To say that account managers are key to your agency’s growth would be an understatement. If experts from the SaaS domain were to break down the role from their perspective, account managers in agencies double as sales development reps, account executives, customer success managers, and customer service reps—all rolled into one.
Account manager is definitely a sales role, but their most important job is to ensure that there is a strong liaison between the agency and its clients. Eventually, every business’ success boils down to the quality of people working for its growth and the kind of relationships it can build with customers.
An account manager is one job profile that involves all things on the frontline—bridging new connections, improving agency-client relationships, and enhancing the agency’s brand.
For a role that’s so critical, agencies must have a well-defined onboarding and ramp-up time. If you don’t have one, your agency should make it an urgent priority to introduce a great employee onboarding experience, specifically for account managers. And this post will offer you plenty of ideas on how to go about doing that from scratch.
If you already have an onboarding process (nice job!) but are unhappy with the ramp-up time, don’t worry—this blog will cover that base too.
Do you really need a formal onboarding process for account managers?
Yeah, we get it. Agencies like to move fast and make things happen instead of going through rigid internal processes. And that’s how it should be—especially if you’re a small-scale, up-and-coming agency that has set ambitious goals for its growth.
However, not having an onboarding process for account managers isn’t one of the areas that you should be skimping on. That’s like skipping your breakfast while you’re enrolled in an intense CrossFit training program—you will crash and burn sooner than you expect.
There are very few upsides to not having an onboarding program for account managers—except for maybe moving fast and breaking things, which is not a sound advice for agencies that want to have sustainable growth.
On the other hand, there are tons of advantages to introducing a formal onboarding process for agency account managers. Let’s look at a few of the important ones real quick.
1. Faster ramp-up time
When you design the right kind of onboarding program, you will have to look beyond its cosmetic aspects like giving new hires the company swag, handing them the laptops, or introducing them to the entire team. All of them are important processes—they make new employees feel welcomed!—but you shouldn’t have them as the goal of your onboarding process.
An account manager’s role is directly tied to your agency’s revenue goals. A well-defined onboarding process helps new hires flatten their learning curve—about the industry, the customers, the competitors, etc.—and shortens their lead time.
Onboarding programs are useful tools to equip new account managers with all the information they need to hit the ground running. The induction period gives them access to the right tools and technologies, helps them establish contact with key stakeholders (in case they have questions), and lets them understand the documented processes in your agency.
An onboarding program gives the account managers clarity about the new role and accelerates their productivity from day one. The process becomes more critical if your agency works remotely or has a hybrid work culture. Businesses across all industries that have a standardized remote onboarding process gain 50% more productivity in a short time compared to companies that don’t.
Side note: At Avoma, we have cut short the ramp-up time for new account executives to 30 days by dogfooding our own product during their onboarding. You can read about it here.
2. Better collaboration and mutual trust
Internally, account managers work closely with other account managers, media planners or strategists, creative teams, directors, solution experts, accounting, and directors—depending on what niche the agency operates in. Regardless, collaboration is at the core of an account manager’s everyday role—and the success metrics set up for them.
A tight onboarding program helps them align closely with the rest of the team in no time. It bridges the gap between the agency’s values, goals, and standards—while ensuring overall efficiency. The more aligned account managers are with the rest of your team, the better and faster results they can produce for the agency.
This kind of initiation also helps new recruits be self-motivated about their role and establish mutual trust with other team members. The lack of it creates just the opposite impact: account managers without a proper induction process are left in the lurch and often feel demotivated. That’s not the kind of welcome experience employees want—certainly not account managers if they hold the key to your agency’s success.
For new account managers joining your agency, a proper onboarding experience sets the stage for what to expect, their KRAs and KPIs, and mutual they can reach out to if they need help. If they are working remotely, the need for team alignment becomes doubly important.
3. Lower turnover
Among the several jaw-dropping stats about employee onboarding programs, this one is our favorite—new recruits that go through a structured onboarding program are 58% more likely to stay with their employers after three years.
