There are two big mistakes that creative firms are making when it comes to account management:
- Putting project managers in charge of client relationships.
- Letting client managers determine project pricing.
Let me explain the mistakes in more detail, the implications that flow from the mistakes, and how to fix them.
The first mistake–putting project managers in charge of client relationships–has become acute in the last eight or so years as work has become more digital. These firms:
- Dismiss relationship management as fluff, instead valuing the competent management of details instead. They aren’t even sure that clients value relationship management, let alone be willing to pay for it.
- Deliver a more technical product to clients and feel like those interfacing with the client must be able to speak the technical language.
At ReCourses, we have studied 21,000 employees in the creative services field. Each of those individuals has completed a lengthy qualitative/quantitative survey, participated in a personality profile exercise, and been interviewed for 20–30 minutes. We’ve compared that data with agency performance to surface these two results when an employee with a project management mentality is put in charge of a client relationship.
- Stalled growth. A project manager wants to get everything right and not lose the account. A relationship manager looks for ways to grow the account rather than just keep it.
- Sending clients to hell, but without helping them enjoy the trip like a great relationship manager can. A strong project manager is simply tone deaf to the subtle cues that the relationship is veering ever so slightly off path. (If the relationship is structured within a retainer, the results are even worse.)
Effective client relationship management requires the right people, and that job may be the most difficult in your shop. To see a great relationship manager in action is amazing. How they sell ideas, pull the right information from a client, push back where necessary, read between the lines, manage expectations. It’s a real art.
What they don’t do well is objective pricing (they want to say “yes” whenever they can) and they are not driven by details. Great project managers earn their keep by following them around and cleaning up the messes their over-promising creates.
But when they work together, there’s this perfect healthy tension. Even then, project managers must work as a team to withstand the daily onslaught of account people who want to run the universe (like the graphic shows). They must be more closely tied to each other than to individual account people or the account people will begin treating them like assistants and we’ll be in the same mess all over again.
Both roles are billable and sophisticated clients adore firms who run both functions well. In fact, they are far more likely to notice deficiencies in either than notice deficiencies in the quality of the actual work–that’s why it’s worth getting it right.