Clients are the lifeblood of most agencies, so having an effective team of account managers is critical to your agency’s success. Beyond delighting clients, having strong AMs and a clear AM role is one portion of building a resilient agency.
Because it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day whirlwinds of agency life and fail to keep tabs on what’s going on with AMs and clients alike, here’s a way for you to get a glimpse of what three account managers, serving in roles at three very different kinds of marketing agencies, have to say about what makes them happy and effective in their role.
Let’s dive in!
Inside the Minds of Account Managers
Have you perceived any ways in which managing clients has changed over the last year?
“There is less formality with communication. Communicate however is best for your client to hear you. Text, phone, Zoom, email. Still need paper trail, but don’t let that stop you from communicating effectively.”
“In my experience, no. Once 2020 made it to Q3, things were largely settled.”
“Managing clients changes with EVERY new client that crosses my career path, no matter the company I work for. There is not a one size fits all approach to any facet of client facing work. We are all humans, with lives, families, differing office environments and working hours all over the world. The biggest change in the last year has really been an uptick in transparency. No one has time for fluff. Our markets and industry segments want to be efficient, now more than ever. So, being upfront and direct in communication, technology, leadership, marketing, sales, reporting, etc. is a time saver for us all.“
Client Management Documentation
Preserving tribal knowledge, ensuring all team members are aligned on client objectives, and creating autonomous communication mechanisms for managers to keep a pulse on client health and team health is critical within your agency.
Account managers are at the forefront of each of these. Here’s what three account managers from different agencies had to say when asked the following questions:
Client “continuity books” can be a game-changer in agencies where account managers have autonomy to make scope of work changes based on their discretion. With a client continuity book, each fully printable on one sheet of paper, managers, owners, sales teams, and new account managers can swiftly understand and account for the reality of the client relationship. Documented would be any software and logins, as well as client communication preferences and contact information, scope of work that may have evolved since the client agreement was originally signed.
Say, couldn’t you house this information in your CRM? You absolutely could! But most agencies still don’t and even the most intuitive CRM’s (HubSpot, I’m looking at you) make it difficult to access the information in a quick, printable, kind of format. So, if your technology is hindering your agency’s success, operate with a document style that your teams will actually use.
In your view, are clients more or less trusting of agency efforts today than they were a year ago?
“Experiences define us – good experiences AND bad. Needless to say, if a client has been burned in the past, they are right to be weary of the next contract they sign. I would be too! In the last two years, so many forceful changes were made to org charts that were not anticipated or desired. Decisions were made to save businesses and jobs were lost — in some instances, agencies filled those gaps and tried to keep companies afloat. In these instances, agencies really did save the day and there has been so much ROI, learning, and curiosity to do things more efficiently that blossomed from these partnerships rooted in initial chaos. If you know how to use an agency, and truly want to be a partner in the process — their efforts will always be a win for both teams! On the flip side, if points of contact are looking for a scapegoat and allow insecurities or pride to impact their partnership, no one is going to benefit. There has to be a team effort, cause as we all are aware that, ‘It takes teamwork to make the dreamwork!’ Cliché, but spot on.”
“I feel like clients trust agency. They trust that we spend time becoming experts in this so they don’t have to. Also, depends on how transparent you are.”
“No, this is still more relationship driven than situationally driven; clients that would trust us still trust us, and the types of clients that are looking for something to be upset about will definitely continue to be upset.”
Is inner agency collaboration stronger or weaker in a typical week than it used to be?
“This one has eroded a little, largely due to my team’s situational change from in-office to 50/50 work-from-home + office. It hasn’t changed in a drastically negative way, more in that I go to the same couple of people for collaboration over and over as opposed to openly talking to the entire team.”
“Collaboration at my agency is strong. Feels like maybe due to being remote for so long, people love getting into rooms and solving problems together.”
“Stronger. In my current role at my current company, we are continuously striving to improve communication, break down barriers and just DO BETTER.”
