What account management skills should you be focusing on right now? Think of it this way:
Decades ago, psychotherapist Thom Hartmann proposed two mental models that described the way people do their jobs. The hunter’s mindset, based on nomadic societies, suffered from a short attention span, but was hyper-focused for short periods of time. The farmer, based on agrarian societies, was patient and worked steadily, knowing that he would enjoy the fruits of his labor in the future.
These two mental models were used to guide hiring. Most recruiters are looking for hunters to fill sales roles and farmers to fill account management roles.
Most recruiters are looking for hunters to fill sales roles and farmers to fill account management roles.
This clear distinction between the mindset of the hunter and the farmer becomes blurred when hiring a Key Account Manager. In the past, hunters focused on acquisition and farmers on retention. A mix of these attributes is needed to successfully fulfill a key account manager role.
Traditional account managers tend to be too patient and accept unreasonable customer requests too quickly. This undermines the establishment of a mutually beneficial and strategically viable partnership. On the other hand, a hunter mindset is too short-term and will often lose larger opportunities due to relentless pursuit of sales opportunities immediately in front of them.
If you have set your sites on improving your Key Account Manager skills, or if you are hiring one, look for the following characteristics and capabilities:
1. Leadership skills
A Key Account Manager must be a visionary. They should help everyone see and be excited about what is possible. Their clients and peers must respect them. They should be able to challenge and lead the client with respect in their best interest. This means that they must have a degree of comfort with the tension. Traditional account managers are too quick to give in when faced with tensions with clients. Plus, when progress needs to happen internally, they need to have the respect of their team. Team members should want to go the extra mile for them.
2. Communication skills
It’s a big one. The best Key Account Managers are able to keep all stakeholders informed on all important issues. They will often be called upon to lead the presentation of project updates or account reviews. Whether oral or written, it is essential that all communications be concise, clear and convincing. Communication must also be very nuanced for the stakeholder or the group to which it is addressed.
Whether oral or written, it is essential that all communications be concise, clear and convincing. Communication must also be very nuanced for the stakeholder or the group to which it is addressed.
3. Business acumen
Many salespeople are far too focused on closing deals and fail to understand the larger business issues. This approach is fatal when it comes to Key Account Management. A Key Account Manager should be able to see the business issues most important to the client and help the client run their business. They must also ensure that all business transactions are profitable for both parties.
4. The meaning of relationships
The Key Account Manager must be able to read people and meaningfully connect with a variety of personalities. They need to understand that all progress comes through relationships. They need to know when to take the lead in relationship development and when to allow others to take the lead. Their goal is to build a very complex network of many-to-many relationships between the client’s people and theirs. The more complex the Web, the greater the partnership and the higher the cost of switching to a competitor.
5. Results oriented
Successful key account managers need to focus on getting results for the client. This means that they need to be proactive and not wait for the customer to notice that they are not on track to achieve a particular goal. They need to have a “no excuses” mindset. They are doing what needs to be done. They coordinate multiple resources to achieve the decided result. They will take the blame for the failures and give the team credit for the successes because they are driven by results – not their egos.
6. An appetite for learning
A successful Key Account Manager recognizes the pace of change. Therefore, they are always open to training and development. They never rest on their laurels. Part of the respect they receive comes from others, seeing that they are constantly growing in their outlook and abilities. They are constantly looking for opportunities for improvement in areas they have identified as important.
All of these attributes require a mixture of hunting and farming mindset. Some tasks need to be treated with short-term laser focusing. And these short term issues need to be executed knowing how they fit together and accelerate long term goals and long term vision. It’s an unusual mix of attributes because it requires mental flexibility. Those who possess these characteristics will lead their organizations and clients to far greater rewards than we have seen in the past from hunters or farmers.
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