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Account Management Bridging the gap By Jeremy Francis Introduction Ask most sales managers what they require of their sales people when it comes to account management and you will get a variety of responses. Typical of these responses are the following: I want my sales people to›:- • Have a clearly defined strategy for each key account. • Demonstrate that they have all angles covered with an account management plan. • Identify and manage key decision-makers. • Understand how buying decisions are made. • Use a process to actively manage the account.  Ask customers what they look for in a good account manager, and the responses take on a different emphasis. They express the skills in some or all of the following ways: I want account managers to:- • Have a clearly defined strategy for each key account. • Demonstrate that they have all angles covered with an account management plan. • Identify and manage key decision-makers. • Understand how buying decisions are made. • Use a process to actively manage the account.  In summary, the supplier sees the account manager as someone whose job it is to PROTECT AND GROW the account. The customer sees the account manager’s primary role as someone whose job is to CARE FOR AND CULTIVATE their account. The reality is that the account manager has to fulfil both roles, and bridge the gap between these two sets of requirements. The tensions facing account managers surround the issue of how they should position themselves between these two requirements. If they are seen to be acting too much in the interests of their own organization the trust between them and their customers may suffer. If, on the other hand, they are seen to be acting too much in the interests of their customers, they may be perceived as being disloyal, and the trust between them and their organization may suffer. Account management is about handling this unenviable task of pleasing two masters, each of whom will have a say in the account manager›s success. Account management therefore is about BRIDGING THE GAP between the interests of suppliers and their customers. As with most things it all starts with planning. Planning The only place to start when it comes to planning account management activities is with the customer’s business. In today’s turbulent markets organizations have spent a great deal of time and energy defining their mission, vision and values. While they have done this essentially for internal communication purposes they undoubtedly expect their suppliers to understand and focus on them as well. Where these statements exist, good account managers not only record them, but positively acknowledge them in their dealings with their customers. Behind these statements of intent however lies the customer’s actual business. The history, the current objectives, the strategy, the resources, the structures, the systems, and the skills required of their managers and employees are all relevant pieces of information for the successful management of the account. All need to be understood by today’s account managers to enable them to place their products and services into the overall context of the customer’s business. Increasingly, customers also expect account managers to understand how their business plans will impact their use of the account manager’s products. They expect account managers to be thinking about the issues of cost saving and quality. They take for granted that account managers will readily understand how their products and services may need to change in the light of expansion into new markets and territories. From the customer’s point of view therefore good account managers show that they have a complete grasp of their business and their contribution as a supplier to its profitability and growth. They can show that they have a real empathy with the customer’s situation and needs. When it comes to these issues, suppliers have the same interests, but for different reasons. Their interest lies in their desire to constantly spot openings for more sales and to see opportunities for the introduction of different products, technologies, and applications. Their concern with these issues is more to do with the vulnerability of the account to competitor threat, and how the customer’s future plans will present either opportunities or risks for them. Empathy for them means staying close to customers, and close is the only place to be these days. From the point of view of suppliers therefore it is vital that their account managers have a firm grasp of all the commercial issues surrounding the account, because only if they do can they hope to get closer to the account, act in a more strategic way, and so shut out the competition. Planning account management activities also involves the people issues which play a part in the successful management of the account. Customers want their buying and decision-making processes respected, and require sensitivity from account managers to their internal politics, power-bases and personalities. They want a sales effort that is co-ordinated with the account manager involving specialists and other colleagues in a planned and structured way. They want to have a say about the frequency of visits and with whom they prefer to deal. In short, they want to be managed but with the involvement and agreement of their key people. Suppliers likewise want their account managers to plan and manage the people issues. They know that internal roles, levels of authority and discretion, and the structures (formal or informal) within the customer all play a part in buying decisions. They know that these decisions are not always rational but can be based on perceptions, feelings and subjective judgements. They recognize the need for individuals within the customer to feel included and cared for. They understand that clumsy account management, involving many different people in an unstructured way, will annoy the customer and reflect poorly on them as a supplier. They recognize that insights into the people issues at the planning stage are key to their success. sales and service excellence essentials presented by HR.com | 10.2014 Submit your Articles 7


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