The ability to engage in conversation with a range of different types of personalities is so important when it comes to securing a long, healthy client relationship.
Understanding personal details such as family, friends and hobbies is relevant from the very beginning. It helps to build trust, rapport and is the base for a client to feel comfortable talking to their Account Manager about any issues or concerns at any point of the relationship.
Of course, every business values their clients and ultimately, without clients there is no business. However, anybody who has experienced an agency environment before will know that clients are very much seen as ‘one of us’ and equally, a good Account Manager will ensure that Zazzle Media feel like an extension of their own wider team rather than a supplier.
By being an extension of the team, what we are striving to achieve is to ensure that the client can be completely open and honest with their Account Manager about all aspects of their campaign. Ultimately, we need to really understand their point of view but also know them well enough to understand when and how to push back.
Taking the time to ask your client what they did at the weekend, for example, helps you to begin building a detailed picture of what they like to do outside of work. You may even find that you have some common interests to then spark a natural conversation.
At the start of a scheduled call, asking a client how their day has been also helps to begin understanding their pain points and areas that you could really help with. It also ensures that the client feels you are showing an interest in their role and business. Genuinely, if you are fully invested in your role as an Account Manager, you will really care about these things and it does become second nature to make a point of asking these questions as part of your everyday conversation with a client.
Engaging in conversation about personal interests means you may have a common ground to relate to, or you can refer to details you have remembered later. This again shows a genuine interest in the client but also this attention to detail develops a greater trust and openness on both sides of the relationship.
So, what else should we know about our clients? Getting to know the wider business goals is super useful as it paints a really good picture about what an organisation is aiming to achieve longer term, outside of the campaign objectives provided at the start of the partnership. Decide on the account mission from day one - what do we want to achieve for the client and how can we help them to achieve their ambitions? Establishing when their financial year runs from and to will also help to prompt conversations where appropriate around the need to increase activity to reach these goals.
Establish a company family tree. Although you have a main contact, it is so important to get to know who the other key players are across the business. If your contact should leave the company, you need to know who to engage with and most importantly, if you have already been working on forming a liaison with other team members, it will be far more natural to include the relevant people in conversations about the account later.
As a general guide, you should know your main contact’s senior or manager, Directors/CMO/Board and your main contact’s assistants. It is crucial to ensure that you know more than one team member in any case and ultimately you need to be working towards really getting to know contacts at Director level. This is so useful when you are aiming to discuss certain aspects of the campaign at a later stage, and when the Directors may not have been involved from the start. In this case, ideas and recommendations can often be rejected if you have not managed to gain buy in from all levels of the business.
This also works the other way and it is equally as important that the client gets the opportunity to meet as many key members of the agency team working on the account as possible. Although the Account Manager is the key point of contact, introducing the wider team demonstrates full buy in from all involved and shows ‘real people’ which makes it a lot easier when discussing aspects of the campaign and referring to team members.
Again, as important as it is that you take the time to host a meeting at the client's premises to get a good feel for the industry and show passion and interest, it is just as valuable to invite the client over to the agency. As mentioned previously, agencies are generally fun, vibrant places and it is great to be able to portray this to the client and again show that there are real people working on the various teams, and that they can put faces to the names that are referred to on weekly call updates.
When approaching new opportunities with any client, it proves valuable to be able to reach out to more than one relevant contact in the team and have access to the right decision makers. Do you know who manages financial control and who the CEO is? This is all important information to note for future reference and when handling specific situations.
When putting together a key contact relationship analysis, there are certain aspects aside from job title which will prove advantageous later. For example, length of service with current employer provides you with a good idea of knowledge level and whether there could be a requirement to get to know a more senior contact. Hand in hand with this comes contractual responsibility – are they responsible for overseeing the campaign and the day to day operation of the account or do they work with other brands within the group, for example? Do they have ultimate influence over the contract terms?
Equally, finding out professional aspirations will help to ascertain whether they are likely to be with the company for a particular length of time. Is this a job for life or do they have ambitions to move on? What were they doing prior to this role? This information also helps to create a good profile on their experience and areas which they may need more support with. Again, this is a great way to work on becoming seen as that additional member of their team.
Thinking outside the box for clients is important in helping their business to move forward and strive to improve on performance and results year on year. Constantly revisiting their professional aspirations will ensure that you are always working with the relevant internal teams to keep the campaign strategy on track with longer term goals for the client contact and business as a whole. Become as determined as the client is to achieve the same goals as they are striving for.
What about entertainment? Agencies are cool, fun, quirky organisations and the culture is a great part of working with one. No two clients are the same and attitudes to agency entertainment really do differ across the board. Spending the time to put in the groundwork from day one makes it far easier as the partnership progresses to know whether your client will be receptive to lunch, drinks or a particular gift that is personal to their interests.
Sometimes, sitting down over lunch with a client in a relaxed atmosphere outside a meeting is one of the most effective ways to have an open discussion. Again, it also demonstrates the agency's desire to really get to understand the client and their aspirations for the business as well as on a more personal level.
