Account manager versus project manager – who is who? What roles and responsibilities does each manager have? Is there any crossover? This article will delve into the differences between these two important roles within any agency and why both are necessary for truly transcendent client relations.  

Traditionally, account managers held the responsibility of managing clients and projects alike. From strategic planning and client happiness to deadlines and deliverables – the account manager wore many hats depending on the project, scope, or client. 

However, as the business world has accelerated, so too has the demand for quality services and deliverables – not to mention the advent of the internet and all of the glorious products and services it has consequently provided as well. This created the birth of project managers – a dedicated individual or team centered around the implementation and completion of projects while the account manager was responsible for client management. 

This paramount switch between the account manager and the project manager was essential in adapting to the ever changing business environment. The account manager is geared more towards external facing operations within the organization – client relationships and understanding the client’s vision and needs. Conversely, the project manager deals with more internal operations – timelines, day-to-day project communications, and deliverables. 

What is Account Management?

So what exactly does an Account Manager do?

The Account Manager has many roles and responsibilities, however, their chief responsibility is ensuring client satisfaction. Account Managers or AMs are the liaison between the agency and its clients. AMs are the architects and overseers of client relationships, cultivating a positive rapport with each and every client. AMs dig deep to discover individual client needs – in the short term and long term – they are there to empower their clients. 

Now, that sounds fine and dandy but what does that look like in practice? AMs work directly with internal teams to develop sales and marketing strategies and the necessary preparation to pitch or present. AMs are in constant communication with their clients unearthing opportunities, pain points and gaps. AMs circulate client information and agendas to team members. Client reporting is often handled by account managers. 

Account Managers are sometimes responsible for cultivating new clients and new business. AMS are there monitoring budgets, forms of revenues and potentially even upselling other services or products – always keeping in mind – the clients needs comes first. 

A surprising hat AMs wear is one of surprise and delight, which often goes overlooked. They have the joy of client gift giving – whether that is project completion, anniversary gifts or simply a thank you – AMs are truly there to empower their clients. 

AMs have their clients’ goals, vision, needs, growth always on their purview. One might say they are the jack of all trades within an agency and you wouldn’t be wrong. But this key player in the chessboard of an agency is the glue that keeps everything together and the wheel that keeps the agency running smoothly. 

What is Project Management?

What about Project managers? What is their role?

Project Managers, or PMs, a crucial part of the puzzle within an agency. PMs oversee individual client projects or initiatives from start to finish. All projects have a beginning and an end and it is PMs that guide, cater and deliver final products to clients. It is PMs that manage the budget, scheduling, client expectations and deliverables for each project. They are the ever-changing stewards of an agency’s workload. 

Throughout human history, project management has been a skill or profession not formally recognized. Many professionals simply wore the hat of project management while juggling other professional aspects. With the acceleration of the global economy, the necessity for a dedicated individual or team to oversee an organization’s projects from start to finish created a market gap. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century where the dire need for a dedicated vocation, such as project management, came into existence.  

Today, we live in an economy where projects are the driving force behind progress, change and growth. It is these PMs who are the champions of client initiatives, the caretakers of deadlines, due dates and scheduling, and the supervisors of the necessary team members needed for each project. PMs have to be quick on their feet, nimble and agile to adapt to the progress of each project and all the while have a steady grip on the overarching vision of the end deliverable. 

Now, not all projects are the same. This adds another dimension to the Project Managers arsenal of skills – adaptability. Some projects are quick, straightforward and quite streamlined – solving an immediate problem and delivering a timely and effective solution. Other projects require rounds of revisions, change in timing, or other external factors where the final product or services requires patience and truly understanding the clients vision and needs. 

What are the traits of a good AM?

Now that you have a taste of each, let’s look into what really makes Account Managers crucial to every agency. What are some qualities or traits that Account Managers should have to excel at their profession?

  1. Communication is Paramount

I think it goes without saying but it is imperative – being an excellent communicator is key to the success of all Account Managers. The ability to communicate is how AMs get to know their clients and build that relationship and rapport. 

Understanding what the client wants and needs is a skill all AMs must develop in order to be effective. More often than not, communication comes in the form of listening to clients’ needs, visions, pain points – taking all that information and turning it into a plan of action. AMs then communicate this information from the client to the respective team members to put the plan into motion. Delegating information and tasks to Project Managers or team creatives allows a seamless streamlined method for all those involved. 

