The 6 Key Traits of Highly Effective Account Managers

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Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



According to the Marketing Agency Growth Report 2018, 12% of agencies feel one of their greatest struggles is retaining employees. One reason for a high turnover rate is lack of faith in management. Here are six key strengths we believe every effective account manager should have.

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1) Recognizes all their constituencies

Serving clients is important. Critical. But the top-notch account managers get that clients are merely one of their constituencies. First among equals perhaps, but still only one group of stakeholders. Account managers also have to meet the expectations of the agency's senior management. Then of course, there are the agency's team members -- those folks we call the "revenue generators."

That's a lot of people, expectations, and needs for an account manager to balance, which is why we list this trait first. Effective account managers apply every other trait listed here on all the communities they serve.

Why this matters: Think of clients, senior management, and team members as legs of a stool. If any single leg is getting short shrift, the entire enterprise is thrown off balance.

2) Communicates well

Communication is sharing and listening. Top notch account managers constantly and consistently share the important information, whether that's campaign updates to clients, client insights to team members to use in campaigns, or the state of account health to senior management.

They also listen more than they talk. They ask questions to learn what's really going on. And they don't just wait for someone to decide to talk to them. Account managers are genuinely concerned with everyone's success. They pro-actively dig into issues and get people to share with them.

Why this matters: No one likes surprises. Constant communication means expectations, priorities, and goals are clear to everyone.

3) Sees the Forest from the Trees

Effective account managers hold a breadth of meaningful information, regarding both the big picture and the minutiae. They understand all their clients' different marketing and business goals. They also know where teams are in executing those campaigns and how campaigns are performing, down to key metrics. They can quantify the value their agency is providing the client, as well as the value of the client to the agency.

Even if the account manager can't hold each data point in her head -- she knows where to find it quickly.

Why this matters: Knowledge is power. Productive, persuasive account managers identify leading metrics to head off challenges before they become problems. They can share successes in real time. Knowing in detail what's going on really helps with the whole communicating well thing.

4) Gets their hands dirty

The best account managers didn't just jump into the client and project management side of agency work. They spent years on the front lines, creating and executing marketing campaigns. They have a track record that gives them credibility and perspective.

They "keep" their hands dirty by staying current in marketing trends and their clients' industries. They get into the trenches with team members to understand how they're working and where their challenges are.

Why this matters: Account managers can't speak with authority without first having earned trust and confidence. Any account manager who wants to be taken seriously can't helicopter in and out.

5) Avoids a cookie-cutter approach

Because the effective account managers have deep knowledge and experience, they don't retread the same campaigns for every client. They take the time to learn about each client individually, their industry, the pain points, personas, messages, and goals. They lead, rather than manage, their clients. 

And since they work to maintain their level of expertise in the constantly changing world of marketing, they're well positioned to get creative so their clients stand out in a crowded field.

Why this matters: Because your agency has to stand out as well. A creative account manager validates your agency as a source of expertise that isn't restricted to re-running the same campaigns each quarter.

6) Earns Respect

Respect is the foundation of a good relationship. Account managers who can move people to action first take the time to get know them in an authentic and personal way.

An account manager who builds strong, genuine relationships with people can protect a team from getting committed beyond capacity. He understands the internal concerns and motivations of different people on the client side.

Why this matters: When an account manager has rapport and trust, he has more influence with teams and clients. This can translate into anything from keeping the client happy with a realistic production schedule to securing needed resources for the team.

Effective Account Managers Grow Accounts

These traits are especially valuable because they do more than help an account manager successfully manage the day to day.

When combined, these account managers are valued partners who see the opportunities where your agency can provide more value to clients. In turn, they are able to then coax more budget from clients to expand the exisiting relationships.

Clients want partners. The most effective account managers make sure clients know they've got one in your agency.

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