Sales and account management, are they the same or different?
Although both terms are often used interchangeably, each of them has unique characteristics and roles in business growth. Understanding the nuances between the two can help you better manage the team tasks, resulting in improved team collaboration, happy customers, and a higher revenue stream.
In this article, we’ll discuss the differences between sales and account managers, and how they can work together to help you win and retain customers at scale with the help of sales CRM software.
What Do Sales Managers Do?
Pro tip: The many sales phrases and acronyms are often confusing and can cause misunderstandings between teams. Refer to our glossary of sales terminology to keep you updated on the latest sales-related terms.
Here are some key activities of a sales manager:
Building relationships with prospects
As the forefront of the company, sales managers’ main job is to attract new customers. They are responsible for generating leads, nurturing them, and (often) closing the deals.
Because of this, sales managers often work together with other departments to gain the prospect’s trust. This includes the marketing department (to provide them with relevant marketing material), production (to arrange prototypes or small-batch orders), and customer service (to find common challenges of the target groups), among others.
Setting and meeting sales goals
Sales managers often work together with company leadership to set sales goals. This will then be divided into specific timelines (e.g. quarterly) based on relevant KPIs (e.g. conversion rates), or nominal (e.g., $100,000 revenue from new customers).
Related: There are many trackable sales metrics on the CRM software, but which ones are worth monitoring? We recommend starting with the conversion rate, average sales cycle, and revenue growth rate, as these will give you a high-level overview of your sales performance. Our blog on 10 Sales Metrics Every SDR Should Track will give you more details and suggestions.
Developing sales strategies
Every industry and prospect has its own challenges that need to be addressed. Sales managers are responsible for developing the best sales strategies to maximize revenue and market penetration.
Performance monitoring and improvement
Keeping track of sales performance ensures that the sales goals will be met. This can be achieved by monitoring the KPIs regularly, identifying bottlenecks, and streamlining work processes to increase efficiency.
What Do Account Managers Do?
An account manager, on the other hand, manages your company’s relationships with its customers.
Generally, there are two types of account managers based on when they take over the leads from sales managers: 1) after the lead is considered qualified (e.g., expresses interest), and 2) after the lead closes the deal (e.g., makes a purchase or signs a contract). In today’s business, the latter is more common than the former.
Additionally, some businesses may not have an account manager on their team. This is typically the case with small to medium-sized businesses. When this happens, the salespeople will double as sales and account managers. This is perhaps the reason why sales and accounts managers are often considered as one role and are used interchangeably.
That said, account managers have one primary focus, which is to maintain and nurture customer relationships. They ensure your company’s services meet the client’s needs and the client is satisfied, leading to bigger purchases or contract renewals.
Here are some key activities of a sales manager:
Negotiate and close deals
As the intermediary between leads and the company, account managers skillfully negotiate contracts, pricing, and other individual agreements (e.g., payment period, trial period, and return options). They need to prioritize customer satisfaction while, at the same time, ensuring that the company secures profitable deals.
Build and nurture relationships
Part of an account manager’s daily job is communicating with customers. They aim to build excellent rapport and trust. This is often done by proactively engaging with customers, providing updates, and answering their questions promptly.
Manage a portfolio of accounts
Account managers need to understand the pain points, goals, and preferences of each customer. This enables them to provide personalized offers and deploy sales strategies accordingly.
Creating upsell and cross-sell opportunities
Knowing the needs and challenges of the customers allows account managers to offer upsell and cross-sell opportunities strategically. This will generate additional revenue and enhance customer loyalty. In fact, a Gartner study shows that 28% of sales leaders believe that account management regularly meets cross-selling and account growth targets.
4 Main Differences Between Sales and Account Management
Sales and account managers may share many similar characteristics, but they play separate roles in your organization. To give you more clarity on the difference between sales and account managers, we compared both roles in detail and found four key differences.
Note: Because some companies often prioritize hiring sales managers first over account managers, the lines between sales and account manager jobs can be nonexistent. The following differences are applied when both roles are available within an organization.
