The changing scope of the National Account Manager role

By Jennifer Kenworthy

Published on 04-05-2016

The changing scope of the National Account Manager role

In this article Jennifer Kenworthy, Manager of the FMCG Sales & Marketing team at Six Degrees and Gregor Brown, GM of Sales at Carman’s Fine Food, offer their insights into the changing role of the National Account Manager.

National Account Managers are one of the most highly sought after professionals in the market. Six Degrees conducted research of NAMs salary over the last five years and discovered a significant increase. There are several factors attributed to this increase, including a changing retailer environment and an increase in the breadth of a NAMs role. The implications of this change for business is significant. To remain ahead of the talent curve and retain competitive advantage businesses must overhaul their retention and acquisition strategies.

 Jennifer Kenworthy recruits executive sales roles in the FMCG industry. She has been with Six Degrees for six years and has recruited roles in this space for over ten years.

What reasons can you attribute to the increase in salary for National Account Managers?

The breadth of the National Account Manager role has changed drastically. Senior level NAMs managing key grocery partners in particular, have become more like mini GM’s of channel. It is the NAMs responsibility to coordinate all cross-functional parties and internal and external stakeholders in order to deliver the customer plan and achieve business objectives. The demand that is placed on these roles and the volatility of the grocery environment means NAMs can burn out from the corporate space and look at alternate, more collaborative customer groups to manage. In most cases, when businesses are recruiting externally for these roles, they require specific experience.  To attract this talent, employers need to pay an attractive package and incentive plan, therefore the salary has risen significantly over the last five years.

What impact has the growing sophistication of retailers had on the role of a NAM?

  • Retailers place higher demand on best practice category management and joint business planning.
  • NAMs are required to balance the management of branded and private label portfolios requiring high level commercial acumen and negotiation skills.
  • New retailers on the market (Aldi, Costco) challenging the duopoly. There is a need for talent to understand new entrants to the grocery space. This requires a skill set to manage multidimensional product solutions and business development activity. Additional distribution channels have also had a significant impact on resources. Business have to distribute NAMs across a greater number of customers.

What implications do these changes have from a talent retention and acquisition perspective?

It is a talent driven market and these roles are seen as business critical. Organisations want to maintain a level of continuity across the business and see NAMs best placed to drive this. This means we see aggressive retention plans and in some cases a long lead time to recruit if businesses do not put forth a competitive attraction strategy.

"Businesses are offering short and long-term incentive plans, greater flexibility and additional benefits with the intention to stay ahead in the fight for the best talent".

Talent has also become more savvy and selective around categories and brands have become more important in attracting talent. Commodities based categories are heavily threatened by private label and have found it tougher to attract talent externally.

Gregor Brown is currently the General Manager, Sales at Carman’s Fine Foods. Gregor has had a career spanning 20 years in the UK and locally for blue-chip FMCG businesses, such as Unilever, CUB and L’Oréal. He has had significant, large team management and leadership experience in diverse business environments.

How do you think the role of the National Account Manager has changed over the last five years?

The role of the NAM has continued to evolve over the last decade.  As retailers and suppliers become more complex, they have greater insight and more data at their fingertips so we expect more from our NAMS.  Today a successful NAM is more analytical and business savvy but more importantly understands the role their products and brands play in the categories they operate and the role they play for the retailers or customers they partner with.

Success is not just based on the internal individual results but how NAMS work with their respective retailers across multiple functions, driving mutual outcomes that deliver long-term sustainable growth.

NAMs now require a strong category understanding driven through shopper and market insight. It is not sufficient to propose NPD and a promotional plan.

"Good NAMs now run businesses".

Do you think the skill set for the National Account Manager differs between smaller and larger business? How?

The basics of account management are the same across large and small businesses. In small businesses the NAM skill set needs to be broader. There is a need for a greater total business awareness and understanding of the impact decisions made have on the P and L.  A small business NAM needs to be administrator, category manager, supply chain expert, insight specialist, field sales manager, data-hungry, all-rounder who can move seamlessly from the day-to-day account management to more strategic conversations internally and externally.

How do National Account Managers in Australia compare to global standards?

The best Account Managers in Australia are best in class. Australia is leading the way in retailer complexity and demands. Growth is equally as challenging. Balancing the dynamic between internal and external customers with the competitive nature of the Australian market is pretty unique. Australian Account Mangers experience the same demands as their global counterparts with the added challenge that in many cases, Australian retailers have a deeper understanding of their shoppers and rely less on the supplier base for insight and knowledge.

What is next for the NAM in Australia?

The NAMs of today are the future leaders of our businesses. We must keep them engaged. They will continue to demand more from their organisations. Financial reward is now basic housekeeping to a NAM.

We have a role to attract and retain the highest quality individuals. They need to be supported and developed to understand their role in the broader business. They will have an affiliation with the core values of a company and will demand to be stretched, developed and nurtured. They will also need to have the space to be creative and to think in different ways.  As employers we need to understand what our NAMS want in the longer-term, and continue to listen and know the role we play for them in their personal career journey.

If the role of a NAM has become business critical and if NAMs are seen as the future leaders of organisations, the question is: What is your business doing to retain and attract top talent in order to remain ahead of the talent curve?

If you would like to discuss any of the above insights in more detail please contact Jennifer Kenworthy on 03 8613 3515 or