For agencies of any kind, especially experiential marketing agencies, 70-80% of revenue growth comes from people you already know – your clients. This growth is typically driven by client demand for agency services resulting in a series of repeat or serial projects.
Too often, agencies rely solely on their clients to suggest projects or programs with which to engage the agency. The brand suggests the work, sets the budget, and either initiates a RFP or taps the agency to do the work.
The brand is in complete control of the agency’s fate.
A robust account planning and development process puts the control in the agency’s hands. It allows the agency to understand a client’s business deeply, creates an environment that fosters proactive ideas, broadens and deepens client / agency relationships, adds value to the brand’s business, and amplifies and accelerates agency growth.
If there are any issues with agency delivery of services, it is critical these be addressed prior to the success of any growth plan. Expectations must be agreed upon and delivered against. Always.
Three Pillars To Success
There are three pillars which serve as a foundation for a robust account planning and development process. These include: Finances, Relationships, and Scope.
Agencies are very good at setting and holding client services teams accountable for financial growth targets. Typically, these targets are loosely aligned to a client’s previous year’s budget, with some stretch (+x%), set on an annual basis, forecast monthly or quarterly, and loosely managed.
A more disciplined account planning and development process focuses on monthly meetings which review previous month’s performance vs. budget, talks about what’s happening in the client’s business, as well as what the agency is doing to proactively bolster performance. Forecasts are adjusted up or down. The “how” is left to happenstance and the agency adopts a risky business growth practice, based on rumors and conjecture. “Hope” becomes the business method.
There must be a rigorous approach to building and expanding relationships with clients for several reasons: becoming “sticky” with brands, mitigating competitive risk, increasing client value, fostering growth, identifying new growth channels, and promoting advocacy. With the right process in place to foster relationships, the agency is able to become more active and less passive in determining their fate.
As relationships grow, an agency’s scope can evolve from single project, to multiple or serial projects, to overall programs, and eventually AOR or retained relationship models — turning single transactions into retention or expansion plays.
Understanding what is happening in a client’s business and proactively coming to the table with ideas based on this understanding, can help agencies leverage different offerings for clients, or create new agency capabilities based on the need.
The Role Of The Account Plan
The account plan is the map to the destination. More than describing the “what” part of the equation, the account plan must illustrate the “how”. Account plans need to discuss financial growth for sure, but far more important is how it addresses relationships and scope. By focusing on these two entities, and demanding progress in these areas, the financial benefits will follow.
The Account Development Process
If you build it, they will not come unfortunately. The best of plans and processes, poorly executed, yield nothing. That said, it is critical that account planning and development be an ongoing, living, breathing process that is driven by leadership, and shared by peers. I recommend creating initial account plans in the fall, with peer reviews and leadership alignment before the end of the year. From there, progress against commitments for all three pillars (finances, relationships and scope) should be reviewed by account on a monthly and/or quarterly basis. During this review, leaders and peers can help each member of the team by understanding, empathizing, and most importantly, adding valuable perspective based on their own experiences to each other. Additionally, barriers can be identified and overcome, new opportunities can be identified, and wins can be celebrated. This team-based approach to account development not only educates all corners of the agency on the client’s business, but mitigates risk, and provides and excellent value-add to clients.
A Word About Accountability
During the account planning process, objectives are made against each of the three pillars using SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, Time-bound). At each review point (monthly or quarterly) these goals should be reviewed. Depending on progress against these goals, appropriate actions should be taken to ensure continued forward motion in each area.
Some Of My Favorite Tools
- Client Primer – A document that identifies where you’re starting from, and provides a lay-of-the-land on the client’s business. This includes industry, competition, and business information, organizational structure, financial performance, pain points and opportunities, existing agency relationships, and key contacts.
- Horizon Plan – a table that charts the relationship, scope and financial forecast at one, three, and five year intervals. I find it most useful to start at year five and imagine an ideal relationship, with a full-complement of agency services being deployed and an optimistic, but realistic view of the financials. From there, looking at year three as a plausible touchstone where relationships, scope and finances are all growing and working in concert to realize the ideal view of year five. Finally year one is the probable view of what is forecast by year’s end against all three pillars.
- Relationship Map – A tool that plots all the people the agency has relationships with, as well as those the agency should have relationships with. This also gauges relationship stage (unknown-advocate) and status (positive-negative), owners of each relationship, as well as action plans against building / improving relationships with each person.
- Scope Expansion Plan – Based on client opportunities and challenges, this tool identifies which agency services are most appropriate to apply to which client businesses, and provides probabilities and action plans against each pursuit.
Of course there are may more tools and components to an effective account plan, but each of these serve a purpose well-beyond the typical financial forecast we’ve all come to know and love. Each enables the growth we strive for.
See The Forest And The Trees
The account planning and development process not only builds better relationships, and adds a higher level of value to clients, but it also gives client services leaders a regular opportunity to step out of the day-to-day management of their business, and think about where the business is heading – all while driving agency growth.
What’s in your account plan? How do you manage performance?