Solomon discusses art of client service

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Robert Solomon, president-CEO of direct agency Rapp Collins Worldwide, part of Omnicom Group Inc., has close to 20 years of account management experience. His second book, "The Art of Client Service," will be published this month. The book is "about how to build relationships in a b-to-b environment," the agency veteran said.

BtoB spoke with Solomon about the book, in which he describes "54 things every advertising and marketing professional should know," and explains how account managers must master the art of doing more with less in these lean economic times.

BtoB: What are the biggest challenges in b-to-b account management?

Solomon: All account people, whether they’re b-to-b or b-to-c, must be disciplined and media neutral. I think this is even truer for b-to-b account people. B-to-b marketers have to think in the broadest possible terms about media mix. They need people on the account side who don’t think the answer is a 30-second TV commercial. As a b-to-b marketer, you can’t focus on any one medium or discipline. You have to think about them all.

BtoB: What makes a great account person?

Solomon: It’s really four things. It’s integrity and judgment, and it’s ideas and communication at its ultimate distillation. The client is at the center. The high-integrity account person takes ownership of problems. The high-judgment account person has the ability to resolve them fairly for all parties.

BtoB: What makes a great client?

Solomon: That is an under-appreciated, under-recognized art. [Business] schools, as they churn out marketers to work with companies of all types, teach them about things like supply chain management and distribution, but they don’t teach how to get the best work out of supplier partners. You are left to your own devices to invent a way in which you work with supplier partners.

You’re doing this because your endgame is to get the best possible work out of me for the fairest amount of money. You do that not by scaring your agency into performing, but by building relationships with your supplier partners that make them go the extra mile.

BtoB: Are there any differences between b-to-b and b-to-c account management?

Solomon: There definitely are. There is a difference between having a customer and having a client. When I think about customers, I think about transactions, and when I think about clients, I think about relationships. But even if you’re a b-to-c company and you’re selling to consumers, it is better to think about them as clients.

BtoB: How can marketers ensure they are getting the best from their agency?

Solomon: Set clear objectives. Be a partner, not an adversary. Be thoughtful in your input. It’s hard for agencies to give clients what they want when [the clients] themselves don’t know what it is they want. Be fair about money and time.

Agencies do need to be more nimble, but you can’t always legislate creativity. Be honest in your criticism. I’d much rather have that discussion than the one that goes, ‘Robert, we’re putting the account in review.’

BtoB: What has been the biggest change in account management recently?

Solomon: All of us have been faced with the challenge of doing more with less. Agencies are lean today. Account people have to help agencies be maximally efficient in delivering the work. You have clients under more pressures themselves than ever before. The cliché was you could have it good, fast or cheap. Pick two. Now, it’s more like, ‘pick three.’

As an account person, you’re leading the agency’s effort to deliver those three things. Schedules are tighter than ever before; client budgets are tighter than ever before; and the need to deliver ROI has never been greater.

[At Rapp Collins] we focus heavily on data analytics, because it’s a way to help clients cut costs and increase response through targeting strategies. It’s become increasingly important in the mix of services we provide, and it’s critically important in the b-to-b arena.

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