If I’ve learned anything from working in the agency world as an Account Manager, it’s this:
Even if you are doing amazing work for a client and generating incredible results, you can still lose them if there is a breakdown in the client-agency relationship.
I understand that this may seem odd to those who are new to the agency landscape. I mean, does rapport really outweigh the fact that you’ve doubled their revenue over the past year? It does – 100%.
Something else I’ve learned? Breakdowns in client-agency relationships can typically be attributed to a few common mistakes, or deadly sins (as I like to call them). And, whether they made the mistakes or not, the majority of the blame falls always on the Account Manager.
Below, I’ve rounded up nine of the most common deadly sins I’ve seen or experienced as a seasoned Account Manager. Are you guilty of any of them?
Below are account management tips for things to avoid so you can run a successful campaign and deliver the best customer service to your client.
Over-Promising & Under-Performing
There is no quicker way to weaken a key account relationship you have with a client than falling through on your promises or commitments. This could mean anything from promising that a deliverable will be sent on a certain day and not delivering it on time to promising to deliver something extra then not executing on that at all.
And don’t get me wrong, most of the time Account Managers genuinely mean well when they make a promise. After all, they want to be as helpful as possible and do precisely what they promised to do. Set yourself up for success by being a strategic account manager and setting realistic expectations for yourself and the client. You will thank yourself later.
However, as human beings, we all have cognitive biases that we fall subject to (especially Type-A personalities). One of these traps is called the planning fallacy. The planning fallacy is characterized by our tendency to underestimate task completion times – something that we have all been guilty of at one point or another.
While over-promising and under-delivering happens from time to time (and sometimes it is out of the A.M.’s control), it can start undermining your relationships with clients if it becomes a regular occurrence. To prevent this from happening, try setting internal deadlines with your team and separate external deadlines with the client. This way, you provide a cushion between the time the task needs to be done and the time the deliverable needs to be sent.
Bad Mouthing The Client Internally
Most of us have had our fair share of “bad” clients – you know the ones that never seem satisfied no matter how excellent the end result or the ones who are just plain mean. However, as tough as it is not to vent, as a leader or Account Manager, we need to keep the sentiment around those we work with positive. Remember, as an agency, we are an extension of the client-side team so we need to remember to continue to support our teammates online and offline alike.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s realistic and necessary to have discussions about clients who are detrimental to team morale or are even verbally abusive at times. However, it is important that you differentiate between fact and perception. If you have proof that a client has been unreasonable time and time again, it is probably worth having a discussion about it. But, if people are just making assumptions or reading between the lines, it falls under perception, in which case, you must tread lightly.
And we can’t forget the fact that bad-mouthing people is just a bad habit to have in general! We’ve been taught not to talk badly about people behind their backs since we were little kids. The rules still apply. When things are really boiled down, a primary approach should always to address any concerns head on with those there may be an issue with. Transparency is a tenant I aim to adhere to in all instances!
Making The Main Point Of Contact Look Bad In Front Of Other Stakeholders
As an Account Manager, Project Manager, or Strategist, it is imperative that you always remember the fact that our agency is meant to act as an extension to our clients’ marketing teams. Our goal is to work together, regardless of your role on the team. Operative word: team.
Of course, there will be situations in which a disagreement on strategy or frustration over implementation may cause tension. But, regardless of how things are going, we constantly need to remind ourselves and other stakeholders that we are all have the same common goal – to make the most out of our collective marketing efforts successful.
If that means being the bigger person from time to time (no matter how frustrating it can be), it is your responsibility as an Account Manager to do right by the client. Not to mention the fact that, if it came down to history, the C-level suite or management is always going to side with the in-house team over an external entity.
Also, don’t forget that at the end of the day, the main point of contact will be the person vouching for continued service together. Again, the best policy is to remain transparent and to face the difficult conversations head-on. In the moment, it may feel difficult but it will make one’s life much easier in the long run if they adhere to these tenants.
Getting Caught In A Lie
This one is pretty straightforward. After all, we’ve been taught since we were 2 that lying is bad. Once again, the rules still apply now that you are an Account Manager. Looks like Mom IS always right!
Even though telling a little white lie and taking the easy way out may seem more desirable than having to be the bearer of bad news, it is always in your best interest to be as transparent as possible. Transparency is a key means to gaining trust with external forces, especially those in which you are collectively working towards a shared desired result!
Whether that be on the status of deliverables or explaining data, we always want to be truthful in how we present things. Believe it or not, we aren’t the only people who understand data, analytics, or digital marketing – meaning you can (and most likely will) get called out if you are skewing the data in your favor.
As we all know from experience, getting caught in a lie is significantly more embarrassing than telling the truth, no matter how ugly it is. Set yourself and your team up for success and remain truthful in your discussions around performance and overall commitments both internally and externally!
Not Giving Credit To The Agency Team
When it comes to enterprise-level digital marketing, it really takes a village to be successful. You’d be hard pressed to find any sophisticated digital marketer who claims significant results due to a singular individual effort.
If you say you know one person who can juggle managing a PPC account, writing pages of content, researching the right keywords, promoting the business through social media and PR, and handle all the constant IT/dev issues that come with having an online business, I would love to meet them and pick their brain! I’m sure I’ll have plenty to learn!
