Top Tips: Considerations for Effective Account Management

Five ways to keep clients happy and ensure your portfolio sees healthy growth

Joshua DeLung is currently Senior Director of Communication Services for a Washington, D.C.-area strategic communication agency where he oversees client services and project delivery. His experience includes account management, public relations, government affairs, digital marketing and content development across government, commercial and nonprofit organizations.

On its face, account management sounds easy enough. Account management professionals maintain relationships with a portfolio of clients and make sure they get what they pay for — and that they remain clients. Depending on the organization, an account manager (or any level of professional at a more senior or junior level who is responsible for overseeing some aspect of client relationships) may supervise any number of accounts and have an array of other day-to-day responsibilities competing with his or her time.

Here are five ways to keep clients happy and ensure your portfolio sees healthy growth:

  1. Add value: Consider a hybrid model where people responsible for managing client relationships also manage or work on the client’s projects. This is especially feasible for more agile organizations, but clients will see value in knowing they’re talking directly to someone who understands their projects and business so well because they’re actually executing the work. Conversely, the project team will work more efficiently under the leadership or expertise of someone with intimate knowledge of the client’s expectations and preferences.
  2. Track project budgets in real time against the percentage complete: Even if running the project plan and budget is not the primary responsibility of the account manager, it’s imperative to know where things stand. Having a single point of failure for progress and budget tracking is never a good idea — sometimes project managers get so focused on the details of deliverables they don’t spend as much time as they should on monitoring scope and budget. Clients will appreciate the early heads-up if a budget is getting out of control or something won’t be delivered on time. And account managers can avoid needing to save face altogether if they catch and address a problem with the project team early.
  3. Responsiveness rules: Even if you don’t know the answer to a client’s question or you haven’t yet devised a solution to a problem at hand, it’s only going to make things worse if you leave a client hanging. Respond immediately whenever possible, even if you need more time to address requests. It’s OK to say, “I’m checking with my team and expect to have an answer for you tomorrow by noon.” The longer you leave a client to wonder where you are after they’ve tried to contact you, the more time they might wonder if they should be working with someone else.
  4. Use historical project data to your advantage: Make sure client projects are set up in detailed phases so you can capture how many resources are required (whether in dollars, hours or materials) for every type of deliverable at every point in a project. An example for a marketing agency might be to track the hours for kickoff meetings, discovery, audience research, messaging, collateral development (even by individual piece, such as datasheets or presentations), campaign deployment and measurement all separately by labor category. The next time that customer or another in your portfolio needs a similar deliverable, you’ll know not only how much you charged them last time, but also the actual costs. You’ll be able to generate estimates more quickly and accurately by client — which is especially helpful if you have certain clients who historically require more revisions or meetings than others.
  5. Know when to cut your losses: Firing a client is tough to do. You never want to lose out on the revenue, regardless of how difficult earning it can be in some cases. But every now and then, you’ll face a client whose demands are unreasonable, who changes the plan constantly and then blames you for the lack of success and/or whose rudeness to your employees reaches an unacceptable level. These types of clients actually inhibit growth. The hours you spend trying to keep someone happy who can’t be pleased is time you could spend growing new business with people who love your work.