Inner Agency Collaboration
“A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.”Simon Sinek
What are you doing to foster creativity, problem solving, and collaboration among the “pods”, “departments”, and other groupings of your agency?
This account manager I talked to made note that it’s critical to have support from agency leadership/management early in the relationship in order for the account manager to delight clients.
A strong sales to delivery handoff process is key to setting your account managers and implementation team members up for success with new accounts. Make it easy for the client facing team members to achieve quick wins early on to affirm to the client that they made the right choice in hiring your team.
Having a high level of support from leadership early in the new client relationship is also a key factor in how well (or poorly) difficult discussions down the road may be. An intentional leadership strategy that affirms account manager autonomy to the client while keeping the communication lines accessible can help reduce the discomfort a client can have in switching off from the salesperson they have built rapport with to their delivery team.
Where do you experience the most pushback day to day when managing your responsibilities for clients?
“Most pushback comes from agency capacity. Can we meet a clients timeline or not due to all of the work our services teams are handling. But honestly, it’s healthy pushback and forces me to be an advocate for our team as much as I am for my client.”
“Communication! It’s such a simple concept, but for some a difficult execution. We tend to forget that clients, customers and prospects are human too. They all have lives and our email might not be the most important thing to them! They might not be able to hit a two-day turn around for approval…and that is okay. There has to flexibility for life to happen. Just reserve a little time for Murphy’s Law, build it into your strategy alongside revision rounds to ensure maximum satisfaction — and you will reach your clients goals.”
“Ad spend pacing – if the ROAS is there, why don’t we always push?”
Describe the circumstances when you feel you have support from leadership/management that you need to delight clients.
“In my current role at my current company, we have tiers of support but NO ONE is off limits. We are a team of 180+ and everyone has an open door (or open slack channel) policy. Delight can range in a multitude of varieties, from sending Starbucks appreciation tokens to clients after a great meeting to suggesting and implementing new partner technology that will impact our clients and produce higher ROI (think Typeform, CallRail, etc.)!”
“Ability to propose tests, and see them through, without micromanagement from upper management.”
“Early in the relationship. Delight and get quick wins early. Makes difficult discussions later on easier.”
Describe the circumstances when you feel you do NOT have support from leadership/management that you need to delight clients.
“Not so much a lack of support as it is a reality check with clients. When digital isn’t performing as well as they’d like, we educate and are transparent. Don’t delight with only positive. But build trust by saying how we are managing and improving.”
“I can honestly say this is not applicable at this time.”
“Micromanagement, especially when it relates to needing to see tests be immediately successful before backfill data settles.”
Do you feel empowered to find creative solutions to be more efficient with your time? Why or why not?
“Yes. By tracking time, leadership gets the insights they need to see how business is doing. It allows me to focus on using my time how I need to in order to get things done. Also, more efficient we are, the more profitable we are.”
“Yes, our team is very focused on outputs as opposed to hours.”
“Empowerment all comes down to trust. Your team has to trust you. Your clients have to trust you. Your company has to trust you. At the core of every relationship there is trust in order to have any sort of power. Trust enables you to build all the confidence in the world in order to be efficient with your time and deliver the best results for your clients. Time and time again.”
Authentic Client Management
Another important factor to the role satisfaction of your account managers comes down to whether they feel any internal conflicts regarding the way they can present information to clients. Does your agency structure place AMs in a high pressure environment where nothing can be “wrong” or “underperforming”? Or does your agency encourage intentional experimentation in pursuit of the client’s best interests, even if not every campaign is a winner? The more internal support that AMs feel when approaching clients about the reality of project or campaign performance, the more they will be assured in their role at your agency.
When do you feel like your contributions are valued?
“During client calls there is an open space for creativity, conversation, vision and catharsis. This is when I personally thrive. I love to be in the moment with my clients, listen to them relay excitement over new products, possible campaigns, incoming leads, website aspirations, etc. If I have built the appropriate amount of trust with my clients, these weekly and bi-weekly calls are a blast! Everyone loves having their idea hit home, and in an agency we all want to contribute that home run when the bases are loaded.“
“When clients speak to how relieved they are by the coordination, communication, organization of the work and projects.”
