Mastering the World of Account Management
This blog post was born out of Power Digital’s mentorship program in which two team members are paired up to work together to tackle a new skillset. Britney & Makenna worked to build up Makenna’s account management and cross-channel digital marketing skills. This blog post chronicles their key learnings and best practices.
What does it mean to be a great account manager? Here at Power Digital we take pride in having account managers that stand out from the rest. Unlike other agencies that leverage account managers simply as talking heads, we prefer to have all of our account managers work on deliverables and campaigns, getting their hands dirty so to speak, and keeping them more in tune with the pulse of the account than ever. This approach, while unconventional, has proven to be highly successful.
So how do we go about measuring success? Client retention along with slew of other intangibles, is a key metric. How does one go about retaining their clients and growing their accounts? We’re sharing some of our favorite tips and best practices below. Here’s a hint, it begins the second the prospect talks to our business development team.
Aligning Marketing and Sales Teams
We’ve all heard the perils of sales and marketing clashing over strategies and deals. No one likes to feel cheated and if sales and marketing aren’t aligned on strategy from the start of the sales cycle there’s a good chance the client will end up feeling confused at some point during the onboarding process.
Over the years we’ve worked hard to perfect the business development process and make sure that sales and marketing are 100% aligned. How do we do this? First off, we involve our departments during the sales process so that they can help craft the strategy and be a part of the sales process. While this is a balance we like to keep the sales team as integrated with our marketing departments as possible. We also invest a lot of time in training up our sales team, which is headed up by our CEO, on new strategies as they develop.
Makenna’s Key Takeaway:
Always schedule a quick meeting with the sales team to get a better understanding of who your main point of contact is, what expectations and goals are, and their key motivator for signing on with us. This way you get a better background on their team and who you should be connecting with.
Onboarding New Clients With a Proven Process
Once we are past the sales process and move onto officially onboarding a new client. We’ve outlined a clear process that we’ve found best sets the account up for success. The key component here is having a strong internal kickoff amongst all team members to ensure that everyone is up to speed and has a clear picture of expectations and quick wins. This meeting, held prior to our kickoff meeting with the client, helps ensure that we hit the ground running and are all on the same page. This is where we solidify the connection between sales and marketing to make sure that everything from our initial discovery and audit calls.
We’ve found that so much of starting an account off on the right foot are the intangible details such as the client’s personality and communication style. We also use this internal meeting to finalize our kickoff deck so that all team members feel fully prepared for the call.
During the kickoff meeting we walk through the following items:
- Team Introductions
- Monthly Deliverables
- Discovery Questions
- Required Access & Credentials
- Weekly Call Setup & Communication Preferences
- Next Steps
This structure allows us to do the following:
- Make sure the client knows how many amazing team members are working on their account.
- Set clear expectations on the work that will be completed within the next few months.
- Learn about the business directly from the client.
- Get the access we need to get up and running.
- Set up a weekly call and discuss how the client prefers to communicate.
- Make sure both teams are clear on next steps and any remaining action items.
Makenna’s Key Takeaway:
Make sure the sales team is present during your internal kickoff so you can review the schedule and make sure everyone is one the same page. Then the executive sponsor can share any additional insight on the deal. This is a really great time to identify how you can best set your team members up for success.
Client Communication Best Practices
When it comes to building strong relationships with clients nothing is more important than being a reliable and consistent communicator. The key word here is consistency. Responding to some emails and calls within minutes and others within days doesn’t build the kind of trust that is so important to a successful partnership. How does one go about answering every email within the hour? Not every response requires completing the request at hand. Simply letting your client know that you’ve received their email and are digging into things further ensures them that you are on top of it and actively seeking a solution.
Another great opportunity to capitalize on the power of consistency is with any weekly emails or report that you deliver. Make this process as easy for the client as possible. They shouldn’t be left wondering if you plan to deliver the numbers they need by 7:00am or 7:00pm. Work with your team to set realistic expectations—under-promise and then over-deliver.
