We once had an Account Lead whose update for weekly account status check-ins would frequently read: "All is good." I trusted this person, so I had no reason to assume all was not good on the project or with the client. However, as time passed, I noticed a pattern with this person's accounts.
New initiatives or tasks always seemed urgent. They'd cite other team members or even the client when situations didn't go as planned. If hours were trending over, they would act as if it happened overnight.
All in all, anything that didn't go well appeared to come out of nowhere. It was frustrating. Going from "all is good" to red alert was an emotional rollercoaster for me and anyone others involved. When I jumped in to help manage the situation, I'd often be surprised to learn how unhappy the client had been with us for a while. Unfortunately, a few of these situations led to clients decreasing services or moving on. In one instance, I discovered our client had just begun exploring other partners. Luckily, we prompted a discussion early enough to turn things around.
All was not good.
I always carved out time to debrief with the Account lead, but we did not see much progress before they chose to move on. I never fully uncovered what led to the continued oversight of their accounts.
Were they looking at the world through rose-colored glasses?
Were they unwilling or unsure how to take ownership of their accounts?
Were they not curious enough not to dig in with clients to understand their needs?
Were they afraid to ask clients for feedback?
While it was sad not to see the Account Lead improve, I walked away with a valuable lesson: When it feels like "all is good" with a client, assume there's something you're overlooking. While it's important to continually get curious about the client, solicit feedback, and confirm the relationship is on the right track, "all is good" is a signal to go deeper.
These days, I've made it a habit to dig in further when I hear "all is good" from an Account Lead or I notice myself thinking the same during my weekly accounts review with the Barrel partners. The truth is that even when all is good, there's always a more specific update to provide that can lead to further insights. I remember one situation when digging deeper with an Account Lead surfaced a projected overage on a project. With this information, we could proactively get ahead of it and course-correct, ending the project on time and within budget.
We've made several changes to accounts management at Barrel over the last couple of years. The most notable changes have been designing a Weekly Accounts System, keeping projects on track and centralizing decision-making, and introducing Executive Sponsors, a member of Barrel leadership accountable for strengthening the client relationship, specifically with executive stakeholders.
This post originally appeared in Edition No. 130 of my newsletter. Subscribe here.