Career Paths in Account Management

By Amin Akbarpour

The world of Customer Success is still a relatively new one. Only recently have organizations begun to embrace customer success as a necessary division within an effective organization. There aren’t a lot of consistently defined details within the space. So, for those of us involved in account management there are many unknowns in terms of what your career trajectory can look like.

As someone who’s been doing this customer success thing for a while now, I’ve had questions on this topic multiple times. Outside of using your job in success as a springboard to go on to another team or division (think sales, product, marketing, etc.), where can you go? Luckily, there are opportunities to further hone your skills and continue upward within account management itself. Let’s dive into the two most common routes:

Strategic Account Management

You may start off as a low-touch representative working primarily with small to mid-sized businesses (SMB) with your main goals being to reduce churn and capitalize on up-sell opportunities. You won’t feel like you have much time as you’re constantly hopping from one customer to another. Staying organized and numbers-oriented is key. As you start to get the hang of account management, you can start moving up the ladder in terms of the size and type of customers you work with.

In the mid-market space organizations can have anywhere from 50 to hundreds of employees. Working with these companies, you’ll be able to develop and fine-tune essential skills (relationship building, sales skills, process detail, etc.) as you start diving into accounts. You will need to understand your client’s org chart, identify power users vs. decision makers, and learn their budgeting process. Be detail-oriented and patient here: these are fundamental building blocks that will be critical to your success in account management regardless of whether you decide to continue to move up the totem pole or go a different direction.

Last, but not least, is the top of the account management food chain – enterprise customers. In this role you’ll be a high-touch rep where you are responsible for managing no more than a few strategic accounts. Think organizations with multiple divisions and departments (Google, Apple, Visa, Coca Cola). They might even have an international presence! Hope you know some Mandarin or Spanish… Your job will be to understand the deeper details on each of your accounts, from the procurement process, to the distinct vocabulary they use, to each individual in the org chart, their responsibilities, and the role they play as it relates to your business. At this point, you become responsible for strategy as well as managing relationships with your champions and key decision makers. You will typically have a team of colleagues who help manage the day-to-day and execute on some of the strategic objectives you set out.

Leadership

So you want to be a leader? Leadership it isn’t for everyone and it also isn’t what many make it out to be. In most cases, a successful enterprise rep makes more money than, say, a manager of an enterprise rep team. Talis est vita…

You can move into leadership at any of the levels described in previous section – SMB, mid-market, or enterprise. It’s just a matter of when you find the desire to make the transition and have demonstrated success as an account manager. Going into leadership is a transition. You go from spending the majority of your time with clients to spending it with your team, spreadsheets, and internal meetings. It is far from a glamorous lifestyle, but it can fulfill a desire you might have.

That’s the desire to build and grow. Making the transition from building relationships with clients to becoming a great leader can be a challenging shift, and you’ll have a lot to learn about management. There’s also more at stake since you can’t just have a bad teammate the way you can have a bad client. A poor relationship with someone who reports to you can lead to both a toxic environment for others and a terrible experience for that individual. That said, growing your career in leadership can be incredibly rewarding, because you get to set the direction for your team and help others succeed.

If you do make the decision to go into leadership at the SMB or mid-market level, it can be difficult to move up into a different size account base while remaining a leader. Know that you’ll be competing with account managers in that segment who want to move into leadership and are more familiar with those kinds of customers. Make sure that you choose leadership at a segment that will work for you long-term.

To explore career options and prepare for your next career move, set up some time to talk with your boss, and spend some time networking with other customer success professionals. They will help you understand what different roles are like, and can give you tips on how to progress your career from their own experience. Take the time to set yourself up for success and happiness, wherever that might take you!

Are you an account manager or CSM who needs training to push your career forward? The Success League offers a series of live, online training classes that include topics like uncovering customer goals, building your selling skills, and handling difficult conversations. www.TheSuccessLeague.io

Amin Akbarpour - Amin is a customer success coach and architect. With relationship-building at the core of his practice, he molds teams by instilling the necessary principles to transform them into trusted advisors. Understanding what's needed for organizational change, he translates theory and ideology into practice and habit. In addition to his work with The Success League, Amin currently serves as an account manager for Persado. Originally from Southern California, Amin is a University of San Francisco alum who is grateful to still be able to call the Bay Area his home.