Account Management

SELLING SIGNALS STAFF
2/28/21
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Read our ultimate guide on account management, including the process, team, strategies, and tools for ongoing customer success.

Account management represents the post-sales process that begins after a qualified lead becomes a longer-term customer. Typically, this process is run by a dedicated team of account managers and account executives. Together, they follow a set of defined steps to manage customer relationships, grow key accounts, and increase overall customer retention.

Check out our overview of account management and everything involved, including a breakdown of each account management area. Then, scroll to the bottom for a complete list of our account management articles:

How Account Management Works

Companies with ongoing customer relationships typically have account management teams with three primary responsibilities: executing on a customer’s initial scope of work (SOW), managing their relationship to retain business, and ultimately, growing their account. To do this, account management teams use defined processes and tools to ensure customer satisfaction and ongoing customer success.

The overall account management process is run by an account manager and overseen by an account executive. It’s the account manager’s job to work with a portfolio of clients and act as their first contact to provide support and address issues. An account executive serves as the sales manager for multiple account managers across a range of customer accounts.

Some high-level accounts will even require a key account manager, who typically has a smaller portfolio of high-value clients. Regardless of the overall structure, all account management teams follow a somewhat standard process that helps them take a client handoff from the sales team and conduct a needs assessment to identify and meet client needs in an effort to establish a long-term relationship.

For additional help managing customers throughout the account management process, many account management teams rely on tools like helpdesk software, scheduling software, conferencing software, and more. This allows them to streamline their workflow and better serve ongoing customer needs.

Account Management vs Sales

Account management and sales represent two parts of the same overall process, separated by a client handoff. The sales process consists of all activities required to turn a lead into a customer, and the account management process consists of the activities required to manage the ongoing customer relationship. The sales process is run by sales managers and salespeople, while the account management process is run by the account management team.

While these two teams have different responsibilities, it’s important that account managers work closely with salespeople so they can initiate a clean hand-off and ensure client success starts off right. Most often, salespeople and account managers share customer information and reports, and also have shared team goals as both are ultimately focused on customer success.

Account Management Process

The account management process begins after a sale is made and a prospect becomes a customer. Sometimes this is done via a handoff from the sales team, while other times a salesperson will also serve as the account manager. Regardless, the account management process begins with onboarding, and uses various needs assessment tactics to execute the initial SOW and manage customer satisfaction in an effort to create a growing, long-term relationship.

Let’s take a look at each step of the account management process in detail:

1. Initiate the Post-Sale Handoff

When a sale is finalized, an account manager is chosen by an account executive to manage the new client account based on their skillset and area of expertise. At this point, the post-sale handoff is initiated and a package of information is given to the account manager by the sales team, which includes things like contact information, how the lead was generated, proposal, contract details, and more.

Afterward, an introduction is made to ensure the customer knows they are being helped by the account management team, who will follow an onboarding checklist to ensure the relationship starts off on the right foot.

2. Onboard the New Client

Once an account manager receives the post-sale handoff, they will typically reach out to the new customer for an onboarding call or Zoom meeting. During the call or meeting, they will get to know the client better by capturing additional details, including preferred communication (email, phone, zoom), a review of the scope of work (SOW) or items purchases, initial questions, and any pain points.

All of the information is gathered as part of a standard onboarding process that follows an explicit checklist to ensure success. During this onboarding process, information is added to the client file in a customer relationship management (CRM) tool. Because the CRM is used by both teams, client files are started by sales and managed by account management, which helps to streamline all data.

3. Conduct a Needs Assessment

Now that the customer is onboarded, the account manager will assess the needs and goals of the client in order to create a comprehensive work plan for the ongoing relationship. The best way to handle this step is to have in place a template to follow that is based on your industry and the product or service the client is purchasing from your company. This will give the account managers a structure to follow while gathering information and streamline the process. It also ensures that all important details are captured.

4. Execute the Individualized Work Plan

Once a needs assessment is conducted a comprehensive work plan is created, which typically includes defined goals, a schedule for follow-up meetings or calls, a strategy for handling any current issues or challenges, and a plan for upsells or cross-sells. To execute the plan successfully, the account manager will follow through with meetings, quickly address issues, and ultimately, grow the client account.

It is also helpful to share the work plan with your client and make sure it meets their expectations. Then, as the account manager accurately follows the plan, the client will see that their goals are being met and this will build trust.

