The Advanced Account Handler – A Strategic Partner – your questions answered
We’re getting an amazing response to our Lockdown & Learn series of webinars and workshops. It’s great see so many of you getting involved.
One of the upshots of this is that we ran out of time to take all your questions on the recent webinar: The Advanced Account Handler – A Strategic Partner.
However, that doesn’t mean we’ve left them unanswered. So, if you attended the webinar and we weren’t able to take your question on the day, read on…
Question: Any advice on how to help empower/inform your broader team about that strategic v. JFDI balance? For example, how to get creatives on board with a) when there’s the opportunity to challenge strategy, or b) when the team just need to focus on execution?
Polly: This is part of our constant juggle but being open and clear with people really works. Having challenging conversations internally is healthy – sometimes we have to fight the right battles and challenge ourselves and our clients in the appropriate way. Having a wider view with strategy and a road map of delivery to support that strategy also helps. It can support conversations about where the big opportunities for creative may be vs where we need to just focus and execute really well. Equally, your account plan can start to create that business plan and address disagreements: eg The client wants us to just do X. BUT with some investment, we could pitch them Y which goes beyond the JFDI. Sometimes those risks pay off. We just need the forward thinking and support to make it happen.
Question: Don’t you think that “partnership” is a step behind “advocate”? I mean: one thing is work “together”, that is good, but having a client actively promoting us is totally another level…
Polly: For me, partnership includes advocacy but I think you should use language that suits you and your business. “Partner” can be misconstrued (I often think of technical “partners” or the like) but the sentiment is about deeper, more strategic relationships, whatever that may mean, and whatever you call it.
Zoe: For me a partner suggests a mutually beneficial deeper relationship than advocate. An advocate can be in a great positive relationship, they may recommend you – but sometimes the relationship lacks depth and strategic benefit to the agency. An example I experienced was a former client who LOVED the agency team, gave the best client satisfaction score, were always happy. However, they were all ‘marketing clients’ and the decision making was at a sales/commercial level. We were unable to get traction there and this became a key barrier, so the client never delivered our business aspirations. We never felt a partner to their business.
Question: Do you create an account plan for every single new client? Even smaller ones?
Polly: Whether or not it’s a full-blown account plan, it’s definitely worth analysing the wider opportunities every new client presents our business. That needs clear communication to everyone in the team. Before we even go for a new piece of work, we ask ourselves if it’s a good fit, how likely we are to win it and what we can bring to it that’s special. That may be in just one- or two-people’s heads but part of the internal briefing-in of that prospect (and again when they become a client) needs to convey that early thinking.
You probably then need a bit of time to onboard the client and initiate your project or account before you can put together the workings of an account plan. But there’s no reason why you can’t start work on a top-line account plan.
Question: Would you work to the business objectives the business has, or extend past these to areas you think they need to work on (knowing that the client will be laser focussed on just those business objectives)?
Polly: We need to show complete alignment with our client’s focus so in this case, the priority is looking at current business needs. However, as I think you’re hinting at, there’s mileage in being forward thinking as well. Perhaps there’s a risk, but the pay-off is setting yourself apart as a provider of strategic-minded support to the client. Get the basics right first though, then scale up and show your value. The fact that you’re seeing past the “now” is brilliant and a major asset to you and your team.
Question: You say you have worked with some great strategists – do you have an opinion on what parts of understanding / research / face time with clients the client partner should own and what is owned by strategists?
Polly: Every relationship and every team is different so it’s hard to say what’s right for you. However, some of my best relationships with strategists are those where I can support and act as a sounding board and gentle interrogator on approach and findings. As a client partner, being involved in setting out research plans, parameters and briefings with researchers is hugely valuable. I’m conscious of “too many cooks” but you, as client partner, need to articulate the full story – from understanding/research through to the thought process – to define a strategy and champion it across your client’s organisation. Also, I think it’s the account person’s role to spend that time with clients, even if you’re presenting alongside the strategist.
Question: My agency is very small and we have no planners. I am not so strong strategically. What can I do in the absence of no planning support on an account plan?
Polly: See if you can identify any other creative, innovative and growth-focussed minds. There’ll be people of all seniorities who can offer great input even if they don’t wear the planner or strategist title. Talk to some of your management team about the ambition and they too may have some ideas. Don’t be afraid to start small – you don’t have to figure it all out immediately. Pick one or two accounts that you want to drive forward then involve your crack team, whoever that may be, in that mission.
Zoe: In addition, read case studies of clients/campaigns that have synergy with your clients. Understanding a few of these will help you become more familiar with strategic problems and how other brands have solved them. You are what you read so they say!
Question: Isn’t this a plan and roadmap focused on client’s POV? Maybe the “objective” from the agency POV on a client could be to earn more, increase profitability, lower demands…
Polly: Yes, I totally agree – and this is where account plans come into play. I like the idea that the account plan is about the client, how they work with your agency and (in part) serve your agency’s purpose. The client strategy and roadmap are then much more about the client’s point of view.
The two are not mutually exclusive though. It’s great when we talk to a client about our ambition to, say, do something really cool with AI and the client shares that same ambition. It means we can work towards a shared opportunity together.
Question: I feel there is a need to get the teams respect for our own strategic views and opinions before we discuss them with the client and to not step on anyone’s shoes 😉 Would love to hear your opinion.
Polly: Definitely. I don’t mind stepping on toes a little bit at certain times but I totally agree that we need a united front and lots of different input sources and opinions to craft the best ambitions for, and then with, our clients. I love a business that can embrace positive challenging of one another to get the best ultimate output. Really challenging and interrogating our thinking and work can only better it and us.