— June 5, 2019
After two months of conversations, demos, and meetings, you’ve just closed a large account for your company. The contract is signed and your new customer is excited about implementing your product/service. But now what? The new customer is happy for now and should be kept that way. It’s time to turn your customer over to account management.
What is account management? It’s a crucial extension of the sales process. Good account managers are able to pick up where sales left off and assist with customer retention and expansion. The focus of account management is nurturing customer relationships.
Definition of account management
Account management starts after the sales transaction is complete. It’s the daily management of customer accounts to make customers want to continue the relationship with your company.
Account managers must continually prove your company’s value to the customer so they’ll want to stick with your product/service. The role is particularly important for SaaS companies, as the customer cycle is longer. A customer signing up for your product/service is only the beginning — you need to stay top of mind so the customer will want to renew or even add onto their subscription.
A typical account manager has the following responsibilities:
- Manage the customer long-term relationship
- Find up-sell opportunities
- Strategize to meet customer needs
- Track account metrics
For example, let’s say you’re doing account management for a financial subscription company. You have an in-depth understanding about the needs of your customer based on your research and what was conveyed to you from sales. You answer any questions that the customer has about your product and offer ways to get the most out of your product (e.g., how they can use a specific feature to improve their accounting process).
You keep track of different metrics to determine the health of the account, as well as conversations to know if the customer is happy for your product. You listen to their needs and concerns. If you notice that your customer would benefit from another feature of your product (e.g. your customer’s business is growing), you might suggest an upgrade or an addition to their current plan.
A good account manager acts as both an advocate and trusted advisor for the customer.
Account management vs. sales management
These two types of customer management roles complement each other, but are not the same thing. While sales is more transaction-based, account management is more relationship-based. In account management, the sale has been made and now you need to convince the customer to stay with your business long-term.
Let’s take a look at how sales and account management are different.
Sales reps find new customers who are in need of your product/service and establish the initial relationship during the prospecting stage such as through social selling. They continue to develop this relationship up until the closing stage, having conversations via different channels. The ultimate goal is conversion.
Sales provides a brief to account managers with details about new customers. Account managers take this information and continue to nurture the relationship. They act as the daily contact for customers, finding out their needs and wants. They offer valuable resources such as case studies on current customers and advise on ways to improve their business (including through renewals and up-sells).
For larger businesses, account management and sales management are separate departments. But for SMBs, account management and sales management are typically combined. Sales reps act as account managers and vice versa.
If you’re an SMB with limited resources, make sure that your sales team has the skills and understanding to continue the customer relationship. Consider implementing relationship-focused tactics into your sales process (e.g., customer-centric lead generation strategies), so it’s easier for your sales reps to continue the customer relationship after the sale has been made.
Best account management practices
Especially if you’re a sales manager also acting as an account manager, you may need to transfer certain skills and/or add to your skill set to be successful. Strong communication skills, the ability to build trust, industry experience, and organization skills are all important for account managers.
To successfully complete the day-to-day responsibilities of an account manager, you need to be proactive with managing every account and build strong relationships. Customers are more likely to stay with a company they believe truly cares about and values their business.
- Take advantage of your CRM. Not only is a CRM perfect for organizing customer information, but you can also use it to track customer conversations with sales, customer service, and account managers. Use your CRM to understand which accounts to prioritize, too, such as through reviewing deal value.
- Do your research. In addition to getting account info from sales, review company information, news, blog articles, and info on your point of contact. What are their goals? What are their pain points? What do they need advice on? Check your customer’s social media accounts, such as LinkedIn, on a regular basis to view what’s important to them on a personal and professional level.
- Recognize customer needs. Listen to what the customer says, but read between the lines on what they say they want and what they really need. Share resources that will help customers both use your product (e.g., case studies) and thrive in their industry (e.g., industry reports). Also look for up-sell opportunities, but don’t push an up-sell if it’s not going to add value to your customer’s life.
- Communicate with sales. If in separate departments, sales and account managers need to communicate on a regular basis (especially when handing off new customers). What features or add-ons did the customer purchase? Did the customer mention anything at purchase that might affect their account later on (e.g., talks of an acquisition)? You’ll also need to coordinate with sales on up-sell or upgrade opportunities.
- Pay attention to account metrics. Track how your relationship with each of your customers is progressing and be able to communicate results to high-level management. Retention rate, customer churn rate, customer satisfaction score, and support calls/emails are all important KPIs to track the health of customer relationships.
Unlike sales, which is short-term focused (e.g., closing the deal), an account manager needs to have a long-term mindset. In addition to the above practices, keep an eye out for external factors that could affect your account, such as competitor products.
The goal of account management is to both provide value and communicate that value to your customers. A quality product or service is essential, but a customer is more likely to stay with your company if they believe you have their best interests at heart.
Get started as an account manager
Although similar to sales, account management requires more customer nurturing skills to ensure that customers stay satisfied with your company. Adding continual value to the customer’s business is key to account management and successful continuation of the relationship that sales began.