Account management is a role for sales professionals after the sale is closed by the account executive. An account manager is the go-to person for clients and is responsible for nurturing relationships with a defined portfolio of customers, helping them find solutions to new problems, and selling them upgrades or additional products and services.
How Account Management Works
Account managers play a post-sales role which involves managing long-term relationships with an assigned portfolio of customers. Once the account executive closes a deal, he or she will generally transfer the new customer to a dedicated account manager to support their ongoing business needs.
This process, known as a handoff, allows the account executive to find more leads and prospects, while providing customers a dedicated point of contact. Account managers then work with their customers to identify needs, which might not have been realized during the initial discovery period. This can involve interacting with other departments, who may not have been in a position to buy before, or looking for other ways to strengthen the existing relationship.
They also often make regular in-person visits to check in on their clients, which can serve to address customer service issues before they jeopardize the business and discover opportunities to better optimize existing business processes. As a result, they serve an important role in selling more products and services, and help the sales team as a whole reach their business goals.
The Benefits & Potential Drawbacks of Account Management
Account management has many benefits for businesses, especially those that are made up of larger teams and can afford to segment their sales organization into different roles. Account management streamlines business processes and allows each salesperson to focus on what they do best.
Some of the main benefits of incorporating account management into your business include:
- The competition is fierce in the business world: Account managers help foster solid relationships with customers, keeping them loyal to your business.
- The benefits of long-term relationships: Account managers often generate client testimonials and referrals.
- Fostering long-term clients: They tend to buy more products and services, contributing to your company revenue.
However, account management isn’t the right strategy for every business. For example, if you are a solopreneur or a small startup team, you might not have the budget, resources, or staff for separate departments. If you don’t have more than a handful of clients, you also might not need account executives and account managers. Plus, if your business is largely transactional rather than relational, you may not need account managers.
Some of the potential drawbacks of account management include:
- It’s expensive: Having both an account management team and account executives can be costly.
- It requires organization and collaboration: Details about accounts can get lost in the shuffle if there isn’t a good hand-off process between the account executive and the account manager—which can frustrate new clients.
- Some customers may not prefer it: Some clients don’t like getting passed off to someone new after building a relationship during the decision-making process, especially in a long sales cycle.
Account Executives vs Account Managers
One of the important aspects of understanding account management as a strategy is to define the difference between an account executive and account manager. Think of account executives, often known as sales reps, as “hunters.” They are the ones tracking down new business and signing up new accounts.
Account managers, on the other hand, are more like “farmers.” Once the seed (initial deal) has been planted, they nurture the account and ensure it grows to its full potential. You can also think of sales executives as having short-term relationships with clients and account managers fostering long-term relationships with each customer, spending more time with them to pinpoint their current needs and forecast future selling opportunities.
Role of an Account Executive in Account Management
An account executive’s relationship with a customer is focused on moving customers through the sales process and closing the deal. Sales reps or account executives do the upfront work like qualifying leads, cultivating prospects, and finding new business opportunities.
Once the deal is closed and the contract is signed, they are out of the picture and move on to closing deals with new leads. They close the deal, but often don’t have further interaction with the customer after making an introduction to the account manager.
An account manager has relational involvement with a customer over the course of months or even years. Account managers can also be called customer success managers. They foster a positive relationship with the customer and ensure they are satisfied.
For example, think about when you make a big purchase such as a new social media management platform for your small business. The person you work with when you’re making the decision to buy might help you compare competitors’ products, do one or more demos with you and your team, and close the sale. That’s the account executive.
Then, imagine your team grows over time and you think you may need to upgrade your plan to accommodate more staff. You’d typically talk with your account manager about any additional features you need, how many people need to be users of the program, and which plan is the best choice for your business to upgrade to.
Core Responsibilities of an Account Manager
Both the account executive and account manager need to ensure there’s a seamless handoff between the closing of the sale and the introduction to the relationship with the account manager. However, there are several primary responsibilities of your sales team for effective account management.
Serve as a Product & Knowledge Expert
Account management requires knowing the ins and outs of your products and services very well. An account manager should be able to answer any question a client asks about how to implement their new product and get the most use out of it. If they don’t know, they should know who to ask so they can get the client a timely answer.
