Account management is the bidirectional art of representing your business to clients and vice versa. The job requires skill, advocacy, diplomacy, leadership, boundaries, intelligence, method, heart, patience, experience, and hopefully, wisdom. Superb account managers are rare and exhibit marvelous professional and personal characteristics, some of which can’t be taught.
I’ve been thinking about this post for some time. aimClear has grown to be a company of well-skilled account managers, a number of whom are seriously talented and inspire me every day. Of course, as aimClear’s founder, I was the original account manager and set the tone. Back in the day, I tossed my disruptive and flamboyant personal style into the corporate crucible. Fortunately, employee after employee helped flesh things out, improving on the starting point. The timbre of our organization has matured in elegant ways and I’m proud to be part of it.
At first, representing my fledgling sole proprietorship to clients was a substantial challenge for me: my background is as a professional musician and not a technical businessperson. In those days, I tended to see things through my out-of-the-box creative lens and was plenty disorganized…. it’s safe to say I made my account management technique up as I went along. Most of the time things worked out really well, but there were certainly a few lessons learned the hard way.
Over the years– and especially now that we’re larger company– I’ve gotten to interact with many highly professional business people. From our super clients and vendors to aimClear’s accomplished team, I’ve been so fortunate to learn from some of the best in the business. Read on for important dos and don’ts amalgamated from my own instincts, experience, failure, and wisdom gained from others I’ve been lucky enough to learn from:
1-We Don’t Ever Want A Client To Find Out Anything Important First: Win, lose, or steady as she goes it’s not OK for clients to be surprised by their own success, opportunities, unexpected developments and challenges.
2-Make Real Promises & Keep Them. Being a yes-man has no equity whatsoever. If it can’t be done in the time frame, at that cost, or sent by that date, don’t say you’ll do it. Your reputation is only as good as your word.
3-When Discussing Your Team, Use The Word “We” Not “I.” When communicating on behalf of your team, make sure it’s not all about you. As a wise boss once taught our team, “When you send memos, do interviews, or otherwise deal with media or your employees, give OTHERS credit- sometimes even if you did it.” He continued, use the words “us,” “we,” “our,” and not “I,” “me,” or “my.” Even when aimClear WAS just me, I still corresponded and blogged from the collective person. It added corporate depth to recipients’ and readers’ perception of what kind of company aimClear was. Also, it helped me visualize what we became rather quickly.
4-Inject Authentically Erratic Communication Patterns To Reflect Your True 24/7 Commitment. Sometimes, the best ideas are the ones that come in the shower or make me jolt straight up in bed at 3AM. Many colleagues seem to be that way– driven, fanatical, 24/7, on. I want our clients to KNOW that we care about their account to an extreme. So, if a sleepless client sends a memo at 1:20 AM CT, I make sure to email them back right away. There have been many times when clients have remarked, “You never sleep!” Great! Then I’m doing my job. It’s also cool when Australian or European clients get an immediate response during their workday.
5-Be A Thoughtful Listener. Here’s one I personally need to work on every day: being a good listener. The main reason to listen is to really hear what others say. This is a hard one personally. It’s easy to get excited and step all over something brilliant another marketer has to say.
6-Know When To Interrupt. That said, knowing when to interject a comment or position is a crucial skill. The best account managers know exactly the right time to cut a conversation off at the knees. When yielded properly, respectful interruption is a fantastic tool.
7-Know When To Shut Up. When the sale is already closed, objective accomplished, or the news delivered and accepted, close your mouth before you screw it up. My dad always told me, “If you don’t open your mouth, people will only think you’re stupid.” I took that to heart. I’m getting better, but it’s safe to say that I don’t always know when to shut up. It’s rarely wrong to hold cards close to the vest.
8-Never Risk Legal Exposure. This is a special category of knowing when to shut up. When telling too much gives another party information to come after you legally, you really better close your yapper. As a rule, account managers should step back from the conversational table when disagreements become contentious, when there’s talk of contract violations, or in human resources matters. We live in a litigation-happy world where you don’t have to be wrong to get sued. Watch carefully for this one.
