The role of account management has evolved. Significantly.
At one time, the role was simply to keep the client happy: delivering the agency’s work on time, on spec and on budget. This is no longer the case. Account teams are now accountable to drive the growth of their accounts.
There are now two types of account leaders: those who passively manage their accounts and those who proactive lean in, lead the client and drive growth. Ultimately, the goal is for your teams to proactively mine for new opportunities from every client in the agency.
Effective organic growth is not about turning your teams into salespeople. In fact, when your teams focus on bringing forward strategies that will directly impact their client’s growth, it becomes motivating. With this approach, their efforts come from a place of making a meaningful difference for clients they are genuinely vested in. This is far more motivating than feeling forced to act as a sales representative solely for the interest of the agency. To an account person, this has much more integrity. Train them to become their client’s business partner – identifying growth opportunities, which then require your agency to capitalize on – for a handsome fee. Put new systems and tools in place to make it easier for teams to implement a methodical, consistent approach. Over time, this turns into new habits.
As you know, there are numerous challenges in terms of implementing organic growth programs consistently over time. Account teams resist being forced to feel like a sales person. On top of this, agency cultures are generally reactive, running from one client fire to the next. It’s hard to get out ahead and proactively lead clients when you’re barely keeping your head above water. RFPs make the problem worse, as they stretch already-thin agency resources. While agencies love to complain about the state of competitive reviews, the adrenalin hit and rush of a pitch is thrilling. The compressed timelines of doing several months of work in only a matter of weeks is an exciting new challenge. Unfortunately, RFPs are often just a distraction, getting in the way of the time it takes to develop more effective plans for stable growth.
Organic growth has significant benefits to an agency. First, organic growth is the single most profitable source of new revenue. This is particularly true when compared to pursuing dysfunctional RFPs and working slowly to prospect into new clients who’ve never heard of you. You have a relationship with the client, the door is open and you have a base understanding of their business. Leverage this head start to proactively generate growth ideas for their business.
When you lean in and begin growing your clients, there’s more benefit to the agency. The tenure of your roster increases. The nature of each relationship evolves, where you’re positioned as more of a business partner. And importantly, you turn project-based clients into having a stable, “retainer-level volume” of work.
In our work with agencies, there’s a few things we look for when evaluating organic growth effectiveness. How well do your teams stack up?
- Assertiveness: Overall, how engaged, how assertive are your team members? How proactive are they in leading their clients?
- Motivation / Fear: Are your account people holding back out of a fear of being a salesperson? You can actually motivate your teams to go forward with new ideas, when you focus on understanding, addressing and growing your client’s business.
- Business Model Comprehension: Meaning, how effectively do your teams understand their client’s business? Their client’s business model? How that client generates revenue? And importantly, do they understand the agency’s role in impacting this?
- Business Outcomes: How well do your teams understand and address their client’s business and marketing KPIs, Key Performance Indicators… the metrics by which each client measures the health and performance of their business and their marketing? Importantly this focus on Business Outcomes is the path to the client c-suite. The alternative, just be a tactical vendor. And get compensated accordingly.
- Strategic Horsepower: What is the strategic ability of your account teams? Do they understand and drive the development of genuine target audience insight and the client’s marketing communications strategy? Even if your agency has a robust strategic planning team, the account team must have a POV and be directly involved in the development of the entire strategy.
- Plan Effectiveness: Do your teams have clearly written and aggressive organic growth plans for each account? Are the steps, timing and accountability to make it all happen clearly outlined?
Those agencies who strategically lead their clients, do more work at a higher margin. And, there are specific systems, tools and resources that can help your teams become a business partner to their clients in this way. Once you elevate the role of the agency, you open up new revenue opportunities.