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November 5, 2009

Account Dog-paddling

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29828810.DogPaddleIt’s fun watching kids learn to swim. They quickly master the dog-paddle and thrash mightily in water above their heads to stay, we hope, safely afloat. Lots of splashing and churning, little arms and legs whirling like propellers, trying not to sink or gulp the yucky water.

Lots of accounts are run like that. Try to keep your head above water and hope you’ll reach the other side of the pool before your arms fall off. I call it account dog-paddling.

Our client survey work (learn more at Why You Should Audit Your Clients) proves this is a big issue for clients. “Proactivity,” or more precisely lack of same, is the number one frustration clients have. And it’s usually the primary reason clients shop for a new agency.

Ah, yes – proactivity. It means observing what’s going on, seeing that things can be improved or enhanced, and – pay attention here – taking the initiative and being accountable for getting it done.

Here are 6 things you can do to stimulate proactivity either individually or as an agency team:

1. Inside Account Reviews – This is an internal work-out session to take a candid look at how each piece of business on your roster can be improved. It goes like this. Gather everyone who works on Account X (do it for all accounts) every 3 months for a gloves-off meeting to discuss the financials, client marketing
issues, how you’re handling the account, and challenges and opportunities. Imperative: candor (and no finger-pointing!). Here’s a complete how-to on the process of Quarterly Account Reviews.

2. Meta-thinking – Real progress is made only when people are dissatisfied with commonplace results. Establish attainable objectives for account leadership, of course, but then exceed them. Rewards and incentives should be granted not just for hitting the marks, but going above and beyond. This way of thinking is what separates champions from also-rans. Never be satisfied doing only what’s expected.

3. Long Term Expectations – Agencies that successfully keep and grow accounts focus on what clients need not just today, but 12 to 24 months from now. That’s how you build lifetime value for your services. Have you asked your clients what their needs will be over the next 2 years so you’re building bench
strength and competencies now? Again, see Why You Should Audit Your Clients.

4. Cross Pollination – Get your best people working with the weakest teams. Stagnant accounts can dramatically accelerate when stronger people get involved and the less experienced learn from them. There’s your training program! We wrote a piece a while back about training that puts the onus where it belongs – on the trainees – called The Answer to Training.

5. Everybody’s Creative – Coming up with fresh ideas is not the sole province of the “creative” department. It’s everybody’s business when you work in a company chartered to develop sticky ideas. So inspire people to think around corners. Publicly applaud innovators at every level and fuel more creativity by rewarding new
thinking wherever you see it. What in your agency can’t be improved with more creative thinking?

6. Give To Get – Agencies these days are so fearful of a skidding bottom line that they dismiss one of the best business-building tools available: giving something away for free as an investment in future business. Hey, it’s not imprudent; in fact the opposite is true. Example: the restaurant manager who gifts a free dessert as a special thank-you or to amend for poor service creates a lifetime customer for the cost of a piece of pie. Don’t be afraid to be generous with your clients – it pays off in the long haul.

Proactivity is a way of thinking, a mindset based on believing there’s always more or better you can do, that the same old way, just because it’s comfortable, isn’t the best.

Or put another way, if you don’t learn to go from dog-paddling to freestyle you’ll never make it to the other side of the pool.

Not to mention how tired your arms and legs will get.

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