Delivering on Expectations, Communication Create Organic New Business Growth

How Justin is turning around an almost-lost client
by Todd Knutson

no surprises

Customer retention, let alone organic growth, usually comes down to people delivering on promises. Missed deadlines, less than acceptable quality, and poor communication all naturally lead to lost accounts.

So it was invigorating to hear how Justin, a high-potential junior account manager I meet with a few times a year, yesterday described how he's being called upon to revive an account on the verge of being lost.

Over coffee, I first asked Justin what he discovered upon receiving his new assignment last spring. He described:

  • Missed deadlines. Initial deliverables that were days late. They weren't weeks late, but it was a bad precedent.
  • Poor communication. The higher ups at both agency and client had no idea what was going on in the trenches.

But, as he started digging into the depths of the relationship, he found that the situation was much worse that it appeared:

  • Deadlines meant nothing. Future deliverables would be weeks late and there was no sense of urgency to meet promised delivery dates.
  • Communication was broken. It had completely broken down between client and agency and within the agency itself.
  • Personality mismatches. Certain members of the agency's team were oil and water with their client counterparts.

As it was now October, I asked what progress he'd made in the last six months. He said that he was not yet out of the woods, but had made significant progress by focusing on four things:

  1. Management involvement. He made sure that a key manager was present from both sides at key meetings.
  2. Communicating reality. He made sure everyone knew the problems, and more importantly what was being done to address them. He did not put the problems on the key managers' shoulders; he let them how they were being handled and if he needed help overcoming an obstacle he asked for specific help.
  3. A new team. He removed two toxic members of his team and replaced them with people who better meshed with the client.
  4. Hitting deadlines. The new team was setting realistic deadlines and had hit all milestones since July.

I'd like to focus for a moment on one of the things that Justin did that is really important when communicating with your boss. It's best summarized by two words: No Surprises.

Particularly when things aren't going well, it's critically important that you don't surprise your boss with bad news. As you learn things or have a "gut feeling" that things are changing for the worse, tell your boss. You don't want to make the problem theirs, so go to their office prepared with an action plan to correct the problem.

Never let your boss discover the problem by asking you questions. If you do, he or she will likely conclude that either:

  • You aren't on top of what's going on; or,
  • You're trying to keep bad news from them; or,
  • You're trying to fix the problem so they never know there was one.

Once your boss does find out what's going on, which they will, they'll be surprised. Surprises are almost never good. (Even good news, if it's kept hidden for very long.)

The best news that came out of my meeting with Justin was hearing him say that his client had started talking about future projects. Six months ago it was how his firm was likely to be replaced; now he has a chance to create organic growth and earn a bonus.

That's the mark of a good account manager. And as we all know, account managers like him are an essential ingredient for organic new business growth.


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