Editor's note: Jack Lipton, senior vice president of client services in our New York office, has been an account professional working on pharmaceutical products for nearly 16 years, and prior to that, worked in general advertising for more than a decade. Based on his experience, the editors of Intouchsol.com asked him for his secrets to successful account management and how he applies that to his clients. Below is his advice.
Account people serve as both the agency representative to the client and the face of the client to the agency. It’s an important job with many moving parts. They have to facilitate top client service while not trampling on team members. While I'm not aware of any end-all, be-all, totally inclusive set of account management guidelines, here are my top 10 pieces of advice I would give to account teams:
1. Give the client what they need, not just what they want.
This can be tricky, but good clients don't hire agencies to be just "yes" people. They want to know your point of view. Be sure to cover what the client has requested as clients need to know that you listen and respect their opinions even if you disagree. But don't stop there. Break the box if you have to in order to get a better solution.
2. Realize the work is the star, not you.
Ever explain to people what you do as an account manager? How many times have you said this: "No, I don't program the website" or "No, I don't come up with the pictures." In essence, you're like a movie or theater producer, someone who brings all the right people and resources together for a production, but you are not out front. Ultimately, what the agency produces is the star.
3. Don't lead the account solely from your desk.
When possible, get up, go to your teammates, and personally communicate client changes or why you think the creative brief should be altered or that a schedule shift is needed. This doesn't mean you do it all the time, but personally delivering the message is often better than an officious email.
4. Quality is remembered long after the deadline has passed.
You've just seen the creative concepts for a meeting tomorrow. You get blunt signals from the team and creative director that the work is not quite there. This is where you need to negotiate more time. Most often, the client isn't going to remember that you made the meeting deadline, but they will remember a bad meeting.
Think about it like this: Would you serve unbaked bread to a guest? Or ask someone to dinner with food you know they don't like? Of course not. Same goes for the quality of the agency's work. If the situation requires you to hold out for more time, make it happen. At the end of the day, you are responsible for the quality of the agency's work.
5. Our business is the work, but business is about relationships.
The work will often win and keep the business, but it is the relationship that will get you through any rough patches. Relationships can't be rushed. You and the agency need to win the client's trust. Be patient, sincere, transparent and dedicated, and seek out situations where you can make the client look good. Make no mistake: Strong relationships are fundamental to this business. You need to build them.
6. When it comes to money or time, leave no surprises.
More than ever, clients must be sticklers about budget and schedules. If something is out of scope, identify and document it. Be sure to re-estimate the job as necessary. The same goes for timing. Often more client review time is necessary because of additional staff involvement or regulatory decisions. Be sure to consistently document how unplanned events are impacting your schedule.
7. Don't just serve the menu – come with "specials."
Of course you need to execute the agreed scope of work, but going beyond that can pay dividends for both the client and agency. We're in a business of ideas, which may often be beyond your designated scope.
Ask the client what particular challenges they are facing and work to help them solve those challenges. Show them other pertinent noteworthy work from the agency. Do spec work to articulate a big idea. Or present what you learned at a conference that might be helpful for a client to better understand new initiatives like social media or mobile.
8. Invest time in being aware.
Being up on the latest hijinks of the Kardashians won't expand your mind, but taking the time to read pertinent business communications will. Seek out the key pharma trades like Med Ad News, Medical Marketing and Media, and others. Use tools and apps such as StumbleUpon, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flipboard or news.me to aggregate information, and regularly read blogs such as Pharma Marketing Blog, World of DTC Marketing and Pharmalot for industry-current events.
9. You don't have to be the master of all so ask for help when necessary.
It is not a sign of weakness to say you need help – a resource, a staff member, special expertise, etc. Most often, problems do not go away. They can fester and get bigger. Good account managers address the need for help and don't delay.
10. Remember to say thank you.
After the big successful client meeting, find the appropriate way to say thank you to all that made it happen. It might be an email that copies senior agency management; personal notes; or a team lunch, dinner or drinks. It’s amazing how simple but powerful this can be. It shows everyone you care about them and appreciate what they have done. And, of course, remember to thank the client, too.
Don't stop with these basic guidelines; be inquisitive and seek out more. Read up with books like The Art of Client Service by Robert Solomon and search for others online. Get real-world guidance just down the hall by asking senior account managers in the agency what they view as key guidelines for successful client management. Virtually every senior account management can tell you what's worked for them. And most importantly, don't hesitate to ask them about mistakes they have made. You can really learn from those. Everyone has a story!