Perhaps it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment leadership became the loss of focus when applied to account management, but somewhere along the way it seems to have happened. No longer do account managers (AMs) see themselves as the master in their accounts, but rather feel like they’re meant to just maintain the business and comply with what the client wants.
There is nothing wrong with being helpful and gracious, but clients benefit more when there’s initiative on the part of the AMs to actively improve their business.
Redefining the role
When you’re used to having success with your daily activities, it makes it difficult to consider change. Account managers get used to what they know and that pattern helps them cope with obstacles that may arise throughout the day. In addition, it can be hard for someone to feel they have the knowledge to spearhead a new campaign for a company that they don’t actually work in. But despite the reasons why it has become common for AMs to maintain rather than gain business, it remains a fact that those unwilling to step outside their comfort zones may find themselves becoming obsolete soon.
In fact, there is chatter amongst professionals that the concept of account management is dead. To stay ahead, an AM ultimately will need to start viewing themselves as a key asset in their client’s business to take their accounts to the next level. Remember, clients always have at least one unfulfilled need which you can service. The most successful AMs do not wait for the opportunity to present itself and instead count themselves as the facilitator for change on any given day.
Know the challenges
When a client is used to a certain style, they will understandably be put off in the face of a major shift in attitude. They’re also going to be weary of anything that sounds like a sales pitch. Instead of looking at becoming a leader as a drastic change that happens overnight, an AM should start by taking a more active interest in their client’s affairs.
Rather than just learning what is necessary to keep the account stable, there should be an effort to understand the larger problems the client faces on a daily basis — even if they seem unrelated to the services your employer offers. Ultimately, this is the information that can help an AM realize where they can fit in, or this information could lead them to realize a new service that their company could consider offering.
Once the AM has all the facts in hand, it can lead to well-planned presentations to show the client where they can add value to their business. If nothing else, thoughtful suggestions in terms of strategy will impress clients, make them more susceptible to the next proposal and ultimately help them to redefine their own sense of the role of the AM.
In addition to challenging perceptions, there will also be difficulties when it comes to time management. Because project management takes up a huge part of the day, it will be difficult to devote the time needed to establish a leadership role among your clients. Therefore, your own company management may want to consider expanding its resources (either by hiring more AMs or freeing up time by outsourcing lower-priority tasks) in order to better enable AMs to focus on growing, rather than simply maintaining, their accounts.
As stated, this will be a real time commitment, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. If an AM sees a way to make a client’s business more effective, it may just be as simple as rearranging priorities. If they’re not sure whether or not they can provide a certain service, it could be a quick conversation with an IT professional.
For more involved matters, it may mean readjusting expectations among clients, as it’ll likely be met with some resistance by people. Change takes time, and it will take time to convince people that AMs can and should have a larger role in their client’s business too despite the specific constraints that no doubt other employees will voice.
When it comes to integrating technology in account management, it’s important to remember that AMs have an incredibly important advantage: they are not involved with the day-to-day operations of the client. While some see this as a detriment — in the way of unwarranted suggestions or obvious remarks — a clever AM can use this fact to provide a different perspective.
Any company is prone to getting set in their ways, and often it just takes the right voice to help them understand that they’re holding themselves back by being closed off to different opportunities. When more of than one-third of companies struggle with an effective leadership strategy, this is one skill that really can’t be overlooked in the AM role.
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