Podcast

Cementing Long Term Growth Through Key Account Management with Warwick Brown

Warwick Brown – Key Account Manager Tips

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Name: Warwick Brown

LinkedIn Profile: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/warwickabrown

Company Name: Key Account Manager Tips

Company Website: https://accountmanager.tips/

Short Bio:

More than 15 years leading and developing key account management teams in Australia, UK and Europe. Today Warwick Brown helps organisations grow revenue and reduce churn by empowering their account management teams with the tools and mindset that gets results.

Show Notes

On this episode of The Full Stack Business Podcast I’m speaking with Warwick Brown of Account Manager Tips.

Warwick’s area of expertise is all around implementing a successful key account management strategy for the future growth of your company. We dive deep into the topic and cover everything from the basics of what key account management is, to how you can run a successful account management function in your SME.

I learned a lot during this conversation with Warwick including how to best nurture relationships that we have with existing clients and make sure that those clients get incremental value from using our services. It’s all about being in partnership with your clients rather than selling them one thing and then moving on to the next. This is a super valuable framing exercise for long term client relationships.

Here are some of the incredible resources that Warwick mentioned during the podcast:

 

I hope you enjoy the conversation and please let me know if you’ve got any feedback or questions about the show. You can always hit me up at [email protected]

If you enjoy the episode, please take 10 seconds to leave a review on Apple Podcasts or like, share and follow with your favourite podcatcher!

Warwick’s LinkedIn: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/warwickabrown
Website: https://accountmanager.tips/

Transcription

Sam Wilcox:

So Warwick Brown, welcome to the show. How’s it going, my friend? You good?

Warwick Brown:

Yes, thank you Sam. I am thrilled to be here and I’m doing great.

Sam Wilcox:

Good. Well, thanks for coming on. I know obviously we spoke previously, we did a little bit of content together for your YouTube channel recently, didn’t we?

Warwick Brown:

We did.

Sam Wilcox:

That was fun. And, we talked about all things CRM, and why people don’t like CRMs and all that kind of good stuff. But, you’re an expert in account management, which is a really interesting part of sales, kind of part of sales, and I would like to get your take on this, that doesn’t really get talked about an awful lot in the business world. I wanted to bring you on, I wanted to pick your brains and talk a little bit about account management and key accountant management from your perspective, because this is what you do for a business and I’m fascinated to learn about it.

But, before we jump into all that stuff, why don’t you give everybody a bit of a heads up about you, a bit of your history, how you got to this position that you’re in now? And, tell us a little bit about accountmanager.tips as well, which is your website.

Warwick Brown:

Great. Well, I’ve been in account management 15, 20 years now. I pivoted to just a bit of blogging, social media, trying to position myself and share some of my expertise. And from there, a couple years ago, it just turned into a bit of a business.

Sam Wilcox:

Right.

Warwick Brown:

But because people would reach out and say, “Well, can you help me with this? Or, what do you think about that? Or do you do training, do you do coaching?” I was like, “No, no. I’m just writing a blog.”

But, about 18 months I thought, “Okay, I’m at the point now where I’ve had a few opportunities come my way, let me take the plunge and go full-time into the business.” So it’s been an exciting journey, especially going through the pandemic last year and still into this year. But, it was born because, like you said at the introduction, the representation for account management is so small that there was just not a voice out there talking about the challenges and the opportunities of nurturing those customer relationships after we’ve won the business, and what we do with customers when we win them.

So I’ve built basically Account Manager Tips, which is my consulting/training arm. And then, I’ve also started the KAM Club, which is more of a membership community where account managers come together to learn, but also to engage and talk with each other about how they do things and learn from each other. That’s me and the business in a nutshell.

Sam Wilcox:

Cool. How did you get to this point, then? I know you mentioned that you’d been working in account management for 15 years. I get the vibe from the last time we spoke that you’ve worked in some pretty high end corporate positions.

Warwick Brown:

I have.

Sam Wilcox:

Doing account management for some big corporate style entities. Can you talk a little bit about what that was like? Because I’m interested to find out about that.

Warwick Brown:

Yeah. The thing is, you might think a big global company has their act together when it comes to account management, but not always. I worked for American Express for many years, they did. They had a complete global framework, they invested very heavily in training. At the time I was with them, they actually had a dedicated trainer for the region and we would get quarterly training on all sorts of things, with role plays, and guest speakers, and days away and it was amazing. Then, I worked for Expedia, and there was nothing because each of their divisions is independent. You know, they own a lot of companies.

Sam Wilcox:

Right

Warwick Brown:

The brands don’t necessarily talk to each other. The hotel side of the business might have great stuff, but we don’t leverage that in another side of the business. You do your own thing.