Honestly, that single stat outweighs all the cons of onboarding—if any. But when you combine that data with a few other findings, you start seeing a clear pattern about the value of onboarding programs:
- Up to 20% of employee turnover happens in the first 45 days.
- The cost of employee turnover ranges between 100–300% of the replaced employee’s salary.
- Formal employee onboarding programs increase manager satisfaction by 20%.
Account managers are highly sought-after talents across industries and if you are not giving them a great welcome experience, you are likely to suffer from the consequences of high turnover or low productivity.
Tips to onboard and ramp up new account managers efficiently
Most businesses that have an employee onboarding program generalize the process for everyone who joins the team—be it the Director of Client Relationships or a marketing intern. The process is usually designed to make new hires sit through a bunch of presentation decks about the company’s culture and values followed by multiple rounds of introductory meetings.
For account managers in agencies, this approach of watered-down onboarding experience doesn’t cut it. Instead, you should customize your onboarding process to cater to the nuances of the account managers.
Here are a few tips on how to build an above-average onboarding process for account managers.
1. Create a thorough onboarding program
This is going to sound like we are stating the obvious, but it’s worth talking about the importance of actually sitting down and documenting the onboarding program in step-by-step detail.
If you have in-person an onboarding process, spell out the details of:
- Who are the new account managers going to report to on day zero
- What are they going to receive? (e.g., brand merch, welcome kit, hardware, software)
- How long will the onboarding process be?
- What do the onboarding milestones look like?
- Who will oversee the process?
- Will training be a part of the process?
- What are the next steps once the onboarding is over?
If you offer remote work, you have to go the extra mile to overcompensate for the lack of in-person connection. For instance, you might have to offer a high-touch onboarding experience at each stage of the process to make sure you don’t leave any stone unturned.
Here’s a working template you can consider using to offer a remote onboarding experience:
Before the first day: Go over the formal processes such as signing NDAs, sharing employee handbooks, and offering other materials to the account managers in quick succession. Have a virtual process to complete these tasks, such as through email.
On the first day: Formally introduce the new person to everyone (or just the relevant teams) during your company-wide calls, such as the Monthly All-Hands. Explain to the account managers what their schedule for the first week will look like, preferably in an email or Slack message. Consider your existing project management tool like ClickUp to familiarize the new hire with the tools and processes.
During the first week: If your agency serves high-stake clients from technical domains, the first week of onboarding will probably include a lot of training sessions. Make sure the training doesn't feel overwhelming for the new account managers. Allow them some wiggle room to interact with the team in between the breakout sessions, make it interactive for them to ask questions or offer suggestions, etc.
2. Offer comprehensive training and coaching program
Incorporating training sequences into the onboarding program will look very different to an ad agency with 50 offices scattered across the globe versus a HubSpot implementation partner agency that serves the Greater Boston area.
Whatever your agency’s niche and size may be, train your account managers to understand the key target personas that are relevant to your business and the common subtleties that bind them.
For example: If you are a channel partner for a software vendor, the account manager might have to work closely with a partner account manager (PAM) in the respective vendor companies. A PAM usually works with several channel partners at once. Therefore, agency account managers must understand the role dynamics with PAMs to succeed in their job. Those areas need specific coaching.
If the account managers are relatively new or less experienced, tweak the onboarding program to touch upon the foundational sales skills, industry know-how, and other technicalities to make sure they are off to a great start.
If they’re more experienced, you might want to cover a different set of aspects. For instance, they are going to handle specific account implementations, you might want to give them insights on how these accounts use their current techstack.
Give them an overview of what has worked for your agency so far and coach them to avoid common mistakes. The point is—don’t assume that every account manager comes with the same degree of knowledge and adjust the training program to give them the tools they need to succeed.
3. Set ambitious yet reasonable milestones
Most account managers are ambitious by default—after all, it’s a sales role that needs you to be driven, diligent, and customer-focused. You should match their professional appetite with ambitious goals that are within reason. It’s a great way for your agency to set individual benchmarks for new account managers while pumping them up to work towards a goal from the word go.
The Goldilocks principle is a great way to set a high bar for your account managers during the onboarding period. The Goldilocks rule, named after the children’s popular folk tale, suggests that "humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right."
