April 21, 2014

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Can an Account Manager ever go "paperless"?

I have a client (a sales manager in a car company) whose desk contains a monitor, keyboard, mouse, tablet and an "in tray" containing a mere few papers. To my client, even those few papers are an annoyance to him, which he prioritises to eliminate.

I asked my client how he worked in what amounted to a "paperless" environment. He replied that all his communication, his sales data and reports, images and presentations were all electronic. His staff knew to send him files rather than hardcopy, and he replied in kind. I went away wondering if I could replicate a similar system in my world as an Account Manager.

After taking a quick look around my desk my first thought was that going paperless in my profession would be nigh-on impossible. I then started to challenge myself: if I couldn't go completely "paperless", couldn't I at least go "less paper"?

I have always been the type of Account Manager who has had physical, paper-based folders for all occasions. There were folders for jobs, folders for clients and folders for campaigns, plus there was the filing cabinet of printed (paper) samples for posterity. 

My world of paper largely revolved around printouts. I had printouts of spreadsheets, printouts of pdfs, printouts of proofs, and printouts of web articles. I shudder to think how often I printed off electronic files, simply to have a paper copy in my hands.

Then I had folders of samples of every job that ever moved through my hands. Each printout would show the job number, job name and date of completion. Along with that printout I attached a paper copy of every quote that I received for that job, as - invariably - I would have written all over the quote with calculations (markups, cost per unit) and comments. 

One shocking realisation that I came to, was that I really didn't like paper. I LOVE good filing systems, and - until I made the change to an almost-paperless workflow - a comprehensive paper filing system was all that I knew how to do. Changing to an e-centric workflow was completely liberating and not that difficult to achieve.

 

Pros for a "less paper" system
  • Less congestion on your desk.
  • Ability to take all your files to a meeting via a tablet or laptop.
  • Cost saving due to less photocopying and printouts.
  • Ability to work from anywhere and still access all your files.
  • Ability to easily search your electronic files for historical information.
  • Massive reduction in paper waste.
  • Less time spent looking for paper lost in the shuffle.
  • Saving files in a common repository enables the whole team to access your information quickly (on or off-site) - especially handy if you are sick or on holiday.

 

Cons for going totally paperless
  • It is sometimes preferable to read paper documents than on-screen documents.
  • Paper is easier to distribute in a meeting for discussion.
  • Additional time is required to digitise information.


How I did it

The paperless-clincher, for me, came in the form of two very large, heavy, ringbinders. I would lug them to every meeting I had with my main client - both onsite and offsite. I reached the point where I didn't want to lug them around any longer. It was as simple as that.

With strong motivation propelling me forward, I decided to challenge myself to "go paperless" (or as paperless as possible), so I began by identifying the barriers to reaching that goal:

  • Our company would have to commit to running a system whereby all client-related files were stored in the cloud, which could be accessible from any device with an internet connection.
  • All existing paper with handwritten notations would need to be easily scanned, named and stored.
  • All job samples would need to be either scanned, or the original (final) pdfs found and filed.
  • My current paper filing system would need to be replicated electronically.
  • A laptop or tablet would need to be taken to every client meeting.
  • New processes would need to be determined for work going forward.
  • Old paper-centric mindsets would need to be broken and reformed.

The amazing thing was that not one of these barriers was insurmountable - in fact, it proved quite the opposite.

Here is how I easily and painlessly (and I choose that word carefully) switched over to an e-centric account management workflow:

