Here is my Ultimate Guide to Key Account Management. I’ve broken this down in to 54 tips and techniques to achieve success for your accounts. This isn’t by any means comprehensive, nor is it an order of priority, it simply exists as a working document to help you improve your Account Management techniques.
This guide was originally created to assist our teams at novi with improving account management. The aim was to assist in ensuring elevated levels of client retention and to help achieve success. I thought it too beneficial to keep within the walls of novi, hence why I’m sharing this as a blog post. Most importantly, this guide has been created to try ensure that you have a happier existence as an account manager, by providing you with the tools to achieve success in building rapport, commercial knowledge, predicting and prevent issues and being more creative in terms of innovation and ideas.
12 Manners and Etiquette
20 Commercial Awareness
21 Supply and Demand
24 Expectation setting
25 Customer service
32 Upselling / Cross-selling
35 Risk awareness
41 Stakeholder Management
42 Client Requirements
46 Poor Performance
50 Time Management
What is this document
This is not a defined process, as I would have to write up a complex diagram if this were the case, nor is it a checklist, as each client is different. Instead this document is a guide that you can choose from depending upon the situation. If you choose to use it as a checklist, it won’t be as effective, as you may end up going over points that aren’t necessary as the relationship may have already passed the point where such interaction is required. Use this document to provide yourself with the tools you need and to tune your judgment so that you know what to do when the situation arises.
The number one most important metric when it comes to key account management is retention. Longer-term clients are generally easier to manage as they know you and trust you, sometimes implicitly. Newer clients often take more management time, especially as the relationship needs time to grow. With this in mind, retention is of the utmost importance if you are to grow and achieve scale.
Relationships matter! People buy from the people and most importantly, people buy from people that they like, thus every transaction with people is in some way a relationship. With any relationship you need to form a bond, the stronger the bond and more bonds there are, the better the relationship will be. In short, you must form bonds with your clients in order to succeed.
Before you begin, you must understand that people buy from people. Specifically, people buy from people they like. Fundamentally, the client is buying a service and you are delivering the service. As a key account manager, it is crucial that you take pride in clients enjoying doing business with you. You are the face of the company when it comes to the client, so it is essential that you embrace the company culture and instill the company values throughout everything that you do.
Once you have an understanding that in order to be an effective account manager you must first focus in interaction and relationships, it is then absolutely vital that you know the services we provide as a company. With this said, it is not simply sufficient to just know what we do, you must know your company history and what has led your company to this point, you must also know our service offering and what makes your company and service offering unique. You must also be able to explain and showcase knowledge has exactly our service can be tailored to suit the needs and requirements of the client.
Be cutting edge! This means keeping up-to-date with the latest trends in our industry and outside of it. Ensure that you not only read the industry blogs and publications, but also follow business and industry publications in general so that you are keeping up-to-date with the changes happening within the client’s industry.
A factor in ensuring continued learning is to surround yourself with people who know more than you. It’s like buying the most expensive house on the street, there’s nowhere to go with price. If you own the most expensive house on the street, if others sell for more it’s not likely to improve your price, but if you own the lowest cost house on the street and others sell for more, then yours is worth more. Being the smartest person in the room isn’t always a good thing. It can mean that you are unlikely to improve your learning. A person can be extremely knowledgeable about one area but not necessarily another, so learn from those that are in your industry, but also those that are not. That is where you’ll gain the edge.
First impressions count. They say that a high proportion of employees that stay with a company for a number of years are influenced significantly by the first 24-hours within the company. The same can be said for relationships, whether personal or professional.
How do you begin? Introduce yourself with a smile, lower your guard but remain professional. Every mannerism, each word and all behaviours influence the relationship. It’s like when you visit a place for the first time or experience something new, your mind is processing everything. When you meet people, you are judging every aspect. Just as you are judging the client, they are judging you. The difference is that they are paying, so this is the time to set the standard. Ask yourself, does the client feel the need to dictate the terms or is this is a service where the respect is both ways. If the client is dictating, then this often infers that aren’t acknowledging your skill-sets and knowledge. As a consequence, this often results in the client leading the direction. Clients want to feel that they can count on you for guidance and direction, after all they are paying your company for expertise. This expertise means that you need to lead.
Get to know the client as best possible. Some people do not like to have ‘small talk’, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot make a conversation happen. Ask questions. By asking as many on-point relevant questions as you can, you are allowing the other person to talk. It also places you in a position of power, as you’ll be in possession of knowledge and insight. By asking questions, you will get information that the client may not likely give to anyone else.
Repeat information back to the client, it proves that you are listening. Additionally, it also helps you to remember it. If they mention something earlier in the conversation, take a note of this and refer back to it again later in the meeting. This little technique helps you to wrap your points into theirs, providing affirmation that what they said was important enough for you to listen to and remember. In turn, they will listen to you and respect what you are saying, after all that is what you are looking for.
