Is an Account Manager a sales person?

April 20, 2014

Is an Account Manager a Salesperson?, AM-Insider article by Sarah Ritchie

Sales person: "An individual who sells goods and services to other entities."



Is an Account Manager a sales person? Yes, whether you are prospecting, closing deals or simply order-taking, you are a sales person. That thought can make an Account Manager feel extremely uncomfortable at times, especially when you got into account management thinking you'd be an organiser or relationship-builder, not a "sales person". 

Is an Account Manager a sales person? Yes, whether you are prospecting, closing deals or simply order-taking, you are a sales person. – Sarah Ritchie


Sales via relationship-building is definitely possible, but having a good client relationship will not guarantee sales. You are still going to have to be proactive, still have to make the occasional sales pitch, and still "close the sales".

Some companies refer to their account management staff as their "sales team". You will find that those companies put greater emphasis on business development (new and existing), targets, GPs and incentives than those companies who refer to their account managers as their "client service" team. It pays to clearly understand a company's expectations before you accept an account management job offer!

Whether the pressure to sell is overt or not, an Account Manager is most definitely selling their wares every day of their career. Every AM will have a budget figure that they have to reach at the end of each month/quarter/year, and it is your responsibility to ensure you hit those targets. How you reach the targets will differ depending on your company and clientele.

You may be a fortunate AM, in that the work will simply fall into your lap during the course of the year. This is especially true if you have one or two large clients with whom you know exactly what their spend is during the year, and you are effectively the facilitator of the spend. More difficult is the sales road for the AM who has a smattering of smaller clients, from whom the work is erratic and unpredictable; where jobs you thought would come in (or that you counted on) often do not eventuate. When the revenue is unpredictable you need to focus more strongly on the fundamentals of the sales process. These include:

  1. Prospecting / initial contact
  2. Pre-approach / planning the sale
  3. Approach
  4. Need assessment
  5. Presentation
  6. Meeting objections
  7. Gaining commitment
  8. Follow-up
Management of a Sales Force (12th Ed. p. 66) by Rich, Spiro and Stanton.

"...about 15% of one's financial success is due to one's technical knowledge;
and about 85% is due to skill in human engineering,
to personality, and the ability to lead people.

"How to Win Friends & Influence People", Dale Carnegie


Seasoned sales people will tell you that selling in a crowded marketplace is difficult (especially if there is little differentiation between agencies), and even the best sales people rarely like cold calling. Therefore, if all this sales talk is a little overwhelming, you can begin with what I call the basics of "Account Manager selling":

  • Keep your client up-to-date with the products and services you offer: Your client may only know your company for supplying one type of product or service. You need to keep reminding them of what your agency can do.
  • Cross-selling: If your client wants you to print a brochure for them, suggest that you also do the design. If they would like to place a radio ad, offer to write the script and arrange the voice talent and recording. A.k.a, "would you like fries with that, Sir?"
  • Up-selling: If your client wants to print 500 brochures, offer to print 750 brochures for a mere $30 more. If you are arranging a product photoshoot for a couple of products, suggest your client has the whole product range photographed at the same time to maintain styling and lighting consistency. A.k.a, "would you like to upsize your combo, Sir?"
  • Be proactive: Suggest ways you can help your client that may result in sales for you and a win for them. Look for business or improvement opportunities for them; utilise new technologies or equipment; show how they can achieve cost savings by changing the way they produce their projects.
  • Add value: Make sure that whatever you do for your client adds value to their business, not just cost.
  • Care: Demonstrate that you genuinely care about your client and their business - it will pay dividends.
  • Become your client's ideas person: By coming up with ideas that will help make your client money, you can create unexpected work for your agency.
  • Get in front of your client: It's far more likely that you will increase your sales if you spend quality, regular face-time with your client.
  • Discover your client's pain points: It's only through dialogue that you will find out the needs and pains of your client. Ask pertinent questions to unearth information that will help you.
  • Ask for referrals: If your client is happy with your work, they shouldn't mind passing on the names of other friends/colleagues/business associates who may be able to use your services.
  • Annual plan: Sit down with your client, once a year (or more) to plan out the activity for the coming year. You'll have a good handle on the quantity of work that might come through (great for your own budget forecasting); your client will see you're being proactive; and you will have a game plan that you can use with your client as the year progresses.
  • Resurrect old or dormant clients: Create a game plan to contact former clients, showcasing work that you have done recently and how that may be of interest to them. Even a phone call asking them why they no longer use your agency's services will be - ideally - a kickstarter to renewing the relationship, or - at the least - educational to find out why they stopped buying from you.
Project suggestions for existing clients to help increase your revenue
  • Rebranding
  • Repackaging
  • Website redesign
  • Creative ideas
  • Campaign ideas
  • SEO analysis on website
  • Infographic production (campaign analysis, social media metrics)
  • Social media management
"Sales" shouldn't be scary for an Account Manager. Once you get comfortable with the thought that you are selling all the time, you can start to relax into the concept. There are plenty of good books and websites around that can help you to upskill in all facets of the sales process, then it is literally a case of practise makes perfect. The more you flex your selling-muscle, the easier it gets (even cold calling)...I promise!



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