An account manager quits suddenly at your agency? Do this next!

Written by: Karl Sakas

A client recently lost two Account Managers at his agency, when they both resigned during the same week. He asked me, “What’s your advice on the best way to transition high-value clients that love [the former AMs] to someone brand new?”

As the owner, you’re responsible for cleaning up the mess—you can keep the clients from leaving, too, but it requires quick yet strategic action. It’s never a great situation, but here’s how to make the most of it.

If you aren’t sure, check whether you have a non-solicitation agreement. If not, it’s too late for this person—but it’ll help you manage the risk of people quitting and taking clients (or coworkers) with them.

Account Manager Turnover: Moving Clients

The key is to be strategic, not reactive—this is ultimately an urgent version of “your client doesn’t like their account manager.” There are five key steps:

  • First, make sure the new person is reliable, smart, and not likely to quit in the next year. They ultimately need to “own” the client at the agency.
  • Second, brief them internally on the client’s situation and have them learn about the client’s industry trends in general.
  • Third, start including them in client meetings and communications, so that the client becomes familiar with them.
  • Fourth, let the client know the new person will now be their primary contact as you switch the secondary role.
  • Fifth, stay in the background and push things to the new person before you respond.
  • You may need to make some other changes along the way.

When You Don’t Have Time

My client noted, “The challenge is that we need to find the right new person quickly.” For sure.

Do you have current employees you could reassign the clients to? In that case, you can collapse steps 1-2 to a day or two, and hope the client won’t fire you when you tell them a brand new person (to the client) is their new contact.

In short, you’d use your credibility to get the client to trust that the new person will be good: “So-and-so is terrific and I think you’ll love working with them.”

When You Don’t Have Enough People

He replied: “I don’t have enough people on my staff… I wish I did.”

Long-term, this about building redundant (or semi-redundant) coverage for each client. Short-term—if you don’t have that running already—we need to find an alternate solution.

Realistically, it’s risky to assign a valued client to a totally new employee; you don’t know if the employee is going to work out (and it’ll take a month or two to find them anyway). As a compromise, I recommend temporarily assigning the client to an existing person (ideally someone the client has met before), and let the client know you’re working to identify a long-term contact. Meanwhile, work on hiring the long-term replacement.

Protecting Agency Morale

My client responded: “Sounds good to me. We are probably going to have to do that, but it’s going to kill the existing AMs.” None of that’s perfect, but it lets you make the most of the situation—this is triage, not a permanent solution.

For the coworkers taking-on the workload, it’s important that they know it’s temporary (a month or two), not forever. And then focus on finding that replacement ASAP, to avoid burning-out the ones handling the temporary workload.

Question: What’s your plan if your agency’s top Account Manager quit?

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