On the flip-side, you want clients to ask you questions, it proves that they are interested in you. With this said, you should not feel a need to rush in to answer questions straight away. Take your time and clarify. Asking for further information is not likely to make you look like you do not know, especially when you phrase it in a way that portrays you as wanting to provide the best quality of answer.
When you speak, read the recipient, and be prepared to stop if their reaction is less than optimal. The solution to this isn’t to talk more, it’s to find out what has gone wrong. There’s a chance that they didn’t understand you, or perhaps they just found it boring.
If you aren’t sure that they understand, ask a question that means that they needed to have listened to and understood what you were saying.
When requesting to speak with a client, by presenting two options means that they have to pick one of the two. This becomes an either / or question rather than an if / when question. Clients can often be difficult to pin down to a phone call or meeting, so by suggesting one of two options, say 12 noon today or 3pm tomorrow, you are providing one of two options. Suggest different times and different days as they may have routine days, but always ask for an alternative should they have a preference and work toward their availability. Showing a willingness to accommodate will likely result in a reciprocation.
There is little harm in clients being made aware that you have other tasks, this infers that you are in-demand and can be used as a good thing if done properly. The key thing is making the client feel special, as though they are your number one priority, but without them taking liberties. You need to position yourself in a way that they value your time rather than can simply demand it.
Set your communication plan in advance, if you don’t then clients will email you at any time they feel. If you have a predefined schedule for communications, then often clients will hold out to send you queries. This will be a lot easier to manage.
If a client sends you multiple communications in several emails, then amalgamate these in to a single reply, this will not only make it easier to manage, but if you explain that this is better for both parties, then they are unlikely to do so again. Keep doing this until it becomes routine. The client will then think about whether it is worth your time before asking you a small query that is unlikely to have a big impact.
Move beyond the “hourly update” and give them an update in full and align this to the strategy.
Do you remember a conversation where you switched off because it wasn’t relevant? I think that we can all remember a time when this has happened. Why did you switch off? It’s likely because you weren’t interested, or perhaps it is because you perceived the conversation to be less important than what you were thinking about. Both are aspects that you need to content with, but how do you remedy this?
Tell relevant short stories that have a purpose. Stories can be a solution to both of the relevancy problems mentioned above, but not just any old story. To make this easier for yourself, find out what the client is interested in, then try to relate your stories to suitable and relevant analogies that allow the client to understand more easily.
People understand stories more easily than abstract concepts as it enables them to visualise and contextualise what you are trying to say in a way that is familiar to them. By associating what you are trying to teach them with something they know to have meaning, especially something with they know to create positive feelings for them, then you are enabling that association to be a positive one also.
Personalise your interaction, no-one likes to be just a statistic. You remember most those experiences when you feel important and like you are the centre of attention, like there is no-one else around. I do not know anyone who does not like the VIP treatment, even those that don’t like to be in the spotlight.
As a leading supermarket used to say (and possibly still does), “every little counts”. Referencing the earlier section, first impressions count, so with this in mind, the personalisation of the first line of an email can make a response significantly more likely. A simple tip for being able to do so, is as simple as asking about their plans for the weekend. By asking a generic, not intrusive question, the client can go in to as much or as little detail as they like. Based on the answer, this allows you to open up your email the following week by asking about their recent experience and adding an additional viewpoint (you can Google it if you need and reference something factually relevant to their experience). Additionally, it also allows an opening to talk about your experiences and enable them to ask about you.
By making comment on some common ground, this not only allows the person opportunity to reply and make comment also, but it means that you can start to drop in other aspects whilst you have them engaged.
Manners and Etiquette
Do not interrupt, even if you are keen to speak, allow your memory to serve you well and remember what you want to say. This is a really important point as although you may think that your passion is overriding from your perspective.
Take notes on everything, using a pen and notebook, not a phone laptop or tablet. If you need to make a point, there is little harm in pulling the conversation back to an earlier part.
Understand that their moral values may not always be exactly the same as yours but finding common ground often helps.
Fundamentally, everyone wants to be treated with respect, so speak as you wish to be spoken to. Respect is earned once it is granted, so make sure you give respect to your clients first and foremost. Respect takes time and needs to be proven through actions.
Make sure that you use professional courtesy and ensure that you implement the correct etiquette for the situation throughout every interaction you have.
Meetings are a great opportunity for multiple engagement points and reading people. If you know that they are inviting two people, then take two people. You always want to be able to mirror. You can always have two people attend to one at their end, but just be sure that one person leads and know when and who should be speaking when.
