The Changing Role of the Account Manager

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

A savvy business owner from Maryland called me the other day to talk about his company’s career ladder (e.g., staffing, employee development, and succession planning). Always prescient, the business owner was interested in leveraging additional value from his Account Managers to gain a competitive advantage against his local industry rivals.

For many years, the role of Account Manager represented a diverse blend of operational (e.g., horticulture, equipment, chemicals), people (e.g., staffing, training, performance management), and customer (e.g., walk-throughs, client interaction, enhancements sales) skills. That traditional hybrid role has recently evolved into two dichotomous positions frequently found in mid-size landscape companies.

The “Account Manager” position now focuses extensively on the customer side of the business, often renamed as a Client Relations Manager, Customer Account Manager, or Client Service Representative. That singular fixation on customer focus has necessitated the complementary redefinition of the “Field Supervisor” position (e.g., Production Manager, Production Supervisor, Field Operations Manager) which emphasizes myriad tactical field issues: crew composition, labor efficiency, and yard departure/arrival; job sequencing, rotation maps, and job quality; and employee safety, crew training, and staffing.

With the operational facets no longer under the auspices of the Account Manager, that position has been forced to adopt a new set of skills often shown to be time-consuming, costly in terms of re-training, and replete with difficulty for some historically dyed-in-the-wool Account Managers lacking adaptive transition.

To facilitate that new position structure at his company, I conveyed the following three primary domains the newly-designed “Account Manager” must possess.

  1. Being a Capitalist. The former Account Manager position was respectfully characterized as an “operator.” No longer. The current Account Manager position must now possess an entrepreneurial mindset characterized by business acumen aimed at increasing revenue (e.g., enhancements sales, construction work, tree referrals), containing costs (e.g., estimating system, gross margin calculations, materials vendor relationships), and maximizing company profit within the context of each customer’s landscape budget.
  2. Coaching. The former Account Manager role was underscored by the formal supervision of numerous Foremen, Crew Leaders, and Irrigators. Not anymore. The new position does not oversee subordinate staff. The Account Manager must now take on the role of “coach” incorporating softer skills of communication, facilitation, and influencing, as directed onto the customers, Field Supervisors, and vendors. Instead of mandating vertical compliance from subordinates of yesteryear (i.e., “talking instead of listening”), the Account Manager must now view interpersonal relationships through horizontal collaboration seeking “win-win” successes, mutual alliances, and continued partnerships (i.e., “listening instead of talking”).
  3. Role Model. The former Account Manager job classification was circumscribed by a pragmatic managerial orientation. Not so much going forward. The new Account Manager must now develop an enriched leadership mentality, focusing on company values, organizational culture, and systems alignment which when taken collectively contribute to improved client relations, employee engagement, and vendor cooperation. The elevated mindset of “role model” requires the Account Manager to continuously think, act, and plan in terms of personifying best practices, earning others’ trust, and promoting sustainable results capable of being emulated by those who have witnessed his/her impact.

As I explained to the business owner, this transformation requires time, resources, and patience. The landscape industry continues to change, as have our clients who expect more personal touch. Accordingly, our organizations, as well as our own professional roles, must respond in kind to exceed their expectations.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.