One mans journey from the bottom to the top of Kent’s leading search and social marketing agency!
It’s really difficult to write an article like this without sounding like a self righteous d****e bag. It’s also surprisingly difficult to look back and reflect on what has happened in the last 8 years. It seems to have flown by with laughter, tears and a lot of fun along the way.
So, here we go….
“Please give me a job.”
It was a sunny day in August 2011, I had recently lost a job at a very popular cashback website due to them losing their biggest client. I was nervous, this job interview meant everything to me. The company seemed a perfect fit.
I had done the homework, checked the website, stalked the owners on LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace, I was ready.
The office looked small when I walked in, the people looked focused. I had been in digital for the past few years but the stuff these guys were doing was above my station. I had used search engines but the concept of optimising websites and search marketing was still a bit alien to me.
After a quick tour we started the interview, it was with Ant (Managing Director) and Sean (now Projects Director) and to my surprise, they were both very relaxed, nice people.
I walked out of the interview thinking I had just gotten to know two new friends, not the fact I had been questioned on my very limited knowledge of the industry. I later realised they were looking for potential, desire and the right attitude. Something Sleeping Giant Media still do to this day.
They liked me, I was invited for a second interview. Chris (now Head of Data) was the man to test me this time. He gave me a number of industry relevant tasks to do, basic PPC/SEO work. Again, I had prepared, it wasn’t a problem.
Two weeks and 87 applicants later, I was offered the job. The only job Sleeping Giant Media had going at the time as there were only 5 of them.
“Learn, retain, apply.”
I started as a Search Account Exec, a role I was in for 6 months. I very quickly realised what this role required of me, to learn, retain and implement what I had learned every day. I needed to do this efficiently, with purpose and with the client in mind. It wasn’t easy, it involved reams and reams of page titles, SQR’s and more inappropriate negative keyword exclusions than a 50 shades of grey book.
“New role, new expectations.”
It took 6 months of this work to make it to Senior Account Exec, with one hiccup. I was taking Adwords exams back when you had to pay for them, I failed it becasue I left it too late and my promotion was delayed by a month, I learned a hard lesson (and also cried a little bit). If you don’t do the “not urgent” but important things in good time, they become urgent and important and you risk failing, badly. A month later, I had passed my exam and was promoted to Senior Search Account Exec.
What really helped me initially with all of this was the rest of the teams (Sean, Luke, Ant and Chris’) unrelenting desire to succeed, every day, every waking minute. It was infectious.
I remember the first bit of negative feedback I received early on, my voice sounded negative on the phone to clients, partly because of the depth of my voice and partly because I didn’t understand the importance of tone. I went home that day and watched videos on how to increase voice speed to sound more enthusiastic and how to use different words to deliver information. I never received that feedback again and it wasn’t a problem. You can’t dwell on mistakes in this industry, you don’t have the time. You learn, change and adapt.
I wasn’t a baby anymore, the expectation was different. I had client calls, performance analysis and relationship management creep into my role and I tell you what, watching and learning from the team on these key competencies was like watching a symphony. It was coordinated, calculated and consistent. Sean could build a relationship with a toilet, Chris’ love for data won anyone over, Ant and Luke had a mixture of both, and it didn’t take long to pick up on their strengths. They were relationship building, data loving machines.
This phrase still sticks with me to this day, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” It applies to EVERYTHING.
I wanted to work hard for this team, I didn’t care about longer hours, I didn’t care how long the work took, it had to get done. I knew the direction this company was taking and I wanted to remain a part of it.
“Wow, that pool looks really deep. /jumps in.”
I was in the Senior Search Exec role for a year, after which I made it to Search Account Manager. I went home and celebrated that day, this was a massive milestone in my career.
It meant I had gathered the skills and relationship management traits required to fully manage a client portfolio on my own. We didn’t have JAM (Jnr Account Manager) positions at this point, there was no “settling in” period. I was thrown in at the deep end. There was no manager training, there were no soft client introductions, I had to learn quickly. I was expected to deliver the same standard of work I did before, while learning some new skills along the way, either from the team or myself. I learned some hard lessons during my time as an AM which are still with me to this day.