Always circulate an agenda before and circulate minutes after, this ensures that everyone is on the same page.
As with calls, think about your pace and certainly don’t rush. By rushing it can seem as though you are nervous. Although you may see this as passion and interest as you get excited in the topic, this can easily be misconstrued as haste because you have more important things to do. This leaves the client feeling dissatisfied and unimportant.
Prepare your meeting in advance, arrive early and visualise the outcome of a successful meeting then work backwards to paint a mental picture of how you get there. It can often be helpful to get this visualisation out of your mind by taking pen to paper to map out what success looks like.
Don’t go straight into the meeting from another call, this results in you blurring the events together making them seem insignificant. This can also mean that you take any stress or other emotions with you from one meeting to another. Whilst this is great if it is positivity, this can mean that you misjudge the tone of the meeting. For this very reason, don’t plan back-to-back meetings. It is very easy for meetings and calls to overrun (even with the best laid plans).
Speaking of planning, if you don’t have a plan, you can look very disorganised and this doesn’t bode well from a client perspective.
With this said, don’t dismiss information or suggestions from a client, even if you think that they aren’t necessarily good. Acknowledge the idea, give credit, but explain why it might not work in a tactful way, taking out part of the suggestion and connecting it to an idea that is more likely to achieve success. By doing so, you are encouraging the client to get on board with your idea by thinking that it is partially their idea. There is often very little harm in attributing credit to a client as long as they associate you with the successful outcome.
Don’t rush through to the next agenda item like a checklist. Give the client opportunity to clarify that they understand fully and ask questions, or if you would prefer to do so in a Q a& A session please ask the client to take a note and explain you’ll go through this at the end, but most importantly, set the expectation at the beginning. A client will more often than not conform to the way that you wish to operate, but you must ensure that you explain how you want things to work ahead of time.
Admit openly if you are running to a schedule but do so at the beginning and set out the agenda. If you wait to the end and try rush in order to avoid the difficult conversation of a lack of time, this will lead you to rush the end of the meeting.
It is always the start and the end that people remember and the rest is simply filler, this is why movies start and end with such climatic scenes. This isn’t to say that the rest of your meeting can be poor, in fact quite the opposite, but
Speaking of things to remember, do something that stands out.
It is vital that you paint a picture for the future. People want to be inspired. It’s not what you know, people likely know the same if not more, it’s how you approach with innovation. As Captain Cook had to inspire his crew to join him on his mission of discovery to Australia and New Zealand, Key Account Managers must inspire their clients to continue to stay with them on the journey, even when there are crashing waves and the weather is inclement.
By keeping your eyes on the prize, you continue with sheer determination to reach your goal. In order to ensure high retention rates, which in my opinion is one of the most important metrics, if not THE most important metrics with Key Account Management, then you must learn what success looks like for the client and remind them of this when times are hard and performance doesn’t look good. It’s all about weathering the storm.
Sometimes the client doesn’t know what success looks like and in cases like this it is your responsibility to educate them by painting a picture and inspiring them as to the unknown that exists over the horizon yet to be seen. Many people are scared of the unknown, the great thing about the unknown is the lessons that you learn on the journey and that the possibilities are endless. What you know is finite, what you are yet to know is infinite. Focus on the positive outcomes rather than simply the risks. I reference risks and how to manage and mitigate later in this document.
Clients have to like you to doing business with you. Why would this be the case? Either they see something in you that reminds them of themselves, you provide something that they don’t have, or you can bring something else to the table. Perhaps it’s a combination of all three or something else altogether.
Think about why you are friends with someone. What do they bring to your life? Whilst Key Account Management isn’t wholly friendship as there is an element of business mixed in, there is still a significant need for friendship. You spend most of your time at your place of employment, of that time, when you are a key account manager, much of this time is spent liaising with several people. After a number of days, weeks, months and years a bond is formed between you and your client.
Think about this situation from the perspective of you as the customer. Why do YOU stay with a service? Think of a service you use consistently, whether this is a supermarket, a subscription service or a brand with products you particularly like, you stay with the brand or company because of a multitude of reasons.
Why do YOU buy from these companies? Is it one or more of the following?
- Saving Time
- Saving Money
- Reputation of the company / referral from others
- Image / Perception from others
- Quality / Reliability
- Something else entirely?
Reflecting on this, ask yourself, why are your clients buying from you and from our company? Are you capitalising on this? If not, why not?
Referenced on this page: http://www.customerexperienceinsight.com/why-customers-buy-why-they-dont/, a study has concluded that more than 80% of the responses mentioned these Account Management practices were delivered by the Account Manager:
- Listened and responded to my needs. They didn’t sell me the service, but instead aimed to solve my problem.
- Presented solutions honestly and simply, in an easy to understand why. They didn’t try to over-complicate or look better by putting down the competition.
