Interview with a… European Technical Account Manager

Nolwenn-KerzrehoProviding presales and follow-up support for a company’s technical products requires both a technical background and good communication skills. Someone who has excelled in both is Nolwenn Kerzreho, who has more than 10 years’ tech comm experience as a project manager, technical writer, instructor, presales consultant and conference speaker.

Based in France, she explains what her job as European lead for the IXIASOFT DITA CMS involves, pay rates, pathways in and how she keeps up to speed in the fast-paced field of component content management systems (CCMS).

You can also read more job Q&As in our ongoing Interview with a… series.

What is your job title?

My current job title is European technical account manager. I am a full-time employee of IXIASOFT Technologies and editor of the company’s DITA CMS solution, a component content management solution designed to support technical documentation based on DITA. Although IXIASOFT is based in Montréal, I work from home in France.

What does being a technical account manager involve?

My job is mainly about helping people achieve their projects regarding DITA and DITA CMS implementations. I need to analyse and understand the issues a team or company is trying to solve and translate it into a solution, along with services and features. Because the product and the requirements are complex and varied, this position requires not only the ability to demonstrate the product and follow-up trials but also involves explaining and enlightening all stakeholders about the benefits and constraints in such tools. I also provide information through social media, writing articles and white papers, and public speaking at conferences.

My audience comprises beginners to experts, managers and tech partners therefore I need to adapt the level of information needed for each, taking into account their context and industry. For example, I will help a project manager better scope her project or business case, and present metadata features in detail to a technical partner.

Finally, this position involves dealing with people across Europe and the Middle East so a good understanding of cultural differences is essential.

What background do you need for this role?

Ideally, a skills set that covers communication and technical expertise as well as product knowledge. I came from a technical communication position through presales then to technical account manager. In my case, international experience was also a must, along with language skills.

Product knowledge is also very important. I have seen other technical writers make the switch to support the sales of products in various industries, from telecom head-ends to Web dynamic release systems. Of course, it is easier to build on an expertise you already know and, as in my case, are passionate about.

What is the most challenging part of being a technical account manager?

The challenging part of this position is its unpredictability – some weeks will be crazy-packed with meetings and new contacts, while in other weeks you’ll need to work more on long-term tasks.

The technical environment is also fast-paced. You need to get up to speed really quickly on your product’s new features in order to explain and demonstrate them, but also on what your technical and business partners are doing and developing, and more generally what is happening in both your industry and your customers’ industries.

And the best bit?

The upside is exactly what the downside may be: those rush hours that however will lead to a successful and happy customer, equipped with a system that enables them to modernise their content creation, publishing and delivery. This is very satisfying.

I also love to travel – attending conferences and visiting our customers to understand more about what they do and how. I remember vividly a few mind-blowing visits to a global semiconductors museum, as well as an aerospace manufacturer and an innovative medical imaging company.

What advice would you give to someone trying to get into your area?

For such a position, between consultant and technical expert, I would advise a tech comm student or technical writer to keep their mind open, stay curious and continually build knowledge. They also need to hone their communication skills, particularly active listening.

What is the rate of pay?

The pay grade depends on your industry, where you live in Europe and your seniority. However I would venture that it is comparable to the more standard marketing and sales counterparts in the company. Part of your salary can be fixed and part can be based on the number of sales you help close with your sales partner.

Is there job mobility and security?

I would say that the more technical the products are, the more technical account managers and/or presales who can articulate the requirements and benefits of these products are necessary.

As for job mobility, I work from home and travel when and where needed. There is a plus in being close to your sales or product development team of course, as this makes communication easier, but that is not a requirement as long as you have communications channels at your disposal.

Any advice on training and development options?

Ah. That’s a tough one. I would advise starting within your own organisation by approaching the Loans & Trials teams who work with prospective customers, and also by understanding better how marketing communications work. A short spell with the support team or training team may help you get up to speed, too.

You could also identify and follow the thought leaders in the industry you are contemplating working in, and start discussing your products internally and externally, and what issues they solve. In fact, get the biggest picture possible.

If you have a technical background, you may need to strengthen your sales and communication skills. If you are already a sales person then you’ll need to hone your technical skills and understanding of the industry you want to work in.

Do you have a motto/guiding principle when you work?

I have two! ‘Walk a mile in the other person’s shoes’ and ‘Repetition IS useful’. This may be the umpteenth time you have discussed this and you may know your product like the back of your hand but the person you are talking to, or showing the product to, may just be starting on this particular topic.

The important thing is to stay humble and listen.

Nolwenn Kerzreho is the European Technical Account Manager for IXIASOFT and an associate teacher at University Rennes 2 where she developed the technical communication curriculum. Alumni work includes working with organisations such as Airbus, BioMérieux, 3DS, Google and IBM. Her Twitter handles are @nkerzreho and @nolwennIXIASOFT.

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