As stated above, communication is also communicating within your team or agency ensuring all appropriate client needs are met. AMs are the client representatives to your agency or team – AMs are an extension of all of your agency’s clients. 

No one likes surprises, having clear, constant communication ensures all parties are on the same page when it comes to goals, priorities and expectations. 

  1. Stay Organized

Organization is a skill everyone should have in their professional toolkit. However for Account Managers, organization is their bread and butter. Staying up to date on all things clients is how Account Managers have earned such an important seat at the table. Keeping a rolling to-do list, a powerful external tool such as a CRM software (customer relationship management) or a bunch of stickie notes – whatever method works best for you – use it! 

Client management can be overwhelming at times that is why staying organized can help you with your workload as well as keeping the whole agency on board. Clear communication to team members to ensure objectives are completed is one form of staying organized. Similarly, conveying information to clients with updates and full-length reports can keep everyone up to date and content. 

  1. Client Relationship Development

Learn about your clients. Learn everything you can about your clients, it will prove fruitful, I promise. Ask them questions about themselves, their business, their families, their past times even. Developing a solid foundation and good rapport with each and every client will only increase your understanding of their goals as well as set up your agency for growth and success. 

One might say you befriend your clients and it may seem that way. With this skill you are building trust, which is priceless in any b2b branding business engagement. AMs are an extension of each client, you are their representative looking out for their best interests. It is a different frame of mind but putting yourself in their shoes – you begin to see the bigger picture and truly create a transformative client experience. 

Account Managers are ‘people’ people. What I mean by that is, AMs need good people skills – communication, listening, compassion and the ability to cater to each client individually will transcend their experience with you and your agency. 

  1. Creative and Knowledgeable Approach

A good Account Manager is knowledgeable of their own agency’s goals along with their clients’ goals. The ability to creatively weave these two different approaches together is a skill AMs have the honor of undertaking. 

Because of their deep seeded knowledge of each individual client, a good AM won’t administer the same ‘cookie cutter’ campaign or creative direction. They prescribe a tailored approach to each client to ensure that their client rapport and research of unearthing opportunities comes to life. 

This is a crucial intersection where you, the AM, is representing the client to your agency as well as representing your agency to the client – developing cutting edge, new ways of overcoming pain points and opportunities will only help your client AND your agency stand out. 

  1. Results Driven

Account Managers are always conscious of their clients’ and agency’s goals. This mindset keeps them focused on the results. If AMs can keep producing at a high-level for their clients and their agency – that is a win-win-win strategy. 

Highly detailed reports and sharing KPIs (key performance indicators) and strategic insights to clients establishes that client-agency trust and demonstrates that their needs and goals are being handled and taken care of. If your clients are taken care of, you’re also taking care of your agency and its goals (and your job security :P)

  1. Push the Boundaries

Never just do the bare minimum for your clients. Go above and beyond for them. You are going to bat for them – their strategic advocate. Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries and bring new creative ideas to the table. Think outside the box when it comes to overcoming obstacles. 

There is always room for growth. It starts with Account Managers as they know more of the ins and outs of each client. AMs have that unique understanding that allows them to put forward the latest and greatest ideas and solutions. 

  1. Care and Empowerment

A final significant skill AMs need to develop is one of empowerment. AMs are the client caretakers, which is fulfilling all the needs and goals each client presents. But let’s take it one step further, one of empowerment. What does this look like? 

This means going beyond what’s necessary – doing more  because you care and you have the platform to do so. This means surprise and delights, friendly follow-ups, client gift-giving, a happy birthday cake or card – whatever this means, and every client is different, it is AMs that create truly transcendent client experiences. 

What are the traits of a good PM?

Now we’ve seen what it takes to be a great Account Manager but what does a great Project Manager look like? What types of qualities and professional skills set you apart from the crowd. 

  1. Accountability

The first strength a great PM needs is accountability. To see projects from start to finish and all the intricacies involved requires a high level of accountability. As the PM, you hold yourself as well as your team accountable – all the deadlines, due dates, check-ins funnel through you. Being accountable for your decisions and actions sends a strong message to the rest of your team encourages them to stay on top of their own tasks. 

It is your responsibility as the PM to ensure that the clients needs are being met and the project has been completed. You are responsible for task management, incorporating the correct team members and staying on top of the numerous deadlines along the way to the final deliverable. It all starts with you, the PM. 

