Are you struggling to keep up with the demands of your job as an account manager? Do you find yourself constantly getting sidetracked by interruptions and unable to focus on your goals? If so, it’s time to have a plan. In this blog post, we’ll discuss several strategies that successful account managers use to stay on track, communicate effectively, and deliver exceptional work to their clients. From over-communicating to setting realistic deadlines and using descriptive language, these tips will help you become a more efficient and effective account manager.
Have a Plan
Each and every day you come to work and let your inbox determine what’s going to get done that day, you are letting go of your goals. It is incredibly easy to get sidetracked by last minute interruptions, and work will always expand to fill the time available.
It’s never safe to assume what you said has been successfully received by who you’re talking to. It’s just not, not when your job is to communicate. An account manager can never get too granular and redundant in their communications.
At every opportunity account managers must over-communicate. You need to drive your points home, over and over and over again.
At Buffer, they call this having a “bias toward clarity.” It means:
– You talk in a clear way instead of being clever
– You over-communicate, repeating things more times than you would intuitively
– You use more words to explain, even if it feels obvious already
– You don’t make assumptions and provide extra supporting information in order to communicate the full picture
The enemy here is leaving anything remotely ambiguous, we need to fight ambiguity at every opportunity.
Account Managers get a ton of email, from clients, from the production team, from everyone. The best agencies train their account managers to be ridiculously responsive. When you get an email from a client, they should be responded to immediately. The idea is to set the expectation of responding to all client emails/communications within one hour.
This doesn’t mean you need to actually provide an answer to their question or solution to their request. You simply need to respond and let them know (1) you received their email and (2) that you’re working on their request/question.
By doing this, you’ll never leave the client wondering whether or not you received their email. They will immediately know you’re on it, and won’t have to worry about following up with you. This puts everyone at ease.
Double-Check Your Work (Brown M&Ms)
The 1980s rock superstars Van Halen toured all over the world. Each concert they played required a signed contract which demanded, via a clause embedded in their tour rider, that no brown-colored M&Ms be allowed backstage (dressing rooms etc,.) at their concerts. While this seems like a typical rockstar demand, it’s actually a quality assurance test for the concert promoter. If brown M&M’s were in the backstage candy bowl, Van Halen concluded that more important aspects of a performance–lighting, staging, security, ticketing–may have been botched by an inattentive promoter.
This is how clients feel. If they see one thing wrong, they’re going to think it’s the tip of the iceberg and become frustrated very quickly. Simple spelling errors and typos can take a magnificent piece of strategic work and call it into question, all because attention was not paid to the most obvious details. Each error adds another crack to the client’s perception of our agency and worse, forces you to have a discussion about typos when you should be discussing high level strategy. It’s the small stuff that stacks up as points against account managers over time and ultimately hurts the relationship. Check your work, relentlessly.
Make sure you:
a. Slow Down — Speed is often the enemy here. The client is always pressing to have work completely ASAP, but don’t forget the client is making an assumption that the work will be without errors (in addition to being done ASAP). We’ve found clients are more forgiving of late work that is without errors, than fast work that has errors and needs to be re-done (because then it’s late anyway, in addition to having errors, ouch).
b. Have Someone Else Check It — Ask a coordinator to review the work first, or a copywriter, or anyone who hasn’t spend hours starring at it already. Getting a second set of eyes will always catch things you missed.
Use Descriptive Names for Things
Use descriptive language for files, tasks, to-dos, etc. You’ll do your future self and everyone else a favor.
Bad Example = “Web Edits”
Good Example = “XYZ Product Webinar Landing Page Edits”
Underpromise & Overdeliver
Don’t get yourself in a jam. Always give yourself a ton of buffer room. Even when you’re fully confident you can hit Wednesday, still tell the client Friday (and then deliver on Wednesday). Make a habit of it. Don’t get sucked into promising unrealistic deadlines where you know you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Pick. Up. The. Phone.
Email is great. But when it comes to forging relationships with clients and vendors, the phone works wonders (obviously in-person communication is best, but this is not always an option). It may seem like a pain, but sometimes the best response to a long client email is “thanks for all the feedback, can we jump on a quick call to go through it?”
Plan for Long Client Meetings
If you know you’ll be in a meeting for longer than an hour, set up an out-of-office responder to let anyone who emails you know that you won’t be responsive until later that day. This helps when needing to manage two-hour responses.
Track Revisions in Your PM Software and In Your Client Communications
It’s important to track the number of revisions to projects so they client can see. When sending a revision to a client, name the file and the communication for the revision. Something like “Hi Client — Here is Revision #4 of the home page design.” Note the revision each time, it’s good reminder to the client of how deep we are in the project. It helps with scope and budget, and expectations.
If You Don’t Know What’s Going On, Ask (No Ambiguity)
It sucks when things aren’t clear. Right? Whenever there’s ambiguity around anything (like directions, expectations, rules, responsibilities, goals, scope, etc.,) it causes stress. And we don’t need any more stress. The truth is, we’ve all been there and we know it when we feel it. We feel out of our depths. We’re too embarrassed, or proud, or stubborn to press for more clarity. Right? So you just think “I’ll figure it out later” or “I’ll make a note to follow up on these questions later” and then of course things start getting delayed because you don’t know what to do next.
