Posted on 11 May, 2017 by Neil Sharp
The account management role can mean very different things across industries and electronics manufacturing is no different. When you start digging deeper into the internal structures of electronics manufacturing services (EMS) providers you will find their definition of what an "account manager" does is different to their competition.
At any given time, an account manager could be working on a new quote, resolving issues on products going through production, and discussing shipping requirements for products built and awaiting despatch. It is a truly varied role and one that demands a blend of skills, including sales, customer service, supply chain management, project management and technical expertise.
So, how do you start to compare EMS providers when it comes to their account management team? Does it really matter what role they play? And how crucial do you believe they are in helping you achieve your outsourcing objectives?
To help you decide, we look in-depth at some of the common activities an account manager typically carries out on your behalf when you decide to partner with an EMS provider.
Before we get into the post, it is worth mentioning that some EMS companies use different terminology and may refer to this position as a project manager, customer service relationship manager or even programme manager. It is also worth noting that not all EMS companies will have the resources available to assign dedicated account managers. Depending on the size and structure of the business, you could find yourself dealing with someone in a production or operations role. While this approach offers some benefits – i.e. a direct link straight to the shop floor (useful for build updates) – you often find you have multiple contacts to deal with, which can, at times, lead to miscommunication occurring and things getting missed.
So, what does an account manager do?
Well, put simply, they are responsible for managing every facet of your account – from quote preparation right through to shipping and invoicing. Of course, they will need to be supported by other departments but they are ultimately responsible for servicing your account and making sure all of your outsourcing objectives are achieved. A vital piece of the outsourcing puzzle, I'm sure you would agree?
Let's take a closer look at some of the day-to-day activities you can expect an account manager within an EMS provider to carry out.
A large proportion of their time will be spent quoting new business. As your single point of contact, they will collate the relevant build information you send across and be expected to file this securely. They will then load your bill of materials (BOM) onto their system and create any new material part numbers that are not already stored in their database. Once the BOM is complete they will liaise with their procurement teams to obtain any material costings they need and also their engineering department for labour timings.
On receipt of this information, they will then carefully craft a quotation based on your original requirements and confirm back to you (as a minimum) the price and lead-time for the product or system. Depending on the nature of your enquiry, the account manager may also need to communicate other factors to you – for example, associated material minimum order quantities (MOQs), tooling costs, technical queries, or any assumptions they have made during the quote process.
The quote process (and, therefore, the time it takes to respond) varies significantly from one EMS provider to another. Some will prepare "rough" or budgetary figures using little more than a spreadsheet. MOQs and assumptions may be omitted from the quote until a firm order is placed as it could be argued they are subject to change and too much detail at this stage. This approach allows those EMS suppliers to respond quickly with a price but any extra work in terms of BOM creation and part number verification is likely to take place after an order is placed. The downside of this approach is that if there is extra work required it can start eating into the quoted lead-times. In turn, those EMS providers begin to put additional pressure on their supply chain and production teams to catch up lost time. Providing this doesn't affect deliveries, I guess you could argue it isn't much of a problem?
Alternatively, some EMS companies will spend time upfront ensuring the materials and BOM are coded correctly on their main business system and all other details (MOQs, lead-times, alternative devices, gaps in data etc.) are captured within the quote. Although this can take a little longer, it does mean that when an order is received minimal work is required before the materials are ordered and works orders are created and scheduled into production. It also means that all potential issues are highlighted to you upfront rather than slowly creeping out of the woodwork a few weeks after you place your order.
On receipt of your purchase order, the account manager will verify that what they have received matches what they originally quoted you. This process is known as "contract review" and requires the account manager to check:
- The price on your order matches the price they quoted.
- The delivery date you have requested matches the lead-time quoted.
- The revision level of the part you have ordered matches the revision level they quoted.
- Any additional costs (MOQs, tooling etc.) have been covered.