1. Sales Behavior: Hunting vs. Farming
An easy way to differentiate sales from account manager is through the analogy of hunting and farming.
A salesperson is a hunter. They scout their prey (prospects) and capture them (converting them into customers).
On the other hand, account management is a farmer. A farmer nurtures their crops—watering, pruning, and weeding them as required, so they grow healthy and bear fruit.
In the same way, an account manager owns the entire customer relationship. They will provide clients with all the information they need to use a product or service successfully and spot the chance to transform them into loyal customers through upselling or cross-selling.
Since account managers nurture customers, if they fail to cater to their needs adequately, businesses can lose customers. Unfortunately, this happens more often than expected. According to Zendesk’s 2022 Customer Experience Trends Report, 61% of customers would switch to a competitor after one bad experience. This shows how important the role of an account manager is to any organization.
2. Customer Journey Stage: Pre-sale vs. Post-sale
Principally, the sales team owns the pre-sale customer journey stage. They actively seek leads, nurture them into prospects, and eventually into paying customers. Once a prospect becomes a customer, the sales team hands them to the account managers.
The account managers take care of the post-sale stage, focusing on delivering a positive experience throughout the customer interactions. They onboard the customer, answer any questions they have, and set up regular check-ins to make sure the customer is satisfied with their experience.
3. Customer Relationships Timeline: Finite vs. Indefinite
Sales have a finite and shorter timeline compared to account management.
Unlike sales, account management has an infinite duration. From the moment the sales team closes a new deal, account management kicks in and continues indefinitely. Say a customer churns; their account manager might attempt to win them back.
Simply put, sales is often a one-and-done process. Account managers, on the other hand, nurture customer relationships continuously to drive repeat patronage and, ultimately, word-of-mouth marketing.
4. Profit Timeline: Immediate vs. Long Term
Sales yield short-term profit, while account management provides profit in the long run.
In sales, the strategy circles around profit upfront. You close the deal and earn your commission immediately. Account management is much more long-term. You spend months developing relationships with customers with the hope that they will upgrade, renew or extend contracts, and stay with you for the long term. You won’t see a payout right away, but after you cement the relationship.
Sales vs. Account Managers – Recap of Their Differences
By now, you should’ve been able to tell the differences between between sales and account managers. To conclude the comparison between the two, let’s summarize their roles and profiles.
Sales managers (or sales representatives):
A client-facing, pre-sale role
The spearhead of a business to acquire new customers
Typically, once a deal is closed, sales will hand the customers to the account manager
Nurture relationships with clients for a definite/short time (until the deal is closed)
Aim to source and win new prospects
Account managers (or key account managers):
A client-facing, post-sale role
The main point of contact for clients after acquisition (e.g., giving support, answering questions, and solving problems)
Nurture relationships with clients for an indefinite/long time
Must know the customer’s needs and challenges inside out
Aim to grow customer accounts through upsells, cross-selling, contract renewal, etc.
Some interesting facts about sales and account management:
Not every company has an account manager, but most have sales reps
Some salespeople also play the role of account manager
Since there are some intersections between sales and account manager, people can switch between the two roles without much learning curve
Unify Sales and Account Management With Sales CRM Software
In high-performing revenue teams, sales and account management work interdependently to acquire and retain customers. The sales team keeps the customer pipeline full, and the account managers provide customer relationship data to help sales managers identify leads with a high chance of conversion and retention.
For this setup to succeed, collaboration is key; and the best way to achieve seamless collaboration is to use sales CRM software like Pipeline CRM. With Pipeline CRM, your sales team can easily generate, track, and convert leads. Then, after the deal is closed, the account managers can easily take over the lead.
Since all sales-related information (e.g., profiles, preferences, deals made) is captured in the CRM database, account managers can smoothly continue the good rapport with the customers and double their accounts. This way, you’ll eliminate incorrect information and delayed progress.
Start unifying your sales and account manager with Pipeline CRM and see the growth of your sales!