Relationship managers in tech companies are an interesting breed. Those that I've met are fun, sociable and are some of the easiest people to talk to. But the role they play is much bigger than just being a social butterfly; instead they are to be a consultant, evangelist, business strategist, sales person, networker and trusted advisor. It’s a pretty exciting and emotional ride living the life of a relationship manager.
What do they do really?
Relationship managers, in essence, manage client accounts. Internally, they’re the front-line sales people who are responsible for generating revenue and driving client success. Externally to clients, they are advisors in their own fields who push valuable recommendations to achieve clients' goals.
A typical week for a relationship manager
The fun thing about the life of a relationship manager is that each day is never the same. You’re always in varied scenarios meeting different people. But just picking any random week, this is how it looks:
Starting the day
A relationship manager’s day starts at around 8-9am. After clearing some emails, you will start to call some clients as mornings are the best time to catch them while they are still at their desks. This is sometimes followed by a quick update meeting with internal support teams and product specialists to discuss client engagement strategies and ongoing projects.
Weekly forecast meetings
Relationship managers have sales targets to meet, and that’s how they’re largely evaluated on their performance internally. Every week, there would be at least one team meeting where Relationship managers have to forecast what revenue amount they’ll attain for the month or quarter. These meetings can get quite intense especially when forecasts fall below expectations.
A known perk of being a relationship manager is that you get to enjoy good meals (with clients of course) as part of your work. Lunches are a great way of breaking the ice with clients and knowing them beyond the professional context. Business lunch etiquettes are important, as you still have to maintain your professional front at all times.
Client meetings and presentations
Client meetings and presentations take up half of a relationship manager's time. You could be meeting a new client for the first time, presenting business reviews, making a sales pitch to senior management, or having in-depth discussions about new projects or client needs. Such sessions are never boring; in fact they’re full of surprises. You’ve to be prepared to handle strong objections (eg. “we’re happy with print ads; we don’t need social media”), meet new influencers without notice, or have the confidence to present in front of an audience of 3 people or 300 people.
A relationship manager’s official schedule is pretty much the same as everyone’s, in that it’s typically a 9 to 6 (9 hours) day. Having said that, because you are out of the office most of the time, there’s much flexibility in managing your own working hours. It’s highly dependent on your boss’ managing style as to whether you’re expected to report how you manage your time each day or week.
Challenges of being a relationship manager
Sales targets and quarter ends
A relationship manager is a sales job after all, meaning there's sales targets, and numbers to answer for.
Sometimes it gets desperate
Sometimes, a relationship manager’s client relationships may not be as ideal as they wish for, and clients may avoid replying or committing to a contract. When you need a response or contract from them urgently, Relationship managers find themselves in a dire situation of finding various excuses to call the client. No relationship managers like to do this, and it gets to the point of feeling like a stalker when they run out of excuses to call the client, but like it or not, it’s a necessary part of the work.
Emotional roller-coaster ride
It is normal for relationship managers to be vested emotionally in client relationships. While a successful client relationship feels good, a long-time client discontinuing a service may feel like a ‘breakup’. Also, getting clients to use and optimise the solutions they bought is many times more difficult than the initial sale itself (think gym membership). A relationship manager’s job is to make solutions happen, hence it can be frustrating during the implementation phase.
Beyond the paycheck
Transforming organisations one at a time
There's nothing more fulfilling than seeing your clients transform with your solutions. It is deeply satisfying when your clients write a commendation letter for you or talk about their successes with you in front of others. You have been part of a change, and you know it.
The social media company bit
Social media is still a new phenomenon, at least in the B2B context. By selling new, emerging solutions to clients, you are effectively part of today’s disruption, changing entire industries. Many companies still rely on traditional ways to do business, and embracing change is always tough. Remember how new technologies such as the photocopier, telephone and internet were ridiculed as useless inventions? While some large companies are forward thinking enough to embrace change, most companies will still be resistant. But the challenge makes it fun, and relationship managers in a social media company see themselves as evangelists selling an idea rather than a product.
And honestly, when you can sell an idea, you can sell anything.
Fun-loving culture and lots of perks
Social media companies are some of the coolest workplaces. You can play Xbox games, throw some darts or have a game of pool any time of the day; no one will judge you. And the best thing? You can always find people to have a game with.
Lunch is typically provided for. Even if it’s not, you can be sure that the pantry is well stuffed with snacks and fruits, coupled with a good selection of beer that comes in handy for parties. And yes, there’s no lack of parties and people to drink with.
Beyond this fun-loving environment is an open and transparent culture where everyone is part of the family. You can walk into any director’s room to have a chat, and people will always make time to help you if you approach them.
What you need to be a decent enough relationship manager
Good interpersonal soft skills
Consider this: You’d be working with people ranging from fresh graduates to CEOs complete with their own quirky personalities and agendas. What would get them buying from you?
Being a jerk doesn’t help. Even being average doesn’t work because average basically means every one else is like you. Instead, be a good listener to understand what your client really needs (not what they say they want), improve your presentation and speaking skills to allow for clear communication of your intentions, and learn conflict resolutions, because you will have them.
Believe in what you sell
Nothing hurts confidence like a relationship manager who doesn't use or believe in what they sell. If it's really an issue believing in it, go sell something else that you truly advocate for.
Only those with the conviction, attitude and strong interpersonal skills will excel in this role. Remember that no matter how large the client organization is, it is still ‘people buying from people’. If you love building relationships with people, then this is a great option for you - because you get paid for what you enjoy doing!