Every account lead has been in the tough position of being both the voice for your client in the agency room, and the voice for your agency in the client room. There is a constant tension between achieving all of your client’s dreams while maintaining realistic margin metrics and expectations in resource management. At the end of the day – we tend to feel like we’re always letting someone down. But the truth is, being the advocate your client needs is not as complex as we make it.
The solution is to be genuine. And I don’t mean genuine in the industry’s overused manner we talk about brand authenticity. Instead, I mean genuine through the lens of three specific arenas:
- Your personality. When it comes to your client relationship, let your real personality – with quirks – shine through. People want to feel like they’re engaging with a trusted friend. If you tend to be blunt at times, own that. If you’re a little goofy, own that. Our clients can tell when we’re putting on a show just like we can tell when our waitress wants us to go home after dragging dinner out too long, no matter how much they smile. The best Account Lead I’ve ever worked with said things that would sound harsh and unnatural coming out of my mouth as an overly positive person, but our clients appreciated her brutal truths. They got a kick out of her take-no-prisoners tact, but it only worked because they knew she cared, and they could tell she was talking to them the same way she talks to her family – it was genuine.
- Project realities. Be honest, even if it means exposing agency operations that we’ve been taught can’t be shared externally. If our clients want a certain person available constantly but that’s not in their budget, instead of pushing timelines to make sure that Agency Executive (who’s only billable 4 hours a week) is in every meeting, try explaining that in order to keep that person more dedicated to their account, we need more opportunities for them to work against. Problem solve with your clients. Figure out together if there’s a new area of their business you can make an impact, so that budget can go towards bringing that person they love more in to the fold (then follow through!) You never want a client to feel unimportant, but when you’re genuine about what it takes to keep an agency running, they’re more openminded to approaches. Clients don’t need you to have all the answers, they just need to know you have their back.
- Collaboration. Being genuine means that when we say we care about their success, we mean it. So, make them the star. Feed them the right clues so they can come up with the answers without you telling them. Let them take the credit to their leadership. Arm them to be brilliant, trust that they know their business, then take a back seat and watch.
In short, too many agencies are hiding behind the curtain of a grand theatre when all our clients want is to be a part of the cast. Stop playing a part, and start showing them who you are.