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To improve your account management skills, these are the capabilities needed to do the job [Aila Images / Stocksy]

Adrian Davis, author of “Human-to-Human Selling: How to Sell Real and Lasting Value in an Increasingly Digital and Fast-Paced World,” is an expert in strategic selling and account management. He shares his thoughts on essential account management skills for success.

Which account management skills should you be focused on right now? Think of it this way: 

Decades ago, psychotherapist Thom Hartmann proposed two mental models that described how people go about their work. The hunter mindset, based on nomadic societies, suffered from a short attention span, but had hyper-focus for short bursts of time. The farmer, based on agrarian societies, was patient and worked steadily with the understanding that he would enjoy the fruits of his labor in the future. 

These two mental models have been used to guide hiring. Most recruiters look for hunters to fill sales roles and farmers to fill account management roles. 

Most recruiters look for hunters to fill sales roles and farmers to fill account management roles. 

This clear distinction between the hunter and farmer mindset gets blurred when hiring a Key Account Manager. In the past, hunters were focused on acquisition and farmers were focused on retention. A blend of these attributes is required to successfully fulfill a Key Account Manager role. 

Traditional Account Managers tend to be too patient and they acquiesce too quickly to unreasonable client demands. This is detrimental to forging a mutually-beneficial and strategically-viable partnership. On the other hand, a hunter mindset is too short-term and will often lose out on larger opportunities because of the relentless pursuit of the sales opportunities immediately in front of them.

If you’ve set your sites on improving your Key Account Manager skills, or you’re hiring one, look for the following traits and capabilities:

1. Leadership skills

A Key Account Manager should be a visionary. They should help everyone see and be excited by what’s possible. Their customers and their peers should respect them. They should be able to respectfully challenge and direct the customer in the customer’s best interest. This means they must have a degree of comfort with tension. Traditional Account Managers are too quick to cave when facing tension with clients. Also, when progress needs to happen internally, they need to have the respect of their team. Team members should want to go the extra mile for them.

2. Communication skills

This is a big one. The best Key Account Managers are able to keep all stakeholders informed on all the important issues. They will often have to lead the presentation of project updates or account reviews. Whether oral or written, it is critical that all communications are concise, clear, and convincing. Communication must also be highly nuanced for the particular stakeholder or group being spoken to.

Whether oral or written, it is critical that all communications are concise, clear, and convincing. Communication must also be highly nuanced for the particular stakeholder or group being spoken to.

3. Business acumen

Many salespeople are far too focused on closing deals and do not understand broader business issues. This approach is fatal when it comes to Key Account Management. A Key Account Manager must be able to see the bigger business issues for the client and help the client manage their business. They must also ensure all business deals are profitable for both sides.  

4. Relationship savvy

Key Account Manager must be able to read people and connect meaningfully with a variety of personalities. They must understand that all progress is made through relationships. They must know when to take the lead in relationship development and when to enable others to take the lead. Their objective is to build a highly intricate web of many-to-many relationships between the client’s people and theirs. The more intricate the web, the greater the partnership and the higher the cost to switch to a competitor.

5. Results oriented

Successful Key Account Managers must have laser focus on getting results for the customer. This means they must be proactive and not wait for the customer to notice they are not on track to achieving a particular goal. They must have a “no excuses” mindset. They do what needs to be done. They coordinate multiple resources to the achievement of the decided-upon outcome. They will take the blame for failures and give credit to the team for successes because they are driven by outcomes – not their ego. 

6. An appetite for learning

A successful Key Account Manager recognizes the pace of change. Consequently, they are always open to training and development. They never rest on their laurels. Part of the respect they receive comes from others seeing that they are constantly growing in their perspectives and abilities. They constantly look for opportunities to improve in areas that they have identified as important.

All of these attributes require a mix of a hunter and a farmer mindset. Some tasks must be looked after with a short-term laser focus. And these short-term issues must be executed knowing how they fit into and accelerate long-term objectives and a long-term vision. It is an unusual mix of attributes as it requires mental flexibility. Those who possess these traits will lead their organizations and their clients to much greater rewards than we have seen in the past from either hunters or farmers.


Adrian Davis, the author of Human-to-Human Selling: How to Sell Real and Lasting Value in an Increasingly Digital and Fast-Paced World, is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) and an expert in strategic selling and account management. He is frequently called upon to advise senior management teams and sales groups on the optimization of sales performance and the development of strategic client relationships. To book Adrian for your sales or leadership conference, or for a complimentary consultation, find him at www.whetstoneinc.ca or www.adriandavis.com/blog.

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