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How Account Managers are The Key to Growing Client Relationships, with Jennifer Plant – Episode 107




Last updated Nov 9, 2023


How Account Managers are The Key to Growing Client Relationships, with Jennifer Plant – Episode 107

Last updated Nov 9, 2023 | 0 comments



This week, Jennifer Plant – of Account Management Skills Ltd and the Creative Agency Account Manager podcast fame – joins Marcel to define the role of an agency account manager when growing an existing client business.

About Jennifer Plant

Jenny’s career in account management spans 30 years and includes agency acquisition management, relationship audits for agencies, and agency board advisor.

Host of the Creative Agency Account Manager podcast (dedicated to helping agency account managers improve their account management skills), Jenny’s journey towards Account Management Acceleration commenced when she left her role as General Manager of Publicis LifeBrands in 2010.

She set up her current business, Account Management Skills Ltd, a training company dedicated to helping agency account management teams retain and grow existing client relationships. Additionally, her Client Retention and Growth for Agencies training have been running since 2016, promoted and endorsed by the Pharmaceutical Marketing Society.

A seasoned cross-fit fanatic, Jenny resides with her partner, Nathan, in South London where they enjoy what she describes as a rather “boring quiet life!”

Points of Interest…

  • What Led Jenny Towards Agency Account Managing 1:34
  • Defining an Agency Account Manager 3:17
  • Critical Skills for a Great Account Manager 7:53
  • Setting your Agency Account Manager up for Success 11:52

Why Jennifer Gravitated Towards Agency Account Managing

I had the privilege of being on Jenny’s show a little while ago and I couldn’t wait to have her on our show because she truly knows everything there is to know about agency account management! It’s one of those titles where you ask 10 people what they undertake daily in the account management role, and you’ll get 10 different answers… While it’s a critical role, it’s still very much misunderstood and as much of an art as it is a science.

Chronicling how she got into this space, Jennifer cites Marcus Cauchi as a transformative connection she made when General Manager at Publicis LifeBrands. Hence, when she left in 2010 she was quick to start training account managers not just to retain, but also specifically grow accounts.

“I absolutely love what I do because I see my younger self come through my training program. I have so much empathy for the account manager, while also being close with a lot of agency owners too, bringing an understanding to their side of the business too.”

So, that was Jenny’s inspiration – her time training with Marcus Cauchi – and it was enough to motivate her to help account managers find themselves in the role. But what IS that role exactly…

Defining an Agency Account Manager

What is account management? Is it a title, is it a role? What does it mean? How do you define account management and an account manager and who should be perking their ears up as they listen to this?

“There are so many different types of agencies. There’s the pure digital, there’s performance marketing, there’s app development, there’s design, and social media. Every different type of agency requires probably a slightly different take on the account management role, but I think – fundamentally – it’s the interface between the client and the company.”

The more agencies both myself and Jenny have worked with, the more we’ve noticed that what used to be an account management manager is no longer that role. For example; with print-based agencies, account managers used to have to do a lot of project management. Not only did they have to excel at project management but also account growth, alongside relationship development and expansion. So, what’s changed?

Well, in Jenny’s experience, account management has become increasingly recognized over the last decade, perhaps as we’ve leaned more towards pure digital. This requires such a different skill set that agencies started to separate the teams.

For instance; if you’re doing Pure Account Management, Jenny provides the following description of that role…

“That is about account expansion, it’s running strategic workshops and immersing yourself in the client’s business. It’s all about requesting testimonials, referrals, relationship development, really getting under the skin of the business, and looking for opportunities to add more value. That’s the pure-play account manager.”

That said, there are still agencies where you have a more hybrid role, whereby they’re still undertaking a lot of the aforementioned but with a lot more time restraints and budget restrictions. These two different functions require two different skill sets.

For context; I see clients trying to do that with sales, whereby they want their account manager to design the whole sales strategy and the sales process, but then also shoehorning in 300 cold calls a day. That duality feels, quite frankly, a little out of line with each other.

***Jenny and I delve into client relationships and the interface between the agency and the client from 6:10 minutes***

Side note: our Agency Profit Toolkit is a one stop shop for you to be able to outline some of these crucial profitability numbers to a potential buyer. Spreadsheets, templates and training videos, you name it, it’s all in the toolkit. Grab yours free at the link below:

Critical Skills for a Great Account Manager

If you’re sitting there thinking, “I wish my account manager was more proactive about sales”, ask yourself what are they forced to compensate for that might be undermining their ability to do that.