- Following up faithfully. Staying in contact; returning phone calls and emails in an agreed and reasonable time-frame.
- They really got to know my company as well as the product / service.
- Persistence/regular contact without being pushy – This is where frequency is key, as is language. Don’t say the same thing, if it’s not working change it and say it in a different way until you obtain a response. Frequency isn’t being pushy, it’s the language used that is being pushy. Being forceful is key, doing so by selling the benefit, fear of missing out and focusing on the outcomes.
- Demonstration of value. Understanding the difference between features and benefits in order to effectively demonstrate the value.
These are the things customers hope to achieve and avoid most:
- Gains, profit, productivity, performance, convenience, quality and consistency.
- Less hassle, fewer mistakes, shorter time-frame for results.
Put yourself in the shoes of the customer / client and see the entire situation from their perspective. It isn’t just the benefits that you need to see, but the hindrances, risks and entire situation. Why do they need your services and why should they use you?
By way of example, prospects are often afraid of making a buying mistake and of getting stuck with something they don’t want / need. A recent study showed that desire for gain has a motivational power of 1.0, compared to fear which has a negative motivational force of 2.5.
That means that prospects are more motivated to buy if they feel they’re going to lose something by not buying than they are in anticipation of the benefits they will enjoy if they do buy.
The best sales presentations show prospects how much better off they will be if they buy and, simultaneously how much worse off they will be if they don’t. In other words, customer problems and acceptable solutions are at the heart of every sales presentation.
That’s sufficient coverage of the psychology of buying. Before moving on to Commercial Awareness, I want you to think about why Sales isn’t to be seen as a negative. In a previous post, I explained that Sales has often been seen as having negative connotations. I believe that this is due to people seeing sales as being sold something you don’t want and that you chose to buy something and thus to don’t need to be sold to. Instead, good sales and marketing alike, such as the SEO and PPC services that we provide, accentuate the need / want and enable to find what the searchers are looking for more easily with a broader range of options. This is how you should see good account management, a facilitation of an easier service. Sales is just this, a facilitation of something people need or want.
There are many articles that seem to suggest commercial awareness is simply knowing the company and their clients (such as this article: https://www.wikijob.co.uk/content/interview-advice/competencies/commercial-awareness), however, Commercial Awareness, is so much more than this. To have commercial awareness, you must start by understanding the business in question and thus business owners desire to run a business to make money. Without revenue and most importantly, profit, there’s not only little point in having the company and offering the services, but the company won’t be able to sustain itself.
Supply and Demand
The more important question from my perspective is “Do you understand Supply VS Demand?”, Just because you can supply a service or a product, it does not mean that you should. There needs to be a substantial-enough demand for the product or service to warrant existing as a provider within the market.
An ideal market (from my perspective) is a niche that forms part of an extra-large market (upwards of £100’s of Millions per year at a minimum). Within this market there must be very few competitors. The fewer competitors the better. If there are big players in the market this is perfectly acceptable. Big companies find it difficult to pivot, they are not agile like smaller companies and whilst many large companies are attempting to innovate it is inherently much more difficult to do so. In small teams there are fewer restrictions and fewer people to ask permission or justify to
You do not need to always stick to the plan, but you should always have a plan! This should be a breakdown of the strategy that states exactly what you plan to achieve and how you plan to do so. Please note that the plan is not the strategy, nor is the strategy the plan. A Strategy is separate to this and I shall explain this in further detail below. The plan should expand upon the detail of the strategy and the specifics as to how the objectives outlined within the strategy are going to be achieved. This allows for the plan to change whilst the strategy remains the same. Having a flexible plan means that the structure remains intact, the goals remain a constant and everyone remains on the same page.
In order to create a strategy, you must firstly understand their needs, what they have done before and what they are most focused on. You need to establish what success looks like for them and most importantly you need to continue to provide value.
Providing value once isn’t sufficient, you need to continue to do so repeatedly. In sports, you need to win consistently to become a world champion, not just the once. With this said, you cannot just simply continue to win at the same level, you need to keep winning at an increasing difficult level. In account management, this is necessary because clients can become complacent, it’s not necessarily a crime, but it does mean that your ideas and innovation need to be bigger and better than before. This happens because they become accustom to a level of performance and expect more. The same happens with salaries, when people often leave within their means, when they get an increase in salary, often they increase their expenditures when they lived perfectly well before. The client should be perfectly happy to maintain the same performance, but this isn’t sufficient, you must constantly strive for better. This can be mitigated through correct expectation management; however, this is deeply ingrained so needs to be carefully considered.
