Not too long ago, account managers were the ones at an agency to consult with clients on strategy and campaign execution. But with digital marketing, we now live in a world of strategists, project managers, account coordinators, account planners and content writers who all interface with clients.
So where does this leave account managers? And is the job of account management a thing of the past?
Well, from what we can tell here at Salted Stone the answer is definitely NO. Account management is alive and more important than ever. With so many different people involved with ideating, creating, reviewing and approving work, it's essential to have a main point person who is responsible for leading the charge when it comes to arriving at an agreement on expectations with clients and maintaining healthy communication standards.
Because when clients sign a retainer contract to work with our team they come to the table with their own set of expectations about how the relationship will look and feel and sometimes even how projects will be handled.
This is exactly why it's so important to establish transparency from the time of the initial consultation call, all the way through to the contract kick-off. When contact points, deliverable timelines and communication expectations aren't set from the outset, it's more likely than not that one side (either the client or the agency) will end up frustrated at some point in the working relationship.
That's because everyone (well, almost everyone) is well intentioned, but with everyone coming from different backgrounds and focused on different priorities in their day-to-day, it's easy to see how complex projects can end up fueling misunderstandings if the nitty-gritties related to account management aren't set up from the get-go.
So, if you're done reading at this point. The answer is NO -- account management definitely isn't dead.
The Art of Client Service
I had the chance to attend one (yes, just ONE) session at INBOUND this year (true story: I was on client calls for Salted Stone through the entire conference) and it was given by Robert Solomon. He's a long-time account manager and the author of The Art of Client Service.
Solomon talked about how at the core of every agency-client contract is a relationship; a relationship like any other where a loss of trust cannot be replaced easily. Which is why it makes a ton of sense to establish trust as a two-way street from the beginning rather than to always have each side on the defensive for not fulfilling an unexpressed expectation from the other party.
With strong account management strategies in place, both the client and the agency have agreed to meet certain terms or promises as it relates to communications standards, goals, and workflows. And with expectations set together as a cohesive unit, projects run more smoothly and goals are more likely to be met with the least amount of stress possible.
5 Issues in Today's Account Management World
In general, account managers are somewhat unclear on their role. With so many cooks in the kitchen on each account, it can feel like everyone is deferring decision-making or lead-taking to someone else.
Who Owns Communication?
The biggest concern for account managers is facilitating effective communication with the client. If you have a few different point people on an account, it starts to become muddy on who owns communication and that's when things can start to fall through the cracks or get overlooked.
Whose Running Strategy?
Traditionally, clients sought the advice of their account manager for campaign strategies, but now clients are working with a whole slew of people who are each contributing ideas to the strategy for each campaign. This open flow style of communication can make staying on top of the latest gameplans difficult at best, especially when account managers haven't been in on all of the side meetings happening between the client and various members of the agency team.
Scope and Schedule
The scope of work (SOW) is EVERYTHING in account management. Every project has to kickoff with an exacting and complete scope that covers both what's included and what's NOT included. It's always a good idea to build in contingency resources (both time and money) to help buffer against unknown challenges that can pop up. Avoid using legal language in the scope and try to keep it in an easy to digest style.
Set and Manage Expectations
Account managers need to remain vigilant in the quest to set and manage expectations appropriately. Complaining about "crazy clients' doesn't accomplish anything. Instead, invest that time you'd spend complaining and start building language and processes that help set and manage client expectations. For example, at the end of a quote for work, an account manager could include the following language to better make sure that all parties are on the same page as far as scope and the possibility of additional costs...
"All of the pricing I've quoted, either on a project basis or in the aggregate, assumes a scope of work that closely aligns with what I've described. If the scope changes in any substantial way - in the type of work we perform, in the timing, in the number of revisions - the amount we charge will change with it."
3 Account Management Rules To Live By
Common sense and good judgement always override any tips or tricks you may come across in the world of AM. Unfortunately for people newer to the work, judgement is often learned by making mistakes. So don't expect to be perfect every time. It's unrealistic. And there will be times when you need to suck it up, admit your mistake and make an apology.
Another thing to keep top of mind is that credit is for creative directors. There is no glory to be had in account management because you're the behind-the-scenes string puller. So do what's best for your team and share the compliments and positive feedback from your client with your team and be sure the client knows there's a team of people you're supporting to get their work done.
Don't get jealous. Remember, you may be the person charged with managing the relationship with a client, but you don't own the client-agency relationship. There are often many relationships happening all at once between different players on both sides of the fence.
Do your best to remain helpful and keep clear of getting into a control freak zone. In today's marketing landscape and agency makeup, it's impossible to expect that you'll be the only person interfacing with the client.