Fostering Client Relationships With Executive Sponsors

Prior to hiring our Director of Client Services, Kate, our client relationships were managed by the Barrel partners or our Director of Business Development, Dan. In some cases, this worked well. In other cases, we missed opportunities to have meaningful conversations about our clients's businesses, ways of working together, and opportunities to better support them in achieving great outcomes.

When Kate joined, we officially introduced the Client Services team. Since then, Kate has been instrumental in bringing energy and momentum toward a future where account management and client service are unparalleled.

As we onboarded Kate onto existing client accounts, the partners took a backseat. We thought that staying too involved would not only confuse the client on points of contact but might get in the way of Client Services' ability to own the relationship. We did our best to transition Dan's accounts to Kate.

Flash forward to the present day. Our Client Services team is growing and almost every client is represented by Kate or an Account Director. However, we're noticing a gap.

Every client has a different set of stakeholders with a range of titles. But if we generalize for a moment, it is simple. There's the day-to-day contact and the day-to-day contact's boss. Sometimes, the day-to-day contact's boss has a boss, too.

In a nutshell, an Account Director's job is to:

  • Make sure Barrel is delivering on what we set out to do
  • Coordinate the Barrel team
  • Solicit and address feedback
  • Identify opportunities to better support the client

More often than not, an Account Director is working directly with the client's day-to-day contact. They may get face time with their boss, but these conversations often include other team members and focus on the work.

The gap is a missing dialogue around Barrel's performance as an agency and insight into the client's future trajectory. How is their team evolving? What is their top priority this year? Next year? What opportunities do they see? Where are they investing resources?

To make progress, we're experimenting with introducing an Executive Sponsor to every account. An Executive Sponsor can be a partner, Kate, or Dan. No matter who they are, they are a designated Barrel representative to periodically facilitate one-on-one conversations with the client's key stakeholder, typically C-Suite.

In some ways, the Executive Sponsor can act as a third-party participant, offering a unique perspective without being caught in the details of the day-to-day. They are there to listen and offer up ideas on how to strengthen collaboration.

For existing accounts, we will align on who will be the best rep. A number of clients already have an informal "executive sponsor" who acts mainly as an escalation point. This roll-out will simply confirm their role and open the door to additional conversations. For new accounts, leadership will look for opportunities to connect with key stakeholders early on to establish a relationship for future check-ins.

Prior to one-on-ones, it is critical that executive sponsors touch base with the internal Account Director for any recent developments of the account. The Executive Sponsor can use these points to solicit feedback during the conversation.

Some questions an Executive Sponsor might ask:

  1. Thinking back to the start of our most recent engagement. Do you feel like we're on track for what we set out to do?
  2. What have you appreciated most about our relationship? Where do you see an opportunity for improvement?
  3. How could we improve the communication and collaboration between our teams?
  4. Have there been any moments on the account that you think I should know about? Positive or critical?
  5. What are you most excited about for the future of your business? Most concerned?
  6. Where are you investing resources for next year? Any important initiatives in the works?
  7. If you could wave a magic wand, how do you wish Barrel could deliver results on your key initiatives?

We're looking forward to kicking off this initiative with the team and seeing how it evolves in the coming months.