Whenever producing an output for a client always give a deadline, even if it’s speculative. Avoid saying open statements such as ‘I’ll have this to you soon’ or “I will send this across ASAP”, as to you this may mean a couple of weeks and to the client it may mean a day or even a few hours. Always state specific deadlines that you can adhere to and make sure you set yourself sufficient reminders using your calendars or other forms of automated reminder.
Make sure you have explained to clients exactly what they should receive and when. Send an example of what they can expect before you begin so that you don’t end up working on something that doesn’t align to their expectations. If this isn’t possible then break down the deliverables into key points.
If you had a restaurant, then happy customers would result in positive trip advisor reviews, equally unhappy customers leave bad trip advisor reviews. Many people leave negative reviews, but how do you incentivize people to leave positive reviews? You can’t force them, but you can entice them with a discount off their next visit, however, there’s no guarantee of a positive review.
Food is tricky, there’s the risk of ingredients being slightly different, different chefs, many other factors. Customers can just be rude, many wouldn’t understand if.an oven was broken or the chef was ill and off work, they just expect you to sort it because they are a paying customer and thus entitled to be treated like the king or queen. Is your £10 to £100 worth being rude to someone? At what point is it acceptable? It isn’t, so always work on providing the best possible customer service that you are able to give.
A common issue is that tasks can be missed from emails. Be sure to allocate time to recheck your emails, but more importantly, use email inbox structuring that works by flagging emails and categorising them. You should even set calendar reminders or schedule emails to be sent for tasks that require follow-ups, whether this is to remind yourself to do a task, or even to chase up a client or colleague.
Whilst your memory can serve you well and as I mentioned earlier, you should be using this to retain information during meetings to prove you are listening, don’t try and retain everything in your short-term memory as a way to manage your time. Instead, the better and more successful solution is to use tools such as software to help manage your time more efficiently.
Map out your week and prepare in advance. You need to know what success looks like and visualise it, otherwise you will coast through the week and you’ll inevitably work on the things that you didn’t mean to and those tasks that don’t have the biggest impact.
Success doesn’t have to mean you complete everything, so don’t try to achieve everything. It is better for you to complete one task 100% successfully, than to undertake 10 tasks at 10% completion.
This is quite possibly the most powerful skill you can have when it comes to key account management. Work on improving this skill at every opportunity. Intuition isn’t ‘gut feel’, it is built on knowledge and experience. Train your intuition by making able to make quick decisions that can be easily substantiated if you need to do so.
Put simply, mistakes happen. It is not that a mistake has happened that defines you, but rather how you deal with that mistake.
Dealing with mistakes openly, transparently, and professionally gets you respect and recognition. As I often say, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. If you’ve made a mistake, then it means that you’ve attempted to do something to the best of your ability. If you have made a mistake, then it means that you’ve also learned a lesson. Those that tend to succeed the most are those that learn the quickest from their mistakes.
To achieve a successful outcome, you need to be sure that you deal with the situation head-on and not avoid dealing with a resolution straight away. The sooner that you rectify then the sooner a successful outcome will be achieved.
How can you ensure a successful outcome? There isn’t just one way to deal with an issue, as there could be many factors at play, however, my advice would be to inform the client as soon as possible, explaining the situation and stating that you are currently working on a solution. If you can resolve the issue quickly, then proceed to do so and inform them once done, but ensure firstly that this can be achieved promptly without delay and do not avoid informing the client if you aren’t able to rectify immediately. Honesty is always the best policy. When you are not able to rectify and need to explain that time is required to rectify, make sure you explain what happened and what is going to be done, as well as providing an apology. Make sure that you have a potential solution before replying as you need to show that you are knowledgeable about both the problem and the solution.
If you aren’t able to give an expected time-frame for completion (and most certainly don’t do so if you aren’t 100% certain), then always keep the client informed as to progress updates frequently, even if there is no real change.
Is everything you are doing leading to progress. As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is to do something repeatedly and expect a different outcome. If something isn’t working then stop doing it, if the processes or procedures aren’t conducive to a favourable outcome then question the process and stop doing it. After all, the only point in doing anything is to achieve progress, not simply to maintain the status quo.
Feedback allows you to gain a perspective on how they understand the situation to be. Ensure to get satisfaction survey feedback at every opportune moment. If you think that the client doesn’t have time, then ask a simple open question that allows them to provide you with quick feedback at every moment of change within the relationship. By asking an open question this allows the client to provide as much or as little feedback as they desire.
After all, a successful relationship results in you finding satisfaction in the progress being made and leaves the client wanting more from you and the company.
Upselling / Cross-selling
As mentioned earlier, sales isn’t about selling something to someone that they don’t need. A good account manager will be able to review the client account and see complementary services to help benefit the clients existing services. After all, the more services that a client has with your company the better they will perform and the more benefit they will see as a result of your services.