If a client is not keen on agency entertainment, it really shouldn’t be forced. Find out specifically what they would love or know when this is not appropriate. It’s not for everyone, so figure out if there are other areas you can support in, such as professional development support, for example.
Engagement across email is equally as important, if not more so, than face to face communication. Putting points across electronically can sometimes be difficult to interpret in terms of the tone of voice and intention. With this in mind, it is important that attention to detail is taken into account when composing an email and mirroring the same language used when speaking via phone or face to face with specific clients.
Again, refer to the relationship you have begun to build and understand how individual clients prefer being spoken to. Some prefer to skip over the small talk and head straight into the facts whereas others appreciate a simple, ‘how's your day going?’ as an opening gambit.
Similarly, if the client has emailed with a question which requires a little more investigation, ensure that you respond with a placeholder email so that they have confidence that the issue is being looked into. Keeping that communication constantly going means that the client shouldn’t really have a reason to be chasing their Account Manager for a response.
There are common barriers that, if not handled correctly, can result in client/agency relationship issues. Good engagement begins from the very start with a full onboarding meeting with the client to ensure that they have had an introduction to their Account Manager and to establish structure from the very beginning. Regular communication is such a key element in harnessing a solid relationship and it is easy to overlook how important maintaining regular scheduled calls can be.
Set out a recurring calendar appointment for a fortnightly or weekly call depending upon the size of the client and stick to it. Most importantly, ensure that the client is completely sold into how important it is to keep to the update calls; once you are out of synch it can be very difficult to rekindle the relationship and important aspects can get missed.
Once the call structure has been arranged, devise a generic agenda specific to the client covering all aspects that are pertinent to the campaign success. Always follow up a call update with the key takeaways from the discussion and clear action points for both parties.
Keeping a contact report in one central place such as Google Docs is ideal to ensure that everybody involved in the campaign can have visibility of points discussed which ensures the relationship is tightened further.
Body language is another important factor when considering engagement with a client. Although the majority of communication will be carried out over email or on the phone, meeting a client in person is such an important part of Account Management and developing relationships. As with organisation of a scheduled call structure, ensuring regular meetings are in the diary from the beginning of the partnership will keep consistency going.
When attending a client meeting, there are several things you can do to increase engagement too. Where you position yourself in a boardroom for a meeting is the first point to consider. Ensure that you are facing your client and able to address everybody in the room effectively without appearing too domineering. Aligning your body with the person you are talking to shows that you are fully engaged with the conversation. We know that mirroring body language is a useful way to break any potential communication barriers and helps to relax the situation. Again, doing your groundwork prior to a meeting will enable you to be aware of any differing cultural greetings and closures.
Another key point to remember is to listen! Although you are leading the meeting, it is so important to listen to your client without interrupting them. Encouraging open communication face to face with a client sets a good precedent for feedback to be delivered later and always acknowledge a client for being open.
Something we have touched upon earlier, is to remember details of the conversation. When you next meet with the client, they will know that you have paid attention and taken on board the smaller details.
Once you have harnessed a positive and solid relationship with a client, you need to be thinking about how you can help them to grow and exceed their goals and campaign objectives. Helping a client to progress is about spotting opportunities for growth and this extends to the wider team as well. Client champions in each department should actively be looking for ways in which we can help clients to excel.
Introducing new product or service offerings needs to be at the right time and this stems from getting the structure spot on from the beginning while developing your client plan and gathering snippets of useful information which builds a client story. Only at this point will it feel right to put forward suggestions for additional activity and having an open discussion about it.
Remember, this is by no means a ‘hard sell’ and for this reason, Account Managers are the best placed members of the team to approach clients with new angles and ideas whether it be increasing campaign activity or jumping on a one-off creative PR opportunity, for example. When the client and Account Manager relationship works, it is a completely natural part of the partnership to have such conversations. The outcome here is driving performance forward for the client which can only be a good thing and therefore strengthening client retention moving forward.
Keep score in your client plan of how you feel the strength of the relationship is progressing, and ensure you keep this up to date after significant calls or meetings. Keep track of all notable areas which need more focus and particular small details which will impress a client later on when they have recognised that you have been paying attention to snippets of information. In doing this, you can begin to establish successful, long-term relationships to add strategic value by aligning plans and overall thinking to their specific business objectives.
You can log all the information and detail attained throughout the course of the relationship in a client plan template for each client and keep these updated after every notable call, meeting or email conversation. Updating the details at key moments will ensure you are clear on the required actions and provide a central location to refer to whenever you need to.
In summary, client engagement is not just about sending out performance reports and monthly activity plans. Taking the time to really get to know a client beyond their role or job title is crucial in cementing a long-lasting relationship.
To really nail engagement, you need to position yourself as an extension of the client's wider team and become the ‘go-to’ both internally and externally.
Create a client plan and keep this updated with any changes in staff, responsibility or personal information that you gather throughout the partnership.
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