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Hoping to Grow Your Ad Agency? Support Growth Goals With Existing Customers

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it’s more important than ever for you to position your account executives for success—their wins are your wins. Here's how.

In the best-run agencies, about 60% to 70% of new net revenue comes from existing clients. At the same time, however, these agencies often lose anywhere between 10% to 15% of their clients. Attrition is inevitable, and it’s frequently due to factors outside of an agency’s control (e.g., mergers, reorganizations).


So, when setting your growth goals for the year, you need to take both numbers (new revenue and attrition) into account. Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget them when you’re in the day-to-day weeds. And because account executives serve as intermediaries between your agency and client roster, business growth will often hinge on their efforts.


If you’ve got an account executive managing $400,000 of adjusted growth income and the growth goal is 10%, then that individual must add $40,000 to the book. It only stands to reason that 60% to 70% of that number will come from existing clients. This might not sound like much, but tight budgets can cause the account executive to come up short.


In light of this, it’s more important than ever for you to position your account executives for success. Their wins are your wins, after all. Here are five ideas to help you support them in their business growth goals with existing customers:


1. Build in time for learning and observation. When account executives are overburdened and spend most of their time putting out fires, it becomes near impossible for them to reflect on clients’ needs. Team members need room to think, learn more about clients’ industries, examine the competition, and ponder next steps, among other value-add activities.


Give account executives the time to review, analyze and observe existing clients. Few substitutes exist for firsthand observations. Touring factories, riding along with salespeople, operating trade show booths, and posing as secret shoppers are just a few ways account executives can get closer to their clients’ businesses. Though it should go without saying, a deeper understanding can help your team better serve its roster of clients. (Plus, your team has a 60% to 70% chance of selling to existing clients.)


2. Establish a structured planning process. Account executives need set plans. They also need timelines. Otherwise, certain tasks will just drag on (if they’re not lost altogether). Settle on a way of approaching each client’s business, then use it to provide structure for the planning process. For instance, content marketing and web design agency Jawfish Digital displays its packages using “the rule of three.”


Get buy-in from the leadership team before training account executives on this methodology, and plan to follow up with team members regularly. They’ll likely require additional coaching to start developing documented, measurable plans of their own. The ultimate goal is to establish a means to hold account executives accountable for carrying out the plans.


3. Encourage relationship building. Obviously, you want your account executives to establish relationships with clients. But encourage them to take things a step further and really get to know their points of contact. If your team members can figure out how clients evaluate their work, then it’ll be easier to set parameters for account activities.


Let’s say, for example, that a contact gets a bonus if your agency keeps a campaign under budget. The account executive can then make sure there’s a little money left after the campaign has ended. Sure, your agency is still representing the brand as a whole, but you’re also keeping an eye out for the contact. The account executive is now building a solid foundation for a mutually beneficial partnership that can pay dividends down the line. According to American Express, people in the U.S. are willing to spend an average of 17% more due to excellent customer service. The more your team does for their points of contact, the easier it’ll be to retain and grow those accounts.


4. Increase exposure to the sales side. Oftentimes, you’ll find a line between marketing and sales. As agency workers, account executives tend to operate exclusively on the marketing side of business. It’s a logical decision, but it’s also one that can be shortsighted. According to Forrester, 35% of marketing decision-makers said they needed to improve alignment between marketing and other business functions (such as sales) to better support their departments’ priorities.


If account executives don’t appreciate the sales side or know the questions posed to salespeople, then your agency won’t be as effective as it could be. You should help account executives cultivate relationships with clients’ salespeople. In time, they’ll be able to drill deeper into the sales funnel, get to know their overarching goals, and understand where to focus their research going forward. Next time account executives come to the table, they’ll have an opportunity to ask better questions and provide valuable guidance to clients.


5. Advocate for network cultivation. Inevitably, associates will leave your clients’ companies, and they’ll end up somewhere else. Each has the potential to be a great referral source or new client—that is, if your team members stay in touch. Support your account executives’ networking activities. Encourage them to maintain and cultivate these relationships. Better yet, suggest that they chase down any lost connections. These can all be huge wins for your agency.


For instance, Indianapolis-based Willow Marketing invests a significant amount of team time serving on association boards and making connections with its target audience: association executives. This pays off in both the short- and long-run with referrals, invitations to participate in requests for proposals, and new connections. Another example: Predictive ROI, based in Wisconsin, believes that sending its account executives to industry and training events not only increases their knowledge, but also encourages them to bring new ideas and relationships back to the agency.


Agencies aren’t in the business of selling—at least not advertently. Rather, your goal is to help clients grow their businesses. Account executives play critical roles in delivering on that promise. You can help accomplish this task by giving them space to get to know their clients, plan their approaches, and ultimately understand their roles in the agency-client relationship.


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