Both the technology we use to communicate and the role of the account manager in the AV world have changed hugely over the years. Industry veteran Nevil Bounds muses on time, tech and shifting roles.
- Back in the day
- Face to face
- Technology – telex to the internet
- Account management & building relationships
- Where did the time go?
BACK IN THE DAY
My first sales role in a commercial AV and video department effectively meant calling people on a telephone (remember those?), arranging to go out and see them, demonstrating equipment and generally making myself indispensable before asking for the order. You could do that then (in the early 80s). Why was that?
Well, we had TIME. Yes, how about that for a concept? TIME to think about what the customer wanted, TIME to get someone else to type it out and put it in the post. Most of my customers weren’t in a tearing rush, so we used to send them in 2nd class post. Perfectly adequate for most people back then.
A few days would pass, maybe a couple of weeks and then we’d probably have another call on the telephone. Then, out of the blue, a purchase order would arrive at our office and we could start working on the project. That might all seem like a massive over-simplification of the process but it was not too far wide of the mark!
face to face
‘We need to you make three or four appointments per day,’ the company told me back then. I could manage that without too much difficulty. Sometimes, I would see five people per day if I was feeling a bit keen.
By now, it was the mid 1980s; I had changed job and was working for a large AV integrator and manufacturer. People were pleased to see me, well, most of the time. It was very straightforward to give them a call and ‘pop in’ to see them. ‘I’m in the area...yes, see you at 11.30 then.’ How difficult was that? Not in the least.
Back to the TIME thing again. Selling in the 80s meant there was plenty of time to complete tasks and any that overran would get shelved until the following day, or Monday if it was a weekend. We had time to visit the pub, often at lunchtime and certainly in the evening. But not too much about that here, I think...
TECHNOLOGY: Telex TO T'INTERNET
In the company that I was working for at the time, we had a telex machine (younger readers click on the link for a definition!) which we used for all of our export documentation. There was only a handful of staff that knew how to use it. It didn’t matter though because they were always able and willing to assist, especially if we had started to receive orders from countries that we hadn’t previously dealt with.
I think it was in 1987 that we got our first fax machine. A single unit that had to be shared between about 125 people. This was a revolution. The ability to send a document to someone and within a couple of minutes during all of the modem sounds, they would receive it on their machine. Awesome!
But there was a downside as far as our team were concerned. This now meant that quotes would have to be turned around a great deal faster. Yes, TIME erosion. Less TIME in the pub. Awful. Less of everything in fact. But, many more revisions of quotations, multiple copies sending to Head Office, sending it two of three times because it hadn’t reached its destination and so on and so forth...
Then in 1989 we had mobile phone car kits installed in our company cars. Nearly all sales people had a company car in the UK then. How times have changed. Now, we didn’t have to pull over to find a phone box to call the office to tell then of our whereabouts and as you couldn’t use the phone outside of the car environment, you weren’t always ‘on call’ when you were at home.
Then there was the internet and email. This is going to be the subject of an entirely separate blog, because there is simply too much to write about it here.
Account management & BUILDING relationships
I often try to put myself in the position of one of my clients. What do they expect from me as an Account Manager? Can I just ‘pop in’ as I used to do back in the 80s? A bit of socializing before we get down to talk business? It could not be more different now.
AV account management has to be a collaborative approach between the integrator and the customer. A friendly and diplomatic approach is usually received well by most clients and it will form the basis of a longer lasting and more fulfilling series of relationships. There is little point in having a relationship that is only one way; equally, this kind of interface must work for both parties.
Of course, one is still selling. The difference being is that this way of working feels comfortable for all involved. So often the client is bombarded with follow-up phone calls after the most casual of conversations with a sales person which puts most people off. I have never understood why people do this. Where is the value? If you were to get a sale, then it would probably be your only one as the customer would go elsewhere next time.
Frequently, I find trying to define the role of an Account Manager a difficult one. It is one of those jobs that has definitely evolved over time and I’ve seen job descriptions that vary considerably.
Wikipedia defines the Account Manager role as:
‘An account manager is a person who works for a company and is responsible for the management of sales and relationships with particular customers. An account manager maintains the company's existing relationships with a client or group of clients, so that they will continue using the company for business. The account manager does not manage the daily running of the account itself. They manage the relationship with the client of the account(s) they are assigned to...’
...which is about right for the most part. But it is most definitely not only applicable to the office and business environment per se. There are many networking opportunities at AV trade shows, the AV User Group and many other events where the account management role is a key one. No longer are we selling in the true sense of the word, but more of an on-going relationship building exercise whereby our clients feel engaged with us and trust us to solve their problems. A much softer approach but more fulfilling, hopefully.
It's all about time
Time, again. I know, boring isn’t it. But people just don’t have time any more. No time to take a call, no time to see people and so good relationships are far more difficult to come by. Are we all time-poor (‘spending much of one's time working or busy; lacking free time’)?
I would take this a stage further by saying that you can be time-poor at work as well. Time management is now the number one problem for so many people of working age. From an account management perspective, it makes it very difficult to schedule appointments.
Account management is an important part of the sales role in the AV business. I very much enjoy this aspect of my job, but I do hark back to the days when everyone had more time. That meant we could think about system designs for longer, talk about the finer aspects of the commercial side of things in greater detail and spend more of that time with our clients. It is strong interpersonal skills that set apart a good account manager from a mediocre one.
And as we all know, time spent listening, clarifying and building trust with a client is time well-invested for the success of any project.