My years in advertising taught me that account managers are the unsung heroes of every project.
Most job descriptions define account management as “part sales, part project manager, part support.” However it’s really “part ego management, part shit umbrella, part magician.” Sandwiched between the demands of the client and the limited resources of the agency, account management is no easy task.
The best account managers I’ve ever worked with find a way to flourish, despite such constantly exhausting circumstances. Here’s how they do it:
1. They ask questions
The worst account managers lack the confidence to admit that they don’t know everything. Instead, they try to look like they know everything: they sell to the clients without first diagnosing their problems. They try to directly copy what worked for previous projects.
Conversely, the elite account managers never stop asking their clients questions. They’re like detectives. They know that each situation is unique. By constantly probing and forming a comprehensive understanding of the client, they’re aware of all of their problems and pain points.
This makes the sales part of their job infinitely easier; when they pitch a solution or an added service, they know exactly who to sell to and what benefits to promote. They know how to take experiences from previous projects and apply it properly to new clients.
They know precisely who the decision makers are, who pulls the strings and how to get things done in the client’s organization.
All because they’re not afraid to ask lots of questions.
2. They over-communicate
The majority of account managers’ communications with their clients takes place over email and phone. With some projects, they never even get to be in the same room.
The best account managers know that it’s important to make up for this lack of face-to-face communication and compensate by over-communicating. They were always on point with status updates.
As a result of this over-communication, the client felt more confident that they had it under control. There were no surprises.
This also forced the account manager to be in constant sync with the production team. If something looked like it was going to be delivered late, even by a little bit, they could see it far in advance and properly set expectations for everyone.
3. They're industry experts
There’s no substitute for competence. The most inquisitive, over-communicating account manager won’t get anywhere if they don’t have a good awareness of their industry!
You can certainly get by as an account manager if you read major news like Mashable, PSFK and other industry blogs.
The elite account managers realize that everyone is reading the same blogs and same news, and you don’t become elite by doing what everyone else is doing.
They get their news from a variety of sources, and then combine their knowledge with their coworkers.
So they use tools like Google Alerts to monitor for specific phrases in their industry, which allows them to find sources other than what everyone else is reading.
They use internal mailing lists or tools like Pie to share best practices with their team.
Not only do they benefit from their own reading - they get to benefit from everyone else’s reading as well.
4. They stand up for their team
I’ve worked with account managers that did all of the above - smart, capable and curious. But they still made me want to pull my hair out.
That’s because they were basically “yes men” (and “yes women”) for the clients. Every time a client demanded something, it was like a military mandate. It had to be done, production schedules and budgets be damned!
Great account management involves an understanding that you are juggling two relationships: one with the client, and one with your production team.
So the best account managers always know how far the production team can be pushed, and when it’s time to back down. They understand that there will always be new clients and new projects, but the agency team stays the same.
5. They have high EQ
My favorite account managers did all the things like remember clients’ birthdays and buy drinks for the production team.
In addition to simply being a pleasure to be around, what they were really good at was ego management. These account managers sometimes found themselves in those unavoidable meetings with a million-dollar client and a senior person in your agency.
When politically outgunned, they used a deft combination of project management skills and emotional awareness to secure commitments and push things forward. They knew that sometimes stepping on toes was necessary, but also knew when to back down.
6. They’re ultra-prepared
The best account managers I’ve ever worked were experts in the art of the pre-meeting. Before every big meeting, they would separately catch up with the production team and the client.
They know that pre-meetings are necessary ingredients of successful project meetings.
In these pre-meetings, the account manager would share the meeting agenda and quickly check if there were any questions or issues.
This had several effects:
- Everyone showed up to the meeting on time
- There were no surprises in the meeting
- Everyone gained more confidence in the account manager
Elite account managers are ultra-prepared, pro-active and respect everyone’s time.
Account Managers are Unsung Heroes
I tip my hat to all the unsung heroes of the agency world: account managers. Behind every fantastic ad campaign, every press release and every media release are account managers that have gone under-appreciated. High-five your favorite account manager today.
The writer is Dillah Zakbal , a product manager at Pie.