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If you are in sales long enough, you will notice sales organizations (not yours) and some salespeople (not you), underinvest in building strong relationships with their clients. There are some thought leaders who suggest that relationships no longer matter in B2B sales, believing a sale is a transaction.

There are two ways to sell. The first way is to compete to win an order (transactional). The second, and more effective way to sell, is to compete for the client and create relationships for life, acquiring all their future orders (relational).

Account management is the process of creating value, managing, retaining, and growing your client using account management strategies that build stronger relationships. The importance of building relationships and managing your clients can't be understated. Winning a client only to neglect them causes the churn that makes it next to impossible to achieve your sales goals.

The Principles of Effective Account Management

You've won your dream client. You are paying attention to your contacts, and you already have good relationships. You are delivering the value you promised. This is a good start, not an ending.

  • Understanding the customer's business and goals: The way you create new value is by gaining a high level of understanding of the goals and initiatives your client is pursuing. By knowing what your client needs, you can explore ways you might help them reach their business goals. Because you are inside, you can contribute.
  • Building relationships with key stakeholders: Building healthy relationships with your clients gives you access to key stakeholders. The best way to pursue relationships is a face-to-face meeting to listen and learn what is important to them and why. The person should feel you are paying attention to their needs and preferences.
  • Creating value for the customer through tailored solutions: One of the critical outcomes of relationships with key stakeholders is the ability to collaborate on what you will need to customize your offering to ensure it is a fit. When your solution doesn't work well for one stakeholder, you may have to mitigate the difficulty it creates.
  • Regular communication and feedback gathering: Absence makes the heart go wander. The principle here is proactive, regular communication and feedback. Regular communication improves relationships and builds trust if you create value. The feedback you acquire allows you to make the changes your clients need, helping you retain and grow your client.
  • Proactive problem-solving and addressing customer needs: The longer a problem continues, the greater the odds that one of your key contacts will accept a call from one of your competitors. A good approach to strategic account management will make corrections quickly. It's important to remember that you won this client because they had problems your competitor didn't remedy. You need to solve their problems—because they are also your problems.
  • Maintaining a customer-centric mindset: The best way to maintain a customer-centric mindset is to act like you are part of your client's team. If your role is an account manager, people should believe you are part of their team.


Account Management Best Practices

  • Setting clear expectations and goals with the customer: I once told a prospective client that my company would get our solution right after our fourth or fifth try. My team was horrified. The decision maker responded that it would take his team closer to 12 tries. You gain more trust by setting clear expectations, even if it’s letting the client know that it will take time to produce the results.
  • Creating an account plan to guide the relationship: A key account management approach requires a plan. This discipline to build the initiatives, communications, and milestones will improve your results. It will also improve relationships.
  • Ensuring consistent and frequent touchpoints with the customer: There are many reasons to contact your customers. Maybe there have been changes on your side of the relationship you need to communicate. But asking for changes on your client's side will provide you with the opportunity to make changes.
  • Developing a strong understanding of the customer's industry and market: This is an underestimated best practice in account management programs. One of the largest gaps in sales is business acumen. You need to understand your client's industry, their market, and their vocabulary, even if you must ask about a term you are not yet familiar with. You want your contacts to feel you are an insider.
  • Leveraging technology and data to optimize the account management process: Your company and your clients collect a great deal of data and insights. By taking a data-driven approach to account management, you can measure and take credit for your results. You can also address the challenges of producing results and making change.

Challenges and Solutions in Account Management

Dealing with difficult customers and managing expectations: You'll find difficult people in every organization (not yours). You need a set of strategies to deal with difficult clients, including the ones only difficult because you are failing. Listening to a difficult person will help, but only if you build a plan to address their issues. You want to surround yourself with people that can help you manage the few difficult stakeholders, as they know how to navigate the conversations. Here, you will need to use your interpersonal skills.

  • Balancing the needs of multiple stakeholders within the customer organization: In any company, you will find conflicting initiatives and, in some, the politics of power. Your relationships can often help you with your initiatives. As much as I would like to tell you how to win these contests, but you may occasionally lose.
  • Addressing potential conflicts with other accounts: Your client needs to prioritize an important goal. At the same time, you have another client competing for your team's time and resources. There are no easy answers, but sometimes you can give each client enough, a just-in-time type of approach. You may have to spend money to acquire what your client needs from a competitor if that is possible. Other times, you must decide who to disappoint.
  • Implementing solutions and strategies to overcome these challenges: The best way to deal with these difficult challenges is to meet with your team and work on solutions that might work for your clients. Building a list of options may help you work with your clients on a solution they can accept.

Key Principles of Account Management

These many principles can all be improved by building strong relationships. The better your relationships, the better your results. It's also true that more good relationships are better than fewer relationships. You want contacts at every level inside your client company.

Your success in sales and account management depends on you building relationships that allow you to help them reach their goals, and doing so, helping you reach yours. For more help on managing clients, go here.

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Sales 2023
Post by Anthony Iannarino on March 18, 2023

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino

Anthony Iannarino is an American writer. He has published daily at thesalesblog.com for more than 14 years, amassing over 5,300 articles and making this platform a destination for salespeople and sales leaders. Anthony is also the author of four best-selling books documenting modern sales methodologies and a fifth book for sales leaders seeking revenue growth. His latest book for an even wider audience is titled, The Negativity Fast: Proven Techniques to Increase Positivity, Reduce Fear, and Boost Success.

Anthony speaks to sales organizations worldwide, delivering cutting-edge sales strategies and tactics that work in this ever-evolving B2B landscape. He also provides workshops and seminars. You can reach Anthony at thesalesblog.com or email Beth@b2bsalescoach.com.

Connect with Anthony on LinkedIn, X or Youtube. You can email Anthony at iannarino@gmail.com

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