Project management skills

February 3, 2022

Project Management Skills Every Great Account Executive Needs

Written by Karli Stone

When you’re an account executive, your job goes beyond that of a traditional sales rep.

As an account executive (AE) you are the main point of contact between the vendor and customer. You’re most likely responsible for overseeing a team to ensure the company’s products or services are delivered on time, on budget, and up to the client’s standards.

With a job like this, it’s no mystery why account executives are constantly utilizing project management skills.

Project management is a combination of several not-so-easy jobs. Budgeting, planning, strategizing, decision-making, all while balancing deadlines and communicating with stakeholders…

Bringing a project to a successful completion is a lot of work.

But, despite how it may feel, you don’t need superhuman powers to be successful as an account executive. You just need a repertoire of essential project management skills and a bit of practice.

This article will unpack the skills and tools that help great account execs bring projects to a successful completion.

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What are project management skills? Why do account executives need them?

Project management skills are the traits and competencies that are needed to successfully initiate, plan, and execute a project from start to finish.

Every sales and business professional could benefit from a healthy dose of project management skills, especially account executives. After all, so much of your workload is supporting existing clients, formulating sales strategies, communicating product value to clients, managing and motivating a team; all tasks that could benefit from improved project management skills.

Rashmi Viswanath, the Director of Growth at Apollo, says, “Project management skills are specifically tied to customer relationship management. The CRM is where so much of the work of an account exec is done”.

In today’s competitive market, project management methodology is increasing in demand. It’s never been more important that individuals are able to take leadership over projects, in and through their CRMs, and deliver quality to their clients (even if ‘product manager’ isn’t in their job title).

Project management hard skills

So, what makes an account exec a great project leader? 

These are a few of the most important hard skills (or technical skills) that account executives can have:

Knowledge of product management methodologies and strategies

First, it’s important that account executives understand different project management methodologies. 

Not all methodologies will be right for your goals and your industry. But learning about different project management strategies can help you decide which one works best for you:

  • Waterfall Method. This is a linear project management approach. Customer and stakeholder requirements are gathered at the beginning of the project, then a sequential project plan is created to accommodate them. Each phase of the project cascades into the next (kind of like a waterfall! Get it?).
  • Scrum Method. This is an agile framework. Scrum encourages teams to learn through experiences and self-organize while working on a problem. Project work is done in short cycles, called sprints, and teams meet daily to discuss current tasks and any roadblocks that need clearing. 
  • Lean Method. Lean product management, developed by Toyota’s  Production System, focuses on continuous improvement. It uses five principles (value, value stream, continuous flow, pull system, and perfection) to produce more value and less waste in a project.
  • Prince2 Method. Prince2 stands for Projects in Controlled Environments and it is a process-based approach to product management. It defines each process in a project, laying out the key inputs, key outputs, and specific objectives to be achieved within each stage.

These are only four of the many PM strategies that exist. Do your research and test out a few of the most applicable to your client(s), your project, and your industry.

Project planning and scheduling

A project plan is the foundation of a project management cycle. It includes the project’s schedule, resources, costs, and goals.

“You can’t wait on project management to run its course and then eventually get to it,” Viswanath comments, “you need to be able to be in the moment and strike when the iron is hot”.

If you’re in charge of any project, big or small, you need to be able to create an effective plan that is accessible and easy to understand for team members. That way, when the right time presents itself, you’re able to put your best foot forward with qualified accounts, quickly and efficiently.

A successful project planner can define the project’s activities, determine its dependencies, sequence activities, map out the stakeholders, and estimate resources and budget.

Risk Management

The better you can manage risk, the more likely your project is to succeed.

The first step to risk management is identifying all potential risks. Consider what, where, when, why, and how a roadblock might affect your project and its ability to operate. For example, “the possibility of going over budget” could be cited as a potential risk by an account executive.

Next, perform a risk analysis. How likely is it that a risk may occur? What are potential outcomes? If an account exec is worried about going over budget, they should analyze funding documents, outline specific anticipated costs, budget for potential damages and/or errors, etc.

Then, you have to brainstorm a treatment or a solution. Consider risk mitigation strategies and preventative care based on what you discovered in your analysis. If you’re trying to mitigate the risk of going over budget, add margin to contractors’ agreements, develop cost contingency plans, and have lower-cost resources prepared.

Having proper risk management skills could be the difference between a successful project and a failed one.

Budgeting

Speaking of budget risks, every project has budget constraints and it’s important to know where costs might pile up.

