Have we lost sight of the purpose of Account Management?

04 Nov 2021

By Joanna Howes.

From a recent AAR seminar I hosted with senior leaders in the creative industry, the resounding answer was ‘YES’.

So how has losing that purpose had an impact on the steady and continuing decline of the value that clients see in the AM role today?

When there is a lack of purpose, we become focused on tasks. We become implementers and ‘yes’ people. Finding ourselves on a hamster wheel of just being busy to try and prove we are needed.

I remember when account management was the role everyone was striving to do. The pride you felt when talking about your accounts and clients. The aspirations that were created in young executives starting on their journey.

Not any more, so it seems.

So how do we get it back?

It all starts with knowing the purpose of the department and the individual roles.

That purpose needs to be big enough for the team to overcome the challenges and obstacles they will face. For example, my purpose is to help as many people as possible go to work and feel they can be their true selves. This purpose drives and motivates me to overcome cold-calling and going live on social media platforms.

Right now, too many agencies are setting their purpose as growing the agency’s business. Unfortunately, this is part of what has caused a lot of the problems.

The natural flow of business success is if you take care of your clients, they will take care of you.  With the purpose of growing the agency, clients can very quickly see you are taking care of yourselves - which means they will do the same. The value of the role and the opportunity to be a business partner has vanished.

The fantastic work AAR has been doing with clients has uncovered a working purpose of ‘be curious about your client’s business’.  This is moving in the right direction.  And with the addition of ‘to care and be curious about your clients’ business’ I feel agencies could create the type of motivation and determination the account team needs to achieve results.

Ok. You have defined your purpose. So what's next?

Once you know your purpose, you then need to make sure you set your teams up for success.

This requires the leadership team to cover four dimensions of thinking. These are outlined in the Critical Alignment Model below:

*Created by Sharon Pearson founder of The Coaching Institute

You begin by building the right environment, including asking the following questions:

  1. What is the account management department vision?
  2. What are the goals?
  3. What are the standards the account management team hold themselves to?
  4. What are the expectations of each other?
  5. What do you all need to believe to be successful?

In this dimension of thinking you can also identify the gaps that are holding you back.  For example, if you all need to believe that you know what is keeping your clients awake at night and the reality is no one is even asking their clients, you can see where the work needs to be done to increase performance.

Once you have created the right environment you need to build the structure for the team.

This includes:

  1. Operations manuals, processes, checklists
  2. Strategies to achieve the goals
  3. Team structures
  4. Benchmarks and KPIS
  5. Systems and technology

Ensuring your team have all they need to be able to perform their role at the highest level.

The final parts

Once these two areas are defined, the team then understand the actions they take in implementation which are all aligned to the purpose. Lastly, in the people dimension, make sure you have trained and mentored the team to help them be their best.

This model is proven to elevate the success of business performance and increase productivity and growth.

What to watch out for

It’s too easy to think the problem of account management losing its value is because of the people within the team. This is actually very rare.

When a team member isn’t performing, the first thing to do is to identify if there is something missing in Environment or Structure that is holding them back.  I had a situation where someone was being very slow and they were being criticised for it, when in fact it was a structural problem with a flaw in the technology which wasn’t anything to do with the individual’s performance.

Be mindful not to quickly jump to blaming the person and first check if they have been set up for success.

So, take a moment to ask yourself the question “What is the purpose of our account management team?”.

Start here, then follow the model and you will soon see the value of the role accelerate and become the trusted client partners of the future.

Your team and company will thank you for it.


Joanna Howes
Leadership coach, Trainer and Consultant

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