For instance, if an account executive closes a sale for a video conferencing product and hands it off to the account manager, the customer is likely to have questions in the first week or so using the product. The account manager should be available for doing demos on specific features live or over video chat, have supporting knowledge base materials, case studies, testimonials, and offer phone support.
Upsell Products, Services & Renewing Contracts
A great account manager knows that it’s their job to find opportunities to help current clients improve their own business with other products and services and educate clients about why the additional purchase makes good business sense. They should thoroughly know the business of each assigned account in order to make the best recommendations.
Most small businesses have annual contracts with each client. Account managers are usually responsible for renewing client contracts each year and addressing any issues that would keep the client from seeking a solution from a competitor—well before the contract date is near.
Foster Regular Communication
Account management also involves being responsible for not only responding to inquiries from assigned clients, but they also need to be proactive in their role to help manage expectations. Some customers will contact their account manager any time there is an issue or they have a specific question, but others will simply get frustrated and may even stop using your product or service.
For example, imagine a customer purchases your accounting software and they can’t figure out how to automate sending invoices. They could reach out for help, but they start doing it manually instead of using your product. However, if the account manager reaches out on a regular basis to see if the client needs help, they can mitigate any issues and provide the support needed. That way, when the contract is close to the renewal, they’ll stick around.
“As a small business, we need to make a deliberate effort to keep connected with our customers on a schedule that is established to satisfy them, not us. This is one way we show our clients the benefit of working with a small business. While a large company has more staff available to respond to a customer, a small company provides the comfort of a close relationship with one account manager or a small team who know them and their needs intimately.
As the 1980s “Cheers” sitcom theme song stated, ‘You want to go where everyone knows your name.’ Small businesses have the ability to couple the familiarity of client needs with consistency in account management personnel.”
—Ron Humes, VP Operations, Southeast Region, Post Modern Marketing
Report out on Designated Account Health
Account managers should be able to show how effective they are with metrics on a regular basis. They should include numbers such as their current caseload, the percentage of customers they have maintained or renewed contracts with, and how much extra revenue they have generated on a quarterly and annual basis beyond the initial sale by upselling to current clients.
Handle Ongoing Customer Service Issues
Account management requires being there to support customers through the duration of their time as a customer, whether it’s months or years. They should be available to assist with ongoing business needs, guide them through the renewal process, facilitate regular check-ins, and train the new staff of their customers on how to use products and services.
How to Implement an Effective Account Management Strategy
If you choose to adopt account management as a strategy for your sales process, there are several key steps you should consider. After all, account managers are only one part of your sales team, so you need to make sure the team and larger process works together smoothly.
1. Limit the Number of Customers Assigned to Account Managers
Effective account management means being intentional about the number of accounts each rep is responsible for. This ensures each account manager can give customers the attention they deserve. If an account manager has too many dedicated customers, they might not be able to respond to requests in a timely manner or check-in with clients as frequently as they should.
Furthermore, it’s a good idea to group the clients that are assigned to an account manager in a logical manner. For example, you can group them by product or service they represent, geographic location, or expertise. Also, keep in mind that senior account managers may be able to accommodate a higher caseload than a junior account manager.
2. Use Account Management Software
Account management software helps sales and marketing teams communicate and collaborate on accounts. This helps everyone know where the customer stands and ensures nothing falls through the cracks—it can even help anticipate customer needs.
For example, if your customer consistently ramps up their purchasing at certain times of the year, tracking when spikes take place in account manager software such as a customer relationship management program like Salesforce can help you proactively engage in a conversation about how you can address their needs.
3. Make the Handoff Process Personal
Account executives should arrange a personal introduction to the account manager to a new customer in person, if possible. However, when that isn’t possible, you can do it over a phone call or use video conferencing software to have a video call with software like Zoom.
For example, when I worked at a growing B2B startup, the account executive and the account manager would make a personalized video using Wistia to send to new clients. The account executive would thank the client for the opportunity to earn their business and introduce the account manager, who would welcome them to the team and discuss what to expect next. Then the account executive would email the video to the new client and copy the account manager.
4. Use Email Communication Software to Automate Check-Ins
Even if you’re limiting how many clients an account manager should be responsible for, that doesn’t need all of their communications need to be handled manually. You should establish a check-in process for how often an account manager should reach out to each customer and make sure they send product and service updates to each customer regularly.
