Account Management at-a-Glance

What is the role of an account manager?

A few weeks ago we wrote about How To Create A Cooperative Relationship Between Account and Project Management.  But what exactly is the role of an account manager?  How is that different from a project manager?  The account manager is not just a liaison with the client, but in effect, both a representative of the agency, and a representative of the client.  Because the two often have related (but different) goals, there is a delicate balance between the two.   Still, in a word, the role of the AM could be effectively summarized as, simply, the “communicator.”

There is a myriad of definitions for account manager, and according to varied sources, there is little to delineate the responsibilities between AM and PM.  Among the definitions I’ve heard, the one that strikes me as the closest thing to what outlines the responsibilities of an account manager is thus:

“The role of the account manager is to coordinate all services provided, cultivate and sustain a productive and profitable relationship and to increase the penetration of services into the account.  They should be roadblock removers.” (Michael Wood)

Though, officially, the line between the AMs and PMs seems to be blurred, we’ve formulated our interpretation of how the role works within our agency.  It is important that they are clearly defined, since there can easily be confusion within the office as well as with the client.

Typically, the account manager handles the following responsibilities:

  • Initiating a project, defining roles, client needs and budgets: This is likely the case with an existing client, but follows a similar structure when business development initiates a project with a new client.  The AM works closely with team members and the client to outline deliverables and allocated budgets, which will define resources required for a project.
  • Offering best practice recommendations for the project based on the clients goals and expectations: AM’s need to understand as much about the client’s business and objectives as they do, but with their additional agency and industry background, should be able to offer advice and even guide the client when defining project deliverables and making certain choices.  Expert advice delivered honestly to provide the best possible outcome for the client goes a long way.
  • Ensuring a smooth transition of the project to the project manager: This goes back to communication with the team and the project manager.  The PM is essentially the day-to-day manager of each project, the key communicator with the team and also helps to manage client expectations by adhering to budgets and timelines.  The AM needs to clearly convey those expectations and any feedback to the PM so they can keep the project on track, and find out from the PM if there are any risks or threats to a project.  This directly relates to the next point:
  • Monitoring the progress of the project and stepping in should issues arise relating to client expectations: AM’s are risk mitigators and conflict resolvers.  This is one of the most challenging aspects of the position, as each project requires dealing with a host of  issues (small and large) that crop up on a daily basis. With clear communication between the AM and PM, it becomes easier to identify potential risks or setbacks, assess the situation, and find the best possible solution for both the agency and the client.
  • Communicating proactively with the client to assist in assessing long term goals and objectives and offering solutions: This is not only important when it relates to a project, but in general.  AM’s spend a lot of time researching and reviewing industry and competitor news so that they can provide proactive strategic insight to their clients and help further define their goals due to shifts in the marketplace.  The goal is to strengthen the relationship with the client by providing valuable insight and information and working as a partner, which benefits the client and the agency.
  • Taking responsibility for the overall profitability of the account: While an account manager may act and feel, especially to the internal team, like a representative voice of the client, ultimately, the account manager is responsible for keeping the relationship profitable.  Working with PMs to outline the initial scope of work is the first step, but what becomes more important is ensuring that the project follows that scope of work efficiently and effectively. To do so, it takes proactive management of expectations, which can fluctuate during the course of a project. In addition, AMs need to continue to look for opportunities for growth during a project and in general, and work closely with Business Affairs and legal to protect the agency’s interests.  This is a delicate balancing act that requires particular attention.

It is imperative that AM’s communicate with clients and manage projects efficiently, effectively and professionally; both being mindful of the long term goals of the Agency and the needs of the Client.

Some overarching Do/Don’ts that help keep this balance intact:

  • DO: Be the filter.  Don’t let anything go out the door that your instinct tells you your client will dislike.
  • DON’T: Confuse your own preferences with those of the client.
  • DO: Be diplomatic and pick your battles.  Thinking about the long-term client relationship and not sweating the small stuff will go a long way with developing a trusting partnership.
  • DON’T: Forget who signs your checks.  While you should be the voice of the client to ensure a work product that they will respond to, ultimately, your responsibility is to ensure the relationship remains in the agency’s best interest.
  • DO: Provide advice and insight.  Growing your knowledge base in the client’s, or your own, industry and providing relevant information to them (even if there is a risk that they may already know it) builds the relationship and could prove beneficial to them and their goals, as well as those of the agency in the long term.
  • DON’T: Bombard the client with articles.  Pick and choose what actually has value to the client, don’t just send them news to reinforce that you are staying on top of trends.  That’s your job.
  • DO: Make decisions for the best interest of both the client and the agency if the solution is clear.
  • DON’T: Guess.  If you are unsure of what path to take, weigh the options, consult experts and the team, and communicate with the client.  Making an executive decision that could cost the agency or the client is never a smart move.

At the end of the day, the relationships between a client, account manager and the agency need not be a tenuous one, but supportive, strong and mutually beneficial.

Image Note:  Pictured are team members from across disciplines in the agency; A VP, account manager, project manager, designers, and developers working together to survive the “sandstorm”. For more images visit our Flickr set.