Because most points in the work plan are time-sensitive, account managers often use scheduling software to keep track of dates and times.

5. Manage Client Satisfaction

Now that the account manager has assessed needs and crafted a work plan, focus on managing ongoing client satisfaction by meeting or exceeded the defined goals, as well as providing good customer service, such as accurate and timely responses. To provide this excellent service, account managers often use help desk software. The automation of a help desk will increase the speed of service leading to higher customer satisfaction.

6. Retain Client & Build Relationship

While you are executing the work plan and providing quick responses to queries, pay attention to ongoing customer needs. Typically, there will be opportunities throughout the account management process to develop lasting relationships with clients and build trust so you can grow their account over time. This way, you’ll be well-positioned to upsell, cross-sell or renew contracts when the time is right.

When account managers follow the steps outlined above, they are able to nurture the relationship with their client. Clients then stay loyal and continue to purchase because they feel appreciated, well taken care of and have success with the product. These healthy relationships help retain clients which increases revenue.

Account Management Team

Most account management teams consist of account managers, account executives, and in some cases, key account managers. Account executives oversee the department and assign clients to the appropriate account manager. They may also prospect for new clients, demonstrate products, and close deals. Account managers have a portfolio of clients for whom they develop and execute a long-term plan of action while building trust and fostering client retention.

Key account managers are responsible for a smaller portfolio of high-value clients that require more time and attention to detail. Their portfolio may be smaller, but their clients are responsible for a large portion of overall revenue and require more personal involvement.

Let’s now take a look at each position in more detail, including their responsibilities and how they interact with each other.

Account Manager

The account manager is the point of contact for all client accounts in his or her portfolio. They are responsible for executing the agreed upon plan of action and increasing customer satisfaction. By maintaining regular interactions, providing skilled customer support, and efficiently solving any issues, they will effectively manage the customer’s expectations.

Because account managers are on the front line of communication with clients, product knowledge and complete familiarity with the inner workings of the company are vital. When all customer expectations are met, they will feel appreciated and there is a higher level of trust. This leads to customer loyalty, which in turn leads to profitability.

Account Manager Responsibilities

  • Successfully onboard each client after the sale is complete.
  • Retain clients through great customer service and problem solving.
  • Increase customer loyalty by efficiently responding to any questions or requests.
  • Suggest upgrades, add ons and cross-sells.
  • Encourage contract renewal, ask for feedback and follow up on referrals given by the client.

Key Account Manager

Key account managers are experienced account managers who deal with a smaller number of higher-value clients. These high-end clients represent a significant portion of overall revenue and therefore require more of a time commitment and an increased level of detail. The key account manager spends more time with each client, builds additional trust and, ultimately, generates more business from the most valuable accounts.

Key Account Manager Responsibilities

  • Work with and retain the most valuable clients that produce the highest sales.
  • Have a regular cadence of interactions including phone calls, emails, meetings or zoom meetings to maintain a strong relationship with each client.
  • Collaborate within the organization so all departments have information about key accounts.
  • Upsell and cross-sell to these valuable clients by having a solid overall knowledge of the products and also strong negotiation techniques.

Account Executive

The account executive role is the sales leader for the account management team and often serves as manager to the account managers. However, they may also be involved in the sales process, including generating leads, demonstrating products or services to potential clients, and work toward closing deals. They then assign clients to the best account manager for their particular needs and arrange introductions.

Because the account executive is responsible for the overall success of the entire account management team, they also track the progress and success of the account managers. That would include monitoring customer feedback, upsells, retention, referrals and contract renewal. They then relay that information to the company leaders along with any new leads they are working on and how all follow-ups are being handled.

Account Executive Responsibilities

  • Manage the account management team and overall account management process.
  • Responsible for overall account management team performance and success.
  • Assign clients to account or key account managers depending on client needs and overall fit.
  • Take part in the sales process, including generating leads and closing deals.
  • Departmental reports for higher management.

Account Management Software

Account management software is used by most account management teams to store client information and streamline the execution of the account management process. Depending on your company structure and the expected results, there are several different types of software to consider.

A CRM stores client information and has valuable tools to help account managers keep the individualized work plans on track. Helpdesk software helps streamline the customer service process, and other software like scheduling software and conferencing software help account managers set up and execute client meetings whether in-person, via phone or virtual.

