Those were the days my friends . . .

Those were the days my friends . . .

. . . when you knew that if an ear had a ring in it it belonged to the female of our species, and that if your computer installation had a problem, or you had a query, you phoned your friendly account manager, who solved the problem for youBack in the late seventies and early eighties the major mainframe hardware vendors (IBM, Fujitsu, Hitachi, ICL) believed in team account management. Medium sized customers would typically have the following assigned to them (using the IBM nomenclature):

Marketing representative

(the head of the team)

Systems engineer

(looked after the software side)

Customer engineer

(looked after the hardware)

The reason for the systems engineer and customer engineer names was never quite clear, but the customer engineer could be found every week toiling away in the (air conditioned, dust proofed, false floored and static controlled) computer room, making minor adjustments, checking tolerances and efficiencies and generally ensuring the machine stayed "up".

The systems engineer was the friend of the software/systems programming department, cheerfully addressing any issue from why a program had "bombed" to what extra piece of hardware or software from your compassionate vendor could solve your immediate problem.

The marketing representative played at the senior levels, having regular "account management" meetings with the senior IT executives, introducing his bosses to the IT manager's bosses, and ensuring that the necessary contracts were signed and the consequent commission enjoyed. If the customer was large there would be multiple systems engineer/customer engineer staff, and the marketing rep could even have his own, permanent, office within the customer's offices.

His overall objective? Keep the customer happy/satisfied and keep them buying from us!

If any foreign vendor was found sniffing around (spotted through "glossies" being left carelessly lying around, or coffee mugs suddenly sporting opposition logos), the team would instantly pounce.

Indeed it was not unknown for the opposition representative to get a frosty telephone call from the (entrenched) IBM marketing rep demanding to know what they were doing in "my customer".

But it was a clever, effective and successful strategy. It has always puzzled me why, when it takes so long to turn a prospect into a customer, so little attention is sometimes then paid to retaining them as a happy user of the vendor's products, and the obvious target for additional sales.

After all if they are gaining benefits from one of your systems/products why wouldn't they use more? And you have the perfect opportu-nity to be introduced to all the right levels within the company, and extend your "relationship selling" right to the top.

So let's bring back the account manager!

Today the practice is rare amongst our top software and hardware suppliers, barring some notable exceptions.

Obviously we are not talking about sales of a few thousand dollars, but when the revenue stream from a company exceeds the $100,000 mark it is certainly time to consider treating your customer with more respect than just providing them with your 1800 number for post sales support!

When they're good . . .

Good account managers are worth their weight in gold.

Cheerfully dealing with any customer problem, big or small, liaising with their own colleagues and managers to ensure the customer's requirements are met, they secure your business and facilitate additional revenue from products or services, and also help out when the new business sales person desperately needs a top reference for the critical sale. Against this scenario you would imagine that the role is easily justifiable.

Unfortunately along come the revenue/head or profitability/head figures which all trans- late into that dreaded phrase "no available headcount".

So, those were indeed the days, my friends, and it's just a pity that they've apparently come to an end!

Graham Young is the managing director and co-owner of Anagram International, which specialises in the IT industry.

Anagram International

Tel (02) 9144 3499

Fax (02) 9449 5884

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