Not only is it important to document everything, but you should also ensure to read all documents related to the client. These can be documents that they have provided to you, or that were already held on file.
Read the documentation in detail and pick out salient points. Just like when you are meeting with a client or on a client call taking notes. When reading documentation provided by the client, as you would an exam question, learn to interpret the question that is really being asked and the outcome that is really being sought.
It is not sufficient to scan through it immediately prior to the meeting. Take your time, understand the client, get to know them.
Does it matter if you’ve done something if you can’t prove it? Some may argue that it doesn’t. In our case it does, and I shall explain why. If performance goes badly, then you need to prove that the work has been done to help mitigate this. This helps you to explain that it may just be a matter of time before things improve and helps you paint a picture for what good looks like.
All contracts have a tick box that requests for carte blanche approval or individual task / item approval prior to implementation. Ensure that you have checked these prior to proceeding. If neither have been ticked, then you must seek written approval on one of these options. If the latter is chosen, then explain that this will likely cause delays and if this is stated as the only option then always get written approval before proceeding to implement.
In every situation you must always document your progress. This is essential if you have to evidence work due to mistakes (perceived or actual), cancellations or requests for progress updates. By retaining evidence, this can be used as a way to substantiate your efforts and prove to the client that you are doing everything that has been promised.
Without any evidence, there is no recourse for chasing outstanding balances, nor defending yourself if a mistake happens. This is especially important when you have done everything promised and the mistake or issue is outside of your control.
As a key account manager, you should focus on being risk aware rather than risk averse. Risk avoidance can be a major hindrance, as sustainable progress can be more common in those who take risks and do things differently compared to those who remain doing the same thing constantly irrespective of outcome.
With this said, calculations need to be done to mitigate risk and ensure that damage and liability is limited. Risks can be taken as long as they can justified and the positive outcome outweighs the negative ramifications by a long way.
To succeed at key account management, you need to firstly believe in your own judgment, be confident and have conviction in your ideas and recommendations. Before having ideas and making recommendations you must firstly know the client, their business and their industry. There is a different between having confidence and having confidence, being that you can be have a feeling of confidence but not necessarily have firmly held beliefs. Make sure to have conviction when putting forward ideas to clients. To have conviction, you need to believe it, so make sure you have done your homework and prepare accordingly.
I’m sure that we’d all love to be able to see into the future. In truth it is not quite as difficult as one might think. Every action influences a change and whilst you cannot control the exact outcome, as there are simply too many variables, you can significantly guide the outcome to be favourable. It is not black and white, yes or no, in such situations, it might be that you can influence part of the outcome to be favourable, or that you can a proportion of your desired results rather than everything. It might also mean that you get one step closer to getting there but require a little more work.
What do I mean by foresight? In the case of key account management, you need to be able to know what the outcome will be before something happens. Let’s take something as simple as requesting a change to be made to the client’s website, with the request being sent on an email to the client. This request will have a consequence, they might be confused, concerned, irritated or another reaction altogether. This reaction will cause them to respond in a particular way.
In real world terms, you need to pre-empt the response of the client with any communication that you carry out. By pre-empting and adding a response in your communication this saves further communication and confusion down the line. Think in advance about their reaction and anticipate this with a response to the most likely scenarios.
It’s not just about dealing with issues in the moment. Pre-empt them before they happen.
Always make time to learn! If there is one thing that sticks in my mind as being my most prominent life lesson so far, it is that the older I get the more I realise little amount of knowledge I have compared to what is possible to know. Dedicate at least 5% of your time to learning, split your learning between topics related to your day-to-day role and topics that are not. Whilst it is good to expand upon your existing knowledge, it is often the contrasting knowledge that you gain that gives you additional perspectives and a more well-rounded approach.
By learning about other topics, environment, education, languages being just a few examples, you can take ideas and information from different areas of life and apply them to your area of work. It is this that gives you the edge as you create a different viewpoint and see what others miss.
I’ve worked in over 20 different jobs prior to starting novi, what this has given me is a range of perspectives on situations other than just my own views and experiences. What experiences do you have that have enabled you to have a unique perspective? Are there experiences that you can apply to your accounts that you may have thought were not directly relevant?
I learned early on in my career that you have to work hard and likely for a very long time, so there’s very little point in spending your days doing something you don’t enjoy. I understand this, avoiding people means doing things the way you want, without any negativity.
In every job I have had, the one consistent thing is people are at the crux of everything you do.
Without other people everything falls down, most of us are inherently programmed to want to be around others, at least some of the time. We rely on our colleagues to fill the knowledge gaps we lack; we rely on providers to assist with the areas we aren’t proficient in, lastly, we rely on customers and clients to buy from us.
