Everyone is an account manager. I say this because everyone has someone they report to. It could be shareholders, business partners, clients, a regular boss, or even your spouse. Everyone has to manage people at some level. The best account managers make their accounts trust in the manager and their team’s ability to resolve whatever issue is at hand. Trust is the core metric that account managers should aim to maximize. Successful account managers all do these basic (but hard) things.
This post was originally written for Must Win software engineers looking to take on lead roles. Our leaders are developers, project managers and account managers rolled up into one, and this post provides some insight into what successful account management looks like.
Fundamentally, this is doing what you say you will do.
Make specific commitments
Bad account managers will hand-wave or gloss over exactly what will be done and when to expect it. On the face of it, this seems safer. It requires less knowledge of the deliverables. It gives you wiggle room. It also destroys a lot of value that the account is probably willing to pay for. Fedex doesn’t get paid premium rates to deliver packages, they get paid so much because they tell you when it will arrive and they deliver on that promise.
Following through on your commitments is a surefire way to keep your account happy and coming back for more. It’s the keystone to success as an account manager. Doing what it takes to deliver varies with the field you’re in, but it will typically require some level of involvement with the team executing on the deliverables. The more you understand about the deliverables as an account manager, the better you will be at this.
Communicate failure early, mitigate damages, reflect
It’s your job as an account manager to track your deliverables and know as early as possible if a deadline is going to be missed. If you’re going to miss a milestone, let your account know as early as possible and have a plan of attack for mitigating any problems the delays may cause for the account. Work with the account to figure out an appropriate course of action and then implement it.
Once the fire is out, but before making new commitments, reflect on why the milestone was missed and make sure the same mistakes aren’t made next time around.
It’s your job
Getting the things you need to deliver is your job. Even if you’ve delegated some tasks, you need to be sure that everything is on track so you can properly manage the account. Nothing is worse for a project timeline than realizing right before the due date that a major dependency has been overlooked. Assuming things are your responsibility is a good way to make sure things stay on track. Everyone on a project team could do this and it would improve accountability across the board.
When something doesn’t go as planned on a project, it’s important to take responsibility, apologize and then implement whatever changes are necessary to avoid the same mistake in the future. Being honest about failure is the best way to try to retain the account’s trust after failing to deliver something as promised.
Establish parameters for communication
How involved does your account want to be? Do they want daily or weekly updates? Do they want to see the code? Be in the team chat room? See the task backlog? People want different levels of transparency, and a good account manager will do their best to accommodate without affecting the team process or productivity.
The only thing more expensive than communication is miscommunication
Those all-day strategic planning meetings where all the highest-paid team leads bike-shed over who is doing what are crazy expensive for companies. They still happen because it’s much cheaper than the alternative. If these team leads don’t communicate then the teams will end up duplicating work. Duplicated work is more expensive than communication. Fixing misunderstandings is more expensive than communication. So communicate — It’s cheaper.
Beyond the basics of getting back to the account when you say you will (covered in “be dependable”), it’s also the job of the account manager to make sure the client feels things are going well and to address any concerns. This is important for building rapport and establishing long-term trust.
Check in regularly
Addressing concerns should be a part of the regular update meetings. If the client has any issues, it’s your job to know about them (see: assume responsibility) and to mitigate them. The worst thing you can do is let something fester over time — it will eventually explode in your face.
Provide added value (Up-sell)
Your account may not be fully aware of all the helpful services or products you can provide. Look for opportunities to provide further value to your accounts and be the one to give it to them. This keeps them leaning on you for support, pro-longing your positive relationship.
Companies are built on their reputations, especially when they provide services (like Must Win does). Account managers are the face of the firm and are responsible for maintaining that winning reputation. Making these things habits will drive your success and the success of your firm. No matter what your role is, enacting these practices will make other people confident in depending on you. If you successfully hold that position, you’re basically guaranteed a profitable future.
Account management isn’t actually a job at Must Win, it’s something everyone has to do. Our lead developers manage our clients and our developers manage their leads. If this sounds like a great way to work, then reach out to email@example.com. We’re usually hiring developers.
Mike Ihbe is a founding partner of The Must Win All Star Web & Mobile Consultancy.
Mike is an expert in a wide array of technologies and has loads of experience managing fast-moving dev teams, designing systems, and scaling large applications. When not on the job, he can be found cooking delicious meals on ski slopes in exotic locales.