One Throat to Choke - An Account Manager's Dilemma
I first heard that term a few years back when I was managing a group of Account Managers. One of the customers asked to have a call. They were not happy. One of the main reasons they were not happy they said, is because they did not have “one throat to choke”. At the time, I was offended. I did not really understand the meaning of the term. Moreover, since the specific account manager on my team, the one overseeing the relationship with this particular customer was pretty weak, the customer, the specific individual, the person, asked, better yet - demanded, that for at least the foreseeable future, the account manager’s boss will be that throat he can choke.
That meant me.
I was not sure what they meant. Back then, I thought it was a bad thing to be that throat they wanted to choke.
You see, as an Account Manager (or Customer Success Manager) when you oversee a relationship with a customer, your role is way beyond just waiting for issues to occur and address them. Your job really is to oversee two aspects of this relationship:
1. Make sure the customer is happy
2. Get them to buy more
Making sure their happy is really where most of your time will be spent. You directly, as a good account manager (or customer success manager), can control. Being there for the customer, understand their pain-points, knowing your product suit well enough so you can tackle 1st level issues, proactively communicate, develop personal relationships, widen your reach within the customer’s organization. As mentioned, make sure they are happy.
Get them to buy more is a bit trickier. And it is tricky because here, it is your responsibility but not necessarily your job to do (which is a title of an entirely different post...🤓). Here is where you need to pull out your project management skills and pull in the relevant person to sell when needed (which is a different skill set all together) or the right technical resource to tackle a product issue or even to pull in your CEO for that coming QBR because you found out a C-level executive on your customer’s side will attend.
The thing is though, that at the forefront of this complicated, multifaceted relationship, still, your relationship with the customer is the most important one. The level of trust with whoever your point(s) of contact on the customer side must be extremely high. At all times. And the more people involved the more this relationship is bound to be damaged. It is your job to constantly, through all of the elements I mentioned above, remind your customer that you are that throat.
In the eyes of the customer, they are looking for the one they trust. And since YOU are the one they communicate with the most, and YOU are the one they feel comfortable complaining to when things do not go the way they expect, YOU have to be that throat they look to choke. And while it is your job to make sure you speak to more than one person on the customer side, to bring in the right resources when needed (sales, technology, support to name a few), to make sure they’re happy and that they buy more, in their eyes, you represent your entire company. You are the one. The one they trust the most.
"Since they don't know which throat to choke, they simply won't choke anyone on your end and will look for competitor's throat to choke."
If your customer does not know clearly who is that throat to choke it simply means the trust level is not high enough. It means they are confused. It means they are not as open as you think they are. And it means, and trust me on this one, that when something wrong is happening with your product or service, since they don't know which throat to choke, they simply won't choke anyone on your end and will look for a competitor's throat to choke.
Here is another thing to consider. Because of the complexity of this relationship, the involvement of others, from both sides, for your customer to see clearly it is your throat, your own company needs to make it clear as well. How many times have you gotten blind-sided by a salesperson or a technical expert after getting them to speak to the customer? How many times have they confused the customer and got them to believe there is more than one throat to choke?
And here I call all of you VP Sales, Account Management, Customer Success Management – support them. Empower them. Remind them that you, and the entire company for that matter, work for them in a sense. Everyone is a resource for them. For it is their throat that is threatened to be choked.
So, go ahead Mr. Account Manager. Ask them, your customers that is, if they know, if they feel, who is their one throat to choke. Add that to your QBR as an ongoing question. Think of it as your own NPS. And if you sense they are uncertain, make sure you sacrifice your throat. You know after all, no one will really choke it.