Building Client Relationships: A Pragmatic Account Director’s Perspective

Building Relationships

If you would’ve told me five years ago that I would become passionate about client relationship management, I would have, very likely, laughed in your face. It’s not that I hadn’t had lovely clients who were great to work with, I’ve just never been what you’d call a “people person.” I am at heart (at head?) an undeniably pragmatic person.

I like data analysis, I like questions that have answers, and I like being able to look at a situation and know, unequivocally, if it was successful or not. One of the things that attracted me to digital marketing was that, though there are nuances and creativity and innovation, the work seemed to center around a test>learn>optimize>repeat kind of system.

I have since learned that marketing is all about relationships—a fact that rings true in an agency more than anywhere else. At the end of the day, we’re not just working to connect with a person (i.e. the customer), we’re working for the success of a person (i.e. the client). Understanding the industry through that lens fundamentally upleveled the work I was doing for my programs because the stakes felt higher, even if they weren’t actually any different.

This has held true over the years and has taught me that building these relationships isn’t just good for business, it’s also just kinda good (which may be an obvious statement for you extraverts out there, but really was revelatory for a former wallflower like myself).

I was worried that relationship building would be messy and would somehow dilute my, admittedly rigid, scientific approach to marketing. And yet, my job is clearer than ever before because it really boils down to two things:

Job 1: Make the client look good

Makes sense, right? If we successfully launch a campaign and blow our projected KPIs out of the water, that’s going to reflect very well on the client. But sometimes this job means making the client look good over making them happy. Sometimes it means pushing for ideas or approaches that they may be reticent about in order to achieve program success. Sometimes it means taking a back seat and giving them the credit. It’s not black and white, but it’s the number one thing we can do to move our programs, and our relationships, forward.

Job 2: Make their life easier

Once I achieve the first job, I ask myself what I can do to achieve the second. Digital marketing is an insanely fast-paced industry. Most of my clients over the years are wearing eight hats and doing twenty different jobs—it’s a lot. Sometimes they come to us, not really sure of what kind of help they need. Once I’ve answered the question of how I can make them look good, I default to how I can make their life easier. What would make the biggest impact for them and for the program. This may be something as simple as shifting a call or as complex as building out their social strategy from scratch, but the need fulfilled is the same.

Is this an oversimplification? Perhaps. But it can also be a guiding force in an otherwise complex and nebulous line of work; even for those of us who may or may not have absolutely loathed group projects in college. Following these jobs has helped me establish deeper relationships built on trust with some of our longest clients, which leads to testimonials like this one from Maryann.

Building Client Relationships SAP


At the end of the day, it’s important to remember while data and processes play a huge role in your success, you’re still working with people – and people thrive on connection.