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Karthik Nagendra

Chief Marketing Officer at DemandFarm

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    Managing accounts and selling products seem different, but the functions of both practices share plenty of similarities. The relationship between Sales and Account Management is about getting the product in front of the customers, but while sales processes end when a product is purchased, Account management never stops. In simple words, sales teams bring customers in, and account management nurtures them and helps both entities grow.

    Both account management and sales have goals that are similar – building strong customer relationships, and increasing revenue of their organization. Both are important for the organization to be successful, but the skill sets required are very different.

    What is Sales?

    Sales, for software firms, involves a wide range of responsibilities on a day-to-day basis which are carried out to connect the solutions/products of the organization to relevant customers. Members of sales teams should know the product they’re selling inside out, so that they design solutions that suit unique needs of their clients. By discussing the benefits of different products, they connect with possible clients – and are involved in creating special deals for high-value clients. It is their job to keep up with sales reports and marketing data, writing contracts (and invoices once the sale is closed), and achieve sales targets set.

    What is Account Management?

    Account managers should also be proficient in sales activities, but few key differences can be observed between the roles. Account management roles are created to build a strategic relationship with the customer after the sale is done, so that the satisfaction levels with the product or solution are high. Account management teams also act as advisers to their customers, and help them plan their long-term growth strategies. Apart from customer development and upselling to grow existing accounts, the account management team also keeps customer service success as their first priority.

    Where sales and account management work well together!

    In small and medium-sized businesses, organizations can have their sales teams handle account management too. This gives the members of sales teams a better look at their customer’s needs, and allows them to craft customized plans. As both sales and account management are critical roles, organizations should consider bifurcating them once they have reached a considerable size. Since account management also involves cross-selling and upselling whenever opportunities arise, sales teams can build their product presence quickly – but managing the account where no selling is involved might get a bit difficult in some cases. Even if sales team members are responsible for strategic account management, leaders of the vendor organization must ensure the team members understand the different skills required to execute both roles successfully.

    Sales Vs. Account Management: How is key account management different from sales?

    Understanding the difference between the elements of each discipline, can help the two teams work together, exchange information and share best practices, and grow faster. Some differences that can be highlighted between the functioning of sales and Account management teams are listed below.

    1. Pre-sale and post-sale activities

    Sales teams are traditionally responsible for bringing in new customers, and they usually have only transactional relationships with the customer’s employees. The ownership of the customer transfers to account management teams, who develop a relationship with the customers, understand their issues and help them grow their business. Using key account management software can help both teams equally, as the data about the customer in the vendor organization’s enterprise memory can be used by both teams to great effect. While the sales processes can convert better with personalised solution scenarios, account management can start delighting the customer from day 1 with the data about the issues and how the solution is being used. Deep expertise in the solution’s capabilities allows both teams to seize the opportunity presented by the extra information at their disposal.

    2. Hunting for customers and farming that adds value to them

    Allusions to hunting are aplenty in sales circles, where sales executives scout out the prospects and then close the deal (or ‘hunt’ them). The task of account management, in this scenario, is to ‘farm’ the value brought by the sales team and keep all involved parties satisfied. The data about customers can help them identify ways to cater to the customers’ needs and respond quickly.

    3. Shorter and longer frequencies

    While both teams follow different cadences of work, at the end – they are tied to the client’s decisions. There’s no way to know how long closing a deal will take – ranging from weeks and months to even years (for large enterprise customers), sales teams keep their pitch on all the time. They don’t rest until the sale is closed and the account is handed to… the account management team.

    The account management team starts selling once the sales team stops – and doesn’t rest. In that way, both teams work on unpredictable cycles, and the amount of information they collect in either stage can hugely benefit the other team. Even if the sales process fails to close, for example, after 8 months – the sales team would have collected enough data that can help development or strategy or any other team to come up with more pointed features that address the issue.

    4. Adding to the bottom line in the short term and the long term

    The much-maligned ‘P’ word, profits, operate very differently for both teams. While sales teams are used to seeing profit up front, account management takes a longer route. Account managers spend months in developing key customer relationships, and present opportunities to upgrade, renew, and extend contracts. The activities of account management can provide a stronger financial base to the vendor organization, as it comes with long-term contracts that secure the cash flow for the duration.

    Read Now: 5 Essential Skills of Account Managers

    Sales Vs. Account Management

    The debate of pitting sales and account management in terms of revenues or customers closed is doing a disservice to two vastly different disciplines (that albeit share many execution methods). While a sales team member focuses on the endgame of a pitch, account managers spend their effort on developing the relationship.

    Not all sales jobs are equal – and organization expectations will vary in how certain roles and responsibilities will be carried out. Even after that, there are certain traits that strong sales representatives exhibit: Persistence is a skill that helps in prospecting, as is self-management. Sales executives who persist with a problem or a difficult customer understand unique needs better, and sell better. Easy going attitude helps in developing rapport with customers. Sales executives who can identify the buying behaviours of their customers can style their communication to match what the customers need to hear – and that leads to sales. Curiosity leads to asking open-ended questions, and in sales circles – this can help in uncovering the wants and needs of prospective customers. Sales executives who listen to understand and not to respond, can gather a lot of information that can help them close sales in the future. Expertise allows sales executives to demonstrate the benefits of the product with respect to the buyer’s wants and needs. Having a strong product knowledge also allows executives to identify white spaces in customers, and pitch new products to serve the need. Confidence is what closes the sale at the end. A salesperson who knows the product and the customers – will be confident enough to close the sale and ask the customer to sign the contract.

