Featured Internet Marketing

Account Management is Dead

Account management, long the bastion of 3-martini lunches and oh-so-happy clients, is dead, and internet marketing killed it.


Well, traditional account management, anyway. I don’t want to scare my employees.

In the past, account managers had to know how to schmooze, and how to communicate. Their job was to advise the client about creative, shuttle work between the agency, the client and the publisher, and provide a good face for the company. They didn’t have to know how the TV station would broadcast the ad, or the science behind 4-color printing, or how radios were built.

Internet marketing is a whole new world.

An account manager can’t just talk about how the website looks. They have to know how it works.

They can’t just talk about media placement. They have to know about SEO.

And they can’t just talk about results. They have to know web analytics.

Sure, they can always answer client questions with “I’ll get back to you on that”. In my experience, though, clients hate that.
The account manager position has gone from a starting job to the most demanding role in the agency.

At my company, we’re developing a template for a new role: The account strategist. These folks work with the client on everything from features to creative to search marketing to media planning. Typically we promote from within, training candidates first in PPC and search, and then promoting them to account strategist.

What do you think? Am I just having a case of the account management Mondays?

CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at LinkedIn.com/in/ianlurie.

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  1. Ian, I think you’re onto something here. I don’t even identify myself as an account person – I’m crayon’s Consiglieri – because of exactly what you outline. Strategist is probably much more accurate, but even that doesn’t get at the heart of it, because an account person has to be so much more these days.
    I would imagine it’s no different in the CMO’s office these days either. Moving from what was traditionally a role rife with PR, advertising and corporate communications, CMOs are now responsible for: sales, product marketing, PR, advertising, SEO, and social media, to name a few (not to mention the ROI associated with each). As the channels have multiplied, so has the responsibility and the need for knowledge around each.
    These are exciting times, but challenging ones all the same. The individual who manages to steer through and become knowledgeable in the key areas will undoubtedly succeed.

  2. Thanks Scott.
    I really think we’ve entered an age of whole-brained thinkers. The folks who can think about analytics and still know what good creative is will win. At least, that’s who I’m rooting for…

  3. You are right on the money. In our firm, the account managers now go through intensive training … as much as anyone else. I wouldn’t say that account management has died, only that their knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep, where specialists’ knowledge is an inch wide and a mile deep. Same amount of knowledge, just different perspectives.

  4. So is it really dead or was that to get my attention? It sounds like it is alive and well. I think you should have gone with a title like ‘Account Management is On the Wagon,’ to go with your martini statement.

  5. Jeff’s comment about knowledge a mile wide and an inch deep is dead on. It’s impossible to accurately relay information to a client from the dev team without having exposure to a basic review of how these technologies work. It’s frustrating for both sides explaining that a client can’t see their new web page because the DNS hasn’t propagated, and being met with a blank stare. Or worse, wandering away without acknowledging they don’t understand and bungling the explanation to the client.
    Giving a very basic tutorial on web services and roles has greatly improved the confidence of our account management team. As one account manager described it after one of my training sessions, it was the difference between sinking and drowning.

  6. Excellent point. In my experience as an internal account manager, people will quickly lose interest in working with you if you cannot answer their questions. I think it’s a general challenge for account managers in any field.

  7. Great conversation.
    I see another trend emerging alongside of account managers becoming more technical. In order to meet the needs of the most demanding clients, specialists are becoming more client-facing.
    If the days of the schmooze-only AM are ending, so are the days of the back-room web analyst.
    Are we seeing a blurring of the lines between consulting roles?

  8. Jared: Great point. I think that EVERYONE is an account manager, to some extent, at this point.
    Also, AM’s aren’t just learning the tech stuff. They’re learning the analysis side, too…

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