Episode 302

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We all know how critical account service people are to the success of our agencies. It’s a tough job. Account service people must balance the needs of the agency, the internal team, and of course, the clients. A rock-solid account service person can help you retain and upsell clients, delivering a higher percentage of profitability on both counts. Creating a strong and dependable account services team and process is key to your success.

Taylor McMaster is a former agency owner who discovered what she loved most about the work was the account services side of it. This realization inspired her to start a company that outsources account service people to agencies with the goal of improving agency-client relationships and allowing agency owners to step back from the day-to-day so they can concentrate on scaling their business.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Taylor and I look at several different elements to building successful account services. We discuss how to onboard new clients, ways to ensure you’re hiring the right account services people, and making the most of client relationships by understanding what they want and need from your agency. Strengthening your approach to account services gives you as the agency owner the freedom to put your focus on building your business.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Account Services

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How to onboard a new client
  • Why agency owners aren’t always great at client services
  • How to hire strong account service people
  • Keeping the relationship fresh with long-term clients
  • What clients want from your client services
  • How to merchandise a client relationship
  • What agencies get wrong in client services
“There are so many pieces that you as an agency owner are running on a daily basis that people don’t really see from the outside.” - Taylor McMaster Click To Tweet “Onboarding a new client starts with the sales process.” - Taylor McMaster Click To Tweet “If your goal is to scale your business so that it’s not all on you, it's a really important component to have someone to who is your transition hand off.” - Taylor McMaster Click To Tweet “Going above and beyond in your day-to-day can wow clients.” - Taylor McMaster Click To Tweet “To be premium, you have to be proactive.” - Taylor McMaster Click To Tweet “We need to be very forward in asking for client feedback.” - Taylor McMaster Click To Tweet “We all want to be optimistic, but we have to be realistic with our clients or that relationship won’t last.” - Taylor McMaster Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Taylor McMaster:

Tools & Resources:

Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits, too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small-to-mid-size agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market.

We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want, down-the-road sellable. With 25-plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome back if you’re a regular listener, and if this is your first one, welcome, we’re glad to have you. This week, I have a great guest and we’re going to talk about account service.

Before I start tapping her brain and getting some best practices from her, I want to remind you that we actually teach two AE boot camps. We have an advanced AE boot camp. That’s for agency folks who have been with your agency or have agency experience of four years or more. We have people with 20, 25 years of experience coming, so it’s a pretty wide range. That workshop is a two-day workshop, is in Chicago, August 17th and 18th.

Then we have the entry-level AE boot camp. That’s for people who obviously have worked in an agency for less than four years, so a lot of entry-level employees, junior AEs, account associates, project managers, titles like that. That two-day workshop also in Chicago is September 14th and 15th.

If you want your account people to come back fired up, understanding what their role is, understanding that they serve three different masters, the agency owner and the agency goals, the client and the internal team, and how to balance all of that and how to really make clients be excited about the work that they’re doing for you and together, I’m telling you, these boot camps really solve the problem.

We’d love to have you join us and we’d love to send them back to you fired up and ready to take great care of your clients while also building amazing internal relationships and really helping you achieve your goals. That is the trifecta that we help them achieve.

Without any further ado, let me just tell you a little bit about my guest. Taylor actually was an agency owner, and then she decided what she really loved about the work. Taylor McMaster, what she really decided she loved about the work was the account service side of it.

She owned an agency, was doing all the things that you do and was like, you know what, what I really love is this account service thing, and so she created an agency that outsources account service people to agencies. Now she only works four agencies and the only employee she has are other account service people.

When I heard about her, somebody introduced me to her, I was like, how does that work? I was skeptical. We know how critical account service people are and we know we want to keep those account service people very close to our vest. Outsourcing account service is not something a lot of agencies are willing to do, so I was really curious about it.

We had a conversation and she’s just so smart about this. She’s really just built this amazing business, so I just wanted to get her on the show so that you could get some best practices that she and her team have developed as they serve as the account team for agencies just like yours. Without further ado, let’s get going, because I have a lot of questions. Taylor, welcome to the podcast. Glad you can be with us.

Taylor McMaster:

Thanks, Drew. Very excited to be here.

