What makes a great agency account manager?

 |  In: Managing clients

Account managers are an integral part of an agency’s success. Often acting as a bridge between clients and creatives, they need to fulfil a lot of roles, from keeping clients happy to making sure each project is profitable.

But what makes a truly great account manager?

According to research What Clients Think 2023, by Up to the Light in association with the Design Business Association (DBA), there are five qualities most valued by clients when it comes to account managers.

These are:

  1. Organised. Perhaps it’s no surprise this is given so much credence by clients, who want to work with an account manager that is completely dependable and provides regular updates. This quality helps to instill confidence in clients that they’re working with the right people... which will go an incredibly long way towards bringing in future work. And happy clients equal happy bottom line for your agency.

  2. Driving. Clients are looking for an account manager who can use their own initiative, not waiting to be constantly told what to do. Taking ownership of the project and working in the best ways to deliver it takes pressure off the client... and the less pressure they’re under, the smoother the project will run.

  3. Forceful. No, not in an argumentative or stroppy kind of way! But in a stepping-in-and-taking-charge kind of way, pushing back and challenging where appropriate, and making sure the teams all stick to their deadlines. Ultimately, it’s about not letting any areas of the project slide.

  4. Honest. Keeping everyone in the light about what’s what and where with a project can mean having to admit to mistakes. But being honest, open and transparent is valued by clients... especially if you can also tell them how you’ll rectify things.

  5. Upbeat. No one wants to work with an unenthusiastic team. And as the face of the agency, it’s important for account managers to not just seem interested and willing, but to unequivocally be those things. Making a client feel important is key to nurturing these relationships: making them feel like they’re just a name on a list to tick off will send them running for the hills.

The power of process

Of course, clients are looking for great end results. But they want the whole process to be enjoyable. Which is where the right account manager can make all the difference. In the research, 63% of clients said they would have liked more focus on client service and process in the pitch presentation. Something for agencies to strongly bear in mind.

Focusing too much on end results and not enough on how to get there can leave clients feeling undervalued and under nurtured.

Make good memories

And clients have long memories. 38% of client recalled an agency mistake or bad experience that happened over a year ago. These incidents ranged from feeling let down in front of colleagues and haphazard account management to concepts not being fully realised.

And the absolute big no-no, projects not being delivered on time and/or on budget. Causing embarrassment and frustration to clients and potentially wrecking your long-term working relationship with them.

Account management also features in the top three reasons for agencies falling short on value for money, with feedback stating ‘account management wasn’t tight enough and resulted in the client having to give more input than they would wish’.

The inside job

Internally, account managers are also a driving force for each project. The role is far from schmoozing clients and telling them what they want to hear. It’s about listening to clients, interpreting and understanding the brief, and working out just what needs to be done to deliver the project effectively and profitably.

This means an ultra focus on planning and organisation, making sure every team member understands what they need to do and when, and keeping the lines of communication open to make sure everyone is on course.

There is also a strong focus on making sure the right people are working on the project, whether that’s internal teams, external suppliers, or both. The best account managers know how to create working teams that get the best from each other and that can deliver the best end results for clients.

Budgeting is another critical area for account managers, and the best ones understand the importance of a budget. This isn’t about being a yes-person to fit in with a client budget and shoehorning all your creatives’ time to match. It’s about creating the right estimate, so you understand how long the job will take internally. It’s about deciding how to build the quote – if it’s different to your estimate, is the client relationship good enough to offer discount? Will this likely lead to a continuing working relationship?

There is often a fine balance to strike between keeping the client happy and being a people pleaser. The role of an account manager is to navigate between the client and the agency’s internal teams, creating a budget and a project plan that will work for everyone. That will ensure the right work is delivered in the right space of time (with no headless chickens or unplanned late nights). Of course you want to impress your clients. But not at the expense of your agency colleagues or your agency’s profits.

Being a great account manager takes a huge amount of skill, tact, organisation and focus. Get these qualities in place and you’ll be the perfect ambassador for your agency.