The demise of the account manager – and alternatives for a small business

In this article, sales expert Andy Preston talks about why account management is now dead, and what you and your team need to do to replace it.

The role of account manager has changed quite significantly in the last few years. Markets have changed, demands and job roles have changed and it has left us with a bit of a question mark over the specific role of the account manager – is the role, in fact, dead?

Account management doesn’t exist as a function any more. It is dead. Account management has been dying for a long time, yet is desperately trying to cling onto life because some companies have failed to move with the times.

Why does account management no longer exist?

In my opinion the expectations of a salesperson from their boss in today’s market have changed, and the old title of account manager doesn’t cover the activities or behaviour the sales director or managing director now require from their salespeople.

There are now 3 roles in today’s sales environment. Yet often companies don’t realise this, and expect one person to be able to fulfil ALL the tasks that those three roles require. Now obviously, there will be times where one person does need to cover all three roles especially in a small company or self-employed business, but don’t expect them to be able to do all of those three roles well – most people are naturally better at one of the three roles, some are okay at a second, and almost all are terrible at a third! So you need to plan accordingly, and decide which one you want that individual to focus on.

So, what are those three roles?

Role number 1 – New business

It’s the new business sales person’s job to be responsible to bring in new business. Often this means from cold, or by developing the sales opportunity themselves. Whatever label you put on the activity, this means it bringing in new business to the company that wasn’t there before.

This requires high levels of confidence, resilience, tenacity, determination and an ability to push on through rejection and objections, often while still maintaining high levels of activity.

Role number 2 – Account development

Within an account development role, it’s the responsibility of the salesperson undertaking this role to develop existing accounts (notice I didn’t say manage, I said develop). This role entails generating more revenue from existing accounts that are already spending money with the business. It may involve cross selling and upselling, or finding new buyers in a particular account that aren’t using you yet.

This role requires more of an analytical approach. Finding buying points in the organisation that may not be currently purchasing from you. Examining product lines to see which lines sell into which clients, and how other lines may be introduced. Looking at product or service penetration into each account.

Role number 3 – Account servicing

It’s this salespersons job to service an existing account to make sure customers are happy, to iron out any problems and to keep them buying from you. Essentially it is a delivery and customer service role, keeping people happy and maintaining accounts properly.

This role requires problem-solving ability, dedication to customer service and the ability to deal with complaints and issues quickly.

Now we’ve defined the roles, here are some problems you may be experiencing if you are trying to keep account management alive in your company.

Problem 1 – Recruiting for an ‘account manager’

Often I see sales jobs advertised with the title of account manager, but as mentioned above, this is very much a 1980’s job title and one which fails to exist. If you hire an account manager you could be causing yourself problems, as you are likely to end up with an account servicer.

What I’ve noticed in a number of sales teams I now work with, are directors that have hired someone with the title of account manager and then are surprised when that person doesn’t want to pick up the phone and focus on new business. They advertised for an account manager but what they got was account servicing, and not what they were expecting to hire – they did, however, get what they asked for.

One of the warning signs this is a problem is when account manager says: ‘it’s not my skill’ or ‘it’s not what I’m hired to do’ etc. Again your fault for hiring them into a role of account manager – in reality you got an account servicer.

Problem 2 – Calling existing salespeople ‘account managers’

Not only is hiring account managers a bad idea, often people I talk to have the job title of account manager in their team but the majority of people I’ve seen in account management roles are actually doing account service. In other words what you’ve got is an overpaid customer sales person that is less focused on other buying points in the account who may be buying elsewhere at the moment and not from you – this is a major problem.

Again, don’t be surprised if you can’t get them to do the level of activity you want them to, or to get them to do the level of prospecting you want them to do.

Problem 3 – Not defining the roles

In order to avoid these problems it’s imperative that you define these three roles within your sales team. If your team is large enough then these three roles might be by three separate people and account servicing may not even fall on responsibility of sales – it could end up being operations.

If you have a smaller team where people have more than one role it’s important that the expectations of the role are communicated to the sales person; ie how much of their new role is account management, developing business, new business etc.

The challenge with this is that usually people are better at one than the other. For example, a new business person is less good at the developing business side. Conversely someone whose whole focus is account servicing, will be less good at developing new business from that account unless it is just by ‘being nice’.

So even if you’ve got a hybrid role within your sales team you need to define which one you want them to spend most time in and hire appropriately with that in mind. Failure to do this can incur huge costs in the hiring process and the wage and effort spent on the sale person which doesn’t achieve results. This can be out down to not defining the role in the first place.

These three roles carry three different skill sets and you need to test for those skills appropriately for what you need to hire for at interview stage. This avoids most problems that companies face later on.

Seven ways to tell if you have account management problems in your sales team

  • 1. You have/hire account managers that seem reluctant to pick up the phone.
  • 2. Your team spend too much time in account servicing mode (admin/service tasks) rather than what you pay them to do.
  • 3. Your salespeople don’t seem that interested in developing the existing accounts to spend more.
  • 4. The team seem to focus on developing relationships rather than closing sales.
  • 5. Your sales team keep finding ways to justify why THEY should solve an existing customer problem.
  • 6. You have existing accounts that are also spending money with your competitors.
  • 7. One or more of your sales team start telling you why an existing customer can’t spend more.

Follow these tips above and watch your sales soar! I look forward to hearing how you got on…

Further reading on sales

Related Topics

Business Growth

Leave a comment