Drew McLellan:

I gave an introduction, I gave people a little taste of who you are and what you do, but tell everybody a little bit about your company, because when you and I first met, I will admit, and I told you right away, I find it impossible that you do what you do. Given how critical account service is in an agency, that somebody could outsource it is crazy talk to me, but after we talked, I was like, “Okay, I believe it. It can be done. Taylor’s doing it.” Tell everybody a little bit about the work and how you came to this point, and then as you might imagine, I have a lot of questions.

Taylor McMaster:

Sounds good. I’m the owner of DOT & Company. We are a client account management agency for agencies. We work directly inside of various different marketing agencies and we white-label and manage clients. We are there to improve the client experience, make clients feel happy, project-manage, and of course the goal is to get the agency owner out of the day-to-day so they can scale their business while we take care of gluing the agency together. That’s the Coles Notes version of what we do.

Drew McLellan:

What I want to talk about today, then, is you have a really unique perspective, and obviously you’ve nailed it in terms of account service, which is no small task. It all starts with how you set a client up for success in the beginning. Talk to me a little bit about how you think, and again, my goal is to pick your brain so that agencies, whether they decide to outsource or they do it in all in-house, we’re going to teach them how to do it well and right. How should an agency onboard a new client? First of all, you know that most agencies don’t have a process. They just are like, “Okay, we’re going to start the work.” Walk us through what you think a best practice is.

Taylor McMaster:

I love client onboarding. I think it’s my favorite thing to talk about. How DOT & Company really stemmed was from owning my own digital marketing agency. I totally get how agency owners feel and what they’re going through on a daily basis. I still own an agency myself, of course. I’m going through all these pieces of running a business from accounting to HR to sales and marketing to admin, and there’s so many pieces as an agency owner that you are running on a daily basis that people don’t really see from the outside.

When it comes to actually having clients, of course having clients is how we have an agency, but my belief is that an onboarding process for new clients starts from the sales process. As you’re, either it’s you or your sales team is on the call with a potential client, you’re wowing them and you’re telling them how amazing your agency is and what results they’re going to get or what kind of experience they’re going to have, but if you don’t have a process and a system on the backend to really support those promises that you’re giving your clients, we all know it’s not going to work out in the end.

My belief is that whether it’s you executing this onboarding system or it’s someone else on your team, it’s really important to iron it out ahead of time and to test it and make sure that it works so that your clients are wowed, because not only as an agency owner but a consumer of so many different products and services, I want to feel like I’m the only client and I want to feel wowed. I think there’s some really important things that you can do as an agency to wow your clients from the beginning. I think we’re going to get into that, Drew, but, yeah.

Drew McLellan:

I think you’re right. I think clients think they know in their head it’s not true, but in their heart, they want to not only be your only client, but they want to be your favorite client. They want to be the one that you love on the most. Are there certain things that you think have to be baked into an onboarding process for it to take hold with a client?

Taylor McMaster:

Yes. What I always say is, there’s couple streams. Sometimes, agencies have a sales team and then they hand it over to someone internal who’s the client-facing manager. In that case, I think the most important is the handover, because a lot of times when, say, Drew, you were coming to me and you wanted to work with my agency, you’re building a relationship with me before you even sign on the line or pay an invoice.

To you, this is the relationship with the agency. Then that handover needs to be, A, seamless so that it looks like you know what you’re doing, and B, that relationship is handed over to the person who’s taking over. We wanted to feel like the client is like, “Wow, these people know what they’re doing,” and secondly, “I like this client account manager or account manager just as much as the salesperson. I’m excited.”

If you don’t know how to transition and it takes days to transition and to get them onboarded, it’s just not a good look, I don’t think, for the agency. I think that handover part is really important to get ironed out before you even start selling to clients and have that person ready to take the client.

So have the process ready so that myself as a client account manager, I know that when Bob from Agency XYZ hands me over this new client that he just sold, I know the exact email that I’m going to send that client. I’m going to customize it to that client, send them a Loom video and send them their onboarding homework within the first couple of hours, 15 minutes, ideally, because I want to be like, boom, I’m here, I’m your girl.