For example, your account management team can use a program like Constant Contact to send automated emails with professional, easy-to-use templates with drag and drop features that help account managers stay in contact with customers, provide updates, and answer common FAQ’s—and foster robust communication. If you aren’t using an email tool, a CRM can allow you to set a future task to remind you to reach out and organize your communication efforts.
5. Research Each Designated Account
The best account managers know that it’s their job to know as much as possible about each of their assigned accounts. They do this by visiting their LinkedIn pages, setting up Google alerts to see if there is any current news about their assigned accounts, monitoring their social media profiles, and staying on top of current best practices. It’s also a great idea to record each customer’s birthday and send out yearly birthday cards to add a personal touch.
For example, if an account manager sets a Google alert about one of their accounts and finds out they just acquired a new company with 100+ more staff, that’s certainly a good time to reach out to explore whether their needs have changed, or whether there are new deal opportunities. They should make a phone call congratulating the company and set up a meeting to discuss how their products and services can help support the transition.
6. Promote Collaboration With Other Team Members
While the account manager should be the primary go-to person for their assigned clients, they shouldn’t be the only person a customer ever interacts with. If an account manager leaves the company, it can even increase the change that a client might explore switching to a competitor. The more touchpoints a customer has, the less likely they are to leave just because one of those touchpoints leaves.
The account manager should be knowledgeable, but they won’t always have the answer to every question. For example, they may need to send a client to a customer service rep to help with technical issues or an IT agent to help fix an identified product bug. Account managers can also do things like include a team member profile in an email newsletter or put a company photo of the team at a holiday party to help customers feel connected to the company as a whole.
Account Management Tools & Software
Every small business can benefit from using tools and software to keep their sales process organized and facilitate robust communication between account executives and account managers. Here are the tools that can streamline your account management strategy and increase productivity.
Salesforce Essentials is robust customer service relationship software that offers marketing automation, contact management tools, and customer ticketing, and more. It fosters collaboration between account executives and account managers so they can support each customer effectively. The Essentials plan costs $25 per user, per month.
Calendy is an app that connects to your calendar and gives you a personal scheduling link. It’s a great tool for account managers because when a customer has questions and wants to schedule time with you, they can use your link to find a mutually convenient time and set up a meeting. An invitation is automatically sent to both of your calendars, eliminating the back of forth of emailing and calling to arrange meetings. Calendly is free for one calendar connection.
Apptivo is comprehensive account management software for businesses that need to invoice and collect payments through their CRM. It offers integrations with Stripe, Authorize.net, and PayPal to streamline processing payments. It also includes lead, customer, and deal management tools to organize the sales process and increase productivity. Plans range from free to $20 per user, per month.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What skills do you need to be a good account manager?
The best account managers are good communicators and have excellent empathy skills. They are also great at conducting research about assigned accounts and are very organized and detail-oriented. They are also fast learners who can easily get up to speed on the knowledge of company products and services.
Why is account management critical to business success?
Account managers are the go-to person for customer accounts. It’s important for each account to have a dedicated person they can reach out to with questions or concerns, rather than having to call a 1-800 number or fill out a contact form on your company website. Having an account manager helps retain customers and fosters new referrals.
What types of tools or software do account managers typically use?
Most account managers use software to organize customer data, conversations, and documents–as well as communicate with other team members about each account as part of the customer relationship management (CRM) process. They may also use an email management system to automate email campaigns and task management software.
What is the difference between account management and customer service?
Account managers are the day-to-day contact person for designated clients. They help upsell and cross-sell products and services. While they may be the primary point of contact when a customer has an issue, customer service managers usually help solve more technical issues, like how to use product features or if they need their password reset.
The Bottom Line: Account Management
Account management is a critical aspect of many small businesses. Account managers and account executives work together in the sales environment to ensure each customer has the best client experience possible by collaborating, following best practices, and establishing effective business processes.
Account managers benefit from using a CRM to organize assigned client data in one place. With Salesforce, you can automatically pull data from email, calendar, phone, chat, and social channels, and access a 360 view of your contacts on one page. They also offer a mobile app to keep your accounts and tasks organized on-the-go. Sign up for a 30-day free trial today.