You are here:

How to be a successful account manager

Who do account managers work for, what do they do and what skills do you need to have to really excel in such a role?

About this article

IGD Commercial Capability Manager Philippa South introduces the role of an account manager, the skills and capabilities you will need, and some quick tips for success.

What does an account manager do?

Account managers are responsible for working with customers to deliver sale and profit plans for their product portfolio.  Within FMCG, we usually think about account managers working for manufacturers or suppliers of goods and customers  being those businesses who either sell on our products to the customers - retailers, wholesalers, foodservice businesses – or those use our products themselves, such as data. 

As an account manager you will use data to identify product portfolio opportunities that are aligned with both the customer’s and the shoppers’ needs.  You will develop compelling commercial proposals and make these opportunities a reality with your customers. This is likely to involve negotiating with your customers to ensure you maximise the return on investment for your organisation, whilst also ensuring you deliver for your customer and the shopper.

What does a typical day look like?

As an account manager no two days are ever the same. One day you’re meeting with a retailer or manufacturer, for example, to sell-in the latest new product or range extension; the next you’re interacting with marketing or category management to champion your customer, and to obtain vital support and resources for executing your plans.

You will also work closely with supply chain, commercial finance and field sales to ensure agreed customer plans are executed efficiently and effectively. And don’t forget those all-important store visits to keep up-to-date with what is happening in the market – and in particular with your customers. 

What background, experience and qualities are desired

Account managers often start in field sales roles; however, we are seeing more and more people moving in from marketing, supply chain and customer marketing. The role is challenging and unique; you need to be able to analyse data to identify opportunities, to develop compelling commercial propositions and use persuasive selling to gain commitment, while utilising project management skills to ensure all relevant business functions work together on executing plans.   Being able to quickly build rapport with a range of customer and internal contacts is vital, as is being able to pro-actively solve problems and issues. This requires a real ‘can do’ approach coupled with strong commercial acumen to ensure the best return for your organisation. Above all else a great account manager is tenacious and results focused, capable of working at a pace that isn’t for the faint hearted.

IGD Commercial Capability Manager Philippa South’s first account management role was with Mars. She says:

“I moved into account management after gaining experience in a field sales role. What appealed to me was having the opportunity to take total responsibility for the customer performance – both the sales and profit plan. The fact I am a ‘competitive self-starter is a real advantage as an account manager as you have a level of autonomy on how you use your time and the resources at your disposal. It also enabled me to engage and influence a broad range of internal functions as I championed  my customers specific needs within the business.”

What skills and capabilities make account managers successful?

You need to be:

  • Tenacious
  • Able to manage a range of diverse tasks
  • Proficient in building long term relationships
  • A pro-active problem solver

A level of financial and numeric understanding is a prerequisite as you will be potentially managing substantial budgets and costs. 

Do you have any quick tips?

  • Immerse yourself in your customer’s business so you understand their model and the way they work inside out
  • Always be standing in your customer’s shoes. Keep asking yourself ‘why would the customer want to implement my plans’, ‘what’s in it for them and their shoppers’? 
  • Keep it simple and remain focused on the growth levers at your disposal that will drive growth and profit for your organisation and your customer.  Remember you can only increase volume sales by increasing your distribution or increasing your rate of sale – do not get distracted by activities that do not do either of these, but be creative with the activities that do.

Ask yourself these three questions and only proceed if you can answer yes to at least one of them along with ‘what’s in it for my customer’?

We have a range of account management training courses that can help you get to grips with the job if you’re just starting out, or go from account manager to business manager if you’re ready to take the next step in your career!


Successful Account Management workshop
Dates in May, June, September and November

A two day workshop aimed at account managers new in to role or who have had no formal training as well as other functions who have customer facing responsibility. 

Find out more

Account Manager to Business Manager workshop
14th – 15th September

A two day workshop designed for account managers who have been working in their current role for 3+ years and are looking to take on more responsibility or broaden their existing account management skills. It’s also suitable for those people who have previously attended IGD’s Successful Account Management workshop.

Find out more

Related information on

IGD Training

IGD Training

IGD Training helps people at all stages of their careers to flourish in today's fast-changing world. This is delivered through free personal development opportunities on behalf of the charity and also by paid-for commercial workshops, customised training and research projects. 

Successful account management - Winning for You and Your Customers

Successful account management - Two day workshop

Retailers' expectations of their suppliers are always changing. Get to grips with working in the fast paced environment of account management with our stimulating and thought-provoking two day workshop.