In most companies, account managers (AMs) are critical, sales-generating resources. Yet many companies—even those with large account management teams—skimp when it comes to account management training. This blog post will cover the four steps to creating an account management training program that will super charge your company’s account management team.
Step 1. Identify the account management competencies that are critical for your organization. Obviously, these competencies will vary by company, industry, and account type. If you’ve never developed a competency model before, then I suggest you check with senior team members in your Training and Human Resources functions. These colleagues may have a defined competency-design process and templates that you can use. If you are building an AM competency model from scratch, you can download our baseline AM competency model at the bottom of this page as a starting point.
Best Practices for developing an AM competency model:
- Identify champions from within the account management team (including senior stakeholders) who can provide structured feedback as you work to build your AM competency model.
- “Map” the AM role by working backwards from the overall objectives that a representative account manager is trying to achieve. This will allow you to identify all of the business processes and tasks that the account manager must execute or understand to achieve his/her objectives. Separate these processes and tasks into logical “buckets” and work to refine them with your champions. When you are done, you will have an agreed-upon list of five to seven competency categories to build from.
Step 2. Define the standards your company requires for each individual competency category. For example, for a given competency category, you can define standards for different levels of competence (e.g., “Baseline Competence,” “Advanced Application,” “Expert”). By defining these standards, you are creating a tool by which to assess AM competence. Front line managers can use these standards to identify individual needs and develop appropriate coaching plans.
Best Practices for defining competency standards:
- Standards must be stated as concrete, observable behaviors. Too many competency models use soft language that is open to interpretation by the user or their immediate supervisor.
- Avoid creating more than three levels of competence. Sometimes companies get caught up in defining many levels of competence, but all this does is water down the standards and create ambiguity. From my perspective, most roles have three levels of competence – Baseline, Advanced, and Expert. Baseline competence should be a level that new hires transition through quickly—within their first six to twelve months. Advanced is the level at which the majority of employees should function. And, Expert is the level at which only the top 10% - 20% of the organization operate.
Step 3. Assess existing competence against the model’s standards using a combination of self-assessment, peer assessment, and supervisory assessment—leveraging online or pen and paper assessments and coaching observation grids that align with the defined standards.
Best Practices for assessing competencies:
- Even with concrete standards, interpretation can vary widely. Anytime a group of supervisors is asked to observe behaviors using a new competency model and standards, they should go through a calibration exercise so that there is clear understanding across supervisors as to what “good” and “bad” look like.
Step 4. Design training and coaching programs to address individual and group competency gaps. As with any training initiative, a blended learning approach that includes a strong, ongoing reinforcement—or sequencing—component is key. Also, because of the diversity of ability in an existing account management team, training and coaching programs should be designed to allow customization at the individual level.
Best Practices in designing AM training and coaching programs:
- Involve front-line managers and seasoned AMs in program and content design and roll-out.
- Maximize the use of e-learning—and because AMs are typically a very busy and mobile group, design e-learning assets that fit seamlessly into their work schedules (e.g., brief tutorials, games, and step-by-step videos delivered on tablets or smart phones).
- Undoubtedly, several critical AM competencies will involve face-to-face interaction with challenging clients (e.g., contract negotiation, value proposition delivery, product defense). Although AMs are often senior sales professionals, these competencies will benefit from role-play scenarios that mimic real-world challenges. Use of role-plays allows AMs to practice in a risk-free environment, before entering the real arena.
Collateral You Will Need—Here is a summary of the core collateral you will need to initiate your account management training program.
- A solid AM competency model (You can download our baseline AM competency model at the bottom of this page as a starting point.)
- A coaching observation guide that aligns with the competencies and standards
- A calibration program for front-line managers and other in-field observers
- Written or verbal assessments designed around competencies and standards
- Individual and group competency-performance dashboards
- High impact training content customizable to the individual level