  1. Organization

With a high level of accountability demands one to stay organized. Keeping your own schedule as organized as possible will make your job as PM that much easier and effective. Projects are a compilation of data, requests and an overarching objective. It is your responsibility as Project Manager to sift through the incoming information, assemble a plan of action and then into manageable milestones to bring the project to life. 

It is then your responsibility to set timelines, due dates and priorities to delegate to key team members. It is a fine line between doing the entire project yourself and staying hands off and letting your team do what it does best. Organizations can often look like micromanagement, which is where you, the PM, can empower your team and delegate responsibilities. 

  1. Communication and delegation

Communication is a skill all great PMs need. To be hypervigilant and managing team members and tasks is critical to your success. Staying in contact with your team ensuring due dates are met keeps every project moving forward. Communication is equal parts listening and delegating. Listening to your team, to the client adds to your arsenal and gives you, the PM, the ability to strategically assign tasks and empower your team. 

A great PM will delegate and elevate his or her team members by assigning manageable tasks. They know their team’s strengths and empowers and encourages each member to do their finest work. This is what it means to be a team player even if you are the captain. Each person on your team has a role and it is your job to serve them with appropriate workloads and keep them accountable. 

  1. Team Building

As I stated before, delegate and elevate is the surest way to empower your team and get them to rally behind you. You are the captain, quarterback and cheerleader for your team. It’s many hats (or helmets) to wear but it is such a delightful aspect of being a Project Manager. 

Empowering your team to do their best work keeps your team members coming back to work hungry and ready for the next project that comes to their desk. Build your team up, encourage them, help them when asked for it – you are their leader and they look to you for guidance and support. Leading your team to the finish line keeping morale and enthusiasm high will keep your clients and team content. 

  1. Flexibility

As much as we’d all like for every project to go perfectly to plan, that simply is not how the world works. As the Project Manager, you must stay flexible and agile to take the bumps in the road as gracefully as possible. To be quick on your feet and come up with tangible solutions will help you and your team see the final deliverable. 

Come up with creative solutions and incorporate your team along the way will yield results that your clients will love. Every project that comes to your desk will have its own challenges and it is your role to overcome them by staying flexible and quick witted.

  1. Change-Agent

If anything is certain in life, change is inevitable. 2020 alone taught us a new way to live, disrupting our normal routines. Project management is no different. Projects change, timelines change, teams change, clients may change – project managers are the change agents that keep the whole agency moving forward. 

Project Managers embrace change, they welcome it as an opportunity to grow. If we get stuck in our old ways, the world would have stopped spinning by now. Change is going to happen and great PMs take it all in stride, they welcome change to the table like an old friend. 

AM vs PM and Why both are needed

Account Managers and Project Managers are crucial for every organization. They often work together but, as stated above, have different roles and responsibilities. Account Managers are there to cultivate long lasting relationships with each client, while Project Managers deal with more short term projects and objectives. Both keeping in mind that the clients needs are paramount. 

Account Managers are orientated externally and Project Managers are orientated internally. Account Managers prime mission is client satisfaction and retention. Without any clients, the Account Manager has no job. 

Project Managers prioritizes projects, timelines, day-to-day tasks and communications. Projects Managers delegate tasks to internal team members to ensure the project comes to completion. The success of PMs comes from their ability to deliver excellent final products in a time-efficient manner. 

One of the biggest benefits of having an Account Manager and a Project Manager is communication is handled by two organized individuals. This gives peace of mind to the client that they are truly being taken care of from an organizational standpoint as well as project management. 

Similarly, AMs and PMs keep each other accountable, nothing can fall through the cracks with an extra set of eyes on each client and project. This gives each client and project a unified scope – a main, overarching objective that benefits both parties – client and agency alike. 

Now, if your agency is in its beginning stages and the ability to have both types of managers is not in the cards for right now, that’s ok. As your agency grows your Account Manager may be wearing the Project Manager hat but at some point during your growth, the workload may bubble over and it will be time to implement the division from a single Account Manager to having both an Account Manager and a Project Manager. This will help your agency run smoothly, more efficiently, and client satisfaction and retention will go up as each role is clearly defined. I am a strong advocate for implementing this strategy into your organization. 

Conclusion

Account Managers and Project Managers are critical pieces to the success of every organization. This dynamic duo keeps the engine of every agency running smoothly. While AMs are external facing dealing with client satisfaction and retention, PMs deal with every project from start to finish. These key players are often working closely together. When both players know their role and responsibilities, beautiful outcomes are achieved.