Sam Wilcox:

Right.

Warwick Brown:

It’s changing now. Yeah, starting where I was working, there was no account management function fully developed, in terms of processes or systems. It was just figure it out as you go, really.

Sam Wilcox:

Right.

Warwick Brown:

Just basic tent poles. No matter where you are, there’s always an opportunity to enhance your account management offer and what that experience looks like for your customers, I think big or small.

Sam Wilcox:

Well that’s an interesting point, actually, because one of the things I wrote down here in my question around this is who would you say account management is for, because I think there’s an understanding … Well, maybe a common misconception is that unless I am an American Express or an Expedia style type of business, I don’t need to worry about this. From your side of things, when do you think people need to start building out an account management function or start taking it seriously? Is it literally from the get go? Or, what’s your opinion?

Warwick Brown:

Account relationships don’t develop on their own. They need somebody to continue the momentum, to continue to navigate through your client’s organization, to find champions, to weed out people that are unhappy, to help people get the most from your solution. Now, that function can take the place, or can be a part time job for some people, for a while. If you’re a three person operation, or even a 10 person operation, you may not have somebody dedicated with a job title account manager. But, you do need somebody that has, within their remit, the requirement to reach out to customers every quarter, give them a bit of high level analysis on their transactions, show them where the opportunities are for them to get more from your platform so they can get better results faster.

Any business needs to have that customer relationship focus. I think the challenge, or the necessity to go into a dedicated person headcount comes when you’re at a point of scale, where you have enough customers that that person can really bring value. Because obviously, you’re investing resources, that headcount comes at a cost.

Sam Wilcox:

Right.

Warwick Brown:

You need to have a return in investment. For clients that have some strategic opportunities and you don’t have time to make them happen because you don’t have time to pitch to people, you don’t have time to explore the solutions fully, you don’t have time to socialize them out or to get support.

Sam Wilcox:

Keep the rapport ongoing and build the relationship.

Warwick Brown:

Exactly.

Sam Wilcox:

Yeah, that’s definitely something that I’ve seen, because I come from agency land. Agencies generally have an account management team.

With regards to account management, tell me how you would advise people setting this up, in terms of targets for account management. What are the key goals that you would advise people look at when building an account management function? Is it revenue, is it other metrics? What are your key things that you tell people to pay attention to?

Warwick Brown:

Especially when you’re building an account management function, if it’s not a mature function, you’re still trying to figure things out. I’m a big believer in rewarding and measuring progress, in terms of process. And, taking the view that if you build it, the results will come.

So let’s say you don’t have account plans in place. You don’t have a process, a structure, a methodology in place. But you think, “Okay, well we need this so that the account managers can actually deliver results.” The very fact that you have a version of an account plan, and every account manager has it, and everyone has it in place with their customers, that is something you want to reward because if you don’t reward that, people won’t do it. Or, they’ll keep doing it their way, not the way you want to get drive for consistency.

Ultimately, that will lead to results like retention, upsell, cross-sell, satisfaction, the more hard, quantitative metrics that you would typically measure. I think I should be mindful to balance the processes. I used to mix them up every quarter. Let’s say, I knew internal alignment was a real problem, that we weren’t communicating well with our other teams or that there was some friction. We were the ones that saw them as a problem and they saw us as a problem. I might embed into their KPIs for that year or that quarter having internal meetings, implementing a communication strategy with internal stakeholders, informing them or including them in certain reviews or whatever. That was a KPI, but that wasn’t something I was going to do long term, but I wanted to encourage that to get it off the ground.

But, the original question around what I would measure, the typical things are definitely margin. There’s lots of ways you can reduce cost as an account manager, once you understand the customer, to be more efficient, improve quality. You can measure revenue margin. Upsells, cross-sells. Expansion I put separately because often, as an account manager, you’ve won some business but then they may have associations, parent companies, sister companies, new whole divisions, or countries or regions, that you don’t have their business in. So I bucket that understanding expansion, because sometimes you’ll have opportunities there. And then, retention and satisfaction.

Sam Wilcox:

That’s interesting. When you mention all those metrics it sounds like well, this is a sales role, right?

Warwick Brown:

Yeah, it is.

Sam Wilcox:

Do you think that the sales function and account management function should be two separate things? And, is there a point where it makes sense to split them? Is there a point maybe when you’re starting out, where the sales rep is the account manager as well? How do people think about that and make that transition, potentially? Because maybe that’s where some people don’t make that leap.

Warwick Brown:

I think there is that hunter-farmer mentality, I think people think because you’re farming, there’s no revenue.

Sam Wilcox:

Ah okay, so that’s how you would classify it, hunter-farmer. I like that, actually.

