Excerpt from 'How to Wrestle an Octopus: an agency account manager's guide to pretty much everything'. Available now!
All relationships (both business and personal) need nurturing to survive and thrive. The best way to keep your client relationships healthy is to get in front of them on a regular basis and build genuine, business partnerships - but this is often easier said than done.
Clients are busy people. Unless you have the type of agency/client relationship where you meet with your client regularly (e.g. as part of a retainer agreement), or you have a live project underway, it can often be next-to-impossible to book in a client visit. This means it can also be difficult to keep the Client Love fires burning. How, then, can you arrange for some face-time when meeting with you is not high on his (or her) priority list?
One of the main reasons why it is difficult to gain an audience with your client is because he does not see the value of building a relationship with you. He probably sees you as an order-taker who is there to do his bidding if and when he has a project that needs executing. His work is most likely sporadic and price-driven.
Once your client can see that you are adding value to the relationship, demonstrably increasing his financial bottom line, or supplying information that he can’t get anywhere else, he should welcome meetings with you with open arms.
You’ll want to eliminate as many barriers to meeting as possible, so it’s wise to request a client meeting time at least 1-2 weeks out. It’s far more likely that his diary will be flexible at this time, thus removing the typical “sorry, I’m too busy” response.
If your client is agreeable to it, you can arrange to meet him on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, on a regular day and time.
It will still be relatively easy for him to postpone or cancel a regular/expected meeting, so you need to create the type of meeting that he won’t want to miss. For example:
If he does delay or cancel, make sure you do what you can to ensure the next meeting takes place (lest an unwanted pattern starts to form).
The absolute easiest time to get clients to meet with you is when you first join an agency. This is when you have a small window of opportunity to comfortably play the ‘newbie card’.
The ‘newbie card’ is when you say something like: “I have just recently joined Acme Agency, and I’d love to come and visit with you. I’d appreciate it if we can have a chat, plus a look around your office/factory/shop to help me understand your business better. I’m fairly free week commencing xxx, what day and time would work best for you?”
The ‘open door rate’ for newbies can be far higher than for someone who has been around the agency a while, as the premise for the meeting is a difficult one to turn down.
A newbie request works best on current clients and dormant clients (those your agency has a not done business with in a long time). It’s a fantastic way of resurrecting dormant clients as playing the newbie card allows you to ask direct questions about what type of work your agency has produced for your client in the past, and why you are not doing working with them now. There is a good chance that a dormant client will open up more to a newbie than they will to a familiar account manager - especially if there has been bad blood in the agency/client relationship in the past.
If your client continually rejects setting up a meeting with you, it’s also likely that the revenue he generates for your agency is quite low. It’s time to pluck up the courage and ask him some pointed questions. You may not like what he has to say, but the information will be vital for you both to move forward and keep your business relationship alive.
In an ideal (fantasy) world all clients would be created equal. All would demand the same level of attention, and all would fling open their doors to receive your visits. In reality, there are some clients with whom you will build strong, close relationships, and there are others who will prefer to remain on a purely transactional level. If you are disciplined with your account planning and review processes, you will be able to plan where you invest your efforts for the greatest financial return.
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When your creative team gives you their concepts, it will be up to you to take those concepts to your client and present them in a manner that does you, your team and your agency justice. This process is well-known as ‘selling the work’ because - quite often - you will need to encourage your client to be brave, take a risk, and do things differently. It could take a hefty dose of salesmanship to get your team’s ideas across the line and ‘close the deal’.
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