Account (mis)Management

Account (mis)Management

"I’ve had the pleasure/misfortune of working with a number of vendors over my career. A great vendor partner is a pleasure to behold – they can help drive your business to greater results than you could on your own. Which is nice."

I’ve had the pleasure/misfortune of working with a number of vendors over my career.  A great vendor partner is a pleasure to behold – they can help drive your business to greater results than you could on your own. Which is nice.

Here’s the problem – most vendor relationships fail to live up to the hype generated by the sales process. While that sometimes speaks to the “truthiness” of the sales process or the simple fact that the product just doesn’t work as described (I know… that never happens), there’s one element that is massively overlooked by most B2B organizations: Account Management.

Let’s face it, almost any email platform will actually send email in a reasonable fashion. Some do it better/more artfully/harder than others…but they all do it.  And let’s not kids ourselves – every single platform I’ve worked with has holes that are usually a LOT bigger than any vendor will admit to. While a vendor’s sales deck may promise to solve all of your marketing problems AND cure cancer…the reality is that their platform is more likely to give you a heart attack. It’s not because clients are as stupid as vendors think (Come on…nobody is THAT dumb) -it’s more driven by the simple fact that most vendors don’t actually use their own product the way that end users do. So you develop products in what amounts to an intellectual vacuum.

Into this breach steps the account manager. Tasked with delivering on the promises of the sales team while keeping the customer happy. Problem is…far too many account managers are stuck in a hole they can’t seem to dig out of. Here’s a few reasons why -

1.     Little to no experience – As the day to day contact with a relationship that can run into the millions of dollars, you would think that vendors would put people in place who would manage that money well by making sure it’s well invested. Instead, vendors will often put people fresh out of college – or with one or two years of experience - who have never actually run an email program into this critical role. Think of it like this…would you invest $500,000 of your own money to a person who had never invested a dollar of their own money before?

2.     Lack of training – there are two types of training that are critical – product training and problem training. Almost everyone does the former. Few do the latter. Problem training teaches account managers to ask one simple question – “what is the problem you’re trying to solve” before bashing the user over the head with product-based solutions. I had an account manager repeatedly tell me that the issues with my account were that the open and engagement rates were entirely too low. So I humored him and implemented his recommendation by cutting our list in half. He proudly crowed about the “outstanding increase in engagement.” Right up until I pointed out that the highest “engagement” days were also the lowest sales days. Better attention to the problem (sales) would have prevented this disastrous exercise.

3.     Lack of focus – Listen, no account manager is going to focus on an account as intensely as the end user. I have one account (mine) while the account manager may have dozens. What account managers can do, however, is focus on an aspect of the program rather than the entire program. If Comcast deliverability is a continual problem, then focus on THAT rather than trying to solve everything.

4.     Fear of the client – I once went to a sales call to get a product demo…and nobody sat next to me. While it made for a good laugh, it told me that the team was too green to handle our account. We hadn’t even gotten to the second slide in the deck and the vendor had a giant mountain to overcome (they didn’t.) Clients may challenge account people on the dogma they’ve been spoon-fed by the company…but it’s not a bad thing to have those challenges. It’s how you learn. It makes you more valuable. It makes you less afraid.

All of these taken together add up to our biggest issue…

5.     Lack of ideas – my favorite challenge question to vendors is “what would you do if you were in my role.” The silence is deafening. Lots of hemming and hawing – few ideas.  It’s almost as if they are surprised to be asked. Many times dissatisfaction with a vendor – or the reason why vendors lose competitive sales efforts - is only tangentially related to the product. It’s the lack of ideas that kills the relationship. The biggest gift a vendor can bring is fresh ideas. Yes, Super Bowl tickets are nice…but if you give me just one good idea I can buy my own Super Bowl tickets.

So, vendor community, your product may be all whiz-bang and your marketing materials may be as slick as a freshly picked orange peel…but your account management team is the key to long-term success. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s hard work to find and train good people. It won’t make a sale…but it will keep the sale. Invest or not - your call.