Here are some you may want to consider yourself:
- Speak to clients as often as is required to achieve the end goal. Target numbers mean nothing if you are not achieving the performance.
- Roadmaps, clients love roadmaps and you should too
- Do what you say, by the date you said you would
- Emails are not enough, scheduled calls and meetings are not enough. Proactive, meaningful conversations are the holy grail of client relationships and buy in which drives action.
- Listen to understand first and to respond second
- Celebrate the wins just as hard as you rue the losses
- The performance of your team is key, even one small incompetence can multiply. Train and retrain if you have to.
This role was unique, you needed technical expertise and client relationship skills, something that does not always gel naturally. I had the technical ability but my relationship building skills still needed some work.
At first, I was that awkward guy at a wedding who you had not seen for 10 years, who could not fathom a conversation with somebody he didn’t know as it’s likely he won’t see them again for another 10. Only this was different, I would see clients again, I needed to build relationships quickly and I had to build a good first impression to build confidence.
It took some work but the learnings were key again;
- Eye contact, look people in the eyes when you are talking to them
- Posture, sit up straight, lean forward when you speak, speak clearly and don’t rush your words.
- If you don’t know, you don’t know. People respect honesty.
- If it’s a new relationship, ask questions (personal hobbies, interests) note them down or put them in your visual memory for that person.
- If you can’t do small talk, think about it beforehand.
- If your clients have a hobby that you know about, take a bit of time to look at what is happening in that space. This builds connections faster than anything I have encountered, actually taking an interest in someone you are likely to speak to quite often in the month. Someone who is part of your client base, paying the bills.
I was in this role for another year, my portfolio grew, my clients liked me and performance was good. But that wasn’t enough to progress.
I realised early on that in order to make it any further that I also had to make an effort internally. After all, in order to make an impact on more people, you had to get to know them, respect them and help them succeed whenever possible.
You had to bring something new to progress, something no one else specialised in specifically. Mine was a mix of high technical ability in all of our services and the ability to predict and solve problems, especially SEO related problems. This also allowed me to train and upskill people internally with new ideas and help them with their clients, it allowed me to grow my profile in the business as the “go to” guy for support and Technical SEO.
I finally made it to Senior Account Manager after a year, and upheld all of the above values consistently. I was in that role for a few years. The performance of the teams was now more important than anything else, and asking tough questions while getting the most out of people would prove the most difficult.
I had seen many patterns of client relationships by now, and the ones that stood out as the most important were capability and communication.
“Find a solution.”
Capability being the ability to know when to delegate, do the work yourself or finding the best person to achieve a goal for the client. The tenacity required to do this is high, but if you master it, it works wonders.
All of our hard work means nothing if the client does not understand or know what we are doing for them. Communicating what we are doing frequently and consistently is key to retaining any client relationship. Email is not enough, one report call a month is not enough. Proactive communication around strategy and performance is imperative.
The Client Services department grew bigger and bigger, we had successfully kept clients and were taking more on. I was ready for a new challenge, the job on offer was Associate Client Services Director and it would be reporting directly to Ant, a man of data and efficiency but a humble human too.
I spent 1 year and 3 months in this role working on process improvement, team growth and innovation before making the full Client Services Director role.
The most challenging part of this role was managing others to ensure their teams are performing and not having the time to get my hands dirty every time something had to be done for a client. This involved learning to trust the fully capable workforce we have at Sleeping Giant Media. Something I learned the hard way by feeling completely and utterly burned out 6 months into this job.
“For goodness sake, delegate.”
I was trying to do everything, build PPC accounts, manage clients, drive Client Services Strategy. It was making me feel unreliable at times due to the high standards I set myself and the desire I have to help others. Digital marketing and innovation is my passion, so everything that embodies that had to have my involvement. Almost like a rubber stamp of approval.
I soon realised that leaning on others, including my direct team was the best thing for everyone, it empowered those around me to take responsibility and gave them the confidence that I trusted them to do the job. It also meant I could complete all of my work….ish.
“Life sucks at times.”
My personal challenges and family life were also especially challenging at this time and slightly before this role.