9-Leadership Is As Leadership Does, Not What Would-Be Leaders Say They’ll Do. aimClear is a flat organization, with few layers of supervision. That said, there are absolutely lines of authority and mentoring though few are delegated officially in the org chart. When new members join our team with the goal of becoming leaders, we tell them to BE the leader and WIN the authority by modeling leadership, not talking about it. Leadership is truly earned. It is not assigned.
10-Respect Your Own Inexperience & Limitations. The biggest mistake and danger we see in new account managers is when they don’t know what they don’t know. Taking a stand and being erroneous is like a 75-year-old dude with a beer gut wearing a Speedo… just plain wrong. It’s ALWAYS OK to say, “I’m confident I know the answer to your question, [Client], but we have an expert in the shop I want to consult. I’ll be back to you later today.” This enhances your and the agency’s perception to the client because it insinuates depth and process. Turn your lack of knowledge into an advantage that way.
11-Be Confident In What You Know You Know. The flip side of understanding one’s limitations is projecting confidence when you’ve got the goods. Look, it’s not uncommon for account managers to make a lot of money and that’s for good reason. Embody the value of all you’ve learned, experienced, and studied. Don’t walk on eggshells when you know you’re right
12-Stand Up For Greatness Others Don’t Immediately Understand. Sometimes, other team members and clients don’t understand brilliance right out of the box. If you, the account manager, believe that your solution is freakin’ genius and nobody else in the room can quite wrap their arms around it, fight for the idea. Myopic record companies said, “No,” to Elvis Presley and The Beatles. Don’t abandon surefire greatness just because the ingenious solution you hold is not immediately understood by others.
13-Learn From Your Clients And / Or Boss: Your clients and boss were smart enough to hire you. They also know the most about their organization, the challenges and opportunities ahead. Learn from them, even if it’s what not to do. I’ve learned SO much from our clients over the years.
14-Righteous Indignation Has Its Place: Once in a while, you just have to tell someone who’s way out of line that they’re way out of line. You have to stand up for your dignity. This is the nuclear option, but sometimes arguably required. Be willing to lose the account or job as a result, understanding that an all-cards-on-the-table reset is the only possible way to save the relationship. Sometimes you have to almost kill the patient to save it.
15-Aspire To Be Best In The World At The One Thing You’re Good At: Jim Collins, in his book, Good To Great, in his hedgehog analogy, shared research revealing that truly great companies stick to what they’re masters at. He advised seeking the one skill that a business could be best in the world at and pursuing it with singular focus. Being Jack-of-all-trades is overrated. Great account managers are informed in many areas and stick to what they’re good at.
16-Count To Twenty. Better Yet, Make It Thirty. How many times have you whipped off an email or quickly returned a call and immediately regretted it? There are hardly any situations that require an absolute real-time response. There’s always time for 20 breaths while you think. Most usually there’s time for 10 minutes or an hour. Take the opportunity to collect your thoughts and assess the situation before you jump in headfirst.
17-Don’t Poop Where You Eat. Never badmouth your team to a client to curry favor. Chances are you’ll ultimately lose the client and your job. Exceptions can be made when you and your supervisor decide together that one of your team members messed up and carefully couched language can be delivered to the client to cut losses and/or apologize. Also, talking smack about your own team can sometimes expose your shop legally.
18-Abandon Flawed Work & Do It Again: Poor deliverables should never leave the shop. No work product is sacred just because it’s done and took time. We always ask, “How many times does it take to do it best in the world?” Do it again until it’s great. Enough said.
19-Exude Passion & Confidence! Wear Your Heart On Your Sleeve: It’s totally amazing how many jagged corners clients are willing to accept from authentically passionate account managers. Be emotional. Call clients and share your enthusiasm. Laugh heartily and shout. Show your hunger and lust for greatness in all you do. A famous music producer once told me that he wanted to “Smell the sweat” in every keyboard track I recorded when he listened to the tape. I tell aimClear account reps I want to smell the sweat and feel the love in their client.
This is a topic we’ll likely revisit in the future. As our industry changes, it’s critical we periodically reexamine the attributes that make for great digital marketers and account managers.
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