Ahh, there’s nothing like chicken soup-esque wisdom contained in a banal top ten list to get the day going. I learn primarily in two ways: by making mistakes, and by reading about the mistakes of others. I am hoping to pay the latter forward by documenting what I learned through the laughs, tears, and nail-biting moments as a digital account manager over the last six months.
A little bit of optional context that you can skip:
I underwent a recent career transition from web design and development to a more people-oriented job in digital account management at TechWyse. There has been a fair amount of career whiplash – but a lot of learning too.
1.Integrity is rare in life – and even more rare in marketing.
Discussing ethics in marketing is akin to bringing up God in a room full of atheists. When dealing with razor-slim margins in most small-midsize businesses, the temptation to deal in the grey areas is extremely strong. White lies, omissions in reporting, or unnecessary upselling can bring you short-term lucrative gains.
However, if you want to build strong relationships, I’ve found that telling the uncomfortable truth is more fruitful in the long run; as long as you have solutions in place to resolve problems. Your clients will appreciate it and future-you will too.
2. Appreciate your team.
Having worked in the trenches myself, I know what it’s like to work your ass off on a 10-hour project, only to have the feedback be an email that says, “Looks great, thanks!”. Coffee (or better yet food), goes a long way in showing appreciation for the work that your team puts in. There are times when I request a task that seems like it could be completed in five minutes, not knowing that the person I asked already has 50 items on their plate that needed to be done yesterday. Respect their workload and appreciate them accordingly.
3. You can say no to a client.
Business owners and stakeholders are self-interested (just as you are!) and will make a strong push to exert their influence – even when they are flat out wrong on an issue. Do your due diligence by explaining your position thoroughly and standing firm on your recommendation.
I once had a client that was adamant about bringing down the pricing for a service, and I did my best to negotiate a deal that I thought was favorable for him. After many rounds of fruitless back and forth, I finally put my foot down and told him that if he wanted bottom-of-the-barrel prices, he could look elsewhere. His tune changed completely and we were back to having reasonable conversations. If you can’t change their mind (which happens more often than not) document your position to cover yourself when the inevitable “why didn’t you recommend this” email comes through in the future.
4. Find a mentor(s).
Whether it’s at your workplace, or someone else you found through networking; having someone more experienced than you to bounce ideas off of can clear dark clouds on an awful day and give you perspective outside of yourself. Experienced account managers have done more meetings than you, which means they’ve probably already made hundreds of mistakes and have the solutions for them. Tap into this resource of knowledge and experience often, and show your appreciation with an elaborate lunch or dinner. You’ll pick up the cheque of course!
5. Over-communicate with clients.
Over-communicating with your client accomplishes a couple of things:
- It drastically reduces the chances of miscommunication and gets both parties aligned.
- It covers you in case an issue pops up in the future.
There’s a fine line to walk here because you can easily annoy a client with a deluge of emails and phone calls during their busy day. Use your best judgment on what you deem to be absolutely critical, and have the client know where you both stand.
6. Be prepared.
Your client may not say it, but they can tell when you have spent hours prepping for a meeting versus thirty minutes. Have insights and recommendations ready, and run through them at least once before you meet with the client. Decks aren’t always necessary (some clients hate decks) but at least have one visual, whether it be a spreadsheet or screenshot.
Typical of agencies, some account managers are saddled with a large number of high-touch clients which makes intensive preparation impossible. For those in that lamentable position, prioritization is key. Put your most demanding clients at the top for time allocation, and work your way down.
7. Stay humble.
I once closed a very lucrative deal with a client and brought that superman-esque energy into my next pitch meeting an hour later. The client was not in the mood, and I had one of the worst meetings of my life. Celebrate your wins, but remember that you may still make errors. Continue the due diligence that brought you that initial success in the first place.
Humility can also mean admitting to not having all the answers in client meetings as well. Saying that you’re unsure but will follow up is more honest and palatable than making up an awful answer on the spot. Sophisticated clients can see through your smoke and mirrors. Personally speaking, I would prefer to have an accurate answer later than a wrong one now.
8. Respond as quickly as you can to client emails.
This isn’t dating in your 20’s, and playing hard to get can backfire in the world of client management. I’ve seen account managers intentionally delay responding to client emails, in order to set expectations on how often they want to communicate. While I can see the logic in this, I can also see the client’s perception of you morphing into traits like unreliable and unresponsive.
Trust is built when clients know they can depend on you to put out fires or respond to simple inquiries. The caveat is that there are clients who are less organized and will send ten emails to say one thing. The solution is to simply to acknowledge that you’ve received their emails and that you’re working on it. This takes two seconds of your time and they will appreciate that they have been acknowledged.
9. Be organized.
I use Trello to organize all my notes, and it’s become my personal assistant. If it were to suddenly be deleted one day, I would probably set fire to my desk and run away because all hope would be lost. Record all the important parts of your conversation with clients, and the non-important parts too. Kids’ birthdays, milestones, vacations, whatever – if you “remember” it by referencing Trello, they will be that much more appreciative. I have found that this trait is what separates a good account manager from a great one. The meticulousness of their notes and files can be found in seconds during meetings. I’m still working on this one.
10. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
I love this outdated platitude because it stresses the importance of being proactive. I’m over the moon when my server asks if I want another beer when I’m about to finish the one in hand. The same could be said for account managers and how they serve their clients. I once had a deck for a morning meeting that I thought was in decent shape. In a moment of rare clarity, I put myself in my client’s shoes and had a hunch that he would probably like this one particular KPI that was never in previous decks.
We ended up spending the entire meeting on that one slide and came out with additional insights about his business that ended up being very valuable. Anticipating their needs comes with building relationships, and getting to know about their business on a deeper level. Leverage that natural curiosity you have as an account manager and you’ll find out cool things about their businesses that will help inform your recommendations.