The Buck Stops With You
As I write this piece, I’ve spent close to six years in Account Management. While I’d definitely not call myself “successful” by any stretch of imagination, my customers and manager(s) had some nice words to say when I moved out of my previous organisation. For me, that was comfort enough to look forward to being an Account Manager in a completely different industry.
“When you’re an Account Manager, the buck stops with you” said my first manager in our introduction call. She was managing a global account for the organisation and I’d shadow her work over the next six months. One month young in the organisation, I couldn’t fathom the depth of the statement at the time. Today, I have more than a fair idea of what this means.
A little bit of this….A little bit of that:
Sales and customer experience management summarize Account Management for me. But the latter has layers that keep unraveling in ways that can surprise you. I’m often confused if I need to call myself a “Generalist” or “A Jack of all…Master of None”. Over the years I’ve had an introduction to legal, contracting, project management, service management, product, marketing — just enough to scratch the surface and know what needs to be done to keep the ball rolling but not great enough to command attention and hold it all by myself. Akin to a piece of wisdom I received from another boss of mine: “The Account Manager is like a conductor in an orchestra…allowing the right people to play their part at the right time”
Meetings with top customer executives is part of the published JD for an Account Manager. What makes a good story though is ferrying demo equipment across the city in a cab — from a partner office to the customer office, because there’s a deal to lose if the customer doesn’t see the demo. Funnier, is coordinating with the truck driver of your logistics partner and the security guard at a customer site to make sure the consignment is delivered. Sitting opposite an angry customer at ten in the night (on a Friday night!) and looking him in the eye as he vented his frustration about a service that just wouldn’t come up despite our best efforts, was part of growing into the role. Of late, I’ve been trying to list about a hundred names from multiple sources in an Excel and going through the list to find duplicates. Yes there’s a duplicate function in Excel — but it won’t work because the names have been spelled in multiple styles by multiple teams!
The “I don’t know” syndrome
I now know two and a half versions of “I don’t know” that I’ve heard in my professional life. The half is the ambivalent “I don’t know”, which is genuine, innocent admission. It doesn’t mean anything beyond this. You appreciate the genuineness and move on.
Then the “I don’t know” which is empowering. I’ve been lucky to have colleagues and managers who’ve encouraged me to use this form of the statement simply because it’s the start of discovery. And saying “I don’t know” is expected to propel me to find out more about the topic and inculcate the rigor of problem solving. Ofcourse, a crucial customer facing lesson I learnt along the way was to be more assertive and say “I’ll find out” or “Let me get back to you” — and actually get back to the customer as promised. This little change helped me acknowledge that I don’t know something and yet be assertive about the same.
And now to the “I don’t know”, which is an organisational nuisance. It can be “I don’t want to know”, “I don’t care”, “I don’t want to get dragged into new problems”, or “I know, but I don’t to want to admit I know”. I’ve had colleagues who’ve come up with any of these versions of I don’t know. And every time I listen to it, it makes me more determined to not use the phrase with these overtones. May be some roles have the luxury of getting away with this, but the Account Manager doesn’t.
The Buck Stops with You
And this is precisely the reason why. As Account Manager, I’ve never had the luxury to not listen when someone comes to me with a problem — externally or internally. I may not have the vaguest inkling of what’s being discussed, but the expectation is to understand and offer some next steps. Internal and external customers have come to me asking for a magic wand “Action Plan” or “Proposal” that can make problems go away — sometimes problems that have been part of the business for months or years. Another nugget of wisdom I’ve heard: “The account manager is accountable for everything — though he may not be responsible for everything”. The better part is that this leads me to conversations with colleagues in different parts of the organisation and I get to understand the value chain a lot more, which is definite intellectual stimulation. The not so good part, as one of my senior colleagues told me recently, is that trying to problem solve constantly “is a feel-good trap” and distracts us from the main KRA (Key Result Area) of trying to bring in more sales and business!
When Failure is Empowering
In my short B2B career, I’ve never won a deal where it’s just me winning it for the organisation. There’s an army of experts walking in with their own capabilities, constructing the deal grounds up till it becomes a monument capable of enduring the test of customer expectations. Even the simplest pass-throughs involve quoting, finance, ordering and logistics. Success is a result of collective effort and there’s a lot of merit and joy in sharing the credit.
The flip-side is slightly tougher to handle. When the account doesn’t grow, there’s only the Account Manager who gets to answer the tough questions(Yes, he walks away with the incentive when things are rosy). It seems fair, to be honest — because if there aren’t enough deals on the table, there’s hardly any work for the teams downstream to get their act going. And why weren’t there enough deals — is a question only the Account Manager can rationalize and provide answers to.
Failure that way, is empowering. I cannot blame anyone else but myself. It’s not to say that I need to take it personally. But if I didn’t achieve something — it means there was something I didn’t do. And once I fix that, I can take control of my success. Yes, I could do everything under my control and still not achieve what I want to — in which case there’s the satisfaction that I tried my best, after all. The best part is I’ve eliminated others’ (lack of)efforts and blame games in my evaluation of failure.
Of course, Account Management has facets beyond the four explored here. But these have been the crux of my learning and have had an impact on my personal life as well. The opinions and views might — and hopefully will — change when I read this six years hence. That would be a true indication that I’ve grown in the role or — that the role has grown on me!
The views expressed here are my own and have no bearing on the organisations I’ve worked for