Don't leave account growth to chance, there's a better approach
We're launching a new guide for agencies next week, in which I discuss my suggested approach to agency growth. The emphasis is very much on ‘planned’. To the point where I mentioned that you should drop the phrase ‘organic growth’ which is often used by agencies to describe how they will pick up new work from existing clients.
That’s because ‘organic’ implies that work comes in by chance or via lucky conversations and serendipity. It doesn’t. Account growth shouldn’t be left to chance; you need someone to lead the conversations that themselves lead to the up-selling or cross-selling of new services.
Which is where account handlers come in and the focus of this post. We have talked previously about how important great account handlers are to an agency, for a range of reasons. To my mind, the primary focus of the account handler is not to be a ‘bag carrier’ of creative work or to micromanage jobs (straying too far into project management) but to focus on developing a great client relationship built on having a demonstrable strategic input on the account.
That point of view chimes with an opinion piece in the Drum, which argues that nothing less than exceptional account handling is needed in today’s agency. Although written in 2014 it still stands true and I still see some agencies dismissing the role of account handler and jeopardizing their growth plans in doing so.
I know from conversations with creative start-ups and/or more established tech agencies that it’s tempting to eschew the account handler, in favour of bringing in another design or coder. But I think if you are serious about keeping your clients and expanding what you do for them, you need client services/account handling folk with good strategic heads.
So, what do you look for in a great account handler? They should be excellent across a few areas (see the article link above) but specifically in:
- Communication: That’s both verbal and written. And with both clients and in-house teams. Communication covers briefing, presenting (results, strategies, creative work, content plans and more), writing proposals talking (not just sending emails) to the client. Active listening and the ability to establish rapport (with clients and agency team members) are important too. But account handlers are not passive ‘buffers’, separating client and agency specialist teams and passing messages to and fro. Clients can sometimes be better served at key stages in a project with some direct collaboration between them and the agency creative or tech teams who work on their account. But the best account handlers stay on top of that and steer both parties for mutual benefit.
- Strategy development: That means understanding marketing strategy frameworks (for example the RACE framework) as well as thinking strategically to devise campaigns (along with colleagues) and help the client build their brand/business. Great account handlers will also be comfortable with analytical thinking and are curious, asking questions of any plan or campaign: before, during and after its inception.
- Developing account handlers: Some account handlers have a natural flair for account growth and those two attributes above are ‘innate’ in them. But those attributes and skills can also be taught.
I think that sometimes we (the agency world) throw our new account handlers in at the deep end without any training in things like (in no particular order) strategic thinking, account planning, negotiation and sales, pricing projects, presentation skills and approaches to account growth (hence our guide).
If you are an account handler (especially new to your career), or you manage a team of account handlers - here are some training providers or resources you could look into. Some of the course dates may have moved on but you contact the organization involved to register interest in future events.
Finally - beyond courses and to ensure your account handlers continue to veer more towards a strategic rather than tactical, mindset - have them read books, attend seminars, listen to podcasts and generally stay ahead of the field.