Classroom Management to Client Management: How I use my Education Degree to Delight Digital Marketing ClientsWednesday September 9th, 2015
Managing people requires constant adjustment to their unique needs, strengths, and weaknesses. Doing this for clients is just like doing this for students.
As is turns out, there’s a strong analogy between educating students and managing digital marketing clients. I would know, as I’ve done both. In my role as account manager, I use proven educational techniques and the seasoned people skills that I forged in the classroom to keep clients informed and happy.
You shouldn’t expect clients to learn everything about digital marketing to appreciate your efforts
Digital marketing is a dense topic that involves a lot of math, planning, and analysis. What you and your strategic team are doing is almost certainly beyond your client’s understanding – in the same way that many classroom topics can be over the heads of your students. Do you really think 15-year-olds understand the chemical pathways of photosynthesis? As a rule, 15 year olds don’t have chemistry degrees so, no, they don’t. Nobody is an expert at everything, and you shouldn’t expect clients to have to learn everything about digital marketing to understand and appreciate your efforts. Your goal as an account executive or teacher is to maximize understanding while minimizing effort and emotional strain. You can accomplish this for your clients or students by considering what they need from you:
- Constant reassurance that your goals for success are aligned.
- Expert skill in reducing information to the most meaningful yet accessible format.
For students, defining success is easy: success is passing the standardized tests. For clients, success is very individualized but generally involves meeting specific goals that you should mutually agree to at the beginning of your relationship. Keep reminding your clients why you are doing what you are doing in addition to reporting results.
Use differentiated instruction: the art of educating an individual based on his/her learning style, not your teaching style.
“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”
― Ignacio Estrada
In the same way that each student has unique abilities and sensibilities, each client is going to come to you with different business understandings, proficiencies, and learning styles. Instead of treating them the way you treat every other client, take the time to see what resonates with them. Do they seem to prefer a written report over a phone call, or would they rather you email them? Is their desk covered in post it notes, color-coded by theme, or do they operate in a paperless office? These are clues as to how your client has found success for themselves. Work within their paradigm for truly individualized service that they will inherently value. For many clients, you’ll have to get used to going out of your comfort zone to find theirs.
For many clients, you’ll have to get used to going out of your comfort zone to find theirs.
This goes for your formal reports too – they should be a reflection of the client, especially with regards to learning style and preferences. Did a client mention that they are easily overwhelmed by numbers? Then it’s your imperative to represent data graphically. If you are using an inflexible template among all of your clients, rethink that in favor of something more personalized. As a teacher, I made 10 versions of my tests to match my students’ learning styles. Was it a lot more work for me? Absolutely. Did my students perform better and feel valued? Of course.
Present information in a personalized, goal-oriented context for higher retention and better understanding.
It is your job as an account manager to understand the client and what they care about – not to tell them what they should care about. Ask them to define what their specific goals are on a regular basis and re-confirm these goals at every opportunity. If they are unsure, have a discussion with them about what goals are reasonable for their business. Continually stress that your services are tailored to their needs. You might be surprised to find that clients aren’t quite sure what digital marketing can offer. Having your clients (or students) work out their own goals (with some guidance if necessary) puts them in a place of thinking about what they really want for themselves, what they can get from you, and how those two things lead them to success. Skip this step at your peril; making assumptions about client expectations is a dangerous game. More frequently than not, you’ll find they are expecting things you wouldn’t have guessed.
As you begin reporting on a regular basis, be sure to tie everything back to your clients’ established goals – or leave it out. More is not better when you are trying to get a point across. Your main objective is to get them to see how you are helping them meet their self-defined goals. Clients should be able to state in one sentence what each of your reports mean. Teacher’s call this distilled lesson a “take-away” – the one major idea from a lesson that students remember.
Use stories and analogies to make data accessible.
“There are no facts, only interpretations.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
It’s really easy to get caught up in faceless data. Digital marketers are generally overly proud of all the tracking and data collection they have employed for their clients but “pride goeth before the fall.” As a science teacher I could have had my students read data all day, but I had to remember that the purpose of collecting data is to analyze it, find patterns, and give it meaning. Never give someone data without a story to make it relevant.
Storytelling also helps to ground your reports in reality. Don’t have a story? Create one. When struggling to get students to remember the food web of the prairie, I could tell them over and over and hope it stuck, or I could pretend to be a field mouse and tell them a story about how I outran an owl to get to my burrow. There I hid until evening when the crickets came out that I hunted by the sound of their chirping. That usually worked. With a client, you could try walking through your customer acquisition funnel, role playing as a member of your target audience. This makes your efforts seem real and relatable (people remember this) rather than statistical and conceptual (people forget this).
Use scaffolding: provide significant support as new topics are introduced. Remove these supports slowly with progress.
It can be very overwhelming to sign on to a digital marketing contract and be barraged with new words, acronyms, and strategic angles for your business. When talking to clients, minimize jargon and simplify complex ideas. It’s hard to hold back – I know. I would have liked to teach complex evolutionary theory in my classes, but I had to stick to “survival of the fittest” for fear of losing my students. As your clients become more comfortable, you can slowly introduce new concepts. Remember, starting small gives students/clients reassurance that they understand what they are getting into and boosts their confidence to ask more questions.
Build trust and a personal relationship.
Trust and friendship are the most under-rated educational tools. Being congenial and authentic translates into better student engagement, and as account manager, a better experience for your clients. Having a true, personal understanding with either group makes it easier to realign goals, go the extra mile, apologize for errors, and throw extra passion into your work. False smiles only go so far in client management and classroom management, and trust me, they’ll know when you’re not being authentic, and they’ll disengage.
Being authentic translates into a better experience for your clients
Don’t forget: you’re building the future.
Just like students panic about failing a minor quiz, clients will be very unhappy about a bad week. It’s your job to reframe this disappointment as a learning opportunity, whether you’re a teacher or a client manager. In life, there are many milestones and checkpoints to measure progress. If you let small failures pass you by without pulling lessons from them you’re setting yourself up for a long term struggle. Keep your focus on the long term when reporting, and help clients view each stumble as a learning experience. Over time, your strategy will be stronger for having faced these trials.
When a student failed a test, I would meet with them for a few minutes to talk about what they did to prepare for it and how they might improve that strategy for the next test. Importantly, this maintained an open dialogue between us and gave me a chance to reinforce the long term goals of education. You can use this same technique to grow your client relationships and reiterate your focus on the long term goals.
Teachers have a special mix of fortitude and grace that any business would be glad to have. Take my lessons above and try them for yourself – and the next time you’re hiring an account manager, consider a former teacher.