By Maria Geokezas, account director for Heinz Marketing

It’s not rocket science, but for some reason, solid account management is difficult to grasp for many service firms.  One of our favorite books covering this subject is Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding the Three Fears that Sabotage Client Loyalty by Patrick Lencioni.  In his book, Lencioni encourages anyone in a business-adviser role to work at being candid, modest, and transparent with clients. He believes that when clients begin to realize the genuineness of these behaviors toward them, that’s when true trust thrives, a solid relationship forms and both you and your client get more out of it.

Here at Heinz Marketing, our cultural values very closely mimic the ones Lencioni encourages.  But it’s not enough just to name your values, put them on your website and make a poster for your office.  You have to bring the values to life with some very specific actions and a framework to ensure each client gets treated with the same high-impact, quality service and each agency representative you hire knows what’s expected and how to conduct themselves.  Here’s how we live our values:

Set expectations up front:  Create a plan for how you are going to approach the engagement; break it down by phases or projects.  Let your client know when to expect each deliverable and when their time is needed to review or approve the work.  As you are putting the plan together, make sure the end goal is clearly defined.  Identify your success metrics – and the early indicators like response rates, website traffic, cost per lead, average order size and number of new customers that will get you to your goal.

It’s not unusual in today’s fast-paced world that your client will want you to act quickly.  Doing a job fast is great!  But if it lacks quality, you won’t be remembered for making your deadline.  Instead, you’ll be remembered for doing shoddy work.  That’s why the critical path and possible contingencies must be identified up front.  The more time you take in the beginning to research, plan and develop clarity around the project’s objectives, the more likely you are to deliver a high-quality piece of work that delivers the results you expected.

Establish regular in-person meetings:  Set a regular schedule for status meetings.  Identify participants and stakeholders.  Keep a project status log that tracks active projects, next steps and key due dates as well as projects that are on deck or in the parking lot.  This handy tool will help to ensure both you and your client are on the same page.

Establish a rhythm of regular communication:  It’s absolutely necessary to make sure your client is informed every step of the way.  Chances are they report to someone who will ask about your project and your work.  Help your client look good and return, you’ll look good too.

  • Provide a draft agenda in advance of your in-person meeting.  If your client needs to prepare something for the meeting, make sure you highlight this in the agenda.
  • After each meeting, quickly summarize the discussion, detail each decision as well as the rationale for that decision.
  • At the end of each week, provide your client with a summary of results and accomplishments as well as next steps he or she can expect for the following week.
  • Report results as soon as they are available and keep tracking to the end goal.  Demonstrate your understanding of the dynamics at play: why an email performed the way it did, what can be changed to improve its performance, and how will any changes impact the other elements of the campaign.  Don’t be afraid to report on less-than-stellar results.  Show that you learn from a poor performance and make improvements for next time.

Practice client focus:  Marketers advise clients to focus on the benefits their product or service delivers rather than focusing on product features.  We need to practice what we preach.  Understand your client’s business, their work environment, workplace culture and his or her stakeholders.  Ask lots of questions and show them that you are listening.  Above all, make everything you deliver consumable.  Write specific subject lines in emails to help your client prioritize items in their inbox.  Create emails that are scan-able, and highlight any action items at the top of the email.  Offer a little background to each and every communication (written and verbal).  Your client does a lot more than deal with you and your project, help them to answer your question the first time.

It doesn’t matter if you interact directly with customers on a daily basis or work behind the front lines with only indirect customer exposure; we all have the opportunity to create long-term, mutually beneficial client relationships.

What are some of the things you do to build solid client relationships?  Share your insights, best practices or tips here.