The last point is the most important when it comes to commerce. If there is no transaction, then we have no business. If there is no way to make money, then we have no business and if there are no people then there is no business.
Many people want a passive income, one that doesn’t other involve people, but this isn’t possible. People is the constant throughout any business. They are integral to doing business, without them there is no business. Even someone with a remotely-located or isolated job requires people.
Fundamentally, you need to understand that it is your ability to communicate with other people that defines your success. Just like expectation management, the ability to manage people is one of the key factors in successful relationships.
You should consciously decide whether or not to include the decision-makers in the communication. If you do not, then your point-of-contact can easily omit or fail to translate or report updates, requirements and requests to the decision-makers. Interestingly this can mean that the key stakeholders aren’t aware of everything that you are doing directly from our agency and as a result may be seeing only part of the picture, or worse, they may be being incorrectly influenced by a point-of-contact. We have known of instances where the point-of-contact at the client has chosen to blame our agency for mistakes that they have made. It isn’t always the case that results are positive, however, as always, we ensure that we are taking all of the possible steps to be proactive and put forward ideas and solutions to increase performance. With this said, if you don’t personally include the key stakeholders in communications then when performance is poor (which does happen temporarily on occasion), then they might just see the results and panic. Instead, you need to be proactive and include them at all possible opportunities.
Some clients say that they do not want to be updated. This simply isn’t true in many cases. Sometimes clients say that they want you to just get on with the work and let you know after it has been done, this isn’t necessarily true either and I shall explain why this doesn’t work.
Clients that say this tend to assume that everything will go exceptionally well all the time, they also often assume that you know everything about their business that they know and that in the small amount of detail provided that you understand everything that there is to know in order for the campaigns to be successful.
If you are unsure as to what to include the client in on, ensure to copy in the key stakeholders / decision-maker(s) on all impactful communications. This should include any positive improvements and/or any requests for approval or chasing of updates.
If and when you have accidentally forgotten to reply or been delayed for a particular reason, do not say that you are busy with other things, it comes across that the client or contact hasn’t been a high enough priority and seems disrespectful. Instead, apologise and explain, then focus on the future. Clients are normally accommodating that situations happen and so they should be, life happens to them also and they would expect the same consideration if they were in your shoes. With this said, you should also be accommodating and understanding if they are delayed in getting back to you, offering any assistance with ways in which you could accommodate to make their life easier. This is where scheduled communications are most effective, as it focuses the client and makes them deem you as important and worth their time.
I shall reiterate at this point to always read your emails and think about what you say from the perspective of the recipient.
There’s a balancing act of understanding the needs of the client and making suggestions too early in the process. By making recommendations to soon you risk jumping to conclusions / suggestions before you fully understand the needs (as you could pitch the wrong idea / solution), so make sure to ask questions and listen more than you speak, especially early on. You need to understand what success looks like to them and what they have done so far, including what worked and didn’t work and whether they have particular preferences in terms of approach. Only then can you make recommendations.
Some clients may be cagey about giving out information. They need to not only trust you but also have an understanding that there is value in doing so. You need to ensure that they understand that there is worth by connecting this to your work.
The client is paying you for direction, ideas and strategic innovative thinking, so even if they are being proactive in making suggestions, always ensure that you present more ideas than the client does to you.
As was mentioned earlier in this post, you should create a list of stories that you can use relevant to particular circumstances. This ensures that the client listens intently and helps them to visualise success in a way that they understand. Analogies are often easier to understand than the actual explanation, so focus on painting a picture that is relevant to them. At the same time, it’s vital you paint the correct picture in your mind as to their expectations. Many clients may not give you the information that you need straight away, so it’s important to constantly ask questions to better understand their needs.
The moment that the client is directing you is the moment that you are no longer in control of the account. Whilst you do want to be able to gather information, the client should under no circumstances be telling you how to do your job. If they do this infers that they deem you to not be doing a sufficiently satisfactory job.
With any account management, your focus should be on being in the moment, being aware of your surroundings and being present. Not only listen to your client but learn to read their response to what you are saying. This can be the difference between success and failure, as saying something is only half the battle, much as hearing what the client is saying isn’t the same as listening intently and understanding.
It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Make sure you articulate what you mean in a way that is suitable for your audience. Clients need to feel as though you are there in the moment and what they are saying is valued and important, this is how you will get the most out of the relationship.
There is an element of luck when it comes to timing. As an account manager, there should always be an appreciation that the client is likely to have a lot of other things going on, so may not prioritize your requirements and requests as much as you might quite like them to. It is your responsibility to give then a reason to. This can be by incentivizing, inspiring and value, stating consequences
Clients place value on what they see. This is why reports and communication are both so very vital.
