Effective account management means building relationships and trust with your portfolio of customer accounts, and knowing how to handle the various challenges and opportunities that arise. Dedicated account managers serve as a vital touchpoint for your most important customers, and understanding these account management best practices can help you increase customer satisfaction and sales productivity.
Here are seven account management best practices every sales organization should follow:
1. Hire Relationship Rock Stars
The most important key to having an effective account management strategy is to have the right people on your team. The skills necessary for being an effective account manager are different from what it takes to seek out and bring in new deals. Sales and account management are often labeled “hunter” and “farmer” roles. While you may have your hunters doing some farming in the beginning, your ultimate goal is to divide them.
For example, while your sales representatives need to have the ability to quickly discern whether or not a prospect is a good fit, and whether or not your solution will meet their needs, account managers are focused on the long game. This is because account managers often spend larger amounts of time making sure a solution is implemented, that the customer receives adequate training (when appropriate) and that there aren’t any problems or concerns that arise.
When they do, the account manager needs to have the patience and diplomatic skills to make things right while reinforcing the customer relationship. In fact, when hiring for account management roles, keep soft and hard skills in mind. In account management, place a higher emphasis on the employees’ soft skills. Deep listening and empathy are examples of skills that can’t be taught. Time management is an example of a hard skill that can be learned.
The most vital soft skills for an account manager to have are:
- Empathy: Account managers must not only be good listeners, but they must also be able to put themselves in their customers’ shoes. Empathy allows account managers to solve customer issues while also keeping their own organization’s goals in mind. Without empathy, customers can feel bulldozed, misunderstood, and disconnected.
- Collaboration: Account managers deal with several different departments and roles. They must be able to navigate different personalities and motivations. When it comes to execution, they’re juggling moving pieces of projects as well as people. Account managers must have the ability to bring it all together.
- Leadership: Speaking of execution, leadership is vital in account management. Account managers have to be able to maintain the account and take charge of its success. To make sure goals are met and action items are completed, they must have the ability to take charge and lead.
- Business sense: Account managers must understand how their business and their customers’ business makes money. They must juggle keeping the customer satisfied while also balancing the goals of their own company. Understanding how the client makes money allows account managers to set proper goals. Understanding how their own company makes money will enable proactive leadership on the account.
2. Maintain Regular Communication
The bedrock of any relationship is communication, and that’s true of customer account relationships. That means that how you maintain regular communication with your accounts can make or break the relationship. Account managers not only need to have superior people skills but need to put into place a strategy for communicating regularly with their customers.
This means developing a pre-planned cadence of outreach. In some cases, this might include setting up weekly calls or monthly visits. It could also mean simply making sure no more than a week or two goes by without a check-in. The frequency of your outreach will depend on your client and industry, but regardless, you should have a plan for how you will stay in communication with your accounts.
The most important aspect of account management communication is proactiveness. Proactive management of the account is what sets an account manager apart from a customer service rep. If the client is continually reaching out for attention, the account manager isn’t doing their job. Instead, they provide a “white glove” level of service that makes customers feel taken care of, allowing them to head off any issues or concerns before they have full-fledged problems.
3. Be A Resource
Instead of simply focusing on maintaining customer relationships, becoming a trusted resource fosters customer loyalty. As you do, customer loyalty leads to increased sales opportunities from your existing accounts. In fact, by becoming a resource, you position yourself as an extension of a customer’s day-to-day operations. In other words, you become an asset, which makes it less likely that the customer will seek out alternatives to your product or service.
Think of your role as part advocate, part educator. As you learn more about a customer’s business and provide solutions, take every opportunity to educate your client both on the products and services you have already sold, but also on additional ways you can help.
Good account managers go beyond the typical training on products. Instead, they make it their responsibility to know what’s going on in the industry and they know what their competition is doing. When you provide value in this way, the client begins to see you as an extension of their team.
While it’s important to be knowledgeable, always keep it simple for the customer. If they were a pro, they might not have needed your product in the first place. Being an educator means translating your knowledge so that the customer understands it. Your customers should be able to take action on the information you’re imparting.
4. Get Personal
The best account managers make an effort to know their customers as more than just a company. That means getting to know your accounts on a personal level. While your role is to manage a business relationship, taking the time to know your customers personally creates trust, and helps you to demonstrate empathy. In fact, how well you know a customer can sometimes be the difference between simply maintaining an account and growing it.
People want to do business with people they like and trust. It’s hard to earn trust without being transparent and personal. This doesn’t mean that customer meetings should turn into therapy sessions, but it does mean that you should make an intentional effort to create a personal connection with your customer. Even the simplest gestures can go a long way.
For example, let’s say your client shares that he or she is caring for a sick spouse. As a result, they have now missed your weekly call two weeks in a row. It would be reasonable for you to get frustrated in a situation like that. You might even grow concerned about the state of the relationship, or whether there is a problem.
However, since you took the time to develop a personal relationship, not only are you aware that there are external factors that could be affecting the client’s availability or communication, you also have empathy for their situation. As a result, you can respond appropriately by sending a personal note indicating that you want to make sure that your current arrangements still fit their schedule and that you’re happy to make adjustments as needed.
