Account manager vs. account executive
Creating and fostering relationships with clients is one of the most important tasks in today's world of commerce, and account executives and managers make those relationships their business. The importance of networking and relationship-building for individual professionals is widely understood, after all, and the benefits of a tight-knit professional network can have a similar positive effect between entire organizations.
Account managers and account executives are equally integral parts of an organization's ability to build client relationships, but the responsibilities of each position tend to differ in ways that might not be obvious. We talked to insiders about the details of account manager versus account executive responsibilities, and their insight was enlightening.
Account manager vs. account executive
According to John Golden, Chief Strategy Officer at Pipeliner CRM, "The role of the account manager is to nurture and grow the account, ensuring that the customer is satisfied enough to renew the contract and hopefully expand the range of product and services it purchases. The account executive is more of a traditional salesperson, prospecting, following up on leads and developing opportunities until they culminate in a deal or are lost."
So, in brief, account executives initiate and define client relationships while account managers maintain them and work to enhance their mutual benefit. As such, although exceptional oral and written communication skills and a sharp analytical mind can come in handy in either role, workers in each position tend to utilize their own specific set of professional skills.
For example, account executives tend to benefit from a habit of persistence in first contacts and follow-ups, and experience at all points in the sales cycle can help them weather the natural ups and downs of the profession. Account managers, on the other hand, can make great use of strategic attention to detail and 360-degree vision of internally available resources that may be deployed to the benefit of a client at any given time.
What it's like to be an account manager
In many cases, an organization's account managers serve as points of contact for individuals in a number of different positions at client firms. Here's a short list of other professionals with whom an account manager might build a relationship, depending on the client company:
- Purchasing agent
- Purchasing manager
- Wholesale buyer
- Receiving manager
- Contract administrator
- Supply chain manager
In brief, account executives initiate and define client relationships while account managers maintain them and work to enhance their mutual benefit.
Communication is a big part of the account management profession, and the most effective ways to interact with other managers may take some practice to figure out. For this reason and others, account managers are encouraged to have well-developed "soft skills" like active listening, information organization and social adaptability.
The typical career trajectory for an account manager tends to be fairly straightforward, with potential for advancement arising after just a couple of years at each level of responsibility in certain industries. Amanda Sides, account director at digital marketing agency Marketing Mojo, spent about two years learning the ropes as a junior account manager before being promoted to a full-fledged account manager position, and after about 18 months in that role took the director job that she holds today.
What's more, many of the skills relevant to account management positions in one field can carry over to similar positions in other industries, so talented account managers have a certain lateral flexibility on the career ladder that not every professional category enjoys. That said, though, there are often nuances of vocabulary and operating procedure specific to a given industry, and account managers who attempt to transition without studying up on the handling of such details may feel like a fish out of water in their new field.
Are you cut out to be an account manager?
Maybe! Employers typically look for account management candidates who hold a bachelor's degree and have some experience in a sales or marketing profession, although certain junior, assistant and other entry-level positions may forego the experience requirement if your academic credentials match what a company is looking for.
The emphasis on adaptability and communication skills in most account management careers means that a fairly wide range of degree programs can prepare you for the day-to-day responsibilities of the profession. Here are just a few of the degree paths that can translate to account management jobs in the right industry:
- Business administration
- Mass communications
Even though graduates from a range of degree programs might shape their skills to fit the account management mold, there are some skills and personality traits that tend to translate better than others to the particular demands of the profession. Here are a few of the main skills and traits that account managers need, according to the group of working managers we surveyed:
- Time management
- Social comprehension
- Data analysis
- Decision making
- Microsoft Office and other enterprise software
- Industry knowledge and product savvy
Many of the skills relevant to account management positions in one field can carry over to similar positions in other industries, so talented account managers have a certain lateral flexibility on the career ladder that not every professional category enjoys.
If five or more of the above apply to you, then account management might just be the field where your skills can blossom into a well-rounded career portfolio. It's important to note that account management is far from a solo effort, with a great deal of intra-organizational communication necessary to ensure that both your company and its clients can get the greatest amount of benefit from your relationship, so the ability to work as a part of a team is one of the most important elements in an account management skillset.
That isn't to say, though, that the technical side of things can be overlooked. The various aspects of account management may be split into separate departments at some companies, particularly larger firms with huge portfolios of client accounts to handle, but many small- or medium-sized employers will be on the lookout for candidates who strike a solid balance of communicative and analytical skills. If one or the other side of your own skills could use improvement, taking the initiative to fill in the dim spots can go a long way toward turning your application into an interview.
Starting your career as an account manager or executive
Amanda Sides, the digital marketing account director whose career path was mentioned earlier, had this advice for students and young professionals considering account manager careers: "Work hard now. Get internships. Shadow someone you know in a manager or director/executive position. Find out all the aspects of the job and future trajectory at a company before you take a job. You want to be sure you will be happy and have room to grow."
Remember, however, that account executive careers are out there also. If you're more inclined toward a fast-paced, coffee-is-for-closers sort of career, your skills might be better served on the executive side of the account manager vs. account executive debate after all. Here's some more information on business careers to help you in your research.
1. Sales Managers, "Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed February 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Management/Sales-managers.htm
2. Email interview, John Golden, February 25, 2015
3. Email Interview, Amanda Sides, February 24, 2015