Today, most key account managers spend a majority of their time managing internally, and liaising between customers and internal teams on issues that include logistics, billing, implementations, operations, customer service, and helping customers “do business with us.”

At one point, account managers focused most of their time (80%+) on:

  • Building new relationships and strengthening existing ones
  • Prospecting into other business units, geographies, and product areas
  • Developing proposals, and managing price and objections
  • Negotiating contracts

The shift of account manager sales motions toward lower value work is due to three factors:

  • For many B2B companies, there has been a progressive reduction of account management support resources as part of cost rationalization, which has pushed low-value tasks to the account manager.
  • It has become common for key account managers to have 5 or more large accounts, with some managing dozens and more.
  • And, most companies don’t assign quota to the account level, so naturally, salespersons focus on a subset of accounts that can help them achieve their quota.

Collectively, reductions in account management support resources, assigning more than five accounts to a manager, and not allocating quotas to the account level, has morphed the account manager role to a highly-paid administrator, and therapist/facilitator between the customer and the account manager’s organization.

Organizations that recognize what has happened to the account manager role are deploying the following countermeasures:

  • Identifying the most valuable account manager sales motions that drive revenue and profit
  • Shifting low-value account manager sales motions to new positions, such as customer success managers, or account services teams
  • Assigning quotas to the account level, instead of peanut-butter-spreading of quota over the account portfolio
  • Evaluating account manager knowledge, skills, and competencies, to determine if they are a right fit for the role
  • Rationalizing the number of accounts assigned to each account manager (usually a max of five companies per account manager)
  • Modifying compensation plans to encourage incremental growth by account, instead of a maintaining book of business

The afore-mentioned countermeasures are not tactical activities, or one-off initiatives, but rather some of the elements of a broader rethink of the sales organization structure and go-to-market strategy.

Account managers typically manage the organization’s largest and most strategic customers. However, if the majority of the account manager’s time is allocated to low-value work, you’ll likely find growth coming from a small number of accounts, and overall revenue growth from current accounts to be below expectations.

Now is the time to ask if you account managers spending the majority of their time on high-value activities.

A caveat regarding today’s post. An Account Manager title can reflect a broadly defined role, and depending on your industry and company size, that applies to anyone within the organization assigned as the primary point of contact for an account. This post is most relevant to account managers of larger accounts in a particular territory, region or business segment.

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