*This article was originally published at http://journeys.getsynap.com/five-traits-of-successful-account-managers
Being an account manager requires the continual balancing of internal and external priorities related to sales, project management, and support tasks. Ask any successful account manager and they’ll tell you that quarterbacking customer relationships is hard, often thankless, but rewarding work.
The best account managers are super heroes who stand out in any environment, no matter the industry. Here’s how they do it:
They are naturally curious
The best account managers I’ve ever worked with never stop asking questions, even when they think they know the answer. Because they are curious and constantly probing for more information, they are able to build a comprehensive understanding of their customer’s needs, wants and pain points. They’re kind of like Curious George except they aren’t monkeys and their curiosity doesn’t cause problems, it helps to fix them.
Getting to know their clients so well makes the sales part of their job much easier because they understand exactly what to pitch and who to pitch it to. Because they aren’t afraid to ask lots of questions, they know precisely who the decision makers are, who pulls which strings, and how to get things done in the client’s organization. I’ve seen account managers who are so dialed in to their customer’s organizations that the client comes to them when they want to know who to go to for buy-in on an internal initiative.
On the flip-side, poor performing account managers are so afraid to admit that they don’t know everything that they rarely discover enough to actually be helpful. Often times this is because they lack self-confidence in their company’s products, their own skills, or in the worst cases, they just don’t care. Regardless, bad account managers are bad for business.
Weak account managers do lots of hand waving while trying to look like they know what is going on. They try to sell stuff to their customers without first diagnosing their problems. They focus on transactions instead of developing a customer-centric relationship and lose out on bigger, more rewarding opportunities for growth and success as a result.
They are always prepared
I was a Boy Scout when I was young and like millions of other young men and women who participate in the scouting program one of the most important lessons I learned was to “Be Prepared.” Great account managers are always prepared. They are masters at the art of preparation!
Before every call, visit, or big meeting, they make time to figure out what each internal stakeholder in the customer relationship has been up to. Of course, staying on top of who is talking to who on a day-to-day basis is easier with software like Synap but even without modern tools, the best account managers put in the time to figure out what is going on before speaking with their clients. They know that thoughtful planning is a necessity for successful outcomes at game time.
As part of their preparation, they socialize the agenda and address any questions or issues that could arise. Thus helps ensure that everyone is on the same page and knows what they can do to guarantee a successful outcome.
Customer relationship management is a team sport. Great account managers also make time to create account playbooks and rally the troops to help them set goals and succeed in accomplishing them. The best account managers use a combination of software and savvy to manage their relationships and are always strategizing and working with their teammates to retain and grow their relationships.
By being prepared and including the whole team in the process, great account managers earn the respect and support of their colleagues and customers. Of course, being on top of every facet of the customer relationship doesn’t guarantee there will be no surprises or occasional missteps, but it does mitigate those risks substantially. It also means their teammates and customers are more likely to stand by their side and work toward a positive resolution when things do go wrong.
Account managers who are always prepared are usually meticulous note takers and communicators, too. They value transparency and frequent, open communication. They use tools to keep on top of their customer relationships and encourage their colleagues to share their customer interactions and insights as well. This is primarily because they are rarely the only people at a company communicating with the customer. Nowadays, most organizations have multiple customer-facing teams, several of which can be communicating with a customer at any given time.
Over-communicating is especially important when the majority of that communication takes place over email and phone conversations. Excellent account managers understand the importance of making up for a lack of face-to-face communication by staying in frequent contact with their customers. Customers feel more confident in the relationship and there is a lower likelihood of surprises when account managers over-communicate.
They always manage expectations
I’ve worked with account managers who were curious, well-prepared, and communicative but still struggled to excel in their role because they failed to manage expectations. Customers often have wildly different assumptions about how their relationship with you should work. To make matters more difficult, their expectations tend to get harder to meet over time because they are so heavily influenced by past interactions. But, as challenging as it can be to meet customer expectations, doing so is critical to the long term success of your relationship.
Account managers that fail to manage customer expectations often become yes men and yes women, parroting the demands of customers with insatiable appetites. “If my customer wants something it must be done, internal priorities and budgets be damned!” Great account managers understand that they are juggling two relationships: one with the customer, and one with the rest of their team.
The best account managers create and share their playbooks with their teams and their customers to ensure everyone is operating from the same level of understanding. They also help to create and enforce service standards that dictate what their customers can expect and how the company will be accountable to them.
They are experts
The most inquisitive, well-prepared, over-communicative, masterful expectations-managing relationship quarterback won’t get anywhere if they don’t know what they’re talking about. There is simply no substitute for industry competence.
You can get by reading industry blogs and the other publications everyone else is relying on but the best of the best didn’t get that way by being a lemming. The best account managers get their news from a variety of sources, and then combine their knowledge with their coworkers (back to that whole transparency and sharing meme from before). Who would you rather work with? The person who calls you up to gossip about stuff going on in your industry or the person who brings you intelligent insights from a whole other field that are applicable to yours?
Being an account manager is really tough work. Behind every successful upsell, major renewal, and press release about a customer partnership are really great account managers that have probably gone under-appreciated. Go out and get a donut for your favorite account managers today to show them how you feel!