Warwick Brown:

That’s how a lot of people refer to sales versus accountant management.

Sam Wilcox:

Is it? Okay.

Warwick Brown:

Sales are the ones that go out and do all the hard work, bring home the bacon, and then we just cook it. That doesn’t work like that. Sales is very revenue focused, but they’re also very lead generation focused. They’re very focused on developing networks, problem solving, finding the right people, managing their pipelines, networking. They’re on the road all the time. And, they also don’t have the level of depth of operational understanding of how your product works. Now, they know it to a very solid degree, don’t get me wrong. But as an account manager, you’re much, much deeper into how things happen.

Sam Wilcox:

Yeah, you’re in the weeds

Warwick Brown:

Really in the weeds.

Sam Wilcox:

I’m with you.

Warwick Brown:

I often find, it might be a bit cheeky, but I do sometimes say sales sell the dream and account managers sell the reality. It’s quite challenging when you’re implementing a new customer, but also when you’re renewing a new customer, because you have to manage expectations.

So a salesperson might be asked, “Oh, do you have comprehensive reporting and data consolidation?” They’ll say, “Sure, we have that.” Then, I’ll find out, “Well yes, but it’s manual. They have to send me an export, and then I have to upload it.” Well, now there’s friction.

Sam Wilcox:

Right.

Warwick Brown:

So it might say on the tin, “Yes, we have those features,” but actually the proof is in the execution of it, which is actually unwieldy and unmanageable. That’s just an example of how the two might come together.

But, a lot of people will bring the two functions together.

Sam Wilcox:

Right.

Warwick Brown:

It’s a challenge because they’re very different. They’re cyclic with sales, you’ve got quarterly performance. You’re often neglecting your clients because suddenly, the Q1’s at the end and you’ve got to hustle and make those calls. It can be difficult to manage the workload, depending on the number of customers you have, too.

I’ve got one client that has 60 accounts that he’s the account manager for, but then has a ton of sales targets, he’s got to bring in new leads. It’s a lot, so basically the clients don’t hear from him unless they ring him.

Sam Wilcox:

Right.

Warwick Brown:

That’s what tends to happen if you’ve got the two together.

Sam Wilcox:

So there’s a real point then, where the workload becomes too much and something’s getting neglected. And like you say, it’s probably neglect in cycles. At the end of quarter when a sales rep has to deliver on quota, the accounts are getting neglected which puts your existing customer relationships at risk. And then at the beginning of the quarter, maybe there’s more activity on an account side of things which means that there’s less sales coming in, and you’re in this up and down. So when you get to that stage where you can clearly see that there’s a workload issue, it’s time to split those functions out, by the sounds of things.

If you’re getting very wavy sales reports and very wavy reports of customer or client happiness, satisfaction, growth, existing client growth, et cetera, that wavy analysis of those two things, if being managed by the same person, is probably an indication that that needs to split into two roles. Would that make sense, do you think?

Warwick Brown:

Definitely. I mean, you can tell from the distribution of the workload, the way their pipeline’s being managed, the way the opportunities move through.

I think one thing to think about is, even if it’s not today, keep an eye on the future especially if you’re growing, but how do you segment your customers.

Sam Wilcox:

Right.

Warwick Brown:

Not just what does the offer look like from the product, but what does the offer look like from the backend support.

So with account management for example, you can’t offer the same account management to all customers, they’re not created equal because they’re not all as profitable. They don’t all have as many growth opportunities, they’re not all as aligned with your solution, or your mission, or your values. So you need to sift out the ones that have the bigger revenue opportunities, that are more harmonious with just the way you like to do business and that want to partner with you, and that have growth and revenue opportunities, that’s where you want to spend your time.

But, you want to communicate that to the customer. So you can say, “Look, the account management we give you is telephone based. We don’t call you unless you call us. We’ll send you monthly dashboards by automation, and we’ll catch up twice a year.” You can do that, but just tell them upfront and then you know where you want to focus. But then, you’ve also weighed up the risks about this is the level of care we can give this type of customer, and typically that’s all they need. Versus this is the more intense level of care we need not only to keep them, but also to grow them and maximize all the opportunities that are there for us.

Sam Wilcox:

Can I ask a question about that, then? Because that sounds like an expectation setting exercise, which you would usually want to do on the way in, right?

Warwick Brown:

Yes.

Sam Wilcox:

So as signing up a client.

Warwick Brown:

Yeah.

