Lesson one of becoming a new client account manager: you run out of time. I pitched the idea of this blog post seven months ago. I’ve been an account manager even longer. Yet this is the first time I’ve had time to actually write the thing.
Still, because I am a woman obsessed by note taking, all is not lost. Over time I jotted down memorandum, bullet points and giant post-it note reminders of those all-important early lessons (lest I forget). When you get the job you want, you want to make sure you do it right, after all.
So sit back, read on and find out what I now know about account management in a digital marketing agency.
The classroom tour
Before we launch into our lessons, let’s take a minute to familiarise ourselves with our learning environment. These are the lessons I have learned working in Articulate Marketing. And Articulate Marketing is an agency born of writers.
Writing remains at the heart of what we do even though we now offer a much wider range of marketing services. Because of this, we decided it was important that account managers have experience and a close understanding of creative.
My working title is ‘Senior Writer’ because I write, I train writers, I edit, I build landing pages and I do day-to-day marketing activities. In fact I do all the things a copywriter does. I just do less of it than I used to because I now also do a whole bunch of other things as well.
And this leads us back to the topic of our first lesson: time.
Lesson one: Time management reaches a whole new level
Account management is a lot of messy little things hidden behind a big, tidy job description.
Priorities shift, you become responsible for multiple people and squeezed on multiple sides. You have to consider client expectations and do what’s right for them. You have to think about the capacity and the profitability of the agency and do what’s right for the business. And you have to respond to your team’s questions and needs and (you guessed it) do what’s right for them.
There’s always something you could be doing as a client account manager. The question becomes: what should you be doing?
What will be of the greatest value? And to whom?
What can you delegate? What should you delegate?
What’s important and what’s urgent?
What can you say no to?
What will keep you sane?
Lesson two: 'You were always on my mind…'
Lesson one leads us nicely to lesson two: your mind starts to constantly whirl with all those things you could and should be doing.
As a writer, I used to write a blog post, submit it and do a round of edits. Now I have to:
Ideate the blog post and explain why that idea fits into the client’s wider marketing strategy.
Assign the post to a writer and brief them.
Edit the post once they’ve written it.
Get it approved by the client.
Do a final review and get it published on time.
And all that’s assuming it’s not reliant on an interview or a graphic and the client doesn’t give me a pop-up question or task in the middle of it all that derails my planning.
It’s hard to switch off and focus on a single task with all this going on. It’s important to realise, however, that not only does work happen even when you’re not thinking about it (see lesson seven), but also clients know you are human and don’t expect more than that.
Clients don’t expect you to respond to email within five minutes and they don’t expect you to know everything off the top of your head. In fact, you’ll do a better job for them if you give yourself a little space and breathe.
Lesson three: Handover must be clean and clear to both client and client account manager
Trust and authority are incredibly important in establishing an effective working relationship. This is not breaking news.
As a new account manager I took over existing agency accounts. That meant establishing my authority and reassuring clients that they could trust me just the same way they could trust Matthew, our CEO. I wasn’t ‘second best’. I was simply different.
In order to set the right foundations for this trust, we found that the handover has to be specific and complete so that clients know who their go-to person is for questions and ideas:
If a client goes to their old account manager, that manager should re-direct them to the new client account manager for an answer.
Internally you have to be explicit about responsibilities to ensure things don’t slip through the cracks or get done twice.
Once an account is in new hands, the previous manager should only intervene when asked to – no matter how small the intervention.
Lesson four: Information overload is a good thing
To build a relationship with a client you have you get to know them. Ask more questions than you think you need, summarise what you’ve learned and then present it back - verbally or written – to see if you’ve got it right. If in any way you haven’t, then keep digging until you have.
Ultimately, this process shows the client you are interested in their business and reassures them that you will deliver not just what they want, but what they need.
This helps you too since it means you are more likely to pitch the right kind of content, get less pushback and deliver better results.
Of course relationships are two-way. So you need to tell the client what you know and how you know it. Give them reports, explain results and make sure they understand why you are doing what you are and how it ultimately links to ROI.
Lesson five: Listen, respect, react
You have to build a rapport with your client and show that you are willing to listen to them. You also need to demonstrate you have the ability and authority to do what needs to be done on their account.
Critically this means:
You must respect what they have to say – even if you think they’re wrong. It’s customer service 101: clients will be much more willing to listen to you if you’ve acknowledged their thoughts and feelings first.
Don’t just say ‘sure we can do that’ or ‘I’ll look into that’. Create a to-do, assign it, do it, then report back to the client when you’ve done it. Take them on the journey with you. We’re open-book here at Articulate and use Basecamp to show we are engaging with the client.
Be willing to bend a little. Everyone has their own style and you can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to being a client account manager. Even if 90 percent of it is repeatable, there’s still 10 percent that’s about reacting to individuals.
Lesson six: Don’t be a people pleaser
The customer isn’t always right. They have a right to complain, but you don’t always have to bend to their will.
Remember that you are the expert in your field and they are the experts in their business. This means decisions have to go both ways. If they want something that will damage the broader campaign, you have to push back and explain why it’s not a good idea. Ultimately you’re respecting their investment by doing so.
That said; don’t ever get angry or aggressive or dismissive. If you disagree, calmly talk to your client, explain why and suggest an action or decision that will resolve the situation for both of you.
Lesson seven: That old chestnut – delegation
When you become responsible for a client it can suddenly feel like you have to do everything on their account. You don’t.
Certainly it’s a front-heavy process getting to know the client, being present and building trust but your job is to manage the account. That means making the most of the talent in your team, helping them develop their skills and getting them interacting with the client.
Editing is a great example. Sure you might need final sign off on important pieces, but you can’t always be the bottleneck for day-to-day work. It’s not your job to QA (quality assure) every piece of work. It’s your responsibility to build a team that you can trust will QA each others’ work and only deliver it when it’s at the standard the agency aspires to.
Graduation: we made it
There are probably countless more lessons I could list here, but I’m stopping at these seven. Why? Because I’ve found that once you’ve learned these, you’ll have built enough trust, smoothed out enough processes and lead your team far enough that you finally have enough time and space to sit down and do that one task that helps keeps you sane.