What Is a Relationship Manager?

Relationship managers work to improve business relationships with partner firms and clients. Relationship management is generally divided into two fields: client relationship management and business relationship management. Both fields share the common goal of facilitating good relationships so businesses can maximize the value of those relationships and maintain a good reputation.

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Relationship Manager

Understanding Relationship Managers

Good relationship management is about communication, conflict management, and people skills as much as it is about the technical aspects of a particular business or industry. Professionals in this role may have a bachelor's or master's degree in business, but they also might have an undergraduate degree or postgraduate degree in marketing or communications.

Strong communication and coordination skills are needed for facilitating better relationships with clients and other partners. It's also common for relationship managers to work closely with customer-facing staff to help them better understand clients’ needs and motivate them to provide the highest service standards.

In addition to communication skills, relationship managers need strong analytical skills to develop a deep understanding of the products or services being sold, the markets in which they are being sold, and broader industry trends. The better they understand the technical aspects of the business, the better and more efficient they can be communicating with clients or partners or helping staff meet the needs of clients or partners.

A key role of relationship managers is to help businesses differentiate themselves from competitors.

Types of Relationship Managers

At smaller firms, relationship managers may be responsible for overseeing aspects of both business relationships and client relationships. However, at larger firms, relationship managers are likely to specialize in one area or the other.

Client Relationship Managers

The goal of client relationship managers is to build a culture of relationships with clients based on trust and value and not only on price. This helps create strong barriers to competition. Clients who know they can trust a particular business are more likely to return even if a less familiar or less trusted competitor offers a lower price.

Client relationship managers work with senior executives, sales managers, technical managers, finance directors, and others who make or influence sales decisions. They also may work directly with clients to address problems or overcome other obstacles.

Client relationship managers also monitor industry trends in order to identify new sales opportunities and to brief the product development and sales teams to meet client needs. They use the data they collect to establish revenue targets and identify the resources needed to meet them. Research also is important to analyze competitor trends and assess potential threats to the firm's relationships with clients.

Another role for client relationship managers is to organize training, planned maintenance, and other services to help clients get better and more efficient use from products or services. They also might help set up online ordering and payment systems that simplify the commercial arrangements with clients.

Business Relationship Managers

Business relationship managers oversee the internal communication of business units within a larger corporation or with suppliers and other outside entities. They oversee teams that monitor purchases, budgeting, and cost factors and provide valuable information across business units to use resources efficiently and execute company standards.

This job involves tracking data related to how the business interacts with service suppliers, raw material providers, and other partners. Business relationship managers look for trends, handle problems, and analyze communications, contracts, and negotiations. They use the information to refine company practices.

Helping firms to maintain positive reputations in their communities is another important role business relationship managers play. Businesses that are viewed as positive contributors to the community are better able to attract clients and business partners. This means building positive relationships with local municipalities or downtown development authorities is as important a part of the role as building relationships with other business partners.

Key Takeaways

  • Through direct and indirect means, relationship managers help firms improve relationships with clients and partners.
  • Relationship management has two areas of focus: clients and business partners.
  • Relationship managers use data to look for trends and problems, and analyze communications, contracts, and negotiations. The insights are used to refine company practices.