#7 Ignoring the Traffic Signals
I have often wondered if the guy who created the 3-color stoplights ever considered a 4-color option. Maybe because I see so many others (never me!) racing through the yellow light before it turns to red, I think perhaps the signal should include an orange light. For me, the yellow light says “Slow down because you’re going to have to stop soon.” For others, I think the yellow light says, “Hey! Hurry up! It’s turning red!” So, if we had orange to delineate the varied perceptions of yellow, we’d all have more clarity and we could all say yellow means, “Hurry up!” while orange means, “Slow down now!” Instead, we all get to determine what yellow means with our actions indicating our views. For me, yellow will forever mean “Slow down” but my actions are typically aimed at beating the yellow to red, which means I imagine my own orange!
Account Managers can get equally complicated signals from stakeholders at major accounts. The complexities of these customers’ businesses are substantial and require significant investment and strategic planning. Account managers responsible for these large customers must have a strong network, an in-depth understanding of the business the account is running, and significant knowledge of the marketplace around the account including their competitors in order to be of most value. And as the account manager navigates these large customers, signals as obvious as those in stoplights and at railroad crossings, are lighting up indicating danger and potential changes in action.
For many account managers, however, the customer’s signals are difficult if not impossible to see. These account managers are so focused on their own agenda, often one built based on the customer’s needs and goals, ironically, but one that is now misaligned to what the customer seeks today. Account managers must continually scan their customers and the news and communications about them to stay up-to-date on their needs, goals, strategies, and concerns. Being adept at being curious is a skill every account manager must have, either innately or with practice and intent. With curiosity, an account manager can discover news and insights on their customers through the myriad of media options available. Being curious will stimulate the account manager to learn more about the account and the stakeholders, their projects and deliverables, and how the goals and strategies of the C-suite are being realized. Curiosity will also keep the account manager from being self-focused or driven to complete tasks only and will instead allow the account manager to see the signals the customer may be exhibiting – a change in strategy, a new priority from senior leadership, a concern about the recent political changes, a hesitation to engage a major initiative or a change of heart on a recent deal in the works.
Coaches of account managers can best support their teams by conducting regular account reviews to clearly understand the latest initiatives the customer is pursuing including any shared opportunities. Coaches should also stay current on the overall marketplace intelligence across their region or geography to ensure awareness to trends, policy changes, mergers and competitive activities. Encourage your team members to regularly review news outlets, industry group reports, conference notes and local business coalition meetings to stay informed and to generate potential areas of dialogue with customers.
Curiosity is the key to staying focused on the major account customers and their businesses and to catching a glimpse of the signals those major accounts may be exhibiting. Your customers will extend a continuous green light if you stay focused on their needs and strategies while growing knowledge and insight about their business.