The account manager is part sales, part customer success - the exceptional account manager is so much more. While ‘many hats’ roles are becoming less attractive in a world of specialization, the account manager stands aside and embraces the multiple personalities and fashion accessories of a role that intersects with virtually every aspect of business.
Perhaps the hardest role to define in terms of KPIs, the hardest to incentivize in terms of quotas and commissions, and the most difficult to hire for in terms of skill sets and background - the account manager is at the center of it all.
Here are 5 Hats of the Exceptional Account Manager:
1. Customer Support Rep
For better or for worse, the account manager is often the first person that comes to mind when a customer encounters a problem.
The economics of specialization tells us this should be avoided; desire for great customer service tells us otherwise. Account managers should know how to resolve any issue and be willing to do so if necessary based on judgment.
Great account managers express empathy and forward requests for billing or technical support. This hand-off reinforces the role of the CSR in the customer’s mind. Following support ticket resolution and scheduling a follow-up is a great way for an account manager to continue building the relationship and enforce specialized roles within the organization.
2. Account Executive
The account manager and the account executive have very different sales cycles. The former interacts with existing customers, whereas the latter interacts with prospects. Sales expert Adrian Davis refers to the differences in mindset by comparing the environments of the farmer vs the hunter.
However, the account manager still finds herself in the position of traditional sales. Whether it’s executing on a ‘land and expand’ contract or exposing customers to new products, the account manager needs the same confidence for negotiating, persuading, and executing contracts as an AE, but able to finesse sales strategy that doesn’t alienate the customer if the opportunity is lost. The need for traditional sales savvy is why most account managers have past experience as successful AEs.
3. Content Marketer
The most dynamic sales teams find ways to empower their sales teams as thought leaders for inbound channels. According to Forrester’s recent report “Death of the B2B Salesman” the rise of ‘do-it-yourself’ eCommerce means content is just as if not more important than your sales executives. There are few within an organization that understand its products and customers as much as the account manager. Intimate product knowledge and how that value translates to customers is a marketing gold mine.
Account managers are in a great position to produce marketing collateral such as case studies and white papers because their relationships translate to trust and a willingness to share testimonials, sign releases, etc.
The account manager benefits the most from a position of thought leadership because credibility, especially in specialized verticals, shortens sales cycles and increases ability to manage larger volumes.
4. Product Manager
The biggest challenge for a product owner is prioritizing the product roadmap based on data-driven decisions, not noise. One of the fastest ways to see a return on product investment is to align investment goals with feedback from existing customers. Listening to customers makes sense because they are already committed to core product values, have a shorter sales cycle, and a lower customer acquisition cost for upsells. The account manager is the ideal ‘go to’ person for the product owner because they are uniquely positioned to have the most valuable knowledge and opinions about products and room for improvement.
The account manager should understand the implications and limitations of the product roadmap, how it works, and how to effectively communicate with the teams involved.
5. Sales Engineer
In the same way that customers think of the account manager first when it comes to resolving a problem, the same is true when a customer thinks of additional products such as integrations or improvements. For example, a SaaS account manager should understand enough about frontend and backend solutions to get an integration conversation started. Basic knowledge and the ability to ‘talk shop’ with customers about technical solutions reinforces the account manager’s credibility.
As the gatekeeper to sales engineers, the account manager’s knowledge about feasibility and limitations also helps manage customer expectations prior to investing time with a sales engineer.
Exceptional performance for an account manager means balancing customer success, with additional revenue generating opportunities and being a vital ‘go-to’ team player for marketing, customer support, and product improvement.
It’s a balancing act. It’s a performance of poise and passion, and also a commitment to building a knowledge base more diverse than most roles require. For those reasons and more, it is a role that requires a fancy wardrobe of metaphorical sorts.