There’s a Woody Allen quote that goes something like this - “80% of success in life is just showing up.”
If I may borrow from that thought, I believe that 80% of account management is about “showing up” to ensure quality work, grow the business, make money and build the relationship. But that leaves 20% unaccounted for.
The other 20% has to do with the instincts and antennae we use to foresee problems, predict trouble and get ahead of the curve on potential issues and concerns, to help us be proactive and defensive.
Acknowledging that some of this “skill set” is innate, there are still cognitive ways to get better at this.
Here are a couple of suggestions:
Pay attention to history
As the old saying goes - “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Look at a client’s history on all levels – Does he pay his bills on time? How has he treated the agency? How is his taste in creative work? What is his tolerance for risk? All of these should be provide strong and clear clues for how he will behave with you and our agency.
The learning and information that comes from this kind of scrutiny can be immeasurably helpful in guiding our own behavior on things like – Should we take this client on? Should we make them pay up front? How should we staff the account? What’s the best way to sell our ideas and work to him?
And finally, at the risk of overusing clichés, be guided by the fact that most of the time, “if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck” then… well, you know the rest.
Don’t be afraid to seek counsel and guidance from those who have “been there”
There are many senior, experienced people at the agency, and many of you have mentors, who maintain a mental library of war stories, experiences and learning about clients and situational signs that are the harbingers of trouble.
Don’t be afraid, to ask other people who have had more and/or varied experience for their “take” on your client or a specific situation. It’s not a sign of weakness or incompetence to seek “outside counsel” when it comes to doing what’s necessary to avert disaster or to optimize a situation.
Follow your instincts with action
For most people, first instincts are usually pretty good. But problems can arise when that instinct is accepted as a low level irritant that you learn to live with, instead of a nagging feeling that can’t be ignored.
So when your antennae starts to twitch, telling you that things don’t feel “right” and you don’t like that way a client situation is shaping up, you need to commit to doing something about it.
Be nosy. Ask the client questions. Politely push for deeper answers than the ones that are politically correct. And if the diplomatic route doesn’t yield the answers you seek, don’t be afraid to have an “off the record” one-on-one conversation with the client. Most times, this will lead to flushing out the issue or at least having the client understand that you’re concerned.
Our desire to be successful account managers is rightly focused on results and performance - achieving goals, solving problems, etc. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that (and here’s my last cliché) “to be forewarned is to be forearmed”. And the best ways to be forewarned is to use our instincts and antennae.
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