Some of the things that a successful account executive considers when it comes to budgeting for a project include:

  • How the costs will be spread out across multiple project phases and milestones
  • What the stakeholders’ financial needs and expectations are
  • What tools will be used to store and report cost data
  • What the plan is if their project goes over or under budget
  • How the project’s budget fits into their business’ overall strategies and goals

If you’re working on a large project and/or work for a large company, you might not have the authority to make big-budget decisions. But it’s still important to the success of your project to understand opportunities to decrease costs and how to track spending.

Opportunity Tracking

You may have dozens of conversations happening, but how many of them are real opportunities?

Project management does not necessarily move downward in a funnel. It involves choosing tasks to prioritize based on the best opportunities.

“As you progress through stages, the number of opportunities that make it to the next stage will dwindle,” Viswanath comments, “and that’s very natural in project management”.

To track these opportunities, you need to develop milestones and points of check-in. 

This is where you’ll need your CRM to support you. Most CRMS can define and track opportunity stages and account stages for you. This way, at any given time, you know where the opportunity is and which accounts are in ideal stages of the customer journey.

Project management soft skills

A recent report by Project Management Institute claims that if a project manager possesses an ideal mix of technical skills and management skills, the chances of a project succeeding increase by 40 percent.

In other words: an account executive that has both hard and soft project management skills drives revenue.

With that being said, let’s examine a few soft project management skills that are worth your time to put into practice:

Leadership skills

Just because you are an account executive heading up a project does not make you a leader by right.

Leaders motivate and inspire. They take the strengths of each team member to create a stronger whole and they lead by example.

Some say that leadership skills can’t be taught, but we beg to differ. 

Everyone has the potential to cultivate leadership skills and techniques.

Rather than simply expecting team members to do their job, provide clear goals to be met, clear expectations of what happens if they are and aren’t met, and a roadmap to achieve them.

These kinds of leaders not only achieve project success but contribute to higher workplace morale and confidence.

Communication skills

Communication skills go hand-in-hand with leadership skills. All good leaders are able to effectively communicate.

You can’t be a good account executive if you’re not able to communicate with your clients and, in turn, articulate what you want your team to accomplish. In fact, poor communication is often cited as a reason why projects miss deadlines, go over budget, or otherwise fall apart.

Consider creating a written-out communication plan.

Use it as a document for identifying how and when important information will be communicated to stakeholders throughout the project. It sets the expectation for when clients and stakeholders will receive project updates and allow them to give feedback, preventing wasted work.

Organization Skills

This one is a no-brainer. Account executives need to be exceptionally organized.

Managing an account from start to finish will require you to juggle deadlines, meetings, timelines, interviews, collaboration with different teams, communication with contractors, the list goes on and on…

And managing it all requires more than a simple to-do list.

Identify what elements of your projects could benefit from organization and create team-wide processes that will help you follow them through.

Project management tools are incredibly powerful for organizational purposes as well. Let’s explore what you should look for…

Project management tools

Projects succeed when account executives use management skills and management tools in tandem.

While your skills improve the quality of your work, project management tools do the heavy lifting. Alongside your CRM, they reduce your data silos, increase project visibility, and create cross-functional collaboration.

But often, the challenge is finding the right one…

Here is a list of non-negotiable features you need out of your project management tools:

  • Planning and scheduling. Project management tools should offer you a plethora of planning and scheduling features. You should be able to plan and organize your work in one place with tasks, subtasks, email templates, workflows, and sales sequences.
  • Integration. Project management software should integrate with your current technology stack, minimizing clicks and saving time. Any additional PM software should integrate with your CRM, as well as other data tools you use (such as Zapier and/or LinkedIn).
  • Collaboration. The right project management tool will help you build a better way of working with your team and, in turn, increase sales productivity. It should allow for the democratization of data across your team, including task delegation, shared target lists, and collaborative dashboards.
  • Documentation. 88% of spreadsheets contain errors. That’s why it’s important that project management software gets your client data off of Excel spreadsheets and into a reliable and comprehensive shared database. A good PM tool will also be able to integrate with your current technology stack.
  • Reporting. To successfully engage with accounts, you need to leverage your data. A good project management tool should include detailed reporting software on email activity, call connect rates, SDR activity, win rates, success rates by persona, and more.

Fortunately for you, Apollo has all of these project management features and more.

And the best part is…it’s free to sign up!

Create your Apollo account today and be the account exec that takes client requests and account projects to new heights.

Get Started with Apollo

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