Reducing uncertainty is one of the best things you can do to help set client calls up for success. After all, no enjoys getting on a call where they have no clear picture of what will be discussed. Sharing an agenda with your client prior to the call allows you to set the tone for the meeting and shows your client that you are prepared. On the flip side, this also allows clients to better prepare for your calls ensuring that your time together will be as productive as possible. Taking things a step further and asking the client for feedback on additional items they would like to add to the agenda allows you flush out any topics or areas of concern.
Understanding what communication format works best for your client often takes time. You may suggest your standard weekly and monthly reporting consisting of both phone calls and emails only to later find that the best way to really get things done is to hop on Skype, Slack or to add clients directly into your project management system. Often an on-the-go client with many spinning plates in the air will prefer that you directly task things out to them and keep their inbox clear of weekly updates that don’t necessarily require action on their part. This kind of transition often happens naturally as you develop a daily Slack habit or quickly check in over Skype.
The only way you can ever really know if your client communication is on point is to ask your client directly for feedback. This might seem odd at first but no two clients are the same and what works for one may be seen as overbearing for another. The important thing to note here is that you should never stop asking for feedback. No matter how long you’ve been working with the client. Relationships change over time and your communication style should be fluid and adaptive.
Be prepared that you may get negative feedback but recognize that often your reaction to this kind feedback says more to your client than the prior indiscretion. When you openly solicit feedback and accept it gracefully by thanking your client for being so transparent you further build your credibility and appear proactive.
Taking the time to truly understand your client will help you craft and adapt your overall account management strategy and ensure that they see you as an extension of their team and not simply another resource they have to manage. Each account has its nuances but applying these best practices to your account is a great place to start and try to build the best relationship possible.
Makenna’s Key Takeaway:
In working on my first account I’ve learned that communication is key. Every client is different and that the best way to improve your partnership is to ask for clear feedback.
At Power Digital, we believe that effective communication is at the core of any successful partnership. With this is mind we typically schedule weekly calls with all clients to ensure that they have visibility into all initiatives. These calls can be anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour depending on the scope of initiatives. This is particularly important when onboarding new clients as there is much more initial back and forth required to get campaigns up and running. That said, we’ll typically send over a weekly report on all key activities and KPIs every Monday so that clients have a chance to review prior to our weekly calls.
These weekly reports provide clients a clear overview of what their digital metrics are looking like for the week. What is more important than the reports we pull is often the insight we provide into campaign performance. If things are up, what is causing this trend? Seasonality? A new campaign or optimizations we implemented last week? It’s important to try to provide as much insight as possible here so that the client feels informed and knows you are actively monitoring each campaign.
Weekly calls will vary client to client. The key to hosting a successful weekly call is to make the best use of your client’s time. If they haven’t had a chance to look through the report and aren’t analytics savvy you’ll want to dive into the numbers--especially early on. If your client lives and breathes analytics and has little questions about performance you can use the time to brainstorm and keep all projects on track.
We’ve found that many clients prefer to use this time as a working session to bounce ideas off each other and collaborate. At the end of the day, it’s your job to set the tone for these calls, which you can easily do, by providing an agenda and soliciting feedback on additional items they would like to discuss.
Makenna’s Key Takeaway:
Always create an agenda that has an update on any outstanding deliverables for each department. It provides structure to the meeting and gives the client visibility into what will be discussed. After a weekly call it’s important to send an email with all action items on each side- this helps hold everyone accountable and keeps the account moving forward.
One of the reasons we place such a strong emphasis on weekly reporting is that it supports a strong monthly report. If the client has barely heard from you all month there are bound to be some surprises on the monthly report. At Power Digital we dedicate two days at the beginning of each month to pull in-depth reports for all clients. Each department has their own process and KPIs that they pull a custom report for. Our team looks to make each report as informative and detailed as possible. From reporting on keyword ranking growth to the return on a certain campaign we believe in being transparent will all of our reporting.
