Account management in the age of AI
With the rise of AI it's increasingly important for Account Managers and Sales teams at all levels to be able to adapt to the new world. As businesses are increasingly looking to smarten up their ways of working through automation and machine learning, what does this mean for FMCG companies?
Are computers taking over?
There are countless articles in the news at the moment discussing the advances in AI and the millions of jobs that will be lost a result of bots taking them over, so what does this mean for Account Managers in consumer products companies? Looking at the role, account managers need to have a number of skills and behaviours in their armoury. As a result, they need to be skilled at:
Influencing & wiring
AI can already make a big impact in the more technical areas of financial management, forecasting, and numeracy. Systems can use advanced regression models and machine learning to predict your sales forecast better than ever, even if the activities have never been run before. Similarly, whilst we are a way off bots presenting and negotiating annual account plans, many day to day interactions between customers and suppliers can be eliminated by a more joined up digital supply chain.
Will I be getting replaced anytime soon?
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review references some research done by Bain where they have identified 40 B2B Elements of value, i.e. when you are selling from one business to another the buyer is subconsciously being influenced by 40 different considerations.
There are the obvious things like “does this product meet my needs?”, “is it at the right price?”, and “will this deal improve my top-line?”, but then there are the less obvious elements, like “will this deal get me promoted?”, and “will it make my life easier?”. Today, the good account managers are influencing buyers using these different elements whether they are aware of it or not. We are a long way off one account manager bot that could navigate this complex landscape, but AI and bots can help inform decisions and approaches across many of them.
So should I be worried?
As you can see from the list above, there are a mix of technical and behavioural skills. It’s useful to consider the extremes; at one end of the scale you have some extremely technical account managers who are all over their forecast and profitability but do very little to foster and grow the relationship with the customer, and at the other end you will have account managers who have amazing relationships with their customers but have no firm grip on the numbers and the profitability of the account. As you’d expect, the best account managers are the ones that can do it all, balance both sides. So where will the computers take over?
The people who should be concerned are those at the extremes. if you’ve made your name to date by being the ‘numbers guru’ account manager who has amazing forecast accuracy, never has any surprises in their P&L, but maybe isn’t firing on all cylinders when it comes to influencing your customer and building a relationship with them, then you will find that increasingly the things that have made your name will be getting done by computers, better, quicker and certainly cheaper than how you were doing it.
Equally if you are the relationship person, who the customer loves but you’ve never really got your head around revenue management, systems and financial management, then you will quickly find your life a lot more complicated. Your company is going to be making more and more use of tools and AI and your role will be to interpret what it’s saying and make the right decision. If you can’t then you will be at the mercy of your competition who are using the same technologies.
What can I do?
Learn and adapt to the changing world around you. If predictive analytics / data science / machine learning all sound terrifying then it’s time to read-up about it. Grow your confidence in some of the basics until you get to a place where you can challenge the results the “brainboxes” are sharing, you need to ensure that what the models are showing you are valid, sound, and applicable in your business context. Equally skill up in areas that computers are still a long way off being able to mimic: influencing skills, negotiating skills, creative problem solving etc. so you can better apply your improved understanding of the data.
Given the broad range of skills that account mangers require; the bots won’t be taking over any time soon, but they will have a big impact on what you currently do. The most successful individuals will be the ones that learn and adapt to make the most of the new situation.