Let’s start before the beginning – before your new Account hire’s first day and before the interview process even begins. Let’s start with what you’re hiring for? Of course, a customer-focused candidate with experience satisfying, even delighting clients – they’re organized, details-focused, highly motivated with superior communication skills. But that’s just table stakes for today’s Account hire.
If your job description narrows down the role to a day-to-day point of contact for dedicated accounts, that’s all you’re ever going to get. Be specific in terms of what you’re looking for in your job descriptions and transparent when it comes to expectations – and that should include proven success and experience with sales and current client growth, as well as a general sense of standard business best practices.
“As the business has morphed, so has the account manager’s job to help the client make sense of it all. KBS recently reorganized its account management department, now calling it ‘business leadership,’ as the shop seeks to provide clients with answers across multiple disciplines that may even stretch beyond an advertising solution.” –How Account Management Was Reborn, Ad Age
This doesn’t mean your Account hires have to be experts in each and every industry your clients work in, but they do need to understand basic business principles – and be able to think and act like business consultants (at least with some training and onboarding). Look for the drive to learn, grow and sell – and a holistic understanding of what success looks like for today’s modern Account Manager.
“The typical suit of decades past, often thought of as a yes-man or glad-hander, is no longer relevant. In his place has grown a new account lead responsible for much more than what was expected of account management even five years ago, never mind decades ago. Digital creatives aren’t the hottest hires. Thanks to a marketing landscape that continues to shift as agencies of all stripes compete for any and all pieces of business, the account manager has evolved into one of the most powerful players in adland.” –How Account Management Was Reborn, Ad Age
Traditionally, Account teams have seen selling as counterintuitive, paralyzed by the fear they’ll annoy the clients they’re charged with keeping happy. By making your Account team a strategic asset, you’ll intuitively transform them into your agency’s top strategic sales asset. Selling isn’t annoying when you’re working to solve specific problems and your work is connected to a larger strategy with results that are tied directly to business outcomes.
Looking for a recommended template for your next Accounts job posting – you’re in luck. We’ve shared one in a previous blog – click here to get it.
The modern definition of “client management” and even “client development” varies based on who you ask. If you want to grow your agency organically, you’ll need to start treating your Account team as the strategic sales asset they are, defining their primary objective as “client growth.”
Your Account Team is your Inside Sales Team – Treat Them That Way
While everyone at your agency should be held responsible for agency growth, the truth is that no one on your team has more potential to be a strategic advisor than your Account team – the sleeping giants of new business growth. Today, clients see Accounts as the most valuable asset of their agency relationships, which presents an enormous opportunity, that is all too often ignored or glossed over, to sell additional work.
“Relationship development is subjective unless there are figures associated. People motivated by incentives are more likely aligned to growth than those who are not. Incentive compensation is more about drive and aligned interest than any other consideration.” –Joe Olsen, Birdsnest CEO and Co-Founder
If you want to grow your current clients, than your Account team (the ones responsible for growth and with the most capability of developing clients through relationships and day-to-day management) should be driven, supported and incentivized to do so at every touchpoint.
Incentivize your client-facing team, hold them accountable and give them a consistent platform to grow accounts. Think about growth like an hourglass. Measuring account growth is velocity – how much and how fast. Our ebook 5 Tenets of Accelerated Organic Growth for Agencies gives 7 easy steps for agency leadership to figure out how to incentivize their team (see page 8) – plus 5 recommended starter questions to get your Account Team talking more like business consultants right away (page 9). Why business consultants – aren’t they the anti-agency? Let’s talk about that next.
When Your Client’s Business Succeeds, You’ll Succeed
“Being an account person is the hardest thing in advertising. Knowing how to manage people and understand people is what great account people do.” –Rob Reilly, Global Creative Chairman, McCann
Fortunately, most Account hires have a predisposition for the skills and ability Reilly describes above. In fact, you may find your current team is offering more strategic oversight on accounts than you realize – and probably they realize themselves. But it’s also likely they’re lacking focus on sales goals, based on their experience and upbringing in an industry where new business is left to just that – New Business, or your agency’s leadership team.
“Looking back at my career as an Account Manager in advertising I’m amazed. In fact, scrap that. Not amazed, pretty pissed off actually. Pissed off at how I was thrown to the lions. You see throughout my career, from the moment I set foot in my first ad agency as a young, naïve Account Executive, I didn’t get any formal training in how to do the job. No one told me what client development was – and that it was essentially my main role! To nurture the relationship and ensure the client remained a client. But things like sales forecasts? Never mentioned. Account growth targets? Nope.” – Jenny Plant, I’m Pissed Off – What Every Agency Account Manager Needs But Doesn’t Get
When it comes to your current Account team or new hires lacking a business background or experience growing client accounts, providing training and resources will ultimately help them and your agency be more successful. This is in addition to specific growth goals, incentives and KPIs you’ll need to associate with their role. It’s a two-way street. As an agency leader, disseminate your growth goals and measurable plan for success to your Account team and your agency team at-large. Identify and articulate who is responsible for what within their roles, instill accountability and a process to ensure success that includes the necessary resources and tools to accelerate organic growth and reach your agency’s full potential.
Thinking like a consultant means asking the right questions – equip your Account hires with the right questions to kick off engagements that don’t focus on project scope, resources or budget (if you’re looking for some suggestions, see page 9 in our ebook 5 Tenets of Accelerated Organic Growth for Agencies). Here’s a few fast ways to kill strategic opportunities – saying yes to RFPs without inquiring why, asking about money up front and executing on project one-offs just to get paid or to add the client’s name to your repertoire. Retrain your Account team to kick off client engagements with a focus on establishing a shared strategic goal and establishing your agency as a strategic partner. This will arm your Account team with lots of information to build a compelling measurement of success and a plan to get there.
As you shift to this mindset, you’ll find project management tools and agency CRMs aren’t built for Account teams or current client growth – and notebooks and Google Sheets aren’t a reliable, visible or even effective way to manage accounts.
Enter Birdsnest – The Industry’s Only Software Solution for the Modern Account Team
“As an account person at agencies both within global holding companies and nationally recognized independent agencies, I was increasingly finding myself in a position where I was selling new projects/SOWs to our current clients. I’ve always had the motivation to grow my accounts (in both relationships and revenue), but until Birdsnest came along, what I didn’t have was a tool to help me do it…it gave me the incredible opportunity to inform, develop and shape the tool that I always needed but didn’t exist.” –Birdsnest User
Are you losing ideas, important details and your agency’s biggest opportunities to notebooks, spreadsheets and turnover?
“I’d be frantically flipping between pages of my notebooks and strategy decks just to be sure we were sticking to strategy. Are we executing on what was agreed upon? What was that idea again? Rather than having multiple documentation formats, Birdsnest houses all that strategy work in one place that is easily updated and tracked – even measured.” –Birdsnest User
Strategic, long-term client relationships – the type that generate ongoing revenue for your agency, offer different services and produce the best case studies – are built on trust and transparency. Birdsnest enables Account teams with software to provide clients with instant (and beautiful) reports of measurement activity to keep them engaged, aligned and focused on high-level strategic outcomes.
Next Steps & Recommended Reading
Before you know it your Account team will be your agency’s top performers when it comes to client and agency growth alike. Download our 5 Tenets of Accelerated Organic Growth for Agencies ebook to learn more, including easy steps for agency leaders to develop an incentive model and recommended starter questions to get your Account Team talking more like business consultants.