Career Overview: Account Management

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Posted by The Editors on December 3, 2012
Overview

You have sales. You have customer service. And then you have the account manager (AM), with one foot in each department. AMs act as the liaison between a company and its clients, and it's their responsibility to see that those clients are maximizing the value of the products and services provided. But there's a large sales component to their job as well. It's the AMs' duty to maintain, retain, and usually upsell to their portfolio of clients or accounts.

You'll find the account management function at all types of companies, including consulting firms, service providers, and employment, advertising, and public relations agencies. AMs with an auto-paint company, for instance, manage the company's relationships with clients like GM or DaimlerChrysler, or with body shops and auto-painting shops. At a high-tech company, AMs are the primary point of contact between the company providing the technology and the clients using it.

What You'll Do
AMs work closely with clients to determine the clients' needs. Then they make sure their company develops products or services to meet those needs. As part of their job, AMs create budgets and schedules for meeting their accounts' needs and enforce deadlines for product development efforts (in manufacturing industries) or client projects (in service industries). They also communicate clients' agendas to their staff and management, and communicate the concerns and capabilities of their company to the client.

Frequently, AMs also identify and solicit new customers, so sales is a part of the job as well. "If you can't stand sales, don't go into account management," one insider says. Still, the difference between a salesperson and an account manager is that instead of selling the account and then handing it off to customer service, the AM maintains an active role in the post-sale follow-up. In an advertising agency, that may mean overseeing execution of ads. In a software company, it may mean overseeing a rollout of a new system by spending time on-site, helping to train the client. In a manufacturing company, it may mean ensuring that orders are delivered on time.

Who Does Well
AMs need to be detail-oriented. Organization is a key part of the job. You will be expected to keep on top of every aspect of a project. Good communication skills are also necessary. AMs interact with clients on the one hand and internal staff and management on the other.

Promises made to customers must be kept. You can't offer more than your company can deliver. You need to know exactly what services you can provide and how quickly a project can be completed.

You'll need to learn as much as you can about your clients. Only if you have a strong understanding of a client's business strategy will you be able to understand and communicate how your company's products and services can help the client's strategic goals.

You'll also need to know all about the industries in which your clients compete. The more industry insight you bring to the table, the better. Read up on changing business trends and strategies. That knowledge will attract new accounts and keep the ones you already have.

Unfortunately, not all projects go as planned. Sometimes a client won't like the work that has been done. It's up to the account manager to fix the problem. He or she will talk to the client, find out what's wrong, and try to come up with a solution.

Some clients will be harder to work with than others, so AMs need to be able to handle stress well. They also need to be creative, in order to figure out work-around solutions when something goes wrong. At times, you may need to hold a client's hand as you walk him through a project.

Finally, when a deadline looms, long hours may be required.

Requirements

Start by contacting your campus career center. It can put you in touch with alumni already working in the profession. If possible, ask an alumnus or another current AM for an interview to gather information about the career. The AM can explain how he broke into the field, what the job entails, and ways to meet other people in the industry. As your network of contacts grows, you will find out about new positions as they become available.

If you're interested in advertising account management and you're lucky enough to be at a school where advertising agencies recruit entry-level hires, be sure to sign up to interview with those agencies when they come to your campus. Internships are another way in: Proving yourself as an intern at an advertising or PR agency is a great way to get hired. Other types of internships can be just as valuable; journalism, marketing, and broadcasting skills can apply to account management. This kind of work experience enables you to build up your portfolio and resume. Companies look for prospective employees who take the initiative and know how to work under a deadline.

In high-tech fields, an engineering degree-or at least some experience with and understanding of the technology provided by the company you want to work for-can be a prerequisite for employment.

In some manufacturing industries, some account management professionals find that getting Certified Professional Manufacturer's Representative credentials can help their careers.

For higher-level positions, a college degree and significant work experience are required. Many account supervisors have sales or marketing backgrounds. Other qualifications include strong written and oral communication skills, management experience, a can-do attitude, and a willingness to take initiative.

Job Outlook

The outlook for account managers varies by industry. If you're interested in working in the U.S. steel industry, for instance-or any other industry that's well past its peak-you won't find many opportunities. In general, though, things are looking up. Businesses have started spending money again on advertising and technology, so AMs in these and other industries face a rosier future than in recent times.

In the longer term, manufacturing account management opportunities will likely grow at a slower rate than in other industries. But since the advertising industry is projected to grow faster than average in coming years, AM opportunities in advertising should grow faster than jobs overall. And in high-tech, AM opportunities should grow at about the same rate as the economy overall. In each of these industries, the job outlook will vary in different sectors, depending on which are growing and which are more mature. For instance, while advertising as a whole should offer a slightly above-average job outlook, things are more promising for AMs who work with interactive ad agencies or sell search engine ads, since online marketing is soaring.

Career Tracks

Account management responsibilities vary depending on the industry and the nature of the organization. Client prospecting and solicitation are expected. You must build relationships between your organization and its clients. Customers should feel comfortable coming to you with ideas for new projects and changes to existing ones.

Account management positions also involve administrative duties, such as fielding client phone calls, entering information in databases, and putting together bulk mailings. Almost all positions require a significant amount of customer contact.

Account Coordinator
Most new hires in advertising and PR begin as account coordinators. This entry-level position provides administrative support to the account management team. Typical job responsibilities include filing, putting together mailings, sending out press releases, monitoring media coverage of the agency's clients, and data entry.

Although customer contact is limited, account coordinators work with all members of their department. They cultivate skills they'll put to good use later. Account managers coordinate everything and everyone. They make sure no details fall through the cracks. Eventually, account coordinators are given additional responsibilities at client-related events. Most can expect to be promoted after one year.

Account Executive
This is the frontline position of account management. Most customer contact takes place through account executives (AEs), who work directly with clients and manage their accounts.

AEs ensure that ongoing projects are running smoothly. They monitor the progress of the creative team (at an ad agency) or product development team (at a manufacturing or tech company), ensure deadlines are met, and answer any questions the client may have. Most AEs are expected to pitch ideas to new prospects.

Other responsibilities vary depending on the organization and industry. An AE in a sales organization, for example, may call on customers, develop PowerPoint presentations, and send out marketing materials. At an employment agency, an AE will seek recruits, screen applicants, and post clients' job listings on the Internet.

Account Manager
The AM (or account supervisor) has responsibilities similar to those of the AE. Both spend a lot of time working directly with clients to understand their needs and communicate those ideas to their employer's staff and management. The AM must ensure that all levels of his or her organization buy into a project. Otherwise, it may stall out in development or not be completed to the client's satisfaction.

AMs should understand marketing principles and how they apply to their industries. This helps them plan and oversee projects effectively. An AM needs a broad understanding of how his or her company operates and of which departments handle which tasks. Most important, the AM controls project implementation, managing the day-to-day operations. AMs follow a project from inception to completion. They supervise its development and provide status reports to clients. It's an AM's responsibility to inform a customer when a project is behind schedule or over budget. Clients are referred to AMs when they've any problems or questions.

At a Web-development company, for example, an account manager is involved in the planning of a particular product or service that will be provided to her clients. She facilitates communication between various departments in her company, such as technology, finance, and production, and she decides how such information is relayed from one department to another. Finally, the AM makes sure the client is happy with the completed product. When problems arise, the AM is responsible for rectifying them.

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