Account management is one of the cornerstones of any B2B company’s sales process. It is also one of the 7 Sales Mindsets that my team and I have outlined — the other six being prospecting, negotiation, product knowledge, sales acumen, business acumen, and marketplace awareness.
I spoke with Jon to get his take on account management. He had some insightful observations to share on the problems with account management practices — as well as some tips.
Credibility and Accountability
One of the things that Jon believes most account managers are uncomfortable with is being able to listen to a client’s business needs. “The average salesperson is 88% efficient at selling their product,” Jon told me. “Only 24% are confident in talking about the business needs of their prospects.”
“You need to support your customer in terms of what you’ve sold them,” Jon went on. “Obviously there was a business need that was recognized, and you sold them a solution. So you should make sure that it’s working out [for them].”
Jon believes that credibility and accountability are the two most important things as far as account management:
- “First and foremost, as an account manager, you have to ensure that what you said you were going to do — you did.”
- The next dimension is continuing to “listen to what are the customer’s needs.” As an account manager, “your job responsibility is to continue to uncover new business requirements and business needs.” Managers are not simply maintainers. They should be constantly looking for new opportunities within the existing client base.
“The Buddy Syndrome”
While meeting the needs of customers is paramount — continuing to discover and develop revenue opportunities is also critically important. Jon observed that once a manager has been on an account for a while, they can start to become overly comfortable.
He calls it “The Buddy Syndrome” — when you get too close to the client. “You’re afraid to ask for business, afraid that — politically, socially — that might step on a toe. It’s literally the buddy system.”
You can’t always expect the client — with whom you have a relationship — to open doors for you. You have to open doors for yourself, and you can’t be afraid to do so. One way to open doors is to just keep doing the basics.
“I’ve built many strong relationships just calling to say hello,” Jon told me. “That’s it. Call them without selling them anything — establish rapport.” But you can’t stop there — you have to keep uncovering new business with that rapport.
According to Jon, there are three paths to address the Buddy Syndrome:
- ) Incentivize your reps. “You have to challenge the account manager to continue to expand the opportunity.”
- ) Bring in outside support. Fresh eyes and a new perspective can help your account manager sell more.
- ) Of course, as a last resort — if he doesn’t see activity on that account beyond the hello phone call — he’ll pull the manager from the account.
Being the Subject Matter Expert
Even as an account manager, you have to think of yourself as a sales professional. You are still selling — you have to be convinced that what you are selling is valuable to your customer. You have to be constantly looking to add value to what you are selling. Talk to your client — find out their business requirements and needs. And then find out how your offering can help.
In order to do this, you need to be increasingly proficient in all of the 7 Sales Mindsets — for example, product knowledge and marketplace awareness. “In an account management function,” Jon said, “you certainly need to incorporate the [7 Mindsets], because buyer 2.0 — they’re educated — but only to a point.”
They’re still not subject matter experts. At least not about your specific product. “Your account manager needs to be the subject matter expert.” All of your reps need to have a holistic understanding of your offering, so that they can see it — and sell it — in creative ways.
Hunting on the Farm
It’s been often said that sales reps are like hunters, and account managers are more like farmers. Perhaps you field a hybrid team. But what’s important is that they (sales reps managing long term accounts) not be limited to just nurturing existing opportunities. They need to learn to hunt on the farm — and you might have to teach them.
At Ricoh, Jon’s sales process dictates that his reps try to get 3 contacts on every account. However, he told me that this doesn’t get done quite as consistently as he’d like.
“It can be a process issue — that within the sales process itself, your priorities are not laid out,” he explained. “When you’re working with your reps — if you don’t stress it, they don’t tend to do it. It’s human nature. If you can’t get in the front door, and you’re not motivated — you’re most likely not going to look for a side door. You’re going to move onto the next house.”
“Most account managers still need to have a prospecting mindset.” You just have to remind them of that every once and awhile.
Account managers (regardless of their “sales” title) need to do more than just maintain accounts. They need to be actively building new and deeper relationships — so that they can identify new business needs, and find new opportunities.
- Are opportunities within your existing client base constantly being found by your managers?
- Have you ever noticed anything like “The Buddy Syndrome” with your own managers? Did you address the problem?
- Are your reps constantly looking for ways to increase the value of your value proposition for each specific customer they sell to and support?
Image credit: BASFPlantScience on flickr