“When my opportunities reflect my value within the team, be it pay, responsibilities, or share of voice.”
Ensure Account Managers Feel Valued
The agency grind is real. But there are ways to reduce the friction that wears down your team.
When I read these answers and hear from others, sentiments point clearly towards ensure a solid framework to vet SQLs exists among your client acquisition teams. When your sales teams properly vet SQLs to bring on the clients that will respect and appreciate the work that implementation teams are doing being the scenes to help their business succeed, client relationships and account manager role satisfaction will improve. Many agencies do this by focusing on clientele that they can feel good about serving.
Respect Your Team Members’ Time
Furthermore, respect your team members’ time. Time is every human’s most finite resource. When managers respect the ways in which each individual team member seeks to work and structure their day (usually by affirming their autonomy as long as all the work gets done), you will communicate that you value how each person operates. Further, when you help to protect their time from busy work and unproductive meetings or tasks, you affirm that you respect their time, which is invaluable.
What would your ideal day as a client manager look like?
“My ideal day is about 1/3 client meetings, 1/3 deep work and strategy, and 1/3 project management.”
“A conversation heavy strategy focused client call around 10am. Preceded by catching up on emails & performance checks. After the call, time to focus in on larger projects!”
“My ideal day would be filled with client calls, mentorship meetings and a daily visit from a magical genie that grants me three wishes. I would start with larger issues to tackle, so the world could benefit of course, but then I would get granular and I am sure my clients benefit from this one of a kind magical asset…”
Account Managers Need Time Outside of Meetings
Notice a pattern in these three responses? I do – focus time and space on their calendar to accommodate deep work. Do your account managers have room in their calendars or are they in so many meetings they can’t keep their head on straight?
What do you want to be next? How do you think you will be able to get to the next step in your career?
“This is the big question – performance marketing may not always feel like my perfect dream job, but does an exact dream job exist? This is enjoyable and I feel confident in the role. I know I like what I’m doing more than all of the other options I’ve had in the past. I’ve seen my company be supportive of others with different passions many times. It has directly improved my loyalty to the company & my team and is a huge benefit of working here.”
“Not sure, but I know I lean more toward growing in marketing specialties than account management. The project management experience from my current role will be crucial in any role I move into in the future, but I want to grow in specific disciplines so I could one day lead a team of marketers.”
“Something big, it’s coming. I am not sure how far away it is…but I love telling stories and stories have always lead me down new paths (to quote Walt D.). Each day I live by the Golden Rule, and I challenge anyone reading this to do the same. I don’t settle. I dive deeper. I give one hundred percent. I consider other constantly (maybe to a fault). But at the end of the day, I want others to do the same for me. This mentality has taken me on an exciting and extraordinary career path thus far. I am jazzed to see what the next few years hold.”
Provide Growth Paths
Your best account managers excel in their roles because they are go-getters, personable, and able to grasp the bigger picture. These attributes greatly benefit your agency and your clients, but also creates a risk of dissatisfaction in their role if they feel they aren’t making a big enough footprint in their world.
Be intentional to listen to the motivations held by each individual on your team and take what you hear to inform creation of growth paths for all of your team members, and especially client facing team members. The other side of this is to also be realistic and understanding when there is not a role fitting enough for a team member at your agency any more and support them in their new pursuits.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to Jonah Turner, Fisher Martin, and Delanie Shelton Nelson for taking the time to provide thoughtful responses to these questions!
To agency leaders and managers out there, my hope is that you can read between the lines to hear what’s driving behaviors behind the curtain for your team members and ways in which you can help them achieve the most ideal outcome in these various situations.
Building a successful marketing agency takes grit, a focus on your value, and sometimes a *loving* kick in the pants.
Needing an ally as you achieve your long-term goals?
I’d be happy to help.