Almost as soon as I became a Technical Account Manager, I started getting questions about how to become one. I understand why; if you have the right level of experience, it’s a good job. The work tends to be pretty interesting and varied without a lot of tedious and repetitive tasks, and the job can pay well.
Some companies won’t even consider you for a TAM position until you’ve worked for a large company for a while, so I think the first step is to get a job administering and using a technology product at a large company and do it well. If you’re working for a vendor now, start looking for a job using that vendor’s products at a large company, and get your manager’s blessing. You need to keep the door open to being able to come back, after all. “Boomerang” employees are becoming common these days; leaving a company is no longer considered betrayal.
Once you get a job using the product you want to represent, rack up some accomplishments with it. When you know what good looks like, you can go back to the vendor and lead its other customers there too, because undoubtedly some of their customers are getting less than ideal results at any given time. A good TAM solves problems, and the best way to learn to solve problems is to solve a few in the field.
The ideal position would also put you in position to deal with TAMs yourself. I learned a lot by working with several TAMs in my position as a security analyst. I won’t name vendor names, but different companies put different spins on the TAM position. The worst TAMs focused on collecting and processing purchase orders. That’s the part of the job that pays the bills, so it’s important, but solving problems is the part of the job that keeps you from losing customers. The best TAM saw the relationship as a business partnership—he used the phrase “trusted partner” all the time. When we had a problem, he found answers, or got us on the phone with people with answers.
A TAM is more than a sales drone, although some sales experience helps. Then again, I survived as a salesperson in college on technical ability. I needed to sell product but I also needed to sleep at night. So I sold the best stuff in the store and stayed away from the junk that would break a week after the warranty was up. If you go to work for a company that sells high-quality products, that approach will work well. If you know the product, understand its capabilities, and believe in it, talking about it will come pretty naturally.
When I work with younger colleagues at trade shows, they quickly notice how naturally I talk with prospects from large corporations. There’s no trick to that; we understand each other because I worked in corporate environments. Corporations vary on what they name their departments and their job titles, but we understand each other. Since I’ve used the product in one corporate environment, I can adjust to another.