How well you know a client can strengthen or even save the business relationship. Don’t let “keeping it professional” stand in the way of building relationships. Account management is all about building relationships and that means being authentic and honest with your customers. In return, you’d be surprised how much they will reciprocate.
5. Challenge Your Customers
Account management isn’t always smooth sailing. Like all relationships, account management can require difficult conversations. Don’t be a “yes man” or a “yes woman.” The concept of challenging customers was made known by “The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation” by Matthew Dixon.
The Challenger Sale is based on one of the most extensive studies ever done in sales. The study concluded that the most successful sales reps take a “challenger” approach. Taking the “challenger” approach with customers means taking control of the conversation.
Challengers are top-performing relationship managers who:
- Offer unique perspectives
- Have active listening and communication skills
- Understand how their customers make money
- Can have confident conversations about money
- Are comfortable putting pressure on the customer when needed
Your customers began the relationship in the first place for direction and advice. By saying yes or agreeing to everything, you give away your power. Don’t discount your knowledge by being afraid to speak up. Customers do expect to be challenged now and then. If clients can bulldoze you, it’ll be that much easier for them to part ways with you.
6. Set Measurable Goals
Just because the sale is over doesn’t mean you stop measuring KPIs. Once the deal is closed, you have an entirely new set of goals to hit within the account to grow it. Having an account plan gives the account manager a clear structure to follow. When they know what the overall goals are within an account, they can structure their days around those measurable goals.
Here are a few examples of goals you might create for your account managers:
- Appointments & calls: Since regular communication is essential to successful account management, measuring these activities can help keep your team focused on what matters the most.
- Year-over-year revenue growth: Motivate your account managers to grow their accounts by giving them a measurable goal and a target to hit. This means prospecting for new opportunities within their accounts and by maximizing spend on existing contracts.
- Retention and renewal rate: In addition to growing existing accounts, the most important thing your account manager can help do is keep those accounts around in the first place. Your account manager is the front line in building successful long-term relationships, and measuring their ability to retain accounts can provide a goal that helps improve performance.
7. Have an Action Plan for Every Account
Every account you manage is different, which means you should handle them according to their unique circumstances. To do that effectively, create a plan that reflects each unique customer’s needs, as well as important factors like implementation timelines, key contacts, and research you’ve done about both the individual company and their industry. This information will help you be effective as you manage and grow the relationship.
It’s also a good idea to know the structure and hierarchy of their company. Account managers (AM) usually communicate with several different departments within the clients’ company. Understanding who reports to who and how they work together will prevent you from stepping on toes. If your point of contact leaves the company, it’s essential to know who to communicate with going forward.
Here’s what you should include in your account plan:
- An org chart: AM’s must have a thorough understanding of their customer’s internal structure. Map out the stakeholders and their roles within their departments. Understand how each stakeholder works together. This understanding will help identify who you need to build relationships with. It will also safeguard you from churn because you’ll always know who to reach out to next.
- Business intel: Know the ins and outs of your customers’ business. Understand their business goals, current initiatives, and financial health. This knowledge allows AM’s to identify new opportunities within the account and provide value.
- Account pipeline: Use a separate pipeline from the one used to close the deal initially. AM’s should track the value of the account, lost or won opportunities, and areas for more growth. It should also include short, long, and midterm goals for the account.
- Key performance indicators (KPIs): KPIs help create the strategy you’ll use to meet the goals you outlined in the pipeline. These are action items you’ll take to reach your goals. If the goal is to get the entire company to use your product, one KPI could be getting a full department using it within six months.
Having an account plan allows you to work backward. Once you know what the ultimate goal is, you can determine the steps necessary to reach it. Each account will have slightly different KPIs and expected performance. The account projections will flow into the sales pipeline used for company forecasting. In addition, consider segmenting accounts in your customer relationship management system (CRM) by business type, size or other factors, for easier management.
8. Put the Customer First
Don’t forget to put the customer first. It might seem like the oldest saying in the book, but with pressure to perform, it can get overshadowed. Be an advocate for your client. Being able to truly partner with the customer is one of the variations between sales reps and account managers Sales reps often have a reputation for having a different agenda than an account manager. Sales can seem like the goal is to do whatever’s necessary to push the deal over the finish line.
Sometimes, advocating for the customer can mean going against the account manager’s own business goals. That’s why it’s crucial to have people with leadership skills in this important role. Uncomfortable conversations are sometimes necessary to prevent losing the client. AM’s should know their customers and their accounts enough to be able to advocate for them and be trusted by leadership to take measures to save the account and ensure continued revenue.
An AM should know when to upsell but also when to back off and focus on service. They must use empathy to put themselves in the shoes of the customer. Keeping their best interest at heart will serve as a road map to happy customers.
Bottom Line – Account Management Best Practices
Successful account management comes down to the right skills and a solid plan. Dedicate an AM role as soon as possible and don’t rely on sales to manage accounts. Hire AM’s who can make customers happy but also know when to put their foot down. Have the client’s best interest at heart, show empathy, and understand their business as if it were your own. Implementing these best practices will make you an irreplaceable asset to your customers.
Managing accounts means keeping track of a lot of important information. A CRM like Salesforce can make this easier by managing both contacts and companies as well as deals and sales opportunities. In addition, reporting features allow you an overall look at the health of each account. Salesforce plans start at $25 per month, per user. Visit Salesforce today.