Here’s the thing, ambiguity causes uncertainty. Uncertainty leads to the inability to act. You don’t know what to do next so you do nothing. This translates to projects falling behind schedule. Yes sure, you eventually seek out some additional clarity and get the project moving again, but you probably waited too long to do so and now you’re behind. The next time you encounter ambiguity, whether it be with a client or a co-worker, practice these 5 words: “I’m not clear on this.”
Dig your heels in and don’t let the conversation progress forward until you gain clarity. This is the mark of someone who cares enough to try to understand. Saying you’re not clear on a topic doesn’t mean you’re stupid. You’re an intelligent person with a reasonable right to not know certain things. Any rational person on the receiving end of this will appreciate your effort to better understand them, and quite possibly be embarrassed themselves for being a poor communicator.
Close the loop
We’ve established that Account Managers get a ton of emails from clients. It’s important that they are always the last to respond to the email conversion. They should always “close the loop.”
Client: Can we have a quick call about the XYZ project?
Account Manager: No problem, how does Wednesday at 11:00 am, EST work?
Client: Works for me. Talk to you then.
Account Manager: Great, I’ll send over an Outlook invitation with the GoToMeeting dial in information.
Client: Sounds good, thank you.
Account Manager: You got it, talk to you soon.
The Account Managers’ job is to always close the loop. This continually eases the client’s concerns and lets them know you’re receiving and reading every last thing they send.
Client Relationship Building
The Account Managers’ relationship with the client is critical to the success of the account. Building a solid relationship with your clients will make managing all aspects of the account easier, and in the long run, make you more successful. When we’re starting new relationships with clients it’s important to build and keep their confidence.
Here are some tactics to employ:
a. Send Non-Project-Related Emails
99% of your correspondence with the client will be in relation to the projects you’re managing. Make sure you take the time to drop the client a note once a month that shows them you’re thinking about their company outside of the project at hand.
– Share articles from industry trade journals (bonus points b/c you show them you’re reading about their industry). Also, industry reports/whitepapers, etc,.
– Share articles from their competitors (bonus points b/c you show them you’re staying on top of their competition).
– Share recent posts from your agency’s blog that are relevant to the strategy you are executing for them.
b. Keep Client Background Notes
It’s important you know more about your client than simply their job title. You start to keep notes (either in your Outlook contacts profile, or a separate Google Doc) about your client’s:
– Education background
– Favorite sports teams
– Drink of choice
– Gift ideas (for Christmas, Birthdays, Launch Celebrations)
This way you’ll have topics to discuss in the first couple awkward moments of a call, or even better, when you’re out to lunch with the client. Whenever you learn something new about a client, update your notes so you can remember to touch on it later on.
Always Ask “What’s the Goal?”
When in doubt, always ask “what’s the goal?” Get used to asking this question.
Make sure you know why you’re doing things. If you find yourself dealing with an odd client request, or a challenging situation, stop and ask the client “what’s the goal of this?” By bringing the conversation back around to goals, we should be able to get the client focused on what matters and put ourselves back in the driver’s seat.
Ask these questions if you receive a non-goal-oriented request. Does this new idea:
a. Fit into the current plan without needing to reallocate resources?
b. Look like a more efficient way to achieve the goals previously agreed?
c. Has something changed which makes the old goals less relevant?
This is also an incredibly helpful way to deal with bad feedback.
Seth Godin reminds us that “It’s important to criticize an idea/design based on how well it meets its goals. If you don’t like the goals, criticize those separately.” This is the only way to have a grounded, objective-based discussion. It’s like having a common denominator to judge all feedback against. Any feedback that is not based on how well an idea meets objectives should be questioned as “it sounds like we’re solving for two different goals here, maybe we should talk about those first.”
Also, always start a meeting by saying “the goal of this meeting is….”
Think About This — How Do Your Clients Like to be Managed?
In business, being able to read people and quickly get a sense of who you’re dealing with is an invaluable skill. It turns your encounter with a client into an opportunity to catch a glimpse of how to better manage their account. It is one of the building blocks of a professional relationship.
The first step is to take a step back and try to think about the client and situation objectively, then understand each client will have a different personality that you’ll need to figure out how to manage. Ex. Some clients need a ton of background details to understand a project, and some can’t stand to get in the weeds and just want the high level details, both are fine clients, but it’s important to manage accordingly.
Also, realize that even basic communications with clients/anyone can be incredibly challenging. Read up on how most communication fails.
Play the Long Game
Play the long game, nothing is be all end all. Just because the client asks for something outrageous doesn’t mean they are infinitely unreasonable people. Don’t take every request as a personal attack. Play the long game, let the requests fall off your shoulders, look at the big picture.
In conclusion, by having a plan and following these strategies, you can become a more productive and successful account manager. By over-communicating, responding to emails promptly, double-checking your work, and using descriptive language, you can ensure that your clients are happy and satisfied with your work. Remember to underpromise and overdeliver, pick up the phone when necessary, and plan for long client meetings to stay on top of your workload. By implementing these tips and strategies, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a top-notch account manager who delivers exceptional work and builds strong relationships with clients.