In enterprise IT, flagship clients can make or break a company, but landing them is often the easy part. Your sales team can close all the major accounts you want, but if you’ve got a revolving door because of substandard account management, word spreads fast.
The personal relationships our account managers build with clients is a vital part of the Options offering, and it is this personal touch that has made Options a key technology partner to some of the industry’s leading firms, both on the buy and sell-side (see Whitebox Advisors and Napier Park Global for two recent examples).
In my experience, there are key opportunities to deliver in every client relationship. It might mean dropping everything for the CEO whose email isn’t syncing on his phone, or rallying the troops when a weekend office move goes south. There are certain things you just can’t solve remotely, or things that just can’t wait 30 minutes, and that’s where the account manager should always shine.
During some recent weekend work, we experienced a hardware failure in a key switch. How did we fix it? The account manager for that customer flew 1200 miles with the replacement part.
At Options, our technical account management team has grown fivefold in the last 18 months – it’s become integral to our support model. It has also been a regular feature on this blog. We have talked customer success and how we ensure a high-touch, personalised service but I wanted to examine it from a technical account management perspective as we’ve come to realise there are a few principles that work consistently well, right across the board:
1. Managed IT Should Be Seen And Not Heard
The reality of managing IT for financial services is this: IT is not a top priority for your clients, and if it is, it’s never a good thing! Keep in mind, the CTO or technical contact you work with every day is reporting to a CEO, COO or key investor, therefore presenting the benefits of a cutting-edge IT system in a clear, succinct way is in both your interests.
A good IT system is one that you don’t notice. Don’t make noise about your achievements, with long lists of technical explanations and two-hour phone calls. Organise a recurring weekly call, send out a running order beforehand and follow-up minutes with key actions after. It’s about presenting key wins in the last week, and the key actions that will be worked on ahead of the next call.
2. Track Your Wins
The reason for an account management function in your business is making your client happy. What’s the easiest way to keep clients happy? First, ensure they’re leveraging a reliable, resilient platform. Second, making sure there’s a big stack of work in the ‘Completed’ folder. Options clients take the former as a given, but the easiest way to communicate the latter is a tracker.
We’ve adopted the project tracking software, JIRA, which makes creating a dashboard of all recently completed engineering tickets for any given client a breeze. It also means at any point, the client’s senior management can poke their heads into the engine room of an account to check on progress.
3. Nothing Beats Being There
When the bulk of account management is effective communication and organisation from the office, it’s easy to forget you can actually meet clients in person. Remote support solutions and communication tools are incredibly powerful, but nothing beats face-to-face communication. You gauge the client temperature a lot better with the addition of body language, tone and context, so if the vast amount of your engagement is done remotely, you’re not even close to the full picture. An early morning coffee or after-work drink on a Friday is when the real business is done, and trust me, it’ll make any difficult conversations you might need to have during office hours a lot easier.
4. Be Available
As sure as every other Windows OS being borderline unusable, your client will only have an urgent request or issue the only day you’ve booked off 3 weeks in advance, or the minute you’ve nipped out for lunch. However, there’s a couple of things you can do to strike a balance between 24-hour cover and relaxing on your down time.
Email distribution groups with a wide range of applicable people mean that even if you’re on a plane, someone can respond and deal until you become available. Secondly, if you know you’re going to be unreachable for a sustained period of time (anything over an hour and I get anxious), do a quick handover to a few key people. Finally, pro-tip, answering that 4am phone call or email, even just to sound the alarm internally, scores serious points!
5. Don’t Get Isolated
When your role is managing communication with the client, it can be easy to view yourself as the only communication channel. You’re not there to be the expert on every topic, and if you pretend to be, you’ll quickly be found out. Make a conscious effort to get your best engineer speaking directly to your client, and to recap on point three above, do it face-to-face if at all possible!
The company will look like it’s got a pool of talented engineers at the client’s disposal, and if you’re lucky, you could uncover some additional business. There’s a balance to be struck on this point and it’s different with every client, but it’s an invaluable way to make the client happy and reduce your overall workload.
In a nutshell, an account manager should be batting for the client in every situation, attempting to move their IT platform forward as best they can. Sounds straightforward, right? It’s not always, but we’ve found high-touch engagement, whether from our account managers or our 24/7 support team, is what really sets you apart from your competitors. With this ‘personal touch’ so lacking in modern enterprise IT, with faceless help desks and automated phone lines, why not make it your USP?
Image by Simply CVR under CC licence.