Account Management vs. Sales: What's the Difference? [FAQ]

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Leslie Ye
Leslie Ye



Account managers and salespeople work together closely, but the two jobs are very different. The distinction between these roles can get blurry, so I'm answering all your questions about account managers, salespeople, how the two teams should work together, and where they differ below.

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Sales vs. Account Management: 5 FAQs

1. What is account management?

Account management is a client-facing, post-sale role. Account managers typically work with a dedicated group of clients for the length of the time the client stays with the company to help achieve the client’s goals and represent their company in non-support customer interactions.

Account managers are also tasked with growing these accounts through upsells, keeping quality of work high so clients want to renew/expand contracts, creating case studies, and advising clients on long-term growth strategies.

For example, an account manager at an ad agency would be responsible for understanding the client’s short- and long-term needs.

Project managers, creative teams, strategy teams, and media teams would work on the execution and rollout of specific campaigns, but it’s the account manager’s job to understand how the campaign fits into the client’s long-term strategy and high-level goals.

Account managers are also the client’s day-to-day point of contact. While the client’s questions and plans may touch multiple teams, the account manager is responsible for filtering communication from and to the client.

But account managers don’t just work at services-based businesses like agencies or law firms.

Even if you sell a physical product (or software), any employee who works with a dedicated group of clients to implement new projects and assists in determining strategy or long-term goals to keep your customer base happy is performing account management duties.

2. Where do account executives (salespeople) fit in?

Salespeople are the ones responsible for sourcing leads or following up with inbound ones, then bringing the business in. Once a deal has closed, salespeople will brief account managers on their new customers’ goals and transition out of the relationship.

But the two roles aren’t always separate. At smaller companies, these roles may be combined -- usually, it’s larger businesses and agencies that can afford to split up new business and account management roles.

3. So is account management just customer service?

No. Customer service representatives typically deal with one-off issues, and serve a general customer base rather than being dedicated to a specific group of clients.

4. How should account managers and salespeople work together?

Account management and salespeople need to have open lines of communication.

When you hand off a new client to their account manager, it’s your responsibility to communicate their goals, plans, and challenges -- basically, a debrief on everything you’ve gathered during the sales process so your account manager can hit the ground running to help the client achieve their goals.

After handoff, account managers should let salespeople know when there are upsell opportunities or potential for new business.

Depending on who’s responsible or eligible to make the sale, account managers should broach the conversation and work with sales to bring the new deal in, or close the deal themselves.

5. Why is there a split between account management and sales?

There’s a reason there’s always been a strict Chinese wall between the publishing and editorial sides of newspapers: Journalists are supposed to report the truth, and involving them in ad buys or sponsorships creates the perception of bias, even if nothing unbecoming has happened.

If your account manager has a quota on his head, it’s harder to trust that upsell recommendations or suggestions for new projects are in the client’s interest.

However, the functions also require two different skillsets. It’s difficult for one person to prospect and close well while also successfully maintaining a customer base.

So, splitting these client-facing duties into two separate roles helps salespeople focus on bringing in new business and account managers on nurturing a growing customer base -- which benefits both your new business numbers and retention rates.

In some situations, account managers are also responsible for nurturing customers to the point of an upsell, and will then bring in a salesperson to handle the financial transaction.

The Difference Between Key Account Management and Selling

Overall, key account management and selling are very different. While a salesperson focuses on the short term — by necessity — a key account manager (KAM) prioritizes the future.

Sales reps also zero in on specific opportunities, while KAMs have broader goals, including collaborating with the customer on mutually beneficial projects, helping the customer meet their objectives, and making sure the customer is getting the necessary support.

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