommends visiting the facility and meeting with facility managers. This often takes place during a site visit with one of the utility’s energy efficiency engineers who will conduct an assessment of energy efficiency opportunities.
“I think you learn so much more being in a customer’s facility and seeing their operations firsthand versus a phone conversation or virtual meeting,” Koker says. “Whenever I can accompany an engineer on a site visit, I make that a priority.”
This is especially important for customers who may need more education in order to support account electrification or energy efficiency upgrades. For example, Avista is currently in the process of conducting outreach to smaller businesses in rural areas of the utility’s service territory.
“These customers are farther removed from Avista and need more education on what is possible with energy efficiency improvements and how we can help them accomplish their goals,” Koker notes.
Key Account Managers Can Provide Necessary Education
Business customers are looking for electrification and energy efficiency education from their energy utility. According to Koker, it’s important to educate businesses on utility incentives and rebate programs, as well as various state programs and legislation.
Avista partnered with a leading energy-management consulting firm to offer the virtual Clean Buildings Accelerator program, a year-long effort to help businesses navigate Washington State’s House Bill 1257. The program educates customers on how to set up their ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager, ways to prioritize energy savings and other requirements.
“Business customers get coaching calls and periodic check-ins to make sure they’re on track with everything they need to do to align with the Clean Buildings Performance Standards,” Koker says. “It’s essentially a step-by-step process to help them navigate this new legislation.”
According to Farley, supporting account electrification starts with having credible tools that provide quality estimates of the savings business customers will see over time. Educational tools, like calculators, videos or webinars, should provide clear insights on the payback they will receive on upfront investments.
For example, Avista has an incentive program that helps customers with the initial cost of making the switch to electric forklifts. Farley notes that customers are looking for credible information on lithium-ion batteries, which have advantages and disadvantages. For customers who initially electrify a portion of their fleet vehicles, they want to understand how to electrify more vehicles in a cost-effective and seamless manner.
“Many customers look to us for credible information on the technology — as well as how things might change in the future,” Farley says. “Rather than trying to push them to make the switch, we’re here to provide them with helpful facts, programs and options so they can make the best decision for them.”
Supporting Account Electrification Will Set Up Customers for Success
Key Account Managers are in the perfect position to serve as trusted partners as their customers navigate the path to greater sustainability. To support account electrification, KAMs should know the ins and outs of the customer’s business, provide credible educational resources and be available to answer any questions along the way. They have the power to set up their business customers for success with electrification and energy efficiency projects.
“At the end of the day, a trusted resource is what we want to be from a utility perspective,” Odom says. “When a business has questions about electrification or sustainability, the Key Account Manager is often the first phone call they will make. It all starts with great relationships.”