How to Bill More AE Time

Each time Second Wind conducts our Complete Guide to Account Service training, we take an informal poll of attendees and ask how many hours they bill each year as account service people. On average, respondents say they bill somewhere between 800-1,000 hours per year. This is a dramatic increase from the days when account service people were working hard to eke out 400-500 hours per year. We are encouraged to see the hours continue to rise since billing account service time is an important revenue source for agencies as well as an AGI (billings minus direct vendor costs) booster. Almost every hour account service people bill is pure AGI so you need to maximize their billings.

What can today’s account executives do to capture more hours?  Following are some suggestions:

Estimate AE time into all client projects. Account management time is needed to estimate, strategize, coordinate and service all projects. Why would you give the client a free pass on these important tasks? Account executives should track their time during the day, every day. They should maintain an hourly record of time spent on clients and client projects and make sure the time spent aligns with the estimate. Don't allow your valuable account service team to give their time away.

One of the best ways for AEs to bill more time is for them to “face outward” rather than inward with their clients. Account executives must proactively seek ways to help clients move products, build brands and increase sales. You want AEs to focus primarily on client opportunities, not internal agency business. Facing inward relegates AEs to working as coordinators, helping to move work through the agency in a timely manner. Having your AEs face outward enables them to be more strategically linked to your clients. When they are in this type of strategic relationship, they offer time and services that are much more billable—and more acceptable to clients.

Some agencies accomplish this is by “productizing” their strategic deliverables. Have your AEs do some research, possibly working with others in the agency to create branded strategic products like competitive analyses, target audience studies, customer evaluations, industry reports, etc. Providing these products to clients can make your AEs more billable.

Focus on pricing by value, not by hours spent. Agencies once had to carry live ledgers of “unbillable” time and try to recover that time by adding it piecemeal into jobs that came in under budget. This was burdensome and inefficient. With today’s improved time-tracking applications, you shouldn’t be carrying unbillable hours at all. But moving to billing by what a job is worth rather than what it costs helps you build estimates with more wiggle room for capturing maximum hours spent on any given project. Your goal should be to increasingly use value pricing as your best way to increase billings. This way, your AEs can concentrate on providing value and service to clients and stop worrying so much about tracking time.

Look at where each AE is spending—or bleeding—time. Pull a report for each account executive to check where their time is being spent, and how much of that is actually billable. Then meet with each AE individually to identify areas where time is not being used efficiently, or where billable hours might be increased. Help AEs set goals and start working toward improving billable hours and overall productivity. Check back monthly to get a brief update on their progress toward goals.

For now, strive to bill as many account executive hours as you possibly can. Adjust your pricing model, and be sure to offer value to your clients in exchange for hours billed.