CXO at GadellNet, Ashley Pyle, gave an engaging presentation at KAMCon 2023, about how to hire account managers with precision. During her talk, Ashley spoke about what you should consider as you go through the account manager hiring process to successfully select the best candidate for the role.
After you go through a hiring process, it takes as long as 10-12 months for an account manager to ramp up to where they’re ready to get in front of your clients and have an intelligent conversation.
“That’s a long runway,” Ashley reminded us, “but it requires that work to build that person up. That’s a significant investment you have in these people. So, you’ve got to make sure that they are good hires.”
Ashley was inspired to develop a great hiring process due to her earliest hiring experience. She explained, “One of my biggest lessons learned, and why I spent a lot of time trying to stumble through this to figure it out, is the very first person that I thought, ‘Oh, this guy's smart. He's nice. He's kind. I think he can do this job.’
Unfortunately, it didn't work out. I had to have a hard conversation and he exited the organization. I left that day and I never wanted to do that again. It was awful.”
Read on to learn how Ashley hires account managers with precision.
Essential Hiring Criteria
Ashley sorts hiring criteria into three categories: skill, will, and fit. She explained, “Skill is ‘get it’, will is ‘want it’, and fit is the capacity to do it. Those are the three easiest things you can remember when you’re talking with people. Evaluating, not only does this person have a good character, but do they have the competence to do the job? Are they going to be a good leader and fit within our organization?”
She then proceeded to review the criteria she identified as essential for each category.
Skill is the ability to ‘get it’. You can use hiring and sales assessment tests to gauge traits and sales skills. At GadellNet, they screen account management candidates for six key traits and for consultative selling skills.
Six Key Account Management Traits
The key traits you choose may differ, but these six are a good starting point:
- Autonomy: The ability to work independently.
- Sociability: The ability to listen and be a contributing team member.
- Both driving and flexibility: Although difficult to do at the same time, it’s essential for the type of work account managers do.
- Tolerance of uncertainty: How well the individual deals with uncertainty.
- Ability to be present and understand business changes: Discerning and understanding day-to-day changes in operations is essential for an account manager’s success.
- Ability to learn from mistakes: The candidate must start quickly, then learn as they go, because account management is a big process to understand.
Everyone involved in the hiring process should know these key traits. They help you screen for highly impactful key account managers that can drive outcomes.
If you use assessment tests initially, you can use them as a guide as you craft interview questions to gauge where candidates stand in relation to these characteristics.
Consultative Account Management Selling Skills
Ashley also screens candidates for consultative account management selling skills. As she said, “Many of them can be taught, some of them can’t. The ones that you’re going to be looking for are the ones that can’t.”
These inherent skills include:
- Need for approval: You must understand candidates’ personal need for approval. The need for approval may mean that it’s very difficult for them to have hard conversations.
- Ability to stay in the moment: This impacts a candidate’s ability to listen well and communicate. You can screen for this by seeing if the candidate articulates and answers tough questions without meandering. So, if you find yourself saying, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t even know how you answered that question,’ that is a failure to stay in the moment.
- Existence of supportive beliefs: The candidate must be comfortable discussing money.
- You can determine this based on their past experience.
How they’re motivated: Gauge whether the candidate is intrinsically, altruistically, or extrinsically motivated. An account manager that’s more intrinsic wants what’s best for your client. This enables them to drive better customer outcomes.
Ability to handle rejection: Ask questions about rejection to reveal how they handle it both internally and with clients. This helps you see if they can be fully productive members of the team when it comes to a problem, challenge, or the dreaded N.O. You want to know if they get a NO, how they will do, and what they will do.
Fit is the candidate’s capacity to “do it.” It’s essential that you consider whether the candidate is a good fit for your organization since it won’t matter what skills or level of will they have if they aren’t a great match for your specific business.
Fit criteria are based on the things that your account managers do in their role. These include:
- Markets: Consider the specific markets your business services and whether your account managers are selling solely to existing clients, like most account managers. Then consider if engagement with clients is in person or remote and if social selling is necessary for success.
- Ability to reach the buyer: Your account manager cannot do business or drive good outcomes if they cannot reach decision-makers. This is essential, so, as Ashley said, “I encourage you to make sure that you know who the decision-makers are. And that the account managers you hire can get in front of those people and have a comfortable track record of being able to do that.”
- Resistance and competition: Gauge how well candidates deal with resistance and competition, then consider how fierce your competition is. If the potential hire came from a role where they had a challenging process and fierce competition, they may be a great candidate for you to hire. But if they had a cakewalk of a job and yours is not, it’s going to be a longer than typical ramp time and a very difficult transition.
- Pressure: Understand what you sell, how you sell it, and how much pressure is involved. Then consider their past experience to see how well they managed pressure. So, if your account manager roles are high pressure, you want to be sure the candidate can handle that pressure.
Will is what Ashley calls “want it.” This is desire, commitment, coachability, and longevity. These are the things that you must look for, and interview for because, as Ashley said, “You can’t teach ‘will’.”
- Desire: This determines the candidate’s future growth and where they fit in your leadership chart.
- Commitment: This is a measure of longevity and the candidate’s commitment to staying in the organization. You’re probably used to screening for this when reviewing a resume by observing how often they change roles. If candidates have a lot of jobs, ask questions about the conditions that caused them to leave. Then consider if those are satisfactory.
- Coachability: This is their willingness to do something they may not believe to be the best path forward. But when a leader asks them to do it, they’ll give it a try.
Desire, commitment, and coachability are important in the key account management role because of continually changing conditions and the ability to work collectively with teams.
You can use assessments to help make data-driven decisions pertaining to ramp time. These help you screen for how productive the candidate will be and in what timeframe.
Ashley recommends you focus on ‘fit’ and ‘will’ first because you can teach many of the technical, account management, or company skills. But, ‘fit’ and ‘will’ are essential for hiring exceptional leaders to build effective teams.
As a hiring manager, Ashley suggests you strive to master these four things:
1. Hire exceptional leaders.
2. Build reliant teams that have lots of autonomy.
3. Establish a clear vision
4. Communicate well so the entire ecosystem sings.
This enables everybody to get on board and work successfully with your customers.
Looking for account management training for your new hires? Register them for the KAMGenius online account management training program.