I realised that having children is not always easy, something that took my wife and I four years to achieve and something people definitely take for granted. We cried, we laughed, we cried some more.
At the same time, my wife’s mum Jean was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a terminal cancer with a low life expectancy past 4 years.
It was very hard for me to accept that we were struggling to have children at first. I cried every day for about a year, not because I was cursing my luck, but because it was taking time away from Jean in my head.
In 2017, Faye came along and I have to say, if you now gave me an option of not having to go through 4 years of pain, disappointment and despair but instead having a baby with no problems and then not getting Faye as a result, I would tell you to shove it and that I would go through the same pain again. Just maybe a little faster timeline wise…..
Three months after Faye was born, we lost my wife’s mum to Mesothelioma after a hard 3 ½ years of battling and trying to beat this horrible disease. We cried again. We still cry now. My wife’s mum was a big part of our lives. Faye saw her grandmother, if only for a short while, it’s bittersweet. Faye turned onto her belly on the day Jean died, it was almost like a tribute to her awesome grandmother who we will make sure she knows everything about. Faye has been a saving grace for us in the nearly 2 years since Jean died.
There is more but I won’t bore you, this is not my autobiography, just a flavour that life is not rosy even when it looks like it. I personally don’t think it ever can be, you just have to accept that life itself is not meant to be easy, imagine if it was, none of us would have a purpose. I saw a sign in the town that I live which said “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.”, it makes sense to me.
Saying all that, I can’t stress enough how much Sleeping Giant Media and the people here have helped my family get through these tough times. We will never forget it.
Looking back, working full time and juggling emotions like this drove some personal growth and learning.
My key takeaways in this role were:
- People are impulsive, caring and fallible all at the same time, respect that
- Listen to people as if they may tell you something you don’t already know
- Surround yourself with people who want the best for you, including people at work
- Friends and Family are there to help you focus, use them as a sounding board (Listen to them when they make “stupid” suggestions)
Some of these challenges existed while I was stepping into my full Director role, some happened after I was promoted.
Certain things went through my head which were that my own problems are relative to me and that I should stay respectful of others and their needs. Afterall, their problems are relative too and no less significant than mine. This helped me stay grounded and sane.
The client services team has really evolved since I started this initial role and we are now over 30 strong.
Since my appointment as Director, we have also rolled out the EOS® system which has really given us much more structure with our meetings and company direction. The initial brainchild of adopting this came from our visionary and CEO, Luke which was then rolled out by our MD, the integrator and “finisher” Ant.
My days are now filled with making decisions at departmental and company level. Client satisfaction, core service direction and vision are now at the top of my agenda. I speak to clients on a regular basis to take feedback on our teams and output, and measure our success using the Net Promoter score.
“The team is everything.”
I have a great team around me who help achieve the high service levels we expect. Most of them have all been on the journey with me, developing into very capable people who now help run the client services department. Without them, we would not be where we are now. Which is a well oiled, efficient and caring machine. (You know who you are!).
What are my key takeaways so far?
- Relationships and ROI are the most important factors when striving trying to retain clients.
- Ask yourself two questions when reviewing client performance.
- What are their goals?
- What will they judge you on at the end of the month/project.
- If what we are doing does not achieve client goals and does not meet the expectations our clients have and will eventually judge us on, we stop, strategise and take action to succeed.
- Process builds compliance and prevents small errors from creeping into your every day.
- Genuine, transparent and respectful teams work well together
- Not everyone will be pleased with your decisions, and that’s ok.
- Preventing yourself from becoming the first point of call for every departmental issue is the most effective thing you can do.
- Nothing worth doing is easy, it will take time. It will also consume more of your time than you would like. To be really skillful at something, you have to put in the work and you have to care. No shortcuts. At agency level, this means a lot of R&D extra hours and a bit of sweat.
That’s it, my self righteous rambling is over. It’s not been easy, but I would not change a thing in terms of my time here at Sleeping Giant Media.
Here’s to another 8 years and an even bigger and better Client Services Department.
Fancy joining Sleeping Giant Media for a career in digital marketing? Look out for opportunities to apply on our LinkedIn or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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