Cream of the Crop features a rotating panel from the Harvest Group, a landscape business consulting company.

It’s hard to believe that I started my landscaping business 49 years ago. What’s also hard to believe is that in 1971, there were no mobile phones, computers, riding rotary mowers, electronic calculators, fax machines and the list goes on and on. Because of the lack of modern equipment, it was difficult to grow a large landscape company. As a result, there were many small ones.

It took me about 10 years to reach my first $1 million in sales. During that time, I wore most “hats,” including mechanic, salesman, crew supervisor, designer, account manager and more. I can’t remember exactly when, but sometime in the early 80s, I moved my best foreman – a horticultural graduate from our state college, U-Conn – into the account manager position. I made the move primarily to keep my sanity.

My new account manager did pretty much everything I did. Of course, we did it together for a while until he and I felt both felt confident enough for him to go out on his own.

He had many responsibilities that kept him busy all day. He handled morning dispatch, made sure his enhancement crews had the materials they needed for their jobs, supervised the work on the enhancement jobs, monitored the quality of the maintenance crews, met clients for service requests or extra work, created estimates and proposals for those jobs, brought equipment to crews when their equipment broke down and made sure they all got back to the shop at the end of the day. Whew. Today we call this a “production-focused account manager” (AM).

After a few years, because of the volume of work and the demands of our clients, I had to do something to help my AM. For example, my corporate clients would call in the morning and want to see either me or my AM that same day. They all wanted service and wanted it fast. In order to accommodate my clients, I could either bring on another AM, as most companies would, or create a new position to work under the AM who was in charge of managing operations. By doing this, they could split the responsibilities – one would be client-focused, the other operations/production-focused. I called this new position my field supervisor. Some companies call this the production manager.

This new position really worked out well, and took the weight off the AM. That’s why today we call this type of AM “client-focused.” They are responsible for client communications, selling enhancement work, monitoring job quality and making sure the jobs are making money.

The new client-focused AM had many advantages. For example, they have the time to sell more enhancement jobs, usually doubling or tripling the sales of the traditional production-focused manager. They can handle a much larger book of business, and the clients were much happier because of the attention they were getting.

The field supervisors monitored job quality, the production hours, trained the crews and made sure all safety procedures were followed. As a result of these changes, our bottom line grew as well.

If you have production-based account managers and wondering what it takes to make the change, let me give you some tips.

The AM in the client-focused role is more of an executive position. They generally drive a car (since they don’t need a truck); they need to be proficient in selling enhancements, estimating, pricing, building client relationships; and negotiating when needed. They also need to know how to start up a new job, and close down one the company lost. They need to know how to deal with subcontractors and have good time management skills to get their work done.

After reading this, I’m sure you understand a talented person is needed for this job. Since colleges only have 10-15%of the horticultural students they had 25 years ago, companies are now hiring teachers, former property managers, salespeople and the like to fill these rolls. This leaves considerable weight on owners and other managers to train them.

Which type of AM do you have? I guess the answer varies from company to company. If you take one thing from this article, it’s important to recognize AMs are the backbone of the company. With training in client-focused and production-focused skills needed to do their job, they will make your company a lot of money.

Contact Ed Laflamme at harvest@giemedia.com