Code Red! Account Service Crisis Alert!

We received some alarming feedback from Account Executive College attendees. A majority—not one or two, but around 85% of attendees at our account service seminars—report they are asked to “wear too many hats.”

Many AEs are assigned agency duties that have very little to do with client relationships. Some AEs and account coordinators are functioning as traffic or production managers—scheduling, estimating and working with vendors. Some are media planners; others are project managers, working to coordinate in-house progress of assigned projects. Many also do new business work, and are expected to represent the agency at business and networking functions. A rare few may be their agencies’ de facto account planners, doing research and trying to offer insights for creative teams. Some are writing content, handling social media, etc., etc., etc.

In the meantime, we’re hearing from agency principals that they are losing valued clients.

We perceive a pattern here. Remember the prime directive of account service:

Account executives’ primary focus should always be building client relationships.

If you require Account Service people to do any agency tasks while leaving them no time to nurture client accounts, please stop!

Small + smart agencies may indeed be running “lean” by paring back on once-essential positions and having other personnel double-up on responsibilities. But client relationships are your sole reason for existence. Fail to give client service its due, and you invite client dissatisfaction and account loss.

If AEs spend more than 30 percent of their time performing non-client-service tasks and functions, immediately shift non-service tasks to other people, or prioritize hiring people to assume those duties. Consider interns, temp agency personnel, entry-level trainees, independent contractors, whatever you have to do to find some lower-level in-house people to carry the in-house workload… and free up your AEs to go back to doing all that they can to retain and grow valuable accounts.

Inadequate account service can negatively impact your agency in many ways. Consider these facts:

  • Over many years, Second Wind annual agency surveys have found that most agencies gain “new” business by growing their current accounts.
  • Gaining more business from current clients is more cost-effective than winning new business.
  • Agency clients are valuable as new business referral sources.
  • The length of time you hold a client account can impact on new business prospects’ consideration of your agency.
  • Strong relationships with multiple contacts in client organizations can help you retain accounts even if your primary contact leaves.
  • The more you are physically in front of clients, the less likely they will start wondering “What have they done for me lately?”

What AEs SHOULD Be Doing

If you need to revisit the duties of an account executive, see our sample job description. The first line of our job description reads:

THE ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE is responsible for daily contact between the agency and one or more client accounts. 

That daily service may include:

  • Strategic planning
  • Receiving client briefings, approvals and revisions
  • Writing client contact reports
  • Presenting, selling and defending agency work
  • Developing and presenting client proposals
  • Keeping apprised of client brands, products and services
  • Keeping apprised of client industry news, competitive situations and marketing opportunities
  • Reviewing and approving invoices
  • Responding to all client communications
  • Coordinating with in-house service and creative teams on client assignments
  • Proofing/reviewing proofs and materials
  • Reporting on client activities to the accounts supervisor
  • Growing client accounts by watching for additional opportunities within client organizations
  • Supervising the account coordinator
  • Presenting and collecting invoices

That is one fully occupied individual.

If your AEs are scheduling jobs, compiling production estimates, or acting as media planners/buyers, how can they do their actual, really important work?

Refocus AE Energy on Client Service

Client relationships don’t just happen. Account executives have to nurture clients, hold their hands through crises, help them find solutions to marketing problems, and LISTEN. The best AEs are positive, can-do people; so it’s important to realize when you ask them to do in-house grunt work, they are not going to say no. But designating your AEs as your in-house “go-to” people is very dangerous; they may well end up with zero time to devote to the clients who PAY YOUR BILLS.

Our late founder Tony Mikes often said that the agency business is all about relationships. If you have structured your agency so you are neglecting those relationships, you need to fix the situation. Do it now. There is no time to lose.

(Deep breath.) There. I feel much better. And so will your agency, if you put account executives back to work on client relationships. 


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