Do You Need an Account Manager or an Account Maker?

The growth of a creative practice often happens organically. As work stacks up, more resources are brought on to help. Soon you realize that you’re spending more time running a company than doing creative work. In your desire to get back into the studio you consider hiring someone to help manage projects and to make sure that work keeps coming in.

In my last article, I mentioned that combining these functions in one role does not usually work out very well. There are some important reasons why.

Inward or Outward Orientations

Account managers are primarily client-facing. Their goal is to make sure that your firm is doing great work that fulfills all the client’s goals. Great account managers cultivate strong professional relationships with their clients. They think proactively about how their needs can be met. There are some aspects of new business development in the account management role, new projects and initiatives are often the result of thoughtful, strategic account management.

Nevertheless, account managers spend almost all their time, thought, and energy working with existing clients. And so not only do they occupy themselves on their issues, practically speaking, they need to be available to them. Therefore, account managers should focus inwardly, on your existing client base.

Business Development is Outward-Looking

The business development role, on the other hand, looks outward toward the market. They want to identify and find new clients for the firm. There are a range of tactics and approaches in business development, but the focus of this role is on the fields, not on the flocks already fenced in.

Different Motivators

It’s not just time allocation, or orientation, that makes these two roles incompatible for one person to fill. It’s also a matter of temperament and motivation. A good business development resource should be motivated by performance. They should want to hit and exceed their goals. And since their success means your success, you should want them to be motivated by compensation.

Of course, account managers also want to be well paid, but if they are overly concerned with how their paycheck is affected by revenue generation, their ability to think strategically, and in the best interest of your clients, can be compromised. A good account manager is worth their pay, but they shouldn’t be as incentivized by compensation as a true sales specialist.

Pressure to Merge the Roles

And so when you’re growing, and it’s time to offload some functions to other staff, you’re going to have to choose between hiring one role or the other. The temptation to combine them will be strong. And any candidate you may consider will likewise be tempted to agree to a combined role in order to get the job. That’s not dishonest on their part as much as it is unreasonable and unrealistic of you to ask for it. And when you do hire someone, you’ll soon find out which one you got. If they are really suited to account management, they’ll find that they just don’t have time for new business development. Or, if they really are motivated by sales, they’ll resent the time they have to spend managing clients and projects—which directly limits their capacity to find new clients and make more money.

You’re Just Going to Have to Choose

Unfortunately, a newly growing firm is not likely to have the wherewithal to hire two new full-time overhead roles. And so you’ll need to make a choice. Which one to go with first may be contingent on your situation. But, generally speaking, finding a solid new business person will ultimately provide the means by which you can scale up to bring on an account manager.

But keep in mind, there is not a direct line from hiring an account maker to hiring an account manager. Once a new business person starts bringing in work, you’ll need more production staff to handle it first. This will put even more of a demand on you as you fill a growing account management role. In fact, until you add a few more producers, your firm won’t have the resources needed to support the two overhead positions.

So whichever way you go, you’re going to need to own and occupy the opposite role yourself, at least until you grow to a size where you can support both roles. Things may get a little worse for you, in terms of satisfying your desire to get back into the studio, before they get better. But if you try to take a shortcut by combining these roles, you may never get where you want to go, because one of the two will end up being neglected.

Are you ready to take the struggle out of finding new clients?