Tips on Maximizing Client Relationships
Relationships are the key to any business. Good agency account people can make or break a client’s experience as they are on the “front lines” and interact with the client the most. Maintaining the trust of your clients and internal teams is essential in the success of any campaign.Every account person needs to be on a pursuit of greatness—in our interactions not just with clients, but in helping foster, cultivate, and manage breakthrough thinking within the agency. To master the “art of account management,” there are five skills you must possess.
Learn to Juggle
If you are the type of person that can only concentrate on one thing at a time, then account management probably isn’t for you! Really great account managers are not only experts at managing multiple projects at one time, but genuinely enjoy the constant buzz. You could be launching a website, developing a brand strategy, reviewing content and working on a media plan all in the span of a few hours for a multitude of clients. One day is never the same as the next in the account management world, so you must be prepared to deal with quite a bit of change, with typically very little notice. How many times has a client called you at 3:00 on a Friday needing a new print ad for a Monday deadline? This typically tends to happen while you are in the middle of another large project with another client that is also due Monday. Great account managers know not to panic, and work to relay information through the proper channels preventing the creative team coming for your head.
As the account manager, it is your job to know more about the client that anyone else. Learn all you can about their industry, culture, competitors and their customers. Have a financial client? Start reading the Wall Street Journal. Have a retail client? Start shopping there. Showing a sincere interest in your client and their business will help establish trust and results in longer client relationships. Actively seek out information on where the industry is headed, how it can hurt or help your clients, and make sure to share that information with your clients and internal team on a frequent basis. Going out of you way to make these positive connections will benefit you, the client and the agency in the long-run.
Clients sometimes need to hear things you know they won’t like to hear. It is our job as experts to let them know when we think they are making a bad call in their marketing process. It takes guts to be completely honest and let them know that the direction they want to go in may not work. On the other side of the aisle, it also takes considerable courage to recommend an idea completely out of the client’s comfort zone. I once had a retail client tell me “If this crazy idea doesn’t work, you’re fired.” And low and behold that crazy idea doubled their sales within a year. But I was sweating bullets up until that moment! The point is that you are not there to agree with everything your client says or does, you are there to guide them towards success.
Be a Translator
Every now and again, clients aren’t satisfied with the work, and even they don’t know why. We often hear feedback resembling the following: “missing the wow factor” or “I want something more fresh-looking.” These comments can be frustratingly vague and leave you and your team with no clue how to move forward. Account managers must dive deeper and try to find the root of the problem and the specific issues so that you can then translate to the internal team what must be changed and why. This is where listening can become the most important, yet hardest to acquire skill for AMs. Too often we are thinking about our response without really hearing what our client or internal teams need. In that same vein, try to deliver more than you are required to provide. Your internal teams will appreciate having as much information as possible available when building new projects for your clients. Ease of communication is the #1 attribute clients look for when choosing an agency, be it an advertising agency, a PR or social media agency, or a web development agency or a full-service marketing firm.
Anticipate Needs and Take Action
Always be one step ahead of the game. Good account managers find a problem in the process and deal with it before the client even notices. Make sure to manage client expectations early so nothing comes as a surprise to you or your client in the workflow process. Sometimes just asking the right questions can force your client to see what has been missing from their current campaign. Know when large events are coming up, solidify deadlines, gather all the information in advance and never underestimate the power of a second set of eyes. Since you know the client the best, you will have a keen sense of what they are looking for and how they might respond to a new idea. It can be incredibly difficult to focus on anything beyond getting the work out the door—but the account management team needs to be bigger than timelines and to-do lists.
While trends and technology are always changing, the qualities an Account Manager maintains are timeless. Be informed, be thoughtful to your clients and internal teams, and always allow communication to be free-flowing. Account managers are the main point of contact which means we directly influence, positively or negatively, external and internal relationships, so we must proactively take action to propel the agency forward. While I admit that many people struggle to realize what account managers actually do, it is something that is noticed and truly missed in its absence.