When choosing account management software you will want to consider the size of your company, the complexity of the sales structure, the number of employees that will utilize the software (most software charges per user), client needs and overall budget.

CRM Software

CRM software serves as the database for all client information so any member of the account management team can access details and efficiently assist clients. In addition, CRM software helps the overall account management process by automating common tasks and providing features like a built-in phone system for communication directly within the CRM.

Some of the best CRM options include:

  • Hubspot: Known as a sales and marketing tool, Hubspot provides a robust and free CRM with the ability to add-on premium features.
  • Pipedrive: A simple and intuitive CRM that uses kanban-style drag-and-drop functionality to create a highly-visual pipeline.
  • Freshworks CRM: Robust CRM with premium features like a built-in phone and AI-powered customer insights.

 

Additional Reading:

If CRM software sounds right for your team, check out our editorial review of the best CRM options, which includes primary use-cases for each option on the list.

Helpdesk Software

Helpdesk software is great for businesses with a forward-facing customer service team that deals with existing customer issues as well as fields questions from potential customers. Those who have a highly-complex product or service, as well as those who allow customers to submit tickets and questions, can especially benefit from this software.

Some of the best helpdesk software include:

  • Freshdesk: The helpdesk solution from Freshworks, which integrates with Freshworks CRM to provide a more seamless user experience.
  • Zendesk Service: Known as a robust helpdesk option that also integrates with its Zendesk Sell CRM solution.

Scheduling Software

Scheduling software integrates with your existing calendar and helps set up meetings with automatic scheduling that syncs with you and your client’s calendars. Not only does this make the account management process more efficient, but it makes you look more professional.

One of the best scheduling software options is Calend.ly, which costs between $10-$12 per month, depending on the contract. However, most suites like Microsoft Teams or G Suite offer similar services.

Conferencing Software

Meeting with clients is a huge component of account management. Conferencing software, especially during the time of Covid, is excellent for conducting and attending meetings online. Account managers can use this software not just for meetings, but also instructional webinars, customer support, and product training.

One of the most popular options is Zoom, which offers tiered levels of web conferencing services. However, like scheduling software, your email provider’s suite of services may also have this functionality.

Account Management Strategies & Best Practices

Now that you understand the account management process, team structure, and the available account management software, check out this list of best practices to supercharge your account management operations:

1. Create & Utilize an Onboarding Checklist

Your onboarding process should follow a scripted guideline that ensures the client relationship is developed successfully. An onboarding checklist helps, in very basic terms, to ensure nothing slips through the cracks. The checklist should be created internally based on your industry and company product. This step is important because you must have up to date, organized, detailed information to guide future interactions.

2. Use a Client-Specific Plan

While the onboarding process should be repeatable, ensure that the ongoing plan you create with your client is specific to their business and needs. While the creation of your plan can follow the same guidelines, make sure that the activities you plan around a specific client is unique to them.

3. Maintain Regular Communication

The best strategy for handling communication with the client is to have a regular cadence for contact, meetings, and general follow-up. The account manager should respond quickly to questions and requests, but not hound the client with an overload of communication. It is important to find that balance between consistent check-ins and inbox clogging.

4. Add Personal Touches

It is business, but your clients are still human beings and want to feel good about their decision to purchase your product or service as well as feel appreciated. Build rapport with your clients and collaborate with them, providing a personal touch as you manage their account. This is especially important if you are taking over for an account manager that has left the company. You need to get up to speed quickly to ensure a seamless transition.

5. Upsell & Cross-Sell

Through the post-sale process, there is often a chance to upsell or cross-sell related items. Make sure the timing is right for this and that you have done the necessary research. Also, make sure the work plan is on track and the client relationship is thriving so they will be receptive to these suggestions. Upsells have a positive and direct effect on the bottom line.

6. Monitor & Review Client Progress

Finally, it is helpful to measure the quality of the work and the client relationship by monitoring how the plan is progressing. Check client satisfaction through feedback, analyze data to see that issues are being handled efficiently, examine the value added and long-term profit.

Bottom Line: Account Management

For any sales-driven company, a healthy bottom line is the overall goal. When the post-sale process is handled proficiently by the account management team, the bottom line will thrive. This is due to client retention, increased sales, upsells, positive referrals (increased client database) and lower operating costs. Loyal, delighted customers lead to increased sales which in turn more generate revenue.

 

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