The most successful account managers are relationship builders!
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Dear commercial B2B executives – do you know the true “health condition” of your key accounts?
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Top B2B commercial executives: “The most successful account managers are relationship builders with a well-structured approach to managing their accounts.”
(Source: Sales Guard’s B2B Commercial Executive Survey 2016/2017)
“High performing account managers are relationship builders...”
When asked to characterize their company’s best performing account managers, commercial executives at large Scandinavian corporations say, that the ability and will to build strong relations with key customers is the single most important characteristic of these high performing account managers. By spending the majority of their time with customers in order to get close to each individual decision maker, these account managers are able to identify the customer’s unfulfilled needs and critical pains – and to tailor solutions and offerings accordingly at the early stages of the decision making process.
Moreover, a well-structured approach to managing each key account as well as the ability to prioritize their own resources also distinguish high performers from the rest. This enables the account manager to spend time on the most promising business opportunities and to target those key decision makers who have been identified in advance. Very often these abilities are combined with a strong will to follow-up on planned activities.
Other executives say that high performing account managers are those who have a strong personal drive and are passionate about their job. These account managers have a big appetite for closing deals and they fully understand and accept the need for meeting sales budgets.
Chart 1: Consider the company’s best performing account managers – what is it that distinguishes these account managers from the rest?*Note: The sum of percentages may exceed 100 as it is possible to give more than one answer to the question.*
Commercial executives on what it is that distinguishes top performing account managers from others:
- “They have an active and continuous relation with each single account – not only around “closing time” (CCO)
- “Their primary focus is to tighten the relation to the customer, this gives them better insights and thus more ideas for contacting the customer with suggestions or solutions. The more interactions the more sales opportunities” (Nordic Marketing & Sales Director)
- “They cultivate their network through contact and dialogue. We are seen as a commodity supplier and therefore personal relations are the only success criteria apart from price” (CCO)
- “High performers achieve their goals by networking with both product developers, the quality team, procurement and marketing at each key account. This enables them to enter the decision making process at an early stage and to challenge the customer by asking critical questions rather than talk only about price” (Sales Director)
- “They have a more analytical and structured approach to their account portfolio, this enables them to perform strategic selling as they design their offerings to fit the uncovered needs of the customers” (Regional VP)
- “They are structured and highly disciplined when it comes to planning and follow-up on planned actions” (Sales Director)
- “They are well prepared when they meet the customer, they have mapped the buying center, checked the background of each key decision maker and understand their pains and needs” (Global Sales Excellence Director)
- “They have the energy and the aggression to pursue possibilities that may seem “thin”, but nevertheless often end up as closed deals. It has nothing to do with luck – it is hard work” (Sales Manager)
- “They enjoy their job more than others. Those who have fun show high performance. Those who only give 90% to the job don’t” (Sales Director)
- “It’s all about will. Pure work effort and the will to learn new things” (Sales Director)
“..whereas other account managers should be closely managed through personal coaching and ongoing dialogue.”
When asked how to ensure that account managers spend their time on the things that management wants them to address, commercial executives say that this takes intensive coaching allied with having a close relationship with each individual account manager. Furthermore, it is necessary to continuously follow-up on planned activities to make sure that account managers stay focused.
Other executives point to the fact that CRM- or sales systems are standout methods in organizing both the planning and prioritization of sales activities as well as follow-up processes. If these systems are combined with KPI’s and maybe a corresponding bonus system, it enables management to monitor the performance of all of their account managers and to motivate each individual account manager in meeting his or her sales goals.
Chart 2: How do you ensure that account managers spend their time on the things that you want them to address?*Note: The sum of percentages may exceed 100 as it is possible to give more than one answer to the question.*
Commercial executives on how to make sure that account managers spend their time on the right things:
- “It’s all about presence, you need to be visible and have a close relationship and dialogue with your account managers” (Sales Director Nordic)
- “You need to put yourself in the position of the account manager and then do whatever it takes to motivate him or her. It takes human insight – you can’t do it with a sales tool as each account manager is different from the rest” (Sales Director)
- “It’s simple, you need day-to-day coaching, nothing else. People are different and they respond differently” (Sales Director)
- “Sales managers need to spend time with account managers and show them the way. This way you get to know each other and you are able to share experience and abilities. Managers should also participate in sales meetings together with account managers in order to introduce the strategic perspective” (Senior VP of Sales)
- “You need a constructive dialogue. We have weekly meetings in order to follow-up on current activities and for account managers to stay focused on planned actions” (Sales Director)
- “Follow-up is key! That you track each account manager and make sure that the actions you have agreed upon are actually carried out” (Sales Director)
- “We use a CRM-system in which account managers fill out meeting reports every day. Every week I take out account manager statistics. It’s all about using the sales tools the right way” (COO)
- “One word: CRM! As soon as you start monitoring we all know that things become more efficient – like it or not. Moreover, if account managers are able to see what their colleagues are doing, they understand the advantages of the system” (Sales Director)
- “You’ve got to define KPI’s and connect these to a bonus system. This way you define the direction you want account managers to follow. It’s important though that account managers understand the purpose of the system – that it is meant to help them rather than being a control system” (CCO)
- “We did some time mapping in order to see how account managers spend their time. Then we tried to remove time spent on administrative tasks and internal stuff” (Sales Director)
About the survey
Sales Guard’s B2B Commercial Executives Survey uncovers best practice within the area of B2B upsell strategies, sales management and customer relationship management among the biggest Scandinavian corporations.
The survey was conducted in the period of July–December 2016 among 249 commercial Executives in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Interviews in local languages were done by telephone from Aalund Research Center in Aarhus, Denmark.
Main conclusions are published in a series of newsletters on www.salesguard.com in the period of January–November 2017.