The Account Manager’s Guide to Effective Communication & Client Retention

I’ve worked for, and learned from, several remarkable agencies in my career. Great account managers stand out in any agency environment, no matter the industry. They are able to build relationships with clients quickly, establishing trust out the gate.

They may provide the same results as other account managers, but they communicate the value of their team’s efforts more effectively, in a clear and succinct fashion that their clients understand.

Great account managers solve problems.

They speak in goals and objectives and provide strategies and tactics to overcome obstacles. 

If you are currently in a client facing role, no matter how technically skilled you are, no matter what your job is, all the value you bring to the table adds up to nothing if you can’t:

  • Speak in a manner that evokes confidence in your abilities.
  • Reinforce a client’s belief that they are making a solid investment with your agency.
  • Demonstrate through your words and actions that you value your client’s trust.
  • Establish that your goals and your client’s goals, are one and the same.

Where To Start?

start

Start with being grateful. In the agency world, without clients, we have nothing. Every account manager needs to keep that in mind when dealing with their clients. They wont always appreciate how amazing your strategies are – but you *must* appreciate the investment they are making with your agency. Never forget how much they are spending on just a 30-minute weekly call.

Three Types of KPIs

monkeys are kpis

There are three sets of KPIs for any account.

Client-Agency KPIs:

These are mutually agreed upon at the start of the contract between the agency and the client company. It’s the basis for all of your reporting. Many SEO agencies use a variation of traffic, rankings and conversions as standard KPIs.

Client Company KPIs:

These are the metrics you don’t report and likely don’t have access to, but the client company communicates with them internally. i.e. churn rate, LTV, AOV, revenue by channel tracked outside of analytics, etc. Ask about these KPIs frequently.

Point of Contact KPIs:

Just like you are trying to grow professionally, your point of contact has their own career goals, both long- and short-term. If you, as an account manager, can help them hit their short-term goals, they will retain you to help them hit their long-term goals.

Some companies I have worked with set aggressive internal goals for their channel or marketing managers. These goals can be major factors for their career trajectory, or the focal point of they next review. It could even be explicitly tied to their bonus. Once you’ve started developing trust with a client – do your best to learn if your point of contact has these types of goals.

Communicating with Two Audiences

cat and dog

Whenever you communicate with a client, you have the potential to be speaking with two audiences, your individual point of contact, and everyone that they forward important information to. All communication you send a client needs to have context. Without context, your point of contact will have to explain everything they forward along – creating a lot more work for them.

Your job is to minimize the amount of SEO work your point of contact has to do – including explaining SEO to their co-workers. If your emails and reporting can be passed on to other parties effortlessly, your point of contact will have a bigger incentive to keep you around.

 The Big Stuff That Shows You Care

Ask Questions – Often

question mark

Goals change for companies over time, and that  isn’t always communicated to an agency. Great account manager’s ask questions about a client’s business often – they stay in the know. They learn the direction the company is heading, and they ask what the internal marketing team is planning for the next year, they formulate strategies around that information.

Ask if They Are Seeing Noticeable Improvements

blindfold

Ask about lead quality, lead to close rate,  daily order counts, phone calls – get a feel for how your efforts are impacting their business. No matter how much traffic you drive or how many conversions you rack up – if your client doesn’t “feel” like you’re adding value – they aren’t going to retain your services. Triggering a conversion in Google Analytics isn’t the end of the story, it’s your job to try and get your point of contact to tell you the rest. There is nothing stopping you from asking them how they feel about how things are going so far or what they would like to see done better in the future.

This line of questioning also demonstrates that you go beyond the role of Account Manager, it shows you  genuinely care about their company.

Story time: I once had a client I thought I was doing great for, we saw a huge spike in month-over-month growth… but there was more to the story. Nigerian hackers actually racked up $40,000 in fraudulent charges… and there’s no refund/return/fraud option in GA – so the numbers couldn’t be corrected. If I hadn’t of asked how things were going, I would have never known about the fraud. I would have gone on thinking I was kicking ass. Once I found out about the Nigerian hackers, I used that information and got the client an interview in CNN. Keeping an open line of communication with your client about their business is a *good* thing.

Frame Your Communication Around Growth

growth for clients

Ask how you can help make a bigger impact for the client-company often. Figure out what goals matters most to them, then frame your communication around those goals. You still need to report on your mutually agreed upon KPIs – but you also need to show how hitting those KPIs allows them to reach their actual business goals.

Value your Client’s Time

clock time

Always come to a meeting prepared with an agenda and don’t be hungover. Clients want and need for you to be ready to go the second the call starts. There’s no excuse for showing up to a meeting unprepared. It’s a quick way to lose a client.

Listen More, Talk Less

listen more talk less

SEOs are a smart bunch. We elegantly explain complex technical concepts on the regular  – we do such a great job of explaining that sometimes we forget to listen to the people that are actually paying us.

