After several years’ experience in the pharmaceutical industry, Aurélie Brisset, 44, decided to move into digital marketing by joining the agency SQLI as an account manager. For Welcome to the Jungle, she reveals what goes on behind the scenes of this sales position in the customer service department.
How did you end up becoming an account manager?
After getting an advanced vocational certificate (a French BTS) in international trade, I joined a business school where I specialized in event marketing. I started my career as a marketing manager but soon realized it was not always very well-paid. In addition, the sales people I worked with often criticized us for being out of touch regarding the market and consumer expectations. I decided to get closer to the customer side of things and I became a sales rep. After a good few years in the pharmaceutical industry carrying out business to business (B2B) consultations, I joined the digital marketing agency SQLI in late 2016 as an account manager.
Can you describe what an account manager does?
An account manager is a sales representative who is responsible for customer relations. I act as the intermediary between our client, whose needs and expectations must be understood and met, and our company’s technical teams, who develop and implement the most appropriate and suitable solutions. At SQLI, I specialize in the luxury industry, specifically the haute couture sector. My job is to identify the needs of a company in terms of their clients and their internal or external digital strategies. I then find the right skill sets within our agency to fulfil those needs and provide them with a competitive solution that will allow us to offer long-term support.
An account manager is a sales representative who is responsible for customer relations. I act as the intermediary between our client […] and our company’s technical teams.
What kind of issues do you come across?
I mainly work on developing e-commerce platforms and digitizing internal processes. For example, in a luxury fashion house, after a fashion show regional buyers come to view and select pieces from the collection in showrooms during buying sessions. On the B2B side of things, we help our customers create digital catalogs.
In the business to customer (B2C) sector, we work on improving user experience on a brand’s website. The goal is to make the consumer’s online experience as smooth and simple as possible. They must be able to instantly find an article that they spotted in the press or on social networks. Website navigation must be easy, the pages must load quickly and that fluidity has to last right up until they are in-store. The solutions we offer our clients allow them to provide their own customers with a unique and ultra-personalized experience, so they gain their loyalty.
We work on improving user experience[…] The goal is to make the consumer’s online experience as smooth and simple as possible.
How do you handle a project?
Even before a project launches, an account manager has to do a huge amount of groundwork to get the attention of companies that don’t necessarily have a precise idea of what they need. I spend a lot of time researching potential targets, canvassing them and inviting them to lunch or dinner. During these first few encounters, I have to stand out somehow. Quite often, a company will contact me several months after our first meeting to present a project they would like to launch, hence the importance of the initial contact phase.
An account manager has to do a huge amount of groundwork to get the attention of companies. […] I have to stand out somehow.
However, most of the time companies know what they want and they launch a call for tender that specifies their expectations and objectives. After scrupulously studying it, we propose a solution, a methodology, a schedule and a budget for the project. We also present the teams that we intend to use and highlight several credentials that prove our skills in this specific area. If our agency is selected, we then move on to the contractual phase—this can take a long time—during which we define the legal framework for the mission. After that there is the scoping phase, where we define the project specifications in detail and the technical solutions that we want to employ to meet the client’s requirements. Once the solution has been approved, we start developing and then integrating it into the company’s IT system.
As the account manager, I am the client’s first point of contact at the agency. If any specific issues come up, I arrange meetings with the technical team, but in general, I coordinate and pool all the information on the project from the beginning until the end.
As the account manager, I am the client’s first point of contact at the agency.
What attributes does a good account manager have to possess?
You have to be a good listener, have a good memory and retain a lot of general knowledge because you have to be comfortable talking about anything and everything. Charisma goes a long way, too, especially during those first few encounters. An account manager must also know how to stand out, be smiley and show enthusiasm. Businesses in general, and even more so in the luxury industry, are constantly contacted by sales staff, so it’s essential that you differentiate yourself by developing your own personal touches. The ties that an Account Manager creates between themselves and their clients are essential.
The ties that an Account Manager creates between themselves and their clients are essential.
What aspects of the job do you like the most?
What I like the most is client interaction. I am aware of how fortunate I am to work in the world of luxury goods, a world for which I have quite a soft spot. As a consumer myself, I share my experiences with them and give them ideas, which they often appreciate. Working with the technical teams can be a little more complicated because I constantly have to convince them to take on new projects with me when they are already quite in demand.
What challenges and issues do you face on a daily basis?
The main difficulty I have to deal with as an account manager is the fierce competition from all the other digital marketing agencies. They all want to work with luxury fashion houses; they are highly valued customer references. There are a lot of smaller businesses out there that are willing to do whatever it takes to get a contract, even if it means cutting back on their margins. I am constantly battling to justify our higher rates and to communicate the importance of SQLI’s experience, but these are signs of our expertise in this domain.
I have to deal with as an account manager is the fierce competition from all the other digital marketing agencies.
Being an account manager is also rather demanding. In general, clients are extremely busy and have such jam-packed schedules that if I want to catch them, I often have no choice but to organize business dinners. Sometimes it is difficult to set boundaries for myself because if I am unavailable, the projects don’t progress and I run the risk of my clients getting tempted to go elsewhere.
What advice would you give to anyone who would like to become an account manager?
Run (she laughs)! Seriously though, it’s a profession that requires total commitment, but you nevertheless have to acquire a well-balanced lifestyle and not let yourself get overwhelmed by your professional life. I find exercise helps me get rid of any stress and maintain a healthy lifestyle. In addition, it is absolutely essential to stay true to yourself, to have integrity and not to lie or gloss over the truth. This has helped me to maintain long-term relationships with a number of clients. Lastly, an account manager must be incredibly organized to be able to manage several projects at the same time, without leaving anyone behind.
It is absolutely essential to stay true to yourself, to have integrity and not to lie or gloss over the truth.
Translated by Mildred Dauvin
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