In Sales, there is definitely a difference between hunters and farmers. My experience includes work in both roles, so I believe I can speak as to the importance of each role to the success of the organization.
Business Development managers or “hunters” have a difficult assignment. As I have written in the past, they are change agents and no one likes change. On the other hand, the Account Manager does not deal with change primarily. They deal with conserving revenue and finding new opportunities within existing accounts. The hunter must be aggressive and at times force the line on persistence. The account manager on the other hand focuses on growing existing relationships, and on maintaining a line of communication. This difference in roles and missions can cause conflict, especially if the “hunter” is brought into the Account Manager’s client to, “sell new business.” The Account Manager can find the Business Development manager too aggressive, while the latter finds the Account Manager is too passive.
I believe the two roles should not work on the same client for the same company. Business Development managers should find new business, close it, then hand-off the relationship to an Account Manager. The Account Manager should then be responsible for the entire relationship, and for finding additional business.
So what should an Account Manager focus on to make sure they do their job?
- Build and grow relationships: I am always shocked to find that a company’s reach into a client only goes as far as the buyer. In today’s world, the buyer position has considerable turnover. Companies move buyers around as a policy to broaden their personnel’s experience, to bring in fresh eyes and ideas, and to lessen the chance for decisions to be made because of relationships and not on facts. So you must go beyond the role of the buyer to their supervisor, and company executives. There will be resistance, so how to you proceed?
- Work on the existing supervisor and executives. Look for ways to meet them outside the office, perhaps in their stores or in the field. Find out what they do outside of work. What community organizations do they work with? What are their hobbies? An associate of mine found out that the Vice President of his account worked out on the weekend at a local gym. He got the name of the gym, and then happen to meet the VP there. They soon started spotting each other as they worked out with weights. Soon my associate was invited to other activities including the company’s management retreat.
- Make it a goal to meet everyone in management at your client and establish an authentic relationship with them. Early in my career, when I was assigned to a regional grocery account at Keebler, I visited every store, and talked to every store manager. I did this more than once, visiting all stores in a region on a regular schedule. I then started meeting with the regional managers in a store, usually taking them and a store manager out to lunch. We would discuss Keebler of course, but we also talked about how to improve their private label sales. Over time, region and store managers were promoted, and my influence grew. By the time I left the account to take a district manager role, I could visit headquarters at my discretion. Region Managers would stop presentations to store managers to say hello. My growth in relationships led to the development of a promotional program at the account that increased sales by 75%. Such a strategy takes time, and hard work, but you must expand and grow your relationships at your account if you plan to succeed.
- As I mentioned in the last point, you cannot just focus on your product or company when you meet with client personnel. You must bring value that goes beyond who you represent. This could include trends in the industry, public news about their competition (be sure to only discuss information in the public domain. If you know something about their competitor gained from your company or your work, it is unethical to discuss this information. In addition, it makes your client suspicious of what you are telling their competition about them.) In my case, my regional chain had a great interest in their private label. I would give advice and consult on ways they could improve their sales. I was the expert in my product line, so my advice helped. Is this helping a product that competed with mine? My price point was usually around $3.99 a bag, while their private label was around $1.00. We had different customers. I also believe in the category management principle that what is good for the category is good for me. Bring value to your client, and your influence grows.
- Be seen at your client and at their events. Are they opening a new store? You must be there. Are they having a golf event? You must be there and even play if you can. Do they throw a party for vendors? You must attend and provide samples if necessary. Do not miss an event. If you cannot attend, send someone to take your place, someone at a higher level in your company if you can. You must be there and take advantage of these events to grow relationships. Does it take time from the family? Yes it does, so you will have to find a balance.
- Turn relationships into friendships that can last beyond your time assigned to the account. An associate of mine took a VP at his account snow skiing every winter. Both families would go to New Mexico, rent a cabin, and stay for an extended weekend. Your company may assist and if they do, go first class. But focus on growing a friendship. Be there as a friend if needed, not just as a supplier. If your friend has a family issue, be there to talk and support. Maybe they lose their job. Do you abandon them? No, help them find a new position and be there to give them advice. When they land a new job, your network and your friendship grows. Business is much more than just selling products or services. Human beings are involved and that aspect of the relationship has to be recognized. Plus, there are times when you need friends.
- So we have talked a ton about relationships, and we must. The relationship part of account management is very, very important and many times overlooked. But there are other areas of focus. They include:
- Protecting your existing business. Remember, your competition is always looking for ways to take your business. You have to maintain an “intelligence” network at your account so you know what competition is doing. Have they made a proposal? Do they want some of your shelf space? Is there a new display program? Whatever competition is doing, you must be able to counter and protect your business. If they want shelf space, make sure it comes from someone else. Do they want displays? Make sure that yours is not targeted. Work constantly to remind your client of the value you and your company provides.
- Look for new opportunities. Is your client only using one product or service? Work on expanding your footprint at the account. Keep presenting new products or services. You want to grow deep and widespread roots into your client, and making sure that they are using all of your company’s offerings is one way to expand. Having multiple products or services at an account also gives you some slack. You could lose something, and still have considerable business at the account.
- Look for ways to provide more value. Can you provide an expert in an area? Do so complementary. Reward your loyal clients with first access to a new product or service. Do you need a place to test new software, product or service? Offer partnerships to loyal customers and give them the product at a reduced price. Continue to look for ways to provide value, and your influence at your account grows.
I’m sure there are other aspects of account management that I have left out, but these points are basic and necessary. If I could sum up, there are two main areas of focus; growing relationships and growing your value to the client.