    Account management roles demand a growth-oriented mentality, where the focus is on nurturing the customer-vendor relationship and growing it to achieve its full potential. Account managers identify key accounts, and prioritize them based on their potential for growth. They aim to achieve long-standing partnerships with their customers, and observing good account managers shows the following skills being used often: Being approachable and friendly results in communicating effectively, and taking a customer focussed approach that is consultative in nature instead of a vendor-customer partnership. Being organized allows account managers to help their customers whenever necessary, but prioritise them in such a way that everyone gets the attention they need, while maximising revenue potential. Long-term thinking allows account managers to focus on strategic relationships that last a long term, and defend their accounts from overtake attempts by competitors. Unlike their sales counterparts who are geared to think short term (closing the sales) account managers spend the majority of the time thinking about a few quarters down the line.

    Difference between Key Account Manager and Sales Manager

    While sales managers interact with many customers, key account managers focus on a small subset of them. They anticipate and address the needs of their organization’s most valuable customers. The methods and techniques that key account managers use are different from the ones that regular account managers utilize in their job. If sales managers are ‘hunters’ who win accounts and account managers ‘Farm’ the customers into mutual profitability, then key account managers take care of the cream of the crop, and find ways to increase yield by finding new fertile ground. Both account managers and key account managers, however, strive to understand the business needs of their customers deeply so that they can create plans for how to meet them. They work to increase customer happiness, reduce churn, and generate new sales opportunities.

    Based on the size of their organization, a sales manager can be handling anywhere between 5 to 25 customer accounts. The vastness of responsibility itself curtails their effectiveness, and if the organization they work for is small enough – then they might get the added responsibility of handling key accounts at the time of crisis in addition to their sales duties too. The answer can be to pay more attention to the higher-tier customers, but this can backfire in the long run if a customer goes big and needs more services. Key account managers, on the other hand, are responsible for:

    • Nurturing key customers and ensuring smooth running of long-term relationships
    • Ensuring critical resources are available to the customers who need those resources to grow
    • Solving conflicts in processes and execution so that they drive the long-term happiness of key customers
    • Supporting customers by coordinating with customer facing departments like services, product, support, or something else to get their requests and issues cleared
    • Finding new revenue producing opportunities via whitespace analysis and execute the sale and delivery to address them

    Key Account Managers are responsible for strengthening and growing relationships with key customers, so as to derive strategic significance and financial value to all parties involved. Key accounts usually tend to be largest in size – be it people, revenue, or future opportunity – and tend to be the most organizationally complex. The solutions presented therefore require additional skills and management opportunities, so that the core tasks associated with traditional account management can be handled along with specialized key account management duties. Key account managers also leverage all of the resources like people, products, and processes that are available to them and create plans for value-based solutions that meet the needs of the customer and the vendor organizations. The mutually beneficial nature of key account relationships drive future growth potential for both organizations.

    Sales managers aim to boost revenue by directing sales teams to achieve pre-set goals. After analyzing sales statistics, they understand how well the team is performing and identify where improvements or cutbacks need to be made. They update leaders on their team’s performance, and provide suggestions to increase productivity. They also develop new techniques to sell products or solutions faster – like a new message to start with for cold calling – to bring in new clients. Accomplished sales managers also actively collaborate with marketing teams to develop messages that their team members can use, and are on the constant lookout for selling points that focus on customer needs. They can also find potential gaps in the market, and train their teams to target potential buyers with a convincing sales pitch. Their actions determine the product or solution success right off the bat, and sets the stage for account managers and key account managers to take over.

    Conclusion

    The end goal of both key account management teams and sales teams is increasing revenue, but they use vastly different paths to get there. No matter how big or small a vendor organization is, understanding the basics and making the distinction between sales and key account management can help them adopt different strategies that can yield results for both teams. As long as the needs of customers are addressed and solutions are provided to their issues, the role can be performed by any capable person. Having the right tools matters a lot too – with proper tools, even the smallest sales team can combine its collective knowledge and  punch well above its weight, and bring delight to their customers.

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    About The Author

    Karthik Nagendra

    Chief Marketing Officer at DemandFarm

      Dr. Karthik Nagendra carries close to two decades’ of B2B technology & SaaS marketing experience. He has held senior marketing leadership positions earlier in leading brands like Wipro, Accenture among others. He has worked closely with leading universities, industry bodies, analysts and research firms globally and acted as a catalyst in providing best practices and insights to customers across sectors. He has authored papers & articles that have been featured in leading publications like Forbes, Business World, People Matters, and Economic Times among others. He has been a guest speaker at Wharton, Duke University, UCLA among other Ivy league Universities globally. He has been featured among the top 10 marketing consultants by CEO magazine and CMS Asia.