There’s no play-by-play guide you can follow to be a successful account manager. It takes a mix of emotional intelligence, business acumen, a hefty dose of communication skills and good old fashioned gumption. It’s been a little over a year since I walked into iPullRank’s office, a rookie to the agency world with no idea what was in store for me, eager to learn the tricks of the trade from the one and only Mike King and his team. I’ve had plenty of highs and lows at iPullRank and I certainly learned a lot in the process. These are the pearls of wisdom that I’ve come away with after my first year of agency life:
Every Client Meeting is a First Date
We’ve all been on terrible first dates before – The other individual drones on and on about themself, takes no interest in you, and sticks mostly to superficial small talk without ever breaching the surface of any deep conversation. Don’t be that guy with clients! Always have meaningful conversations. I’m not saying to wax poetic about life or debate Machiavellian theory.
I am saying, just like you would on a first date, take interest in your client by asking the right questions. Client meetings should never just be about small talk and project updates. As an account manager, it’s your duty to ask those relevant and prodding questions that help you get to know your client better. While it’s polite to ask about a client’s weekend and what the weather’s like in their neck of the woods, you should be asking questions that garner answers about their strategic goals. What do they want to accomplish in this campaign? What are they looking to achieve this quarter – their (business) hopes and dreams!
You need to always be thinking of the client’s best interests and how you can cater to them. The only way you find these out is by asking the important questions and making sure you focus your conversations on not only what’s next, but how you as an agency fit into that picture.
Every conversation you have with a client should be approached this way – strategically. This brings me to my next point.
If You’re Not Constantly Thinking About Strategy, Then You’re Just Not Thinking
When I first started at iPullRank, I’d approach any conversation with a client staring at a list in my notebook of all the work we’re doing for them and what the status of each was. While that is good to know, it doesn’t provide much ammo for a meaningful or productive conversation. A good account manager is always a few steps ahead of their client in terms of overall strategy. It’s difficult to do initially, but once you start to forcing yourself to approach conversations this way, it becomes second nature. If you know where you client is heading, you can position your agency to get them there. However, remember to not get too pushy. It’s a delicate balance between appearing to be in stride with your client’s way of thinking and being empathetic to their problems vs. trying to oversell them on your services.
This is an effective form of communication that you need to build with each client. I’ve said it before, but proper communication skills trump all when it comes to maintaining an effective relationship with your clients. This is how you’ll go from having those conversations about strategy to actually executing on them.
Everyone is a Project Manager
Most people are aware that without effective project management nothing gets done. While most organizations hire one individual for this role, I quickly learned that the entire team needs to actively engage in some form of project management. My “set and forget” approach to client work wouldn’t fly. At a small agency like iPullRank, the client workload can quickly become overwhelming. Any one individual on the production team is simultaneously working on 10 different things for several different clients. As you would imagine, it’s quite easy for things to slip through the cracks if not properly managed. It’s up to everyone in the organization to be aware of what others are doing and who is accountable for what. If everyone, including the owner of the account, isn’t contributing to the process of ensuring that things are getting done and put in the pipeline on time, the whole machine falls apart. *Insert that old startup adage about wearing many different hats in a role*
Account Manager and Diplomat
Speaking of many different roles, I learned that you can add peacekeeper to the list. Being client facing, the account manager represents the agency, promoting its ideals, values, and best interests. A solid account manager knows how resources are allocated at an agency and always sets the production team up to succeed. This means keeping them happy and not overpromising the client which, in turn, leads to overworking the delivery team.
At the same time, that individual also needs to be an advocate for the client, pushing the delivery and production teams internally to meet customer needs and strategies. If customers don’t see the level of work they’re expecting or the associated results, they become unhappy, jeopardizing the relationship.
You can imagine that being in this position often calls for a lot of diplomacy and negotiating. I often find myself being pulled in two different directions and acting as the buffer between the client and agency sides, making sure everyone is satisfied. When an unhappy client wants to scream and shout about a missed deadline, the account manager is the one to absorb it and manage the situation. When the production team is at their boiling point with the demands of a difficult client, the account manager is there to smooth things over and rally the troops.
It’s crucial to identify and prioritize your client’s needs and make sure that they line up with your internal team’s resources, while managing everyone’s expectations to avoid the prior mentioned scenarios. Easier said than done!
Fake it ‘Til You Make it
I know it’s a bit cliché, but hear me out. I started at iPullRank from a completely different industry. I had little marketing knowledge and did my best to get ramped up before getting in front of clients. However, there is only so much preparation you can do and there are many scenarios that you can’t account for.I make it a point to stay very well informed about each of my clients, as well as what’s going on in the digital marketing landscape through various sources like Search Engine Land and Moz, but the fact of the matter is, I’ll never be the smartest guy in the room and I had to accept that. I get exposed to CMO’s, marketing directors, department heads etc. who have years of industry knowledge and experience that trumps my own. It’s incredibly important that I do my homework before each meeting or call, but the rest boils down to confidence. Client meetings became way less stressful when I realized that I didn’t have to have all the answers off the top of my head and it was OK to not be the subject matter expert.
I was brought on board to build relationships with iPullRank’s clients, helping to create long lasting partnerships. Figuring out the digital marketing realm and how iPullRank’s solutions fit into it was a learn-by-doing process. I still have A LOT to learn, but I know that as long as I exhibit confidence and ensure that I make our clients feel prioritized, gaining their trust in the process, it’s perfectly acceptable to say “I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you.”
So, to recap, always think strategy first, don’t take project management for granted, diplomacy is a must, and it’s OK to not have all the answers. The past year has been a great learning experience and has set the tone for what I should come to expect from working at a small and nimble digital marketing agency. I’m grateful for the opportunity and am looking forward to updating this post next year with all that I’ve learned after year 2.