Sales Account Managers Don’t Have to Come From Sales Ranks

Recruiting externally for certain sales roles may cost you time, expenses, and clients you can't afford to lose.

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Jun 28, 2023

A senior sales account manager bolts your organization for a competitor, leaving your largest client exposed. Posting the job on LinkedIn or Indeed will mean months of resume-parsing, interview-staging, reference-checking and offer haggling —  and months to onboard your new hire on your product set, internal supply chain, and company culture.

Meanwhile, your largest client is a sitting duck for your competition.

There is another option. A way to backfill your sales account manager position almost immediately with a proven performer who knows who the players are and how to get things done — an inside candidate.

And it could be an internal employee you would normally never have considered, someone like my friend and former colleague, Dennis, a headquarters ops manager with no prior sales experience.

Dennis’ division closed down, and he came to me in a panic, explaining, “My old boss landed at a new firm, but all he has to offer me is a sales job. I’m an ops manager, not a sales guy. I don’t have a sales bone in my entire body.”

Dennis was alarmed because he didn’t see himself as a constantly prospecting, cold-calling, rules-bending, new-business developer. He did not envision himself to be a “hunter.” But it turns out that Dennis’ old boss offered him a sales account manager, a “farmer” job serving installed base customers.

I encouraged him to take the job because Dennis had already been performing a sales-account-management role at a high level, only inside his own organization.

Top 6 Sales Account Manager Competencies

In our 20-plus years assessing more than 900,000 sales professionals, research has identified 140 success-related attributes as they apply to 15 discrete sales roles. Here are the top six, and how they applied to Dennis:

1. Manages account responsibilities in a systematic way. In his Ops role, Dennis was responsible for order processing, inventory management, and materials distribution. Goal-oriented and process-driven, Dennis excelled at orchestrating complex projects and delivering results on target and on time.

Customers value sales account managers like Dennis because they are able to skillfully contribute to the implementation efforts that are the inevitable outcome of a major sale.

2. Grows base of business by identifying new sales opportunities. Dennis was always seeking new ways he could help. He streamlined an infuriatingly complex order-entry process to reduce the administrative burden on the field. He eliminated chronic out-of-stock situations by better coupling inventory management with sales forecasts. His eagerness to please led other departments to seek his help in finding better ways to do business.

Customer execs value sales account managers like Dennis because they see them as problem-solvers, not peddlers.

3. Fosters collaboration to achieve shared goals. Dennis avoided tackling problems in silo mode. Instead, he incorporated folks in procurement, sales, IT, and his functional counterparts across the company. Other organizations were eager to partner with Dennis because he was lavish in giving them credit for their contributions and took personal responsibility when things went awry.

Customers value sales account managers with a team approach like Dennis because they know recommendations will reflect the combined wisdom of both organizations as well as buy-in from all stakeholders concerned.

4. Educates customers on making the most of purchase decisions. Dennis thoroughly schooled his manufacturing colleagues before he provided them with a real-time inventory management system, so they were able to leverage all of the improved capabilities out of the box. He also introduced lunch-and-learn sessions for 90 days post-implementation to reinforce the learning.

Ongoing education goes a long way in helping customers overcome apprehensions about purchasing a solution and in ensuring they realize full value.

5. Regularly seeks customer feedback to verify satisfaction and surface issues. “How are things going? What’s working and not working?” Dennis took the initiative in surfacing critical feedback even if it meant more work for him.

When sales account managers don’t invite customer feedback, customers just may assume they don’t want to hear it.

6. Always available and eager to help. Dennis was never too busy to pick up a call or respond to a need. In the event he was unavailable, his support team was empowered to act on his behalf.

When sales AMs are hard to reach and slow to respond, customers feel like their business is unimportant.

Internal Sales Talent Throughout Your Org

With a great deal of apprehension, Dennis accepted the sales account manager job. Several years later, I ran into him at an industry conference. What a transformation!

“I get a lot more encouragement and appreciation in my sales job than I ever received in my headquarters role,” he revealed. “Customers value me as a resource and include me in their planning process. It’s stimulating discovering new types of problems and issues to solve. I was worried about having a sales quota, but I haven’t had any problem beating my numbers. Plus, last year my wife and I got to go to Hawaii when I made President’s Club.”

Dennis isn’t the only internal candidate with whom I’ve worked over the years who was a great fit for a sales account management role. You can find great sales DNA in every function.

  • Bob, the finance and accounting guy who discovered and helped me manage an outsource-order-processing-and-reporting firm when his group wasn’t able to meet my needs.
  • Nancy, the IT manager who rather than reject my outrageously unaffordable systems-development request was able to hitchhike a solution on another division’s platform.
  • John, the corporate attorney who went to Washington to petition the government when my original volume-pricing construct was turned down.
  • Barbara, the HR specialist who went to bat to get a high performer who was at risk of losing a raise when the company had mandated a salary freeze.

Regardless of function, internal people who treat the groups they support as customers are excellent candidates for sales account manager jobs. And if you (or they) have reservations, a quality sales talent assessment instrument will provide further evidence. (Note: Avoid sales personality tests. There is little evidence they can predict whether an individual will be successful in a given sales role.)

Ultimately, recruiting worthy insiders like Dennis allows you to fill critical sales account manager roles fast with minimal risk. It also allows your company to offer an additional career path for top performers who might otherwise leave for lack of opportunity. What’s more, serving in a field role gives people an expanded skill set that makes them better candidates for leadership roles down the road.

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