You can’t get the job without the experience, but you can’t get the experience without the job

The age-old story.

How to become an account manager when no one will give you a break? Where do you even start?  What does it take and what to do you need to know to become an account manager?

What is account management?

The Account Managers job is to keep their clients so happy they never want to leave.  This is one of the major targets for account managers and it’ll be measured as either:

  • Retention: how many clients you keep (hint: you want this number to be high) OR
  • Churn: how many clients you lose (hint: you want this number to be low)

You’ll conduct regular analysis of how much your client is spending and on what.  You’ll give advice on how to get the most from the products and services they already have. Account Managers must also find extra revenue:

  • sell add-on products and services
  • get more business
  • improve margins (e.g. increase prices)

Targets are usually based on a forecast that your company wants to achieve.

There may be a few other targets thrown in, like number of meetings sat or calls made, and you’ll be expected to create a strategy to achieve them

Account management is also highly relationship and service driven. You’ll need to meet lots of different people within your client base, from users to decision makers, influencers to CEO’s – the more people you meet, the more opportunity you’ll have to improve loyalty and sell more stuff.

You’ll also frequently be involved responding to queries and complaints.

Depending on the type of account management and the industry you may have anywhere from one to more than a hundred clients and they might be in your country or anywhere in the world.

It’s a great career, very exciting and rewarding because you truly get to know your client and understand what they do, what their challenges are and how you can help.

Selling is easy.  In fact, it doesn’t feel like selling at all because most of the time, you’re just solving their problems with solutions that just happen to cost something

Of course, that’s the simple version, but you didn’t come here to read War and Peace did you?

 

What qualities do you need to become an account manager?

If you want to be an account manager, then you need to:

  • enjoy working with people
  • work well under pressure
  • be able to deal with difficult clients
  • be flexible – it’s not a 9 to 5 job
  • enjoy selling
  • good time management
  • take responsibility
  • communicate well

Don’t worry, these can all be learned.  Let’s find out how.

 

Research

There are lots of different types of account managers.  From telephone based to field-based; local to global.  Start with a search for key account management jobs on LinkedIn – pick a few you like the sound of and write down the responsibilities and skills they’re looking for.

Here’s an example of one I found:

KEY ACCOUNTABILITIES / RESPONSIBILITIES:

  • To exceed targets and challenging KPIs
  • To forecast accurately
  • To work well independently as well as in a team
  • To communicate effectively both internally and externally
  • To take ownership

KEY SKILLS REQUIRED:

  • Hard work
  • Hunter, proven track record of generating new business is essential
  • Strong focus on solution sales and selling on value
  • An excellent understanding of the sales cycle to ensure full control in opportunities and accurate forecasting
  • Highly self-motivated, energetic individual who builds strong relationships quickly
  • Great negotiation and communication skills
  • Flexible and adaptable to meet the needs of the changing market, our customers and the business
  • Good levels of IT literacy are expected

Keep looking at jobs until you have a list of 30 things you don’t know about account management. What do you already understand about this role and what do you need to find out? Then start to do your research on every topic until you have the answers.

Save any jobs you’re interested in.  Copy and paste into a word document or save them as a PDF.  Don’t bookmark them as jobs postings often get deleted once the position is filled. These job descriptions will be invaluable later when you are updating your CV.

More on that later.

 

Skills gap analysis

As you research jobs ask yourself:

  • What skills do you have now?
  • What skills do you have, but need to improve?
  • What skills don’t you have?

Make a list

For the skills you have:

Write down all the career stories you have about times when you’ve demonstrated those skills – even if it wasn’t as an account manager.

For the skills you need to improve:

Practice those skills in your role now. Think outside the box.  Maybe you could practice your communication skills by volunteering to chair team meetings or give your next update to your boss in a presentation instead of just a chat over coffee.

If you have no idea, ask your colleagues or your boss what you might be able to help with or how you can adapt your existing responsibilities to learn these skills.

 

Find a mentor

A great place to start in your quest to become an account manager is to seek out a mentor.  Hit someone up in your company with the relevant skills and ask if you can spend some time with them every month to learn about their job. If you don’t know anyone or don’t want to ask, mention to your manager what your career goals are and ask if they can help you set up a mentorship.

Mentorships aren’t just for newbies. All of us, at any age and any point in our careers can benefit from a mentor.  So don’t be shy about asking because you think your too junior or too senior to need a mentor.  I have gained so much wisdom from colleagues and I think we underestimate the power of peer learning and mentorship.

Ask:

  • How’d they get into account management?
  • What’s their advice on what it takes to be a great account manager?
  • What do they find difficult?
  • What do they love about their job
  • What are they skills they think are essential and how did they acquire them?

Think about situations you’ve encountered and ask them for their perspective and how it might impact a client.

Ask if you can shadow some of their client calls (many of them are probably by conference call where you can listen silently) – then ask them questions about what you heard on the call.

Pick their brains.

Take a course

TRUE OR FALSE: You can’t learn on-the-job skills when you’re not doing the job?

FALSE.

