Selling vs. Account Management – They’re Really Very Different

KENNESAW, Ga. (Jul 24, 2017) — We’re always amazed at the number of companies – big successful companies – that train their client facing people in persuasive selling skills. It’s as if they believe that the essence of effective account management is the ability to convince your client to do things, or behave in ways, that you want them to. This is wrongheaded at best and dangerous at worst.

The true essence of enlightened account management is first in understanding the client’s corporate expectations. We say “corporate” expectations to draw clear distinction with individual expectations. Different players are likely to have different (even contradictory) expectations. This is a harbinger of failure for a service provider, unless effectively reconciled. The account manager must facilitate a process where individual expectations are sublimated to corporate ones, which are then made specific and measurable and expressed in order of priority. These clear expectations become the client’s corporate definition of value.

The second step is in managing the client’s expectations. This involves the professional courage to “just say no” and carries the incumbent responsibility to educate the client as to why a specific expectation requires modification.

The third step is to align the resources of the provider to directly achieve the client’s prioritized expectations. This is managing the work – solving the problems we were hired to solve – operating effectively and efficiently, then proactively bringing innovation to the work product.

The fourth step involves relentless follow-up. This means communicating with the client behind the work – ensuring the expected value is recognized and appreciated and that expectations going forward remain valid.

While Step #2 involves some negotiating skills, nothing we’ve just talked about has anything to do with selling, in the classical sense. Persuasive selling skills are vital for acquiring new clients, but way out of touch with the challenges of managing existing ones. The existing ones are about collaboration, not persuasion.

Years ago, Steve’s wife accepted a new role within her company. Her boss told her in an initial meeting the three keys to success in his organization would be: “1) Communicate Precisely, 2) Activate Aggressively and 3) Follow-up Relentlessly.”  That’s pretty great advice for managing client relationships too.

Steve, John and Gary