Drew McLellan:

Do you think there should be some overlap in the sales process? Are we getting them to meet? I think in a lot of cases, clients are like, I want to meet and know the person that I’m going to be talking to every day, because honestly, that’s where the chemistry really has to play, right?

Taylor McMaster:

Yeah. Sometimes, some agencies, what I do is if, for example, I know that the sales team’s on a number of different calls, I’ll tell them, “If you want me to send a quick Loom video to smooth over this process while you’re on the call or right after the call, just send me a quick Slack message or a Skype message and I’ll do a quick Loom for you. That’s no problem.”

Sometimes I do that when the agency is onboarding a client that might be a little bit more of a cold client or they haven’t worked with the agency or they’re not as familiar, and it’s really nice for the salesperson to have a video to say, “Hey, look, it’s not just me on the team. Here’s Taylor or here’s Drew who’s going to be working directly with you. She just wanted to give you a quick hello and welcome to the agency.” Oftentimes, that will give the potential client that feeling of, “Oh, wow, they’re already going above and beyond for me. What are they going to do when I’m a client?” It just helps to sell.

Drew McLellan:

In a lot of agencies, it’s not a salesperson that’s agency owner, right?

Taylor McMaster:

Oh, yeah. Most of the time, yes.

Drew McLellan:

Doing the selling? Right, yeah. Again, it’s critical to hand off that client, because otherwise, the client, all of a sudden the agency owner’s the client’s will be, and they’ve got their arm wrapped around their leg and they’re like, I love this person, and then it’s really hard to extract that person, which is then now the owner’s back into account service, which is of course not where they belong.

Taylor McMaster:

Oh, you have definitely hit on a really big point there, because what I find with most agency owners, and I found this myself when I was running my own agency, was that when you’re the agency owner, the whole thing is you. You feel responsible for the brand, for every little piece of the business.

When you onboard a client, you feel so responsible for everything. Sometimes if clients have feedback on the creative or they have feedback on the copy, you take it so personally, whereas what I find is when I’m working in an agency and I’m the client account manager or the client service person and I am keeping that relationship and the project, yes, I feel accountable and I care about this client and the agency so much, but it takes that personalization out of it a little bit.

I always tell agency owners, if you’re the one on a sales call and then you’re the one also project-managing and doing the client service, you are never going to get out of it. If that’s your goal, totally fine, that’s absolutely fine, but if your goal is to scale your business so that it’s not all on you, it’s a really key component to have someone to transition the relationship over to you, or else we all know it’s always going to be us forever and ever and ever.

Drew McLellan:

And, let’s be honest, most agency owners, not awesome at detail.

Taylor McMaster:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

Speaking personally as an agency owner, that’s not my gift. My gift is big picture, not, oh, 12 little details that have to be done today. There really aren’t great account service people, anyway, right?

Taylor McMaster:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

So we need to get them out of it for a variety of reasons.

Taylor McMaster:

100%, and for the client’s sake, and one of my values and what we bring into our agency is I believe clients deserve really great client experiences. A lot of the agency owners that I work with are so brilliant when it comes to marketing and strategy and sales, but when it comes actually following a process, they just love to go rogue and do something out of the SOP.

Drew McLellan:

Every single day. Yes.

Taylor McMaster:

Right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Taylor McMaster:

And that’s okay that they-

Drew McLellan:

Now they want the agency to have SOPs, but they want to pass on following them, right?

Taylor McMaster:

Right. Exactly, and that’s fine, and that’s the goal. My goal when working in agencies is I want the agency owner to be out of the day-to-day, meaning out of the SOPs, out of the processes, out of the client onboarding, and I want them to have a quick email to me, whether it’s a Loom video or the call recording or just quick notes of what we’re doing for this client, then just give it to me or your client service person because you shouldn’t be in the way.

Drew McLellan:

Right, and we don’t mean to be in the way, but we are, if we’re honest with ourselves, in the way, if we’re being really candid.

Taylor McMaster:

Yeah. The agency owner should be doing the big visionary things, like you said. They should be dreaming up the next thing or talking strategy or overlooking the team and the goals. That’s where your genius should be best used. Of course, if you’re looking to scale, it’s important to put people in place who can take that personalization out a little bit for you.