During monthly reports we often use the time to talk through any deliverables that require further explanation before we dive into the numbers for the month. One of the key differentiators between our agency and others is that we have each team member speak to their work. We’ve found that this helps cut down on any questions around the work and allows the client to work directly with a team of experts.
One key element to remember when conducting monthly reports is whether you should be reporting on month-over-month or year-over-year performance? If the client’s business is seasonal reporting on month-over-month data may be unhelpful and offer little insight. Aside from seasonality there may be a number of external factors affecting overall performance. Speak with the client about any other initiatives you should know about. Since we are a digital agency it’s important for us to sync up with the client regularly to do two things:
- Determine if any offline activities are affecting digital initiatives
- Figure out the best way to integrate offline and online initiatives
If you fail to have a clear picture of all happenings you will likely end up delivering a report that doesn’t tell the full story.
Makenna’s Key Takeaway:
Be sure to run through the monthly report beforehand to make sure you are fully prepared to talk through the report and add additional insight. I’m always super transparent with my client during the weekly reports so there are no surprises during our monthly meetings.
How to Best Approach Upselling Clients
While each account manager has a different approach to upsells at Power Digital we like to act as not only a marketing consultant to our clients but a business consultant. That said, we are constantly looking for new opportunities for clients that can help take their business to the next level. We’ve found that having account managers on accounts that are in the weeds working on deliverables allows them to more easily spot opportunities for growth and better cross-channel integration.
Given that we are always striving to better integrate our accounts we often bring team members in to do a quick audit and offer the client suggestions. The goal of these audits is to educate the client on some quick wins they can execute on and share a more advanced strategy that our team could assist them with.
Again, education is key here, of course we would love to earn more of their business but educating them on the opportunities available is the core goal. The more your client understands the big picture the more willing they will be to adopt a more forward-thinking strategy. Getting them invested in the strategy is the key, whether or not you sell them on a new strategy that day or a few months down the road isn’t important. At Power Digital, given that we have so many different service offerings, we’ll often bake a couple audits into our schedules to help set the table for an upsell down the road.
Oftentimes with upsells it’s all about timing. The most important thing you can do as an account manager is to be a great listener. Clients will often drop little hints that indicate interest in other offerings or when they have extra budget to put towards new initiatives. By being a good listener you’ll know when the right time is to bring a new project or campaign to their attention.
Makenna’s Key Takeaway:
Being hands on with the account you’re aware of the client’s budget, which channels drive the most revenue for their business, and are able to present the best opportunities available to them.
Tips for Resigning clients
At Power Digital we prioritize retaining our clients above all else. While we love to bring in new business we take pride in the relationships we build with our clients and work to earn their business year after year. In recent years we’ve worked to put a more formal process around resigns that has helped us resign the large majority of our clients. First and foremost, similar to with upselling, listening to clients week in and week out is a great way to be prepared for a resign.
One important aspect to consider is the client’s budget. If money is tight or getting additional approved budget for marketing is not in the cards you can refrain from trying to increase your client’s monthly spend. Regardless of their budget you should always be looking at the resign as an opportunity to showcase new opportunities and strategies.
If they have expressed interest in PR, how can you take that to the next level for them? It’s important to understand which channels your client is most interested in. If they’ve never been all that excited by SEO but get super excited every time a PR hit comes in you may want to consider ramping up PR and slowing down SEO. So long as it doesn’t negatively affect the overall health of the account.
Once we’ve identified what should be in their new schedule we walk through it with the client and explain why we are keeping some of our rock solid deliverables and what we are doing to take things to the next level. It’s important to take the time to educate the client and make sure they are bought in on the strategy before you ask them to increase budgets or commit to another year together.
Makenna’s Key Takeaway:
While I’ve yet to resign my first client I’m working towards building a strong relationship with my client so that when it comes time to resign we are fully prepared to take the next step.
At the end of the day, account management is all about building a strong relationship with your client and making sure your team is as integrated as possible when it comes to strategy. Have any favorite account management tips? Share your favorites in the comments below!