Sales? No thanks!

June 24, 2018

Excerpt from 'How to Wrestle an Octopus: an agency account manager's guide to pretty much everything'. Available now!


If we could ask every agency owner whether or not they considered their account managers to be ‘sales’ people, we would likely be surprised at their range of answers.

Within AgencyLand there is a definite ‘Sales Spectrum’. At one end of the spectrum, an agency will refer to their account managers as the ‘sales team’ and set monthly or quarterly sales targets and KPIs to be rigorously met. At the other end, an agency will keep the financials locked away and consider their account managers purely as keepers of the client relationship. In-between lies a spectrum of variations.

Similarly, the level at which agency management expects their account managers to focus on revenue generation also varies between agencies. Some agencies want their account managers to be immersed in the financials right from the start of their career, whilst others expect sales and financial accountability to be for senior team members only. You should have a clear understanding of an agency’s sales expectations before you accept a new account management role.


Extreme left: agencies that focus on sales

In agencies where the account management team is highly sales-focused, your remit will likely be a mix of new business development and maximising revenue from your existing clients.

Your work may include:

  • Prospecting for new clients.
  • Recognising sales opportunities.
  • Having sales-based conversations.
  • Closing deals.
The pros

The ability to sell is a must-have skill for an account manager. Not only will it make you more valuable to your agency, but it will also help you gain a deeper understanding of your client’s business, and help you to develop an agency-thick skin.

Understanding sales and business finances are mandatory for senior-level account management and agency management roles.

To conquer business financials and the sales process you’ll need to master:

  • The sales process.
  • P&L (profit and loss) understanding and responsibility.
  • Budgets and forecasts.
  • Client profitability.
  • Mark-ups and margins.
  • ROI (return on investment).
  • How B2B (business to business) selling differs from B2C (business to consumer) selling.
  • The cost of new vs existing clients.
The cons

Clients can tell when they are being ‘sold to’ (and they don’t like it). Clients do not want you to sell to them, they’re looking for help. If your mandate is to ‘sell, sell, sell’ (or even to ‘sell the work’), then you will need to become skilled in masking your desire to sell behind a genuine desire to care about your client and their business, and put their needs first.

You will also need to ensure that the solutions and suggestions you propose align with your client’s pain points and business goals. Otherwise, you will merely come across as trying to sell irrelevant ideas.


Extreme right: agencies that focus on relationships

There is no doubt about it, building a stable agency/client relationship is one of the keys to ensuring repeat and long-term sales. In an agency where you are required to concentrate on just building the client relationship (based on the theory that sales will naturally follow), your remit will likely be:

  • Keep your clients happy enough that they will choose to keep working with you and refer your agency to others.
  • Grow your accounts ‘organically’ through building strong business relationships.
  • Be an order-taker.
  • Be a great communicator.
  • Produce consistently good results.
The pros

People rarely buy from someone they dislike. Therefore, your client has to like you and want to be your friend. People pay for friendship, so the concept of relationship-selling is a strong one. For account managers who hate the thought of ‘selling’, then this type of agency would be perfect to work in, especially if you have a personable and efficient personality.

The cons

Sales via relationship-building are definitely possible, but having a good client relationship will not guarantee you sales. You are still going to have to be proactive, still have to make the occasional sales pitch, and still ‘close the deal’.

One significant concern with agencies who do not allow account managers to see budgets, forecasts and P&L information is that their staff become disconnected with the realities of agency business. If the primary role of an account manager is to demonstrably contribute to (and raise) agency revenue and profitability, it’s almost impossible to do that with any enthusiasm or effectiveness if you have no visibility over (or accountability to) the figures.


The middle ground

Sales without a relationship or a relationship without sales do not work; there has to be a balance between them both.

However, it’s important to remember that no matter what end of the agency sales spectrum you are sitting in, absolutely nothing can happen until somebody sells something. Creatives can’t create; Strategists can’t strategise, and Managers can’t manage. Agency services won’t sell themselves; they have to be sold. Somebody has to get the clients to spend money, and that somebody is probably going to be you. To have maximum impact and to genuinely help your clients:

  • Know that relationship-building and having a sales mindset are of equal importance.
  • Care about things other than just your sales numbers.
  • Listen to what your client is saying rather than pushing your service.
  • Find the cause of their need and come up with a solution.
  • Never lie or sell someone something they don’t need. • Ask for the ‘sale’.
  • Make sure you fix their problem.

All agency owners want to make a truckload of money and be as profitable as possible (or else they wouldn’t be in business). An account manager who can grow their accounts - either through new client acquisition or by maximising revenue on existing accounts - will be highly prized indeed.



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