Drew McLellan:

Let’s talk about putting people in place. Right now, we’re recording this in June of 2021, in case someone is not listening in real time or is listening to this in 2025, right now we’re coming out of pandemic and hiring is tough, and people are having a hard time especially finding account service people.

Then, you of course have to worry if there are going to be good account service people. You have a very stable team of account service people that have been with you a really long time, and your client retention is crazy. Clearly you’ve figured out how to hire for an account service position. What are your SOPs around hiring great account service people that we can steal for ourselves?

Taylor McMaster:

Great question. I will echo that hiring client service people is very challenging, especially in the agency world, because we are looking for this person who is a really great communicator, bubbly personality, can work in different timezones, has marketing experience, and then drilling down even further has specific marketing experience to your agency. It gets very tricky.

Over the last number of years, we’ve tried various different hiring processes, and I think we’ve got it pretty nailed down now. There are so many different components that I believe are important when hiring.

Whenever you’re looking to hire this type of role, I think it’s important to go a little bit broad and have different steps in your hiring funnel to really weed people out. We now have someone in-house who specifically does all of our hiring for us, but how we look at our SOP of hiring is, first, we post the job with very specific items that we’re looking for this person to do to even submit their application.

We have put together a Typeform that asks people a bunch of different questions about their experience, and then we also have a spot where they can elaborate and show their written communication skills, because as agency owners, we know that written communication is so, so, so important, so we give people the opportunity to actually outline their written comms before we even get on the phone with them.

They send that in, they send in their application, and then we have it automated internally so that all the applications come through if they’re a good fit and you can set up your Typeform to actually filter people through, and you’re only going to see the people who are a good fit based on their experience. That comes right into our project management software.

Our hiring manager reviews them, and then, in our SOP for hiring, we have specific email templates for various different outcomes of their application. So then she’ll send them an email with a 15-minute coffee date. The goal of this coffee date is not only to just meet them about the role, but we’re looking for so many different things: Did they show up on time? Did they present themself well on the Zoom call? Did they ask questions? Were they bubbly and friendly or were they super awkward on Zoom? Because this is a client service role. If you can’t be confident in yourself and confident on a Zoom call, what are you going to be like with a new client? All these things, we’ll looking for in this 15-minute coffee date.

Then after that, if they progress to the next stage and they fit the personality and all these checkpoints of written communication and soft skills, then we send them an actual assessment. This takes about an hour. They have to follow very specific outlined questions and they go through and we’re looking for very detailed written communication, as well as marketing experience that we’re hiring for.

In there, a little hot tip that we have added in is, at the end, we give a bonus question. We get the person to film a video of themselves talking about why they’re a really great client account manager. I’ve added this into our hiring process because of the role. When you’re hiring a client service person, again, they have to have a strong personality. They have to be able to get on the camera and film themselves because that’s part of premium client service. You have to be able to send Loom videos to clients and send videos to clients.

We’re looking for all these extra steps that they’re even going through before they get even onto a formal interview. By the time that our director of the agency is even meeting with this potential hire, they have basically passed all of the different steps to get there. I know, it’s a lot.

Drew McLellan:

It is, but it should be a lot. This is the person who holds the relationship with the client. If this goes badly, that money walks right out the door.

Taylor McMaster:

Yeah. Retention is worth so much money in your agency. We all know that if you can keep your clients happy and keep them on even just three months longer, how much is that worth to your agency?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Taylor McMaster:

So then, in our hiring process, again, we have a training suite that we have developed for our team. Before they even, again, come to work with us, they go through our CAM school, which is our full client account management training program, so then by the time they’re hired, they’ve been vetted in various different scenarios and methods, they’ve gone through our training, interviews, met with all of our team, and then they get hired.

Like you said at the beginning, Drew, hiring a client service person is very hard, but it’s very important in my eyes to go through a very detailed hiring process if these people are going to be managing your clients.

Drew McLellan:

One thing probably to point out is that in your work, you guys are all remote, and so everything is done … You just said a couple things about video. I just want the audience to understand that you’re never meeting clients in person.

Taylor McMaster:

No. We’re fully remote. Exactly.

Drew McLe