Being an advocate for my client is the starting point for what I do here at Portent. Sure, how I serve a client is probably formalized in some boilerplate paragraph in an SOW and quantified in an SLA. But that’s something for two legal teams to be happy with. For me, advocacy is striving to drive business for a client, ultimately becoming an integral part of their team. I relish building that relationship.
However, I also need to be an advocate for my internal team. I want my strategists to feel supported, like they are being set up for success, so they can have fun delivering on our promised goals. Achieving this balance, however, requires understanding what drives business impact for your client, and making sure your internal team feels empowered to apply their expertise to client goals.
In this post, I’ll share some successful account management strategies that keep both your client and team needs in mind.
1. Get to Know Each Other
The best way to start a business relationship off on the right foot is with mutual understanding. It’s important that you learn your client’s needs, pain points, and goals so you can build your strategy accordingly. It’s just as critical that your client is familiar with your internal team, their expertise, and how they will work together to execute on that strategy.
During a kickoff or onboarding call, It’s always a good idea to discuss why you’re all meeting for the first time. This is a good opportunity to dig into the initial sales process: Why were you hired? What is the customer promise here? From there, it’s time to discuss how everyone delivers on that promise.
Understanding Your Client
I’ve worked in some very disparate product verticals. Even if my team and I marketed a similar product before, it’s still wise to ask your client about their teams, products, and processes. During your kick-off meetings, inquire to see if you can get introduced to the heads of the other teams you might not interact with regularly (e.g., product managers, content creators, sales managers) who can provide valuable perspective on the business and impact of marketing campaigns.
If you’re working with the marketing team and your KPIs are MQLs, perhaps request a call with the sales team to understand how they define an SQL. That way, you know what the downstream/down funnel effects of your work are, and how to set expectations across teams. Get to know the product team, too, so you have insights into what’s important in their world. Understanding what a company believes about its products and features can only help as you prepare to market it to potential customers.
Of course, before you can go to market, you need to define those KPIs. In a world of BI, data visualizations, and enough metrics to drown in, coming to an agreement with your client on the most important data points to focus on will set a strong foundation for your relationship and ongoing collaboration. And with KPIs in hand, you can begin formulating your strategy.
Introduce Your Team, Company, and Philosophy
At Portent, we have a set of defined values (which we self-review on) and a marketing stack that defines how we approach our work. These are the foundation for guiding our ongoing client relationships, and we share this information with clients right off the bat.
This introduction provides a basic understanding of our approach to digital marketing and provides a benchmark to revisit throughout a client engagement to reinforce why we may recommend specific channels and pivots in strategy. It sets our entire team up for successful conversations with the client in the months ahead.
2. Set Expectations!
This one is pretty straightforward. Once your client contacts have told you all about their business, you should certainly let them know how your company works most efficiently. The best relationships are based on understanding and trust. So if you’re upfront with a client on when and how you will communicate, you’re setting yourself and your team members up for success. However, it’s a two-way street here. A frank discussion on how you can meld the rhythms of two companies early on will pay dividends later.
3. Proactively Communicate
As I just noted, if you’re proactive in setting communication expectations with your client, you’ll be better for it. Start with talking through what your SLA is for getting a response out to a client touchpoint. Is it four hours? Eight hours? A day?
More often than not, my team responds pretty quickly to client requests. However, I’ll always reach out to PPC, paid social, SEO, and content specialists to confirm when they will be available to respond to a client question or request. From there, one of us can reach back out, letting the client know when we’ll have an answer for them.
Talk to your client about expectations when an emergency happens. You should know what your internal team can do in these situations to ensure that the client’s expectations are realistic. If there’s a gap, be sure to find a way to bring both sides to a resolution. When an emergency does arise, it’s on the account manager to determine what work may need to be waylaid as this unexpected task gets prioritized and to communicate about any changes with the team and the client.
Empower Your Strategists
As an account manager, I strive to empower my strategists to answer questions as they come in without checking with me first. At Portent, we pride ourselves on hiring superior communicators; once that initial rapport has been established, individual strategists are encouraged to respond directly to client requests. This builds confidence and strengthens the relationship between the client and our marketing team.
Do You Speak Client?
Your client has a language all their own. To you, a sales qualified lead might be a form fill or a phone call. Your client, on the other hand, may have specific metrics they use. As an example, a customer phone call may only be valid to them if the call duration is over 60 seconds. When you do get confirmation from the client that they’re only interested in that subset, be sure that you’re not wasting their time and your credibility reporting on unnecessary metrics.
This holds true for your custom reporting dashboards as well. Sure, you’ve got a killer template that you can base your reporting on. However, it really should be tailored to the KPIs they gave you previously. And if they didn’t give you any? Then it’s time to dig in again to see what’s important to their business. You have the data and can likely find a few points that should clearly illustrate the health of their marketing channels.
Learning your client’s language, and adapting your communication style accordingly will help build trust in both your communication and your strategy.
4. Connect the Dots
As mentioned above, let’s say your client is interested in calls originating from their website that were greater than 60 seconds in duration. Let’s also assume that you’re running paid search to this site that features call tracking.
You should be able to tell a story for both the client and your internal marketing specialists that starts at the top of the funnel with impressions, or at the very least clicks to their site. You will likely talk about how your costs per are affecting site visits. From there, you can transition to speaking in greater detail about clicks to the site. What’s the conversion rate of their page? How many calls have your efforts generated? What’s the cost per call, and what’s the ROI (if you know the average revenue per sale)? All of these items are important when telling the story of the primary KPI!
Obviously, connecting the dots should be tied to what’s important to the client. But there’s another side to this coin. During your reporting or check-in calls, be sure to call out all of the work your team is doing to move these KPIs in the right direction: A fun conversation to have!
Managing KPIs: Win, Lose, or Pivot
What if key metrics aren’t moving in the direction you wanted or at the velocity you envisioned? Then it’s time to revisit the work you’re doing and take a look at your implementation recommendations. From there, you can collaborate with the channel specialists to frame the conversation and next steps with your client.
Are you solely responsible for fulfillment of the work? If so, let them know what you did, where it ties into the marketing stack, and the expected outcomes. If you fell short or failed to execute on time, explain why that may have happened.
Does your work involve client input or involvement? If this is the case, regularly thank them for their help. At Portent, we understand that our clients have their own work in addition to approving and executing digital marketing recommendations. When things are going great, we make sure the client is getting credit for all of the help they provided us.
When things get delayed or held up on their end, however, it’s time for a different conversation. We’re all accountable to someone. As a vendor, we’re accountable for the work and to the client. Our client contacts are responsible for ensuring our internal team has what we need to continue to work toward our goals.
If you’re not getting it, it’s on you to find a way to ensure you do… or to pivot. Regardless, be sure to document your decision(s) with the right people. This includes detailing what the impact you foresee will be. If a particular part of the marketing stack will be affected, call this out, as well as where you may potentially alter your strategy. This transparency and straightforward information will not only protect your internal team and reinforce their expertise, but provide the data needed to make a decision and move forward. Once you have agreed on next steps, it’s full steam ahead!
It’s About Building Trust
As you work through your campaigns, be sure to circle back and take time to see how it went. Perhaps it’s a simple retrospective. What worked? What didn’t? Maybe you can run a full quarterly business review to talk through your wins, challenges, and opportunities. Not every campaign is going to be a winner, but win or lose, there’s some valuable insight to be shared. Agree with your client and team on what you learned and how you’ll incorporate changes into the next campaign.
If you, your team, and your client can all respect the work to be done, and the impact that being open and honest can have, then you have a strong foundation for building and evolving a marketing program.