  • Switched to cloud filing: Our company was already trialling Microsoft OneDrive for Business as an alternative (cloud-based) storage system for our company files. All they had to do was to hook me up with an account. OneDrive for Business works very much like Dropbox for Business and it means your files are accessible on your laptop, via an internet web browser, or on a tablet and you'll get immediate syncing of files across all devices. A point to note: Mac OSX users can use OneDrive, but not yet OneDrive for Business (due for release late 2014).
  • Digitised all paper documents: I downloaded the TurboScan app for my iPhone (also available on Android). I use TurboScan to scan (photograph) any paper document that I have that is not currently in digital format. These could be notes, or quotes that I have annotated, etc. The beauty of TurboScan (compared to some other scanning apps) is that you can easily create multiple page pdf files, then email the pdfs to yourself in colour or b/w.
  • Marked up pdfs: If you are running Adobe Acrobat Professional (current version Acrobat XI Pro) on your computer, you can easily annotate any pdf file (such as a suppler quote). Whereas I would formerly print off a pdf, write over it and file the page, now I will use the Acrobat note functionality to write my comments, markup calculations, etc, then file the pdf.
  • Eliminated old paper documents: Some paper you simply will never need. Some of your paper copies you will already have on your computer (attached on an email, or filed), so all you need to do is to locate those files and put them into your new cloud-based filing system. Some paper you will need to digitise, and some - such as printed samples - you can store in a filing cabinet (far away from your desk!).
  • Renamed files: Have a read of the AM-Insider article on file naming and version tracking for some helpful tips on how to name the files in your new cloud-based filing system. 
  • Changed my thinking: The trick will be for your new "e-centric" thinking to become second nature. Every time you receive a proof, file it with version tracking or date order in mind. Every time you complete a project, ensure you have a copy of the final low res pdf in your job folder. Keep all your supplier quotes and client quotes in the job folder, etc.
  • Went "digital" to meetings: It's becoming quite acceptable, these days, for people to take a laptop or tablet into a client meeting. It's a good idea to explain to your client why you are doing this, and then make sure they don't mind. By using the building's internet access, or hotspotting internet access from your mobile phone, you'll be able to access your cloud-based files for discussion or reference. You can take notes electronically (which will reduce transcription time when it comes to writing a meeting report later on). Just be careful that your attention is not drawn away from your client. For example, if the meeting was just you and one other person, you may wish to still take paper-based notes so you look as though you are thoroughly listening to your client rather than tapping away on a computer.

It may be that agency Account Managers will never fully rid themselves of a dependence on paper (especially when our clients require printouts). However, I am living proof that going almost-paperless is totally achievable!

 

Services and apps to help with paper reduction

Here are some services and apps that could help make the changeover easier for you. Just remember that once you give your information to an external service (such as Evernote, or files stored within an app), you are not only at the mercy of this company staying in business, but also looking after your data with all the care and security they profess to give. The only way your information to remain truly private is if it remains on your local hard drive or network, or via a secure cloud-service. Also give mind to how you'll handle confidential documents (you'll need a secure storage system), and ensure you have reliable virus protection software in place.

  • Evernote: keep all your notes, passwords, client comments, website articles together in one place. It's an extremely good service and accessible from all your electronic devices.  
  • OneNote (paid service): another excellent notebook solution. OneNote allows you to hand-annotate your notes, handles images really well and is very handy for minute-taking in a client meeting.
  • Remember the Milk: An excellent task management (to-do list) tool, allowing you to file your tasks by client, job and priority.  
  • Google Drive: Allows you to simultaneously access and work on documents and spreadsheets with your team.   
  • WeTransfer: Send up to 2Gb of files in a single transfer, for free.  
  • TeamViewer: Allows you to access your office computer through any other computer or smartphone. Also includes features for screensharing during presentations, transmitting videos, sharing files and teleconferencing. You can temporarily hijack your colleagues' laptops during a meeting (no need for handouts!), then upload the slides to Dropbox so they can have a digital copy.   
  • Write your digital notes: There are many note-taking apps where you can use a stylus to hand write your notes. My favourite is Bamboo Paper. Once finished, you can email the notes to yourself or file away for future reference.
  • Adobe EchoSign (subscription service): An electronic signature solution. Upload your document to EchoSign, enter the recipient's email address, then they will receive a copy of the document with a link where they can e-sign. Works great for getting approval on quotes and contracts.

As our industry evolves and becomes increasingly complex, we are constantly looking at ways to improve business efficiencies. The concept of increasing productivity is imperative, especially for super-busy Account Managers.

If the thought of switching to a paperless (or "less paper") workflow is daunting, remember the old adage: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Happy nibbling!.

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Sarah Ritchie
Sarah Ritchie

Author

Sarah Ritchie is the founder of AM-Insider - a website bursting with tips, tricks and resources to create account management superstars in the advertising, design, PR, experiential and print industries. Sarah has been involved in account management for 25 years and has a passion for encouraging, mentoring and helping others succeed.



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