This leads us neatly to the next thing, which is defining the critical skill set of a great account manager. And I think that, at this point, we’re gonna start talking to what we would agree is the highest form of an account manager – which is one that drives new business for your agency.

“An account manager will have no problem being in a room of strangers and chatting. They’re genuinely interested in conversation and meeting new people. They’re creative thinkers yet have zero qualms about picking up the phone and booking a call, That sounds really obvious, but when you have more pure-play project management type people – more technical people – they’re not ‘in flow’ when they’re around lots of people. They don’t particularly like it.”

OK, so the ability to be social, and actually want the interaction, is an inherent critical skill. As for the rest? Well, our friend David C. Baker has in fact done a study into the characteristics of an account manager. He ran a profiling exercise and found that 80% of account managers had a “high influencer profile”, which falls into that natural propensity to communicate – or, as Jenny aptly puts it…

“They get lit up by new ideas, they’re sociable and energetic… They’re less comfortable with concentration and the finite details, however, they’re good at opening doors, presenting ideas, and devising them. That’s what you’re looking for!”

Setting your Agency Account Manager up for Success

OK, so we’ve established that it’s fundamentally about relationship building. It’s about being able to communicate and, moreover, translate the client’s language to the agency’s language for the array of people that might have to be interfaced with. Subsequently, the end goal is that your account manager’s input will hopefully start influencing the direction that the client takes as it relates to the future of their strategy as well as the future of who they’re going to employ to help implement that strategy. And that’s just the soft skills side of things…

So, what is the framework that account managers should employ to help ensure that they’re actually effective in the role? What are the additional skills required in an account manager, on top of those innate tendencies to communicate, for them to drive expansion?

“Before you get to the skills that they need, you should focus on the conditions that you create for them to flourish in the job.”

We’ve talked about the “natural hybrid role” (***5:32 minutes***), alongside the natural leaning temperament toward communicating and being in the flow of seeking growth opportunities. However, what if this natural communicator needs to lean on a team to help them generate viable growth ideas? What if they don’t have the backing of that team for whatever reason?

“These are the things that are coming up in my conversations all the time – that is a condition for growth. I’m also quite surprised by the number of account managers that don’t have the context for the agency’s targets and forecast.”

Giving your account manager access to forecasts, and growth targets, set against a backdrop of context is key for setting them up for success – plus gaining the skill sets required to prosper long-term.

The fundamentals for setting your agency account manager(s) up for success are these key steps…

  1. Lean into the natural hybrid role
  2. Nurture their natural temperament to communicate and ensure they have the figures/backup they need
  3. Create a work culture around growth. Have specific team meetings focussing on growth and celebrating when growth is achieved ***more on this from 14:14***

Key Takeaway…

The end goal is having your account manager reposition themselves as more of an advisor than, as Jenny puts it, “an order taker.”

“One of the things that you can do from the outset of winning new business is to say to clients ‘Look, this is how we work. We work with our clients and we co-create their yearly plan; this way they see the value of getting our ideas earlier in their internal planning process.’ This leads to staying upstream with that client, by having quarterly strategy sessions.”

Growth is about staying close to your client’s business, understanding those quarterly goals and strategies that might already be in place, while finding relevant ways to add the value – not working downstream in a way that’s very sporadic. A man who knows all about the art of the consultative sales process is Blair Enns.

The bottom line is this; your account manager needs to ultimately position themselves as a leader of change. They need to have an environment in which they can be at the forefront of what’s changing – be it new technologies, why Web3 is the next big thing, and why some of their competitors are already stepping into the Metaverse…

See more from Jennifer…

Did you learn anything new from this episode? Let us know in the comments below! We have helpful blogs designed to bolster your agency profitability, such as How To Calculate Your Billable Employee Cost-Per-Hour.

Our next installment of #APP, on March 8th, will see Marcel chat with Karsten Rasmussen for our 108th edition. Our previous blog – Episode 107 with Ryan Thrash – can be viewed here…

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We would be eternally grateful if you could leave us a review…

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