The Difference Between Salespeople and Account Managers

We were also asked to be judges in the Central Mass Sales Awards contest.  This morning, I personally reviewed several dozen applications, some of which were very worthy of consideration.  Yet I repeatedly saw some of the same patterns in the nomination applications as I see when Objective Management Group evaluates sales forces.

Most executives aren’t able to differentiate between top salespeople and top account managers – and there is a huge difference!  An account manager is someone who manages specific accounts, takes care of one’s customers/clients, solves their problems, holds their hands, maintains the business and keeps competitive hunters away.  They are very, very important to a business, but to call them salespeople is unfair to the salespeople who are in the field selling.  Account managers typically aren’t expected to generate much new business and as a result, aren’t really producers.  Yet their managers look at the revenue their account managers “manage” and suddenly become hypnotized by the number – fooled into believing that these account managers are their top salespeople.  Wrong.

Another version of account manager, the Major Account Manager or National Account Manager, is really a farmer. Assigned just one or two accounts, the farmer’s job is to grow these large, existing customers.  That’s closer to selling, but…

The salesperson’s or producer’s primary responsibility is to grow sales by finding and closing new business.  These hunters and closers have a much more difficult assignment, often having to make cold calls and unseat incumbent vendors to reach and exceed their goals. Yet, their performance is usually compared with the simpler assignment held by their account manager cousins and management often fails to see that they aren’t comparing apples to apples.  Look at it this way.  Salespeople are pushing container trucks – up-hill.  Account managers are passengers in the truck.  Salespeople are looking for people they can convert.  Account managers are preaching the choir.

Back to the nomination papers. As the sales thought leader who has done more to bring attention to this matter than anyone else, it was painful for me to read the nominations of account managers for the recognition of one of the Sales Awards.  While I’m certain they are deserving of recognition for their terrific account management success, I can’t nominate even the most accomplished account managers for salesperson of the year.