Software Solutions - The softer side to account management
Account Manager – it’s a common title in our industry, and yet so often means very different things to different organisations.
Some account managers mainly focus on sales, others consider themselves project managers first and foremost. Some double as IT advisors, while others spend all their time nurturing customer relationships and keeping customers happy.
At DVT, an account manager is all of these things. But more importantly, the skills it takes to become a successful account manager have less to do with technical proficiency and more to do with the ‘softer’ skills that are critical to every single aspect of the role.
In our fast-paced, highly competitive industry, the human side of the business too often plays second fiddle to the technical. But as we seek to help our clients digitally transform their businesses to better compete and succeed, the process is as much about the human side of change and growth as it is about crunching numbers and coding software.
The following steps are used to guide the development of any successful account manager in our business, and could likewise be valuable to yours.
1. Working to a set of values
Every business, DVT included, has its own set of cultural values, honed over time and passed down to successive employees through recruitment and training programs. These values cover a range of different aspects, describing how we conduct ourselves personally and professionally. For example, ‘doing the right thing’, ‘making an impact’, keeping it simple’, and ‘work-life balance’ are all shared values common to the company culture and its employees. If you haven’t defined your values as a company, you can’t expect your account managers to follow them.
2. Emotional intelligence (EQ)
Perhaps the most important part of an account manager’s job is managing people. In fact, if you substitute the word ‘account’ for ‘people’, you’d get a good idea of how many account managers spend most of their days. Managing people requires a very different set of skills to managing numbers or IT systems, and yet too many account managers are only trained for the latter. Knowing when to push back, or when to give more; being able to read someone’s expression and reaction, their body language and the tone in their voice; and having the ability to think before speaking – these are just some of the critical skills that make up an account manager’s EQ.
3. Understanding culture and unique conversation style
No business relationship is ever the same. The way we speak with one person will always differ, even if only slightly, to the way we speak with another. This doesn’t necessarily come down to our level of seniority or skill, but rather to intuitively knowing (or learning) the best way to connect with a person based on their personality style, the history you have with them, or the way they treat you at face value. Taking the time to learn and understand how to speak to different people is a stepping stone to building lasting relationships with them.
4. Getting personal with consultants
We’re all pushed for time, and therefore making time to get to know our consultants is often last thing on our daily To-Do list. However just a little effort made to spend time with each individual on a regular basis to get to know them, and for them to get to know you, builds a rapport that encourages trust, openness and honesty. These qualities in a working relationship help keep consultants engaged and retain staff.
5. Understanding talent acquisition and retention
DVT recruiters make excellent account managers, not only because of the recruitment cycle they go through to on-board new consultants, but also because of the interview and assessment processes our consultants go through with our clients. Recruitment in the IT industry can be highly competitive given the skills shortage in South Africa, which is why it’s important to learn to connect to consultants on a personal level, and to constantly stay informed about their relationships with clients. That way, any ‘issues’ are identified and resolved before they escalate, and the cycle of trust is constantly restored.
6. Project management
This may not appear to be a ‘soft’ skill like some I’ve already covered. However, an account manager is, at some level, also necessarily a project manager. DVT account managers work very closely with each practise and competency team, along with several other teams: development, business enablement, data/analytics, testing and automation, and so on. To work effectively and equally with each team means the account manager must always be proactive, communicative, transparent and organised. Involving multiple teams on a national basis while managing an important assignment requires a high level ‘people’ project management skill.
7. Knowing when to say ‘No’
It can be daunting to say ‘No’ to a client (or a colleague or a boss for that matter) but it’s a skill that needs to be learned and used effectively for successful account management. It’s even harder to say no to new business, especially if you are measured and rewarded for the business you bring to the company. But if taking on new requirements from existing clients – or business from new clients – that is unrealistic, or compromises values, or negatively affects delivery standards on other projects, ‘No’ is sometimes the only safeguard. Using measurement metrics helps to identify which opportunities are worth focusing on, but the ‘art’ of knowing when and how to say ‘No’ is often just as important as the science.
8. Thirst for knowledge and personal development
There is an overwhelming amount of information available to us as account managers, and it’s constantly changing. It’s not good enough just to know what our company does; we should also want to know the trends and topics of industry. This improves our confidence and encourages like-minded conversations among peers and clients. As account managers we need to set aside time every day to upskill, learn and improve – so it helps if we have a natural learning instinct, or learn to develop one.
9. An Agile mindset
Agile is a word synonymous with DVT on a business level, but it’s also a critical component of the very human skills we instil in our account managers. As account managers we understand better than most how direction, goals and purpose constantly change, both internally and for our clients. This means that we don’t always have a clear view of what’s coming, regardless of how much planning we do. We therefore need to learn how to be adaptable and flexible every day, to be open to new, as-yet untried and unproven approaches, but most of all, we need to accept that there will always be a mix of achievements and missed opportunities in our line of work. If managed properly, the ups and downs make us highly resilient, humble and motivated to ensure continuous improvement in our way of work.