Structure your onboarding program to make it feel easy, paced out, and productive for the new account managers. Avoid the temptation to bundle all the onboarding activities into a day or a week.
If you have the option, give them the choice to pick a project that they want to work on. Alternatively, assign them to a project that’s high in your agency’s priorities. Give them concrete goals and clearly defined timelines to meet them. This will help you monitor their performance against specific metrics, identify the areas that need coaching, and measure them against the milestones you set for them.
Onboarding is the perfect time for you to set the right expectations for the new account managers and show them the big picture. If you lower the goal-setting standards for new hires at this phase, they will internalize the same as the expected standards and vice versa.
Instead, when you set a benchmark that encourages them to over-promise and over-deliver, they might be able to push the envelope for themselves and your agency even if they fail in achieving the goals.
4. Offer frequent touches for the first month
The length and depth of an onboarding program vary based on the kind of agency you run, the niche that you serve, the goals that you have, and so on. Some agencies’ onboarding programs run for a few days or a week, while larger agencies tend to have onboarding processes that last a couple of months.
Generally speaking, four weeks is the magic number for onboarding new account managers in agencies because that’s an ideal ramp-up time for them to be ready to single-handedly manage client accounts on their own.
If your agency is willing to offer a month-long onboarding time for new account managers, be there for them to offer help whenever they need it. Offer weekly coaching sessions to help the account managers ramp up to their new role, train them to be self-reliant in matters of research and client communication, and give them the tools they need to shorten their learning curve.
For example, Avoma’s conversation intelligence capabilities help account managers working remotely approach their onboarding and ramp-up time in an easy-to-follow and self-paced manner. They don’t have to necessarily shadow senior account managers in client calls to learn the best practices: they can go through a curated list of client calls in Avoma to do so at their own convenient time.
Similarly, senior managers and coaches can share important client insights and data points with the new account managers for them to understand within Avoma—without having to schedule an in-person meeting. These are important touches that will help your new employees strike the right balance between performing well at their jobs and meeting the desired expectations.
5. Offer account managers an asynchronous route to ramp up
There are several advantages to creating an asynchronous ramp-up process—most of it applicable to remote agency teams distributed across different time zones. For example, you can let the new account managers listen to the client conversations with other account managers without the need to be there in person. Or, senior managers can listen to the account managers’ conversations with clients and offer specific feedback for improvement.
Tools like Slack, ClickUp, and Avoma enable the free flow of communication between teams so that the new recruits can be up to snuff faster, without feeling like they are being pushed into the deep end of the pool with no warning.
Most agencies that use Avoma for their account management needs cherish the unique capability of Playlists to speed up the new hires’ onboarding and ramp-up. Avoma’s Playlists feature allows you to curate the best client conversations from the past and share them with others to let them listen to them at their own pace.
For instance: here’s an example of all the playlists related to ‘onboarding’ that different people at Avoma have created at different times. Members from other teams can look up these playlists, subscribe to them, or create their own playlists to create a searchable knowledge base of sorts.
Think of this like creating a playlist in Spotify—you can keep adding calls of a specific type to the list and listen to it asynchronously while you’re working out or walking your dog in the park.
The advantage—you can offload defer a major chunk of coaching and training the new hires to Avoma so that they can learn at their own pace, at scale, and without having to book their managers’ time.
Leverage conversation intelligence to improve employee onboarding
The trickiest part about building a great onboarding program is that you have to find a balance between tweaking the program to the individual needs and making it a scalable process. Unfortunately, you can’t pull it off by applying traditional onboarding and ramp-up methods.
In today’s remote-first, asynchronous, and geographically distributed work culture—you need a digital solution that enables you to personalize your onboarding process to the specific needs of a new employee while allowing you the flexibility to scale it for en masse onboarding. Avoma’s conversation intelligence checks the boxes when it comes to achieving both.
If you are looking for ways to streamline your employee onboarding, consider Avoma for agencies. Improve the efficiency of your onboarding and ramp-up programs so that you can set up your new account managers for success.