What’s the most useful skill you need in your Account Manager role and how much formal training have you received?
This was the question I posted recently to the Linked-in Account Manager Group.
To date the discussion has attracted 136 comments and 40 likes from Account Managers across various different industries so thank you if you took the time to contribute.
As I collated the results it struck me that while it was acknowledged by many that the role and skills required of an Account Manager vary from industry to industry and job to job, the group were fairly unanimous in what they believed the most important skills were.
So here are the top 10 most cited skills in order of importance:
By far the most mentioned skill.
But as Greg Lowe points out “Most Account Managers don’t listen long enough to get a complete grasp of the situation before starting to spew their solutions. Sometimes they get lucky and hit it, but most times they miss the mark”.
“Active listening for me is key or using the LAER method; Listen, Acknowledge, Explore and then Respond”. Barry Phillips adds.
If you feel you need to brush up on your listening skills, check out Mark Goulston’s book Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.
Mark is a clinical psychiatrist and FBI/police hostage negotiation trainer. The book will help you understand how to communicate more effectively with absolutely anyone; clients, colleagues, family members etc.
2. Time management
The second highest mentioned skill was time management.
As Joe Scannura says “it’s the number one skill I have found necessary for doing my job day to day. I have many requests, orders, communications and future projects to be thinking about that if I don’t effectively manage them all in a coherent way I will fall behind on every one”.
“I don’t feel I have enough time to handle everything with the same standard and quality and so it’s key to differentiate between what is primary and what is secondary” Tim Tian points out.
If you think your time management skills may need an overhaul but you haven’t done anything about it, try to read as much as you can about time management, you may find that you can save yourself a huge amount of time by simply changing some tiny things you do on a day-to-day basis.
If you’re not already familiar with Steven Covey’s time management quadrant, then watch this quick video. Many account managers have found the principle useful when organising their time:
3. Relationship (trust) building
“Establishing and earning personal trust from your client comes from demonstrating your concerns for their success with your product or service”. says Erv Raasch.
Cristian Jeffrey believes consistency is key “You are the face of your organisation. A good relationship can be built up over time by ensuring that all of your accounts needs are catered for. If they require an answer or need something to happen then it’s your responsibility to ensure that this is carried out. This will give them peace of mind and confidence in your ability to manage their account”.
Randy Hubbard describes relationship building both internally and externally as “crucial”.
4. Communication/people skills
Marianne Jacobs hits the nail right on the head in her explanation of the importance of communication skills. “We are people talking to other people and what we have to do is adapt the communication to the people we talk to. Listen to them, be ourselves while adapting to the communication, being compassionate and comprehending what the client does and needs”.
Marianne cites DISC as one of her most useful training programmes to better understand and communicate with her clients.
Dan Johnson agrees “I think the most crucial skill that has contributed to my success is effective communication”.
There are other similar behavioural models like social styles that help you understand how others communicate and how their communication style may be very different to your own and how you can adapt your style to communicate more effectively.
5. Organisational skills/multi-tasking ability
Patrick Maloney talks about the benefits of having good organisational skills “Being organised allows you to provide a more proactive service rather than a reactive one”.
“A good account manager should have the luck of a magician, dexterity of a juggler and instinct of a hunter”, says Sheeja Raveendran. “A juggler because you need to juggle multiple accounts, contacts and initiatives effortlessly and this is only possible if you have discipline, focus and the ability to manage time well”.
6. Understanding your client’s business & needs
Many responders saw this as vital to the ability of the Account Manager to provide the right solutions.
Thom Abrams sums it up “Understanding your client’s business objectives allows you as the manager to manage and execute programs that are in sync with their objectives as well as yours”.
Jordan Walters adds “You need to know your customer’s short term and long term goals. Everything you do should support those goals. All of your recommendations should be with said goals in mind. So, know your customer, help them get to their goals”.
For agency account managers a client development plan template can help guide you through the types of questions you should be asking about your client’s business to help you identify their challenges and provide appropriate solutions.
“Be flexible but focussed” says Sherry Meyer.
“I have lost count of the amount of times that I have been on the phone or in a meeting with a client and had to change my tact, or the way I talk to them, or the offering I was about to give them.” says Armadeep Malik, who believes adaptability is above all the most important skill for an account manager.
Martin Huckle says that account managers should “Walk a mile in their client’s shoes”. This was echoed by other contributors.
9. Asking good questions
And if you want your client to tell you more about his business you need to ask great questions.
“If you can’t ask the right questions, you cannot listen very well and will not be able to respond to the needs of the customer. If you want the deal, you need to ask and listen” says Stefaan Osaer.
Tom Osborne gets specific “Questioning should always be geared to understand two key things; 1. issues or objectives being experienced and/or 2. key results that to be achieved i.e. KPI’s, targets. When drawing out issues, dont settle for 1 or 2 issues…keep driving for more and understand the priority of addressing them (order of importance) in the clients eyes”.
Marcus Cauchi, London’s top Sandler sales trainer reiterates this point in this video where he talks about why your credibility comes from the questions you ask and not the information you give.
Passion was raised several times in the discussion.
Patrick Wendrich believes you should “Be passionate about your products”. Elias Savinides also believes that Account Managers should have the “ability to transfer that passion to the person you’re talking to”.
The relevance of formal training
The group were divided on whether formal training had a place in the development of account management skills. Many Account Managers had not had any formal training and believed you could gain the skills you needed on the job.
“My ‘formal training’ came in the shape of being mentored by someone who was almost superhuman in account management terms, and imbued in me many of her great skills in project management” says Paul Craycraft
Barry Phillips shares his experience of formal training “I believe in the take the best and leave the rest philosophy on professional training programs. What works in one sales arena might not apply in another. I really like some things from both and try to apply them when appropriate”.
And if you thought the multiple skills required from an Account Manager stopped there, you’d be wrong. Many other skills were mentioned in the feedback among which were; nurturing relationships with your own internal support team, becoming friends with your clients, never overcommitting, continually learning and developing yourself, having the most knowledge of your competitors, having foresight (anticipating client needs), patience, building trust through honesty, discretion and more!
If you want to see the whole discussion, then click here.
So do you agree with these skills? What can you add to the list? Is there anything here that hasn’t been covered?