Can an Account Manager ever go 'paperless'?

April 21, 2014

Picture walking into the office of your Sales Manager client. His desk contains a monitor, keyboard, mouse, tablet and an in-tray containing a mere few sheets of paper. To your client, even those few papers are an annoyance to him, which he prioritises to eliminate.

You ask your client how he works in what amounts to a 'paperless' environment. He replies that all his communication, his sales data and reports, images, and presentations are all electronic. His team knows to send him files rather than hard copy, and he replies in kind. You leave your meeting wondering if you could ever replicate a similar system in your world as an account manager.

Are you the type of account manager who has physical, paper-based folders for all occasions? Do you have folders for jobs; folders for clients; and folders for campaigns? Do you keep a sample of every job that you ever worked on, or every quote that you've received, complete with your calculations (markups, cost per unit) and comments?

Do you like to print off electronic files (such as spreadsheets, pdfs, proofs, or web articles), simply to have a paper copy in your hands?

If so, don't worry, you are quite normal. It may be that keeping a comprehensive paper-based filing system is all that you have ever known, and it's far better that you have this system than no decent system at all. 

If you take a quick look around your desk your first thought may be that going paperless within AgencyLand is nigh-on impossible. Therefore, if a 'paperless' account management life truly is impossible, then could you find ways to go 'less paper' instead?


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 quickly and easily search your electronic files for historical information.
  • A massive reduction in paper waste.
  • Saving files in a common repository enables the whole team to access your information quickly (on- or off-site), which is especially handy if you are sick or on leave.


Cons for a 'less paper' system
  • 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 you can get as close to paperless as possible

  • Be willing and open to reform your old paper-centric mindset, and replace it with new e-centric thinking. 
  • Create a cloud-based system to store all of your client CRM information and client-related files, so that this information can be accessed from any device with an internet connection.
  • Create a new file saving, naming, and filing system that your whole team understands and uses. Read the AM-Insider article on file naming and version tracking for some helpful tips on how to name your files.
  • Use this new filing system to store historical information. Some of your information will already be 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 system. 
  • Scan old paper documents (especially those with important handwritten notations), and old job samples. If you do not have easy access to a scanner, use a scanning app on your mobile phone - one that can create multiple-page pdf files in colour or black and white.
  • Every time you receive a proof, file it with version tracking or date order in mind.
  • Ensure all jobs folders contain a pdf of the final artwork. You should also include photos of the finished job if it is a 3-dimensional object, an event, signage, etc.
  • Use Adobe Acrobat Professional to easily annotate any pdf file (e.g. a supplier quote) without ever having to print the document. 
  • Take a laptop or tablet with you to every client meeting so you can easily take notes and pull up information as required.
    NOTE: It's a good idea to explain to your client why you are doing this, and make sure they don't mind. 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.


Services and apps to help with paper reduction

Here are some services and apps that can help make an e-centric life easier for you. Just remember that once you give your information to an external party, 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 will remain truly private is if it remains on your local hard drive or network, or via a secure cloud-based service. Also give thought to how you'll handle confidential documents (you'll need a secure storage system); plus what back-up and virus protection systems you will use.

  • Evernote: keep all your notes, passwords, client comments, website articles together in one place and accessible from all your electronic devices.  
  • OneNote: another notebook solution. OneNote allows you to hand-annotate your notes, handles images well and is handy for note-taking in a client meeting.
  • Remember the Milk: A reliable 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.  
  • Writing your digital notes: There are many note-taking apps where you can use a stylus to hand write your notes, such as Bamboo Paper. Once finished, you can email the notes to yourself or file them away for future reference.
  • Adobe Sign: An electronic signature solution. Upload your document (e.g. quote or contract) to Adobe Sign, enter the recipient's email address, then they will receive a copy of the document with a link where they can e-sign. 

As our industry evolves and becomes increasingly complex, we should always look for ways to improve business efficiencies. The concept of streamlining workflow is imperative, especially for super-busy account managers.

Changing from a paper-based to e-based system will take time (especially if there is a lot of scanning involved). However, once you've done it, it should revolutionise your way of working - you'll save yourself space, time, and frustration. 

It may well be that agency account managers can never fully rid themselves of a dependence on paper (especially when clients and internal teams require printouts). However, living an 'almost-paperless' life is totally achievable.



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