There’s no avoiding the fact that there will be some core skills you lack. You can wait to learn them on the job (which might take years… or never) or you can fast track your learning and take a course.

It’s also super-impressive when a candidate says they’re passionate about a career in account management and accelerated their learning by taking a few courses.  You need to differentiate yourself from the pack of other would-be account managers and this is an easy way to do it.

If you seriously want to become an account manager, there are plenty free online courses available on:

  • Selling
  • Leadership
  • Numeracy
  • Strategy
  • Relationship building
  • Entrepreneurship
  • and lots more

There’s plenty of quality free courses on offer. eDx and Shaw Academy are favourites of mine.

A lot of them only take a few hours.  A small investment in time if you want a new job, don’t you think?

Check out my Trello board with the top skills account managers need including links to free courses and an account management career development action plan.

Read

Read as much as you can about account management. A Google search will get you started.  Also, check out these blogs which write regularly on account management

It’s important to stay informed of business trends and developments.  Account managers should be able to understand the impact of world events, how they relate to their clients and the opportunities – and risks – they present.

Listen

There’s some amazing free advice to be found on Podcasts on selling and account management. Here’s two of my favourites:

Podcasts are an easy an effective way to learn how to become an account manager and to pick up new skills.  I listen to them on the way to and from work and at the gym.  Think about switching out your Spotify playlist for a few podcasts now and then.

 

Update your CV

Now that you’ve learned a few skills and have some great examples of success to share, it’s time to update your CV so that it reads like someone with account management expertise (even if you don’t have the experience just yet).

Remember when I asked you to save those jobs you liked? 

Here’s why.

Look at the qualifications and the skills and make sure you have included these in your CV and use the exact phrases and verbs from the job description.

A quick way to find out which keywords to focus on is to paste the job descriptions into TagCrowd to get a visual list of the most frequently used keywords and be sure to include these throughout your CV (just don’t go overboard).  Here’s the job description from the example in this article:

created at TagCrowd.com

When you say you have a skill be sure to include a great result you achieved because of it.

Now the hard part: you MUST change your CV for every job you apply for. The keywords, responsibilities, qualifications and experience will vary.  You need to make it easy for the hiring manager – or the applicant tracking system –  to connect the dots and to see how relevant you are.  If you include a lot of things they’re NOT looking for, it’ll be that much harder for them to see the experience on your CV they ARE looking for.

 

Apply

Which brings me to the final step.The only way to become an account manager is to apply for account management jobs. Don’t talk yourself into or out of applying for jobs.  Only go for the ones you really want.  Don’t worry that you don’t have every last skill and qualification.  Here’s why:

  • You don’t know what the recruiter is looking for or how flexible they are with the requirements.  Many times I’ve been open to hiring someone from other industries because I wanted a specific skill and knew I could coach them where they needed development.
  • Sometimes it’s about the budget.  Quite frankly, someone who doesn’t have all the skills or has never done the job before is a lot cheaper than a hotshot account manager with loads of relevant experience.
  • You have no idea how many applicants there are or what their background is. I’ve been looking to fill some very senior and well-paid jobs that haven’t attracted a single candidate that fit the profile. I’ve had to reconsider what I’m looking for and sometimes a senior job gets turned into a junior job because that’s all who applied. This happens a lot when an existing role is vacant and someone is doing the job of two people.  You can only wait so long.
  • Who says you’re even going to get the job?  You’ve got a long way to go from application to offer, so don’t talk yourself out of it before you’ve even had a chance to be considered.

A couple more things to consider:

  • Don’t apply for every job under the sun. Not only is it a waste of time, it’ll mess with your mind.  Stick to jobs you are genuinely interested in.
  • Be realistic. If you’ve never had a job in account management, you may need to consider more entry-level roles, like telephone, virtual and inbound account management.
  • Consider hybrid roles. My first account management role also included operations and office management. I was only in it 12 months before I caught a big break.
  • You might need to take a pay cut.  When I moved from operations to account management I took a $20,000 drop in salary (even though I was customer facing and had managed 45 staff).  But I knew this was a long-term career move and that I would eventually earn that money back.
  • Beware of applicant tracking systems, which is automated software many companies use to screen candidates.  It searches for keywords and if your application doesn’t have the right ones it will never see the light of day.  Check out JobScan which has amazing software that scans your CV or your LinkedIn profile and gives recommendations to ensure it’s a match for the roles you’re applying for. CV Wordchecker is another great resource.

BONUS STEP: the interview

That’s up to you. All I can say is prepare, prepare, prepare.  Make copious notes, bring them to the interview and make sure you have at least half a dozen questions you want to ask.

Beyond that, there are thousands and thousands of blogs, articles and podcasts dedicated to interviewing skills so seek them out.  Here’s a few of my favourites:

The more you understand what an account manager does and demonstrates that you have the skills or are learning them (even if you don’t have the experience) the more you’ll impress hiring managers with your abilities and I’m sure a career in account management will find you before long.

Here’s a couple more articles I’ve written worth reading:

and if you really want to dive deeper into the skills you need to become an account manager, download my free Account Management Career Development Plan & Checklist