Account management 101 — your guide to building successful client relationships
Retaining existing accounts delivers a greater ROI than sourcing and onboarding new clients. But building and maintaining healthy, long-lasting relationships with buyers is complicated. Companies must have account-specific workflows, engage across multiple channels, and provide the personalization buyers expect.
Account management bridges the relationship gap between your audiences and your team to ensure clients remain happy. This post will cover everything you need to know about account management, including:
- What account management is
- The importance of account management
- Account management vs. sales
- What an account manager does
- Account management best practices
- Tools for account management
What is account management?
Account management is the process of building and maintaining solid relationships with clients to increase retention and maximize the value of the association for both parties.
Account managers (AMs) work with clients as the first point of contact or day-to-day liaison between the buyer and the employees providing a product or service. Account managers might oversee a project’s schedule and budget, address and resolve issues, perform quality control, or make recommendations for achieving the client’s goals. Good account management guarantees a long-lasting, mutually profitable partnership.
The importance of account management
Effective account managers create positive customer experiences to keep clients longer and broaden buyer accounts.
- A McKinsey & Company study shows that improving the customer experience (CX) can produce 20% greater customer satisfaction and 15% higher sales.
- A Gallup guide reports that 69% of B2B customers are ready to take their business elsewhere if their experience doesn’t match their expectations.
Account management prevents churn and increases customer lifetime value (CLV) because it ensures that employees deliver on time, within budget, and to the client’s satisfaction. It also enables better communication with clients. A great CX creates more opportunities for upsells, cross-sells, and account renewals.
Account management vs. sales
It’s easy to confuse the role of sales with account management. Both interact directly with the customer to close deals but the two jobs are very different.
- Sales. The sales team is responsible for prospecting and bringing on new clients or accounts. Some companies refer to their sales representatives as account executives. Their relationship with a client is short.
- Account management. Account managers are responsible for taking care of the client after the initial sale. Some businesses designate key account managers or strategic account managers dedicated to one or two valuable accounts. Their relationship with a client is long-term.
Some organizations have never created an account management position, so sales account executives assume those duties. However, this situation may strain sales agents and distract them from prospecting. It’s also not always a good fit for a sales rep — establishing new relationships and pitching products or services require different skills than maintaining long-term partnerships and working to bring two teams together.
What does an account manager do?
The account manager is the point person for a client account. They report to the account director or agency director. They may work for a commission to grow key accounts, usually as a bonus to their salary. Their general duties can include the following.
Increase client retention
Once the sales team closes an account it’s the responsibility of the account manager to keep it. This process requires attention at every stage.
- Onboarding. From the welcome call and email, account managers ensure a smooth transition to working with their companies. They might provide a product walkthrough, help with the first login, and follow up to avoid unnecessary churn by trial users.
- Regular meetings. By video or in person, AMs meet with clients to keep them engaged, emphasizing the value of their investment.
- Check-ins. Account managers call and email to keep their companies top of mind. They present industry and product updates and create every opportunity to keep in touch.
- Account reviews. AMs may periodically survey key client accounts with a questionnaire and interviews, fielding any emerging concerns.
- Re-negotiations. By the end of a contract, account managers should see any opportunities for renewals, upsells, and cross-sells and secure new contracts.
Supervise the customer experience
Account managers cue in on each client’s specific needs and expectations and then work with internal staff to meet them. They check in daily with their teams and leadership to maximize the customer experience.
- Represent the client internally. Account managers communicate the client’s expectations to their internal teams and supervise their efforts to meet goals.
- Monitor and evaluate performance. AMs work with project managers and data analysts to track key performance indicators (KPIs), stay on task, and identify areas of improvement.
- Resolve complaints. They coordinate with other departments to solve technical issues, offer creative solutions, and ensure customer satisfaction.
- Report to leadership. They keep the C-suite abreast of the client relationship and the project’s progress so leadership can weigh in as necessary.
Guide client expectations
The account manager must set clear direction, providing a roadmap, so the client knows what work will be handed over, when to expect deliverables, and what the future scope of work entails.
- Design strategies. The AM develops ideas that propel the client’s business forward and involve the client in the planning process to help them share the vision.
- Present a clear scope of work. Account managers build project schedules and budgets, balancing the client’s goals with what the company can deliver.
- Communicate changes. If there’s a delay, account managers apprise the client and mitigate the fallout. They work with internal teams to get the project back on schedule.
Account management best practices
As the client’s primary contact, account managers represent the face of the company. How they treat clients can mean the difference between a long-lasting partnership and a failed account. Here are some tips to help make the most of each client relationship.
Good account management requires attention, so AMs who communicate quickly have the most success. Account managers should be able to listen and discern clients’ needs, validate them, and then persuade them of the best course to take.
The best account managers have high emotional intelligence (EQ), demonstrating transparency, flexibility, empathy, and self-awareness. They respond quickly to clients’ requests, say no when necessary, and fulfill their commitments. When communication goes well, clients are more engaged and responsive, their feedback is more meaningful, and they are much more likely to continue with your company.
But account management involves more than just client relations. Account managers also must interface with internal teams and stakeholders and bring them into discussions. Take the same proactive and cooperative approach to communicating with internal teams as well.
Work with each client to set realistic, measurable objectives. Pay attention to clients’ priorities to establish benchmarks and milestones that make sense for them. Quantifying and agreeing on expectations reassures both parties.
Then create a roadmap that will keep projects and deliverables within budget and on schedule. Your timeline will depend on your industry and project, but rely on incremental timeframes and scale gradually.
As part of your larger client roadmap, look beyond the current campaign toward future projects. Start developing ideas and strategies for what the client needs to do next before they ask. It’s an opportunity to tee up a sales pitch for more business. Assuming the client says yes, your foresight will guarantee consistency and scalability.
Be an advocate
Work toward the client’s best interests, advocate for their goals, and provide guidance to help them best utilize the company's product or services. Act as a trusted advisor and the customer’s greatest advocate. When a client calls or emails about challenges and concerns, they should feel the account manager has their back and does what it takes to help their business succeed.
You’ll know you’ve succeeded when your client is calling you for advice on unrelated projects or sending you referrals.
Every strategy and best practice for excellent account management can help build client relationships, but it’s possible to take a lot of the right steps without actually building that relationship. The best AMs become trusted advisors on very friendly terms with their clients, so be mindful to nurture the relationship as you manage the account.
There are additional strategies you can employ to help build client relationships.
- Do your research before calling or meeting a client for the first time. Investigate a company's history, current organization, and competitive landscape. When clients talk about their goals and concerns, the AM should understand where they’re coming from and be able to answer their questions.
- Perfect the feedback loop to strengthen the client-company bond. Create a system to gather and record clients’ reactions, analyze their commentary, and then demonstrate that you’ve taken their feedback and applied it.
- Train clients on the product or service you deliver beyond the initial onboarding. Sharing your expertise — even outside the scope of work — cements trust.
- Add personal messaging to your outreach. In addition to your business emails, send a gift on the client’s birthday or anniversary.
Tools for account management
When done well, account management helps grow clients’ business and improves client retention. Account managers represent the client to internal teams and they represent the company to the client. Great account managers turn clients into committed partners.
If your business has a portfolio of clients, you need some dedicated account managers. Start by evaluating your current team to determine if you have people filling that role and how well they’re doing it. If you already have dedicated account managers, consider your resources to determine if they have the necessary tools.
Adobe Marketo Engage can help you deliver exceptional experiences as long as a client relationship lasts. Marketo Engage uses data to isolate the best opportunities for improving CX and initiating cross-selling opportunities. It automatically personalizes content at scale on every channel.