Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Science of Account Management

The business of client servicing definitely goes beyond the perfect brief. Every now and then one has to ensure that the client is well handled and the promises made are delivered to ensure that the business objectives are met in a timely manner. Whether your client is an entrepreneur or the marketing manager of a listed company, once they have signed your contract they will experience the same feeling: a combination of excitement at the wonders this top notch agency is about to deliver and fear that by appointing this not so affordable agency, they have made a very costly mistake. Probably, that six figure retainer fee could have been used to redo the interior of several of their branches across the country.
As an agency, the first task is to reassure the client that they have made the right decision. Despite the fact that you are still in the process of immersing yourself into this new brand, the first week should be characterized by very few mistakes, always make sure that the entire team is enthusiastic and aligned with all the contractual obligations. 
Your next step is to learn everything you can about the client’s business. Ask heaps of questions, be curious, subscribe to their media outlets, follow their competitors on Twitter .and make sure your institutional and industry knowledge is unparalleled. Always, remember that during the 45 minutes pitch, you promised to be part of the market intelligence team. To further allay their fears, you should dedicate disproportionate time to exceeding their expectations.
During the emersion process ensure that you establish and collectively agree with your client on the proposed metrics on which your work will be measured. For some clients, it may be as specific as the number of links to the website or new business enquiries. Others want something less tangible, such as ‘better awareness’. Whatever it is, you cannot measure your impact until you have established a base case. That could be an awareness survey, a coverage count pre-you, or a system for establishing where enquiries are coming from. Use this particular session to manage the expectations of this new client because from this particular point, all promises will be deemed as deliverables to the client’s business objectives.
Once the relationship has been established, by the way the agency & client relationship is more complicated than a marriage just that for marriage the retainer is paid well in advance in form of dowry. Anyway, always communicate the good and the bad in equal measures. The client needs to know when things are going well and when they are going bonkers. Make sure you are the first to tell them either way. That article in the Citizen Weekly, Oh My!! The number of times this publication has caught me napping on the job of handling my brands-should be emailed to them before their peers send them the article on WhatsApp. Likewise, when a key journalist says she just isn’t interested, the client has a right to know. Trust you me, the modern client, knows when you are buying time on something, they no longer believe in “To Be Confirmed” interviews.
Remember the metrics you agreed on? Ensure that you measure and report against base case. Please note, my few years in PR made me to learn that, all the urgent board and senior Management report request only come on Friday afternoons. So with reports, make sure you revisit them regularly (weekly, monthly, quarterly), and identify how you are doing. This might save you from the annoying Friday call, asking for a media performance report for the quarter.
One more thing, every now and then the strategy might not work, it’s normal, how many times have you restarted your computer? It’s always not about you; it might be due to some external factor. In case you want to change the strategy, discuss and discuss again with the client. Account managers all too often see themselves as coverage machines, whose role is to churn out column inches. Remember, your client is running a business, and great coverage may not be everything to them, so make sure you are in tune with what they are thinking.
Lastly, one of my secret weapons in this business has been to always assume that the client is a busy, disorganised person- not my current clients though.
Just because you said something once in an email to a client, or reported something in your activity report does not mean that the client has read it or remembers it. Provide detail and context to every piece of correspondence (e.g. further to my email of 30th June…) and regularly summarise results in the body of an email (not just in your activity report) and provide summaries of outstanding actions and next steps.

This Article was also published in Business Today. 

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