Clients will have difficult questions and legitimate concerns over the course of an account. Skipping over those tough topics, not listening to their concerns, and avoiding awkward and difficult discussions is the mark of a weak account manager. A great account manager is one that identifies potential issues before they become problems and addresses the situation directly.

The Little Stuff That Show Clients You Care

This is a list of little stuff I like to do, I think it’s just as important as the big stuff, if not more important.

update

Update them frequently after big content pieces launch, just to let them know things are going well (or not so well). Trust me, they want updates.

check in with clients
Check in to see what’s up – even if they haven’t emailed you and don’t seem concerned.

closed sign
Let them know when you are going to be out of the office in advance.

calendar
Avoid rescheduling regular meetings at all costs, always work around their schedule.

presents
Send them small gifts or cards on their birthday and holidays, when they get married, have a child, or when someone in their life is sick.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Engage in small talk whenever possible and appropriate.

vacation
Ask them about their vacations and holidays – Where did they go? What was the best part?

raiders fans
Know what sports teams your point of contact roots for, know when those teams are in the playoffs and be able to talk about the game on the next call.

Your Client Probably Doesn't Want GWAR Tickets

Know what music they listen to, concert tickets make a great gift (GWAR tickets do not).

paneer - indian foodz
Know what type of food they enjoy. When meeting over food, take them out for that cuisine.

congrats
Congratulate them on promotions or title changes.

trainee forum
Learn the names of new hires who join the weekly call, they may become your point of contact. 

What Does This Get You In the Long Run?

Great account managers retain and grow accounts and move up the corporate ladder quickly, often into leadership roles. Mainly because impeccable social skills, solid strategy and empathy are the marks of not just a great account manager, but a great leader that people respect and listen to.

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10 thoughts on “The Account Manager’s Guide to Effective Communication & Client Retention

  1. Krystian Szastok says:

    That’s a great list John.

    Would be brilliant to have something downloadable or to print so that it can sit on the and remind of these as there are so many to remember.
    Then during the course of the month you could cross these out as you complete them, making you a guru of account management!

    Again – thanks, I forget many of these as I’m sure most of us do! :)

  2. Thanks Krystian, a download is a a great idea…. I may have to put one together :)

  3. Danny Howard says:

    Great post John, Thanks for the list I’ve jotted some down for ideas about how we communicate. I’ve always done the gift idea but not for birthdays. It would be great to do something like this for such little effort which can go a long way.

    I’ve always found it much easier to speak to clients about other stuff like Football etc that gives that personal edge when we see them face to face, its a great ice breaker.

  4. Bill Sebald says:

    Don’t be hungover. Got it!

    I personally favor the idea of always trying to make your point(s) of contact look awesome to their colleagues. Like you said, they have their own careers to grow, and as consultants we are paid educators. I think it makes sense to give them the true feeling of alliance and help them be rising talents in their own companies. They’ll love you for that – and when they love you, they’re great partners. It’s always worked for me anyway.

  5. @Danny – Glad you found the post useful. I agree with you, small talk about football can go a long way, and when the relationship gets stressed, or when things get screwed up – they will most likely be more understanding because to them, your a person, not just a vendor of services.

    @Sebald – You hit the nail on the head :)

  6. Brian Dean says:

    Rock on John-Henry.

    My favorite part of this article (besides the presentation/blog post hybrid format…need to steal that), is that these principles can be applied to ANYONE in a position where they need to sell something.

    If you talk to REALLY good salespeople they’ll usually cite the type of empathetic actions that you outlined as the key to closing (and keeping) clients. In other words, hard selling doesn’t work nearly as well as sending them a gift on their birthday.

    I’ll just add one tip: get a Skype ID whenever possible. Even if you never talk to them on Skype, Skype tells you any contact’s birthdays when you sign in. I’ve surprised A LOT of people with a happy birthday email (“How did you know?!”) thanks to Skype.

  7. Alan Morte says:

    This was fantastic, John.

    Really liked to ‘Deliver more than expected’ mentality that’s not always in work, but in communication.

    I’m definitely sharing :)

  8. Ari says:

    Fabulous post, John. We all too often get stuck in talking about technical issues, or content marketing tactics that we forget one of the biggest parts of the business – managing clients and being a great communicator and partner. This, by far and large, is the reason many consulting agencies still exist. Thanks for this.

  9. @ Brian – that skype tip is clutch, I am adding that one to my arsenal. I do a bit of sales now and I have a sales background. Not to bring this to content marketing/link building – but the ideas about empathy can be applied to outreach, as I am sure you know :)

    @ Alan – glad you liked it, we are all about delivering more than what’s expected here :)

    @ Ari – I agree completely!

  10. Tom Lambert says:

    Couldn’t agree more on all of these, especially the “Point of Contact KPIs.” I’ve definitely noticed the more you make your contact look like a rockstar the longer the client will stay a client in general.

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