In most cases, it takes a team of five to eight people to achieve success and, as an Account Manager, the results you report to the client are dependent on these five to eight people. Make sure that you are giving credit where credit is due and showing each team member that you recognize their hard work. Speaking from personal experience, this will motivate each team member to continue going above and beyond for the client, further strengthening that client-agency relationship.
Seeing The Account Through Rose-Colored Glasses
When managing an account, it is important that you are being realistic with the performance of the account and how the client is feeling about your team’s efforts. Regardless if that means a negative air around the current account status or not, it is imperative that the account leaders are hyper-realistic with their account assessment.
Maybe you’ve exceeded the client’s revenue goals for the month, but have had a few serious miscommunication issues regarding specific deliverables. Perhaps performance numbers have not quite met the client’s expectations. Either way, having a true understanding, to your best ability, of where your account stands will reap quality results and more positive sentiment around the account in the long run.
By simply being aware of this and taking proactive steps to ensure that miscommunications don’t occur in the future, you are saving yourself from potential problems down the road. At the end of the day, you’ll put yourself in a safer position by erring on the side of caution than by being overly optimistic.
Think about it: wouldn’t you rather be in a situation where you perceive things as being bad when they’re actually good than being in a situation where you perceive things as being good when they’re actually bad? Me too.
Avoiding Tough Conversations Or Tough Reports
Much of the mindset here can be applicable across the board. Kicking the can down the road has never put anyone in a good position. If you have to report on negative results or deliver bad news to a client, don’t avoid it or put it off just because it is a difficult conversation to have. Try delivering the news strategically by balancing the good with the bad. Being able to handle the difficult conversations strategically is what separates the wheat from the chaff when it comes to being an outstanding Account Manager.
For example, if you have to report on less-than-stellar results from the previous month, show them and explain those negative results, but be prepared with a plan of action for how your team is going to remedy the situation. It is never a good look to point at problems without a suggested solution, even if that solution isn’t 100% perfect, it at least shows that you prioritize problem solving over complaining.
This also applies to internal conversations with team members, which can likely be more difficult to conduct if there is a strong bond between the team already. It may seem like “rocking the boat” but, in reality, you are helping everyone involved achieve greatness. Afterall, isn’t that all we want for each other in this situation, to achieve greatness?
While it may be awkward early on, the more transparent you are, the more respect you earn from the other team members, internally and externally. Fostering that rapport early on will help build a healthy foundation with the client and allow them to rest easy knowing that if an issue arises, you won’t hide it from them. Transparency is the foundation of trust. Start with a strong foundation and success is sure to follow!
Conversational Faux Pas
This one should be obvious. Treat meetings or calls with clients like a first date or Thanksgiving dinner and do not bring up politics or religion. Working at an agency, you are surrounded by like-minded people and it can be difficult to remember that not everyone is of the same state of mind. To avoid any tension, it is best to just stay away from touchy subjects altogether.
I fully understand that this may be easier said than done, but remember that although the client-agency relationship may be as strong as ever, we must keep in mind that this is a place of business and there is a time and place for everything. Work banter is definitely not the appropriate platform for critical discussions about politics or religion.
However, let’s not get this mixed up with asking about your client’s personal life. It is great to ask “How old is your daughter?”, “What is your dog’s name?”, or “Where did you go to college?”. These questions build rapport and allow you to understand the client on a deeper level, so be sure not to mistake these types of questions as conversational faux pas.
Not Holding Internal & External Teams Accountable On Deadlines
When it really comes down to it, if the performance isn’t there, the blame falls on you as an Account Manager. Therefore, don’t be afraid to keep internal and external teams accountable with their commitments! Said another way, don’t be afraid to play the bad guy when it comes to holding teammates accountable.
Make sure that you are checking in with your internal team regularly to ensure that all deliverables are being executed on and are on time. Not only will this help you keep tabs on the projects within an account, but it also allows them to discuss any problems or hurdles with you.
Also, don’t forget to hold external teams accountable for their end of the bargain. Sticking to review or implementation guidelines and due dates can sometimes be hard with larger clients, especially if they have to run it through their legal or regulatory teams. However, this can sometimes be detrimental to the results of the account, in which cases, it needs to be communicated just like that!
For example, if a client’s IT or dev team is taking too long to implement new optimized web copy, delaying the chances of a page getting crawled and the client ranking for specific keywords, it is time for you to be assertive. Explain to them that they aren’t seeing organic results because they haven’t implemented the optimized copy. Usually, this will jumpstart the implementation process.
Being able to hold external teams accountable is hard. However, the ability to stand up for the agency and gently nudging the client to uphold their side of the bargain allows us to achieve the best results ever!
Agency Tip: By flexing your team’s technical prowess, you can win the trust of your client’s IT team, allowing you to take on things like implementation and site changes that may not have been previously possible. Finding key opportunities to show off your team’s skills may be few and far between, be sure to take advantage of any opportunities that may present themselves by having productive and realistic conversations with the client-side team!
When you really think about it, most of these deadly sins come down to a certain level of transparency. If you are as transparent as possible with the client and your internal team, you won’t have to worry about ever getting caught in a lie, being the bearer of bad news, or wasting your time bad-mouthing a client. By being cognizant of all of these Account Management Deadly Sins, you will set yourself and your team up for long, fruitful agency-client relationships for years to come!