Sam Wilcox:

Are you suggesting that the account management, is it the sales rep that would understand that, so that they can set the expectations when signing the client up? Or, is the account manager involved in the sale at some point, so that that piece gets communicated? Because otherwise, you don’t want the sales rep going out and saying, “Oh yeah, we do X, Y and Z.” And then we get them over the line, the contract’s signed for 12 months, and then it gets passed to an account manager. The account manager goes, “Well, hold on a minute. We can’t offer this level of service.”

I imagine that something has to be given before the contract is signed and maybe the account manager has to be involved, or is it the sales rep who has an understanding? Or, is it both?

Warwick Brown:

Both. I think for the smaller accounts, it’s not negotiable. It’s not a modular system or a menu based system it’s like, “This is what we’re going to give you.” Build out a statement of work or add a schedule to your contracts that says, “This is the basic account management touch. You’ll get an inbound phone number, you’ll get monthly, and you’ll get two calls a year from an account manager,” not a named account manager, “just to make sure that we’re aligned.”

And then for the bigger ones, again you would want a statement of work or a schedule to show what you’re going to do. But, you may want to bring in some of your subject matter experts to talk through their expertise. Now again, you’re not going to get that all the time because I used to have that where, “Oh Warwick, can you come in? We’re pitching for this big client. You know account management better, you come in and do it.” But then, suddenly I’m out on the road all the time, supporting sales, not doing my own job.

Sam Wilcox:

Right.

Warwick Brown:

So you have to also educate the sales team, and have a good relationship with sales and account management, so that they know what you do, they can talk the talk, and then they can bring you in if they want to have more of a strategy session with the client pre-award, or they want to just help them understand more about how account management works.

Sam Wilcox:

So this is, I suppose, the difference then in your world, between just account management and key account management, right?

Warwick Brown:

Yeah, exactly.

Sam Wilcox:

So key account management is those bigger fish, those whales that you’re trying to land, that maybe need a little bit more of a bespoke sales process, quoting, proposal process, that would get them over the line anyway, so the account manager would step in at that point and try and help the salesperson to land those clients. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

If I think back to my agency days, that’s pretty much how it used to work there. I was in charge of some of the bigger accounts for a PPC agency that I used to work for, I was in charge of the UK, large accounts for the UK. Key accounts, as I suppose we would’ve technically called them. And yeah, you’re right, there was a lot more of a consultative approach to the closing of the sale, rather than just your smaller clients where it’s, “This is the terms sheet, and this is what you get.” Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, actually.

In terms of account management skills, can we talk a little bit about that? I also want to dive into your care framework as well, by the way, so let’s just make sure that we don’t skip over that.

Warwick Brown:

Okay.

Sam Wilcox:

I want to dive into that a little bit. But, I’m just curious about the skillset of an account manager, or key account manager maybe, that you would suggest is something to. From a business owner’s perspective, if hiring or planning this function in the business, what should they be looking for? Because I think the distinction between hunter and farmer, which I really like … I’ve not heard that before, so I really like that. That’s two different skill sets, obviously. What would you suggest there, from a skillset perspective?

Warwick Brown:

They’re not dissimilar to sales because they’re still revenue opportunities. You can potentially have a new product and you want to sell more of it, or a different but sympathetic product that you want them to buy extra. Or, you might have to pitch to a whole brand new region. You might have to convince the German market to come on board, and no one’s going to help you, it’s your job. You’ve got to do the pitch, you’ve got to do the proposal, you have to do all of the networking.

I prefer to say it’s more like warm leads versus cold. I’ve got the audience, I’ve got the advocacy, I’ve got the internal networks in place, so it’s a bit easier for me to see the opportunities and to pursue them because I know the players. Whereas sales might be starting from zero, I’m as an account manager starting from probably 60 or 70, in terms of awareness and opportunity.

Sam Wilcox:

Is there a support function of account management? If I worked in a place where multiple roles have been rolled into one, because I remember when I was the account manager, let’s say I would generally be the contact for that client if they have any questions or comments. That might have been wrong, that might have been more of a support role.

Correct if I’m wrong here, because I don’t know at the level that you’ve done this, I’ve done it on a much smaller scale, whether there is or should be a support function considered as part of the role as well, where you’ve got to look after people and make sure that they’re okay. Do you know what I’m trying to say?

Warwick Brown:

Yeah. A lot of organizations have customer success which started in the SaaS space, but is a version of it in many, many service organizations and others, where they’ve got dedicated people and resources to make sure what you said you would do for them, you’re doing.

Sam Wilcox:

Right.

Warwick Brown:

So as an account manager, if something breaks in the system I don’t have to be the one that chases it down. Now, you can get the customer success team involved and they’ll fix the things that are broken. They’ll help the client operationally use your product better, and get more out of it, and think strategically about how to roll it out and all that type of stuff. So not always, but there’s often a function for account managers to partner with somebody.

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