The Weak Link That Limits Your Growth

Bob Wiesner | September 11, 2018

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Organic growth is the indisputably easiest way to increase revenue. The exceptions are few and far between.

While nearly every agency and professional services firm gets this, agencies seem to have particular struggles with organic growth. It’s much harder than it ought to be.

Why?

I’ve got a theory I’ve been pushing for years. It’s this: account management in agencies is the most important area to drive organic growth. So in agencies that struggle with organic growth, it’s probably because your account people just aren’t good enough at it.

I’m not talking about good at it from a sales perspective. Though based on requests that I get for training and consulting services, that weakness is apparent to lots of agency leaders.

Instead, I’m talking about the ability of account teams to create terrific day-to-day experiences with their clients. It’s not where it needs to be. Yet it’s vital to growth.

Find The Emotional Layer

This article in HBR drove the point home for me. Consider this:

…transactions alone don’t create sustainable engagement. What is critical is the emotional layer, the features of a product or service that tap into the fundamental, and under-the-surface, motivations and emotions of customers.

No area of your agency is in a better position to know about and work with that emotional layer than your account people. When doing their jobs well, they should be building relationships that allow these motivations to surface. Then they should be doing all it takes to surprise and delight their clients, based on these motivations, every single day. Even every single touchpoint.

Sadly, we don’t see that enough.

I think account management just doesn’t have either the talent or the time to do it right or at least do it enough.  In many agencies, account people focus most of their efforts on project management. Or at least that’s how they’re perceived by clients. They’re often younger and less experienced than their client counterparts. They often don’t have enough deep and meaningful business discussions with those clients. And, worst case, their relationship with the client is that of an order-taker. In other words, very transactional and not very relational.

You Gotta Fix It

If organic growth is a priority for you, start with your account managers. You can train them in selling skills, for sure. Might be a priority.

Even more important, though, is training them to build stronger and deeper client relationships. There are specific skills and strategies that create those kind of relationships. Your account teams have to know what they are and know how to use them.

These are short-term solutions. Long-term, think about your structure. I’ve been doing it for years. I firmly believe that project management is best handled by professional project managers. Account management is the responsibility of people who can build strong business relationships and get down to that emotional layer.

With these changes, organic growth is now a realistic goal.

 

SOLUTIONS

Trust is a huge part of client relationships. It’s not enough to expect to be granted trust by the client. An account manager has to earn it. So the concept of “trustworthiness” must be at the core of any solution designed the address an improvement in client relationships.

Strengthening Client Relationships is a program that’s built around the concept of earning trust. It takes a very deep dive into the elements that drive trustworthiness, while giving each account manager a chance to create their own trust-building plan for key clients.

Of course, trust needs content. What the account manager says and does within the trustworthiness model is key. So the workshop also looks at the strategic and tactical elements of the relationship. And it offers plenty of time for strategy development and role-playing.

Agencies that have bought into the workshop have seen stronger relationships and more opportunities for growth. And, interestingly, they’ve found that their account people can be effective across a wider range of clients. Relationships are built more quickly and sustained with less effort. As these relationships get stronger, account managers have less need to do multiple revisions of recommendations. Trust translates into a more efficient approval process.

Happy clients and happy finance directors. A great combination!

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