Don't let BAU get in the way - make the time to plan for account growth
New business is the lifeblood of every agency, or so the saying goes. But, at the same time, the equally well-known adage is that it costs you a lot more in internal time and external / freelance costs to acquire a new client compared to retaining and growing an existing one. Unfortunately business-as-usual work on client projects or "agency life" can get in the way.
So, if you (the client services / account handling team) are not focusing on existing account growth, then you should be. By the way, I’m not a fan of the term ‘organic’, which is often applied to refer to growing an existing client account. It can imply 'it’ll just happen' rather than 'let's plan to grow this account in a proactive way'.
In this article I’ve suggested both a process and also a form that you can use in conjunction with nominated people in your agency. The form supports business growth initiatives but it could also be used as a repository of client information. Agency account teams change over time so it's good to have a referral source for background to the client business.
And it’s worth saying that if you don’t yet have a good idea of who your most profitable and enjoyable (albeit a softer measure!) accounts are in the business - you should look at that first.
You’ll have finite resources, so focus on account growth plans for those clients you want to keep and grow. So make some decisions about any accounts that are unprofitable (e.g consistently over-serviced or under-remunerated and / or are ‘painful’ to work with).
The groundwork for your growth strategy
Before we get to the account planning process, I’m assuming that your client will be amenable to listen to any new initiative ideas you have for them. And will be happy to continue working with you and give you more projects. Or for you to extend the types of services you offer them in the future.
But being amenable implies that there's a positive relationship there. One that you will have nourished over time by doing things like:
- taking responsibility for ensuring a quality product and service for the client team at all times.
- making it clear that you understand what the client is interested in or what their pain points may be in their specific role. And demonstrating that you can solve problems for them.
- collectively setting clear objectives at the start of a new campaign or project. Then pro-actively monitoring those and regularly feeding back to client (without having to be chased).
- always acting with integrity, not over promising or making excuses if you missed a deadline (don't miss agreed deadlines anyway!).
- sharing developments in their market / industry with them. Or in marketing in general (think about a regular 'what's new' email that you can send to them and discuss with them at your next meeting).
- checking with the client on how you’re doing and then responding in good time to their feedback (e.g demonstrating it’s not a hollow exercise). That process can be informal, taking place as you expedite projects. Or more formal, via questionnaires / surveys that you ask them to take part in. In that way, you can benchmark current satisfaction levels for future measurement.
- being friendly and sociable with the client team. Okay, we’re not in the 80’s and the long lunch culture but you should still find opportunities to get away from the desk / meeting table with your clients and share a coffee or meal.
The account growth process
We have created a template on growing a client account for marketing agencies, particularly for Group Account Directors, Account Directors and their teams to plan the growth of their clients’ business in a structured way.
The template includes:
- 1 Account background.
- 2. Historical and current situation.
- 3. Account ambition.
- 4. Action Plan for sales opportunities.
- 5. Blocks to success.
- 6. Tangible revenue forecast.
- 7. Next steps / selling in.
So its important to also work through it with your team and identify action points and assign responsibilities. Also, set milestone dates for collating all information, generating the ideas that come out of your opportunities analysis and then presenting back to client.
Thinking up new ideas campaigns or initiatives ideas
The account growth planning template will elicit new campaign or projects opportunities for you. And being an agency, creative and entrepreneurial thinking should be second nature to you. But there’s always the issue of ‘cobblers shoes’ here - e.g. business as usual / paid work takes priority.
So use the framework below to carve out time for effective ideas generation:
- Enforce some time dedicated to thinking about ideas for the client.
- Set aside a lunch hour or breakfast session each fortnight (or at least monthly).
- Fix the time in everyone’s calendar and make it mandatory to attend.
- Pull together a multidisciplinary team: both people working on the account but also some who don’t work with the client.
- Ask some questions of the group. If applicable ask some of these questions before you get together, so people come armed to the session:
- What are we doing already for this client versus what other help might they might need?
- What’s inside our client/s head (look at existing persona work you’ll have done)
- What's in it for them? What will grow his/her business, be good for their brand (profile raising etc) and/or save them money.
- What’s already being done in this sector and what can we improve on?
- Discuss and ensure that these ideas are doable and defendable. e.g. Can it / they be implemented? Are they practical, executable and affordable?
Selling in your ideas
- 1. Once you have an idea/s, give your client a heads-up and fix a date to present. Maybe test-drive ideas with them individually before you formally present (especially if they have more senior colleague decision makers or require board sign off).
A degree of co-creation can go a long way as it engenders a sense of ownership from your client and they're more likely to act as sponsor if they have bought into your (collective) vision already..
- 2. Present the idea in a memorable and compelling manner. Face to face is always best where at all practical, especially if you're suggesting an initiative that may mean a big expenditure jump for the client.
- 3. Make your presentation of the idea/s and proposed initiatives short, simple and clear. And be clear you know what the next steps will be to get this new project / up-sell service started.
If a particular proposed initiative or new campaign doesn't take off, ensure you know why it wasn't right. And modify it, before presenting again, if that's practical.
Clients love proactivity, so don't be dispirited if the initial proposal doesn’t get initial traction. The approach will likely be seen positively and then it's better to regroup and come back again with new ideas (having understood what may work better for this client) than to be seen as disinterested and always reactive.