You need to understand all of the numbers from how much they pay to what they make in revenue. If you can translate the worth of what you are asking of the client to something beneficial to them, then they are far more likely to do so. You need to make sure that the impact of what you are asking has been explained clearly and encourage them to deprioritise other work and push your task above everything else for their benefit specifically.
Ask more questions to understand the client and their requirements in detail. By asking more questions, you can clarify and avoid failure whereas a vague instruction may have led you down the wrong path.
Projects and jobs often get awarded to those that ask more questions, as not only do they appear more engaged, but they clearly show a better level of understanding as they can then repeat the project requirements back to the client.
When explaining to the client, this can be a progress update or a plan for the future, make sure to explain in full, yet concisely and don’t make assumptions. Brevity can often be key, as over-complicating something can lead to confusion. Ask the client to repeat it back to you when an example, not simply just repeating what you’ve said, should you need to be certain that they understand.
Don’t be afraid to share poor performance but be careful doing so in isolation. This isn’t to say avoiding it altogether, this is most certainly the worst thing you can do! Share poor performance when you have an explanation as to what has happened and what you’ve done to mitigate it. It’s also worth sandwiching this within two positive elements, as this avoids the negative performance as being focal point, whilst allowing you opportunity to highlight the issues and rectify. Poor performance happens in every company and with all services, it is how you move on and recover with success that really matters.
You need to always be two steps ahead of the client in terms of ideas and innovation. They will have their own ideas, so you need to be able to factor these in and provide constructive feedback. As mentioned above, spend time learning and researching so that you are always in position an ‘up the sleeve’ idea. With this said, not all ideas are equal. You need to understand what has worked in the past, view it from their perspective and be ready to sell the idea to them. You also need to understand that they may have tried it before or simply not be a fan of the idea. Be sure to be observant in reading their response in their facial expressions, gestures and body position to note whether they like the idea or not. If they don’t then establish their reservations and adapt accordingly.
When you are absent from the account You need to provide the possible chance of your account being handled correctly. The last thing you want to do is to leave the account temporarily and return to find that everything has been done incorrectly or that nothing has been done at all. The same can be said if you are leaving the company, it’s vital for you to give the next account manager to best chance of success. Be sure to note down everything about the relationship, from the communication preferences to the client’s favourite football team and more.
One day you might leave the company. To make it easier for your colleagues everything needs to be recorded. Clients don’t want to go over the same things repeatedly, so make sure that you detail everything that the new account manager needs to know.
Don’t go from one call in to the next without taking time for yourself. If you have a bad call or receive a bad email, then take time to recalibrate. Instead of moving from one call to the next or one meeting to the next, make sure to allocate time to reflect. By reflecting you can help yourself to learn as to the aspects you did right as well as where it went wrong. Take time in the day for you to be your very best. The only way to do so is to focus on ensuring that your well-being is at it’s most optimal.
Everyone complains of a lack of time, yet everyone has the same amount of time as everyone else. No-one is any more time poor than anyone else. It is how you manage your time and your priorities that you can control. Manage your time wisely, but don’t worry if you don’t achieve everything, just try your very best. With this said, learn where your time is best spent and instead of just doing the same things repeatedly, focus on the most efficient way of doing so to generate the maximum result. As Bill Gates once said, he’d rather employee a lazy person because they would find the quickest way to do something.
Make decisions and stick to them. Know why you’ve made the decision and have reasons. Most of you will know that I don’t mind mistakes being made if the reasoning behind the decision can be justified and substantiated, clients are very mcuh the same.
Working on the same tasks at the same time doesn’t result in success, research has shown this, however, this isn’t to say that can’t manage multiple projects as part of the same role. You simply need to manage your time by dedicating sepcific chunks of your day for one project or task and other parts of your day for a different project or task.
Those that are most successful often have an ability to adapt quickly. Those who are flexible in situations achieve success. It is much easier to think fondly of those who accommodate to suit your needs than those who are obstructive and get in your way. Although you do have commit to achieving success, it isn’t just about remaining stubborn in your objectives. Sometimes you need to adjust your trajectory and take feedback to refine your approach.
There is a difference between being responsible and being accountable. Anyone can be responsible for a task or project, but it is those that are truly accountable for it that tend to succeed. Being accountable for the successes also means being accountable for the failings too.
It is rare that anyone else is to blame for your work quality and outputs, unless of course there is an instance of intentional sabotage or a consequential mistake as a result of something that you had no control over. Be accountable for your work and most importantly be proud of the work that you do.
You can make a real impact to someone’s business and often it’s the little spark of an idea that produces results, rather than the big idea or the technology.
In closing, I hope that you have found this guide useful and that you are able to make good use of the points outlined throughout this post. Should you have any comments or wish to contribute to this post, or future posts, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!