Providing your order matches the quote the account manager sent they will be able to load it onto their system and begin creating the associated works orders. If there are differences that impact price, delivery or technical capability, then the account manager will discuss these issues with you prior to formally accepting the order.
Works order creation
Your outsourcing strategy and the agreements you have in place with the EMS provider will determine how much work the account manager will be expected to do in this area. If, for example, you order products with deliveries against fixed firm schedules then the system used is likely to automatically create associated works orders at the point the sales order is loaded. However, if you have a service level agreement (SLA) in place with your EMS partner to support configure-to-order (CTO) manufacturing, the order they receive from you would likely form part of your "call off" requirement to be down debited against an estimated annual usage. In this instance, the account manager may need to raise a number of manual works orders to generate demand for the appropriate configuration requirements. Clearly, EMS companies all operate different internal systems and order mechanisms so the extent to which this work is carried out will vary between suppliers.
Once your firm demand has been loaded by the account manager they will be responsible for acknowledging your order back to you. If there are differences between your requested delivery date and the date they acknowledge, this should be made clear to you.
At this stage of the process, the procurement team within the EMS provider will take over and begin placing material purchase orders for all items not already in stock. One of the key benefits of outsourcing to an EMS provider is direct access to a broad supply chain. When it comes to materials, particularly electronic components, you will often find a proportion of the material you specify on the BOM is either already in stock, or on order for another customer or project. The account manager will work closely with the procurement team to ensure any bespoke items or those on extended lead-times are highlighted internally and ordered promptly.
Loading an order onto their system is really just the start for an account manager.
Prior to production, they will be the single point of contact internally for any questions or queries. These could, for instance, relate to material issues – i.e. the lead-time of a part increases after the initial order has been placed. In this instance, the account manager may need to check back through your data to see if you have any other alternatives listed on your BOM. If there are, and these are readily available, they will need to make changes to the business system so that their procurement team can see demand for the revised part and order it. If there are not any alternatives, they will talk to their procurement team to understand the options available so they can then discuss these with you.
Alternatively, a query relating to build data might occur. There could be gaps in the data you supplied and, although EMS providers can quote certain builds without having all technical files upfront, they will need them once you place your order. The account manager will be responsible for liaising with their engineering team and then approaching you directly for the data in advance of your order hitting the production line to avoid delivery delays.
In a manufacturing environment problems and challenges occur daily. More often than not solutions can be found to overcome these and a good account manager should only raise issues with you when they have exhausted all other avenues.
Product lifecycle manager?
A good account manager and EMS provider should support you throughout the entire life cycle of your products. This often means working with you to overcome obsolescence issues on legacy products or involving the engineering department to offer design for manufacture (DfM) advice on new ones. Perhaps you need to know which serial numbers shipped for a particular unit six months ago? Or how much material you are committed to in the supply chain as you are considering a design change? Whatever your query or question, an account manager will be on the other end of the phone ready to help.
Good EMS providers encourage regular communication with their customers. Business reviews are a great way of formally reviewing areas such as delivery and quality performance. They also provide a platform to discuss existing service level agreements or long-running projects as well as new business opportunities. Account managers will host and lead these meetings and, in some cases, they will consist of just you and them. In other cases, particularly at more formal "quarterly" reviews, these meetings could extend out to senior managers within your business, engineering teams or procurement staff.
Their mission is to understand your products and business inside out. They should know how your internal part numbering system breaks down and the intricate details of all of the components that you call up on the BOM. They will have their fingers on multiple pulses, day in, day out. They will seek opportunities to meet with you regularly but avoid tying you up in knots with trivia. Their job is to take away the headaches associated with manufacturing so you and your company can focus on what you are really good at – designing and selling great products.
So, if you haven’t already partnered with an EMS provider yet, or you are currently comparing suppliers, hopefully, this blog post gives you an insight into what you should expect from the person responsible for managing your account.
Image by Shabai Liu