New tools to improve performance
on April 6, 2023 • 17 minute read
Do you ever feel like you’re drowning in a sea of clients?
As an agency account manager, you’re expected to wear many hats. From liaising with clients to streamlining internal processes, there’s always so much to do.
But how many clients can one account manager take on before the quality of work declines and they reach the point of burnout?
We sought to find this out by surveying 48 agencies and asking for their insights about reaching the sweet spot between efficiency and quality.
Here’s what we’ll be covering in this article:
Considering marketing is like a bottomless well, agencies can provide several services to their clients.
To understand our survey respondents better, we asked them about the services they provided. The most common services these agencies offer are SEO (68.75%), content marketing (60.42%), web design (52.08%), and social media marketing services (50%).
Here’s a complete look at the top services our surveyed agencies provide.
Related: Why Should I Hire a Marketing Agency?
Different agencies have different team dynamics. However, the account management team is one that is common among all.
The account management team is responsible for maintaining agency-client relationships. They coordinate with clients, note their requests, and become the primary point of contact for any issues they incur.
The same team shares client requests and feedback with internal teams and ensures all work is delivered on time and that too, of the expected quality.
How many clients an account manager can take ultimately depends on the team’s size. The bigger the team, the more accounts they can handle.
We asked our survey respondents about the number of people (account managers, account directors, etc.) they have in their account management teams. Most agencies reported they have 6 or fewer people in their teams.
It’s safe to say that account managers have a lot on their plate. You can often find them juggling multiple tasks at a time, which is why a large number of clients might cause them to fumble.
Although an account manager should serve as a bridge between the agency and clients, their responsibilities may increase if the agency is smaller in size.
We asked the agencies we surveyed about the work their account managers perform. More than 90% of them reported they’re in charge of account management – clients’ primary contact, upselling services offered, and ensuring clients are getting their needs met.
Interestingly, 67% of our respondents stated that their account managers are responsible for project management (ensuring work gets done and streamlining internal teams), while 46% say they are in charge of strategic planning (guiding the agency in meeting client objectives and maximizing ROI).
For about a third of respondents, account managers are responsible for additional duties:
Josh Krakauer, the CEO of Sculpt, a B2B social media marketing agency, sums this up nicely.
“Account management is a balancing act between delivering appropriate client service, strategic thinking, and profitability.”
CEO at Sculpt
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Related: 14 Best Agency Project Management Tools to Manage Projects Efficiently in 2022
So, how many clients are too many before an account manager has an existential crisis?
Our survey shows that almost 70% of agencies responded that their account managers handle fewer than 10 clients each. Surprisingly, more than 10% of our respondents have 15+ clients under the control of a single account manager.
Like most marketers and marketing managers, you want to know how your efforts are translating into results each month. How is your website performing? How well are you converting traffic into leads and customers? Which marketing channels are performing best? How does organic search compare to paid campaigns and to previous months? You might have to scramble to put all of this together in a single report, but now you can have it all at your fingertips in a single Databox dashboard.
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If you’re an agency owner, you might be confused about deciding on the client account management workload. There are a few factors, though, that might help you make this decision.
As per our survey respondents, the factors with the greatest impact on selecting the appropriate workload are the client’s needs and their budget. Conversely, the factors with the least impact are account manager experience and billable targets.
Related: How Many Clients is Too Many? The Ideal Client Number Agencies Should Have to Optimize Their Profit Margins
Let’s look into these factors in more detail.
Some clients are more “needy” than others, requiring greater attention from account managers. If you’re a digital marketing agency, clients needing PPC, content marketing, and SEO services will take more of your account manager’s time than one paying for only content marketing services.
Then there are also those clients who are satisfied with a meeting every two weeks. Others would prefer catching up with account managers twice a week.
Jonathan Aufray from Growth Hackers Agency says, “It’s really hard to put a specific number of clients an account manager should be handling. I mean, there are clients who are very demanding while others are more laid back.”
If you have several clients with greater needs, then you can’t assign more clients to the same account manager. If, however, clients have limited requirements, the workload on account managers can increase simultaneously.
The budget of your client affects the account managers’ workload.
Most marketing agencies have a monthly retainer budget of $1,001 – $2,500. While clients’ budgets may differ for your agency, one thing is certain – you’ll have a varying range of clients and the money they bring in.
Some clients would have a budget of $5,000, and a single account manager can handle many clients with similar budgets.
You’ll probably also have a few high-paying customers, and you wouldn’t want to assign more of them to one account manager. Surely, you wouldn’t want to risk losing these valuable clients if you overburdened account managers and disrupted their workflows.
Related: How Much Should Your Marketing Agency Charge for its Monthly Retainer Fee?
What happens when your supervisor assigns you a difficult task? You put all your concentration and effort into nailing it, even if it takes much time. But if your boss assigned you a simpler, routine task – you’d get it done in no time.
Similarly, the greater the client complexity, the fewer accounts you can assign to account managers.
Jordan Brannon from Coalition Technologies agrees, “To me, there is not a set number. It depends on what an account manager is handling (the complexity/needs of the client roster) and how equipped that account manager is to handle it.”
Your service level agreement dictates how many clients account managers can handle.
If your agency provides productized services (standