One of the most common questions I get asked as a coach is: What are the account management skills I need to keep my customers for as long as possible? The answer is simpler than most people expect: Learn how to hunt and farm.
Traditionally, sales and account management has been divided into what psychotherapist Thom Hartmann calls the hunter mindset and the farmer mindset. The hunter mindset (sales) is characterized by an attention span that’s hyperfocused for short bursts of time. This mindset helps sellers lock down deals quickly. The farmer mindset (account management) is marked by patience and consistency. Farmer types nurture relationships over the long term, bearing fruit in the form of upsells, cross-sells, and referrals.
The most successful account managers bring together the best of both worlds. They keep clients happy while expanding the account to include new products. If you want to perfect this balance, I recommend honing four key skills: proactive service and support, collaborative problem-solving, stakeholder communication, and identifying account expansion opportunities.
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What is account management?
Account management focuses on supporting customers after the close to make sure they’re satisfied with their new products or services. The best account management strategies emphasize building long-term relationships, which open the door to upsells and cross-sells, and generate additional revenue.
Go beyond the close with the right account management skills
Successful account management is a balancing act, combining nimble decision-making, teamwork, and outside-the-box thinking. Here are the skills you need to make your account management top-notch:
1. Be proactive, not reactive
Too often, account managers think of themselves as order processors or “maintainers” who come in after a sale, attending to customer concerns and putting out fires. This is important, of course, but it’s reactive. To build trust with your customer, be proactive about delivering solutions and solving problems. Keep an eye on their deal in your customer relationship management platform (CRM) as it moves toward a close. Look for signs of potential issues, like:
- Unanswered questions about product features
- Concerns about cost
- Lack of preparation for product training or onboarding support
If you have a solid relationship with the seller who owns the deal, consider suggesting ways to address lingering concerns. If the seller doesn’t have time to address them, prepare materials you can give the customer as soon as the deal is done and handed off to the account management team.
The gold mine here comes from farming. Don’t go chasing upsells or cross-sells right away. Earn the customer’s trust by putting their interests and success first. Once they see your commitment and a solid ROI, you can approach conversations around new or additional deals.
2. Collaborate to improve account handoffs
The sales-to-account-management handoff is a critical moment in the customer experience. It’s a perfect opportunity to deliver on promises made during the sales process and set the tone for potential upsells and renewals.
Instead of treating this as a priority, I see a lot of teams do the bare minimum. The account manager spins up a quick email introducing themself, offering to answer any questions about the deal. But this is so open-ended, it’s unhelpful. How does the customer know who to contact for product questions? Pricing questions? What about new deals?
A better solution: The account manager schedules a meeting with all the point people the customer needs to know as they get up to speed on their new product or service. The list varies depending on the product and the customer’s needs, but generally includes someone from the product team, the sales rep, the account manager, and representatives from customer service and finance.
The meeting should outline what happens as customer success takes over the account from sales, and who the primary contact is (you, the account manager). Introduce yourself as the customer’s point of contact, and then briefly introduce the stakeholders. Make it known that they’ll help with support, but all initial questions should flow through you. Then, review next steps, provide resources to help them get started, and leave time for questions.
The goal: Make it clear the customer is supported by a team of experts that are ready and willing to help them succeed.
3. Communicate like a trusted advisor
According to Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer Report, 74% of customers say communicating honestly and transparently is more important now than before the pandemic. Little wonder. In times of change, communication is the number-one way to build and maintain trust. That trust is what allows you to build loyalty and, when the time is right, secure upsells.
There are two parts to honest and transparent communication. The first is proactive check-ins. A few days after the customer signs the deal, reach out to make sure there aren’t any outstanding questions from late in the sales process. Then, schedule a follow-up a few weeks out to ensure onboarding went well and the product is working as expected. What happens after that depends on customer needs and any updates you need to share. I suggest regular check-ins, but nothing more frequent than once a month — just to confirm that all is well with the product or service, and needs are being met. The exception: If a problem arises or you can’t follow through on a commitment, don’t wait for a check-in to let the client know. Be honest and upfront — then, offer a way forward.
The second part involves responding to customer communication. To make sure you’re handling this in an effective and timely manner, create a system where you can rate the importance and urgency of different client needs, and triage accordingly. Set up a list of criteria to help you categorize incoming messages in four buckets: urgent and important, urgent, important, and standard/normal. Then, set response times for each one. At the very least, I recommend responding to urgent and important messages within 24 hours.
For most account managers, it’s easiest to set up folders in your email client or CRM to keep client communication organized. If your CRM includes AI tools, I highly recommend using them to flag these automatically based on keywords that appear in incoming messages.
Finally, be sure all your responses are underscored by empathy and understanding. Remember, you’re a trusted advisor, so live up to your reputation by being as helpful and supportive as possible.
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4. Become an opportunity scout
The three account management skills above are all about farming — building trust, rapport, and connection with the customer. When you have a strong, positive relationship (based on feedback noting satisfaction with the product/service and support), it’s time to tap into the hunter mindset.
Think about upsells and product expansions as inevitable endpoints in the relationship. In other words, while you’re farming, be proactive about finding opportunities for upselling or expanding the account to other products or services.
During periodic check-ins with the customer, ask questions to help you surface upsell opportunities. Gently frame these questions to show you’re keeping their needs and pain points in mind so they can stay successful.
Here are a few examples:
- I’m so glad things are going well with our product. Do you have enough licenses to last you through the end of the year? I know there’s a big end-of-year push for you, so I’m happy to fold in some more licenses at a discount now so you don’t have to worry about it later.
- I saw on LinkedIn that you’re adding a new marketing division. Congrats! We just launched an email marketing tool that integrates with the platform you onboarded a few months ago. Any interest in a test run?
- I know you were looking at the next subscription tier for our product, but also noted some budget cuts. How about I give you an extended trial run for that upgraded tier to see if it helps boost productivity?
When you get a bite, bring in stakeholders from the product and finance teams to share details. Offer to set up a demo call. Keep your solution top of mind with regular check-ins and free resources like ebooks, white papers, and trials. However you proceed, make sure your conversations are centered on the customer’s success. At the end of the day, all they care about is hitting their own goals.
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Ready the harvest, begin the hunt
Acquiring new customers is a costly endeavor. Keeping loyal customers often delivers higher ROI, but this depends on account managers who can harness both hunting and farming mindsets. Get ahead of potential problems, take time to plan an effective handoff, be hypercommunicative, and jump on upsells and cross-sells when the moment is right. At every stage, make sure you’re squarely focused on the customer and their success. If you can manage that, you’re a lot more likely to retain those high-value customers, secure upsells, and boost your revenue.
Adrian Davis, author of “Human-to-Human Selling: How to Sell Real and Lasting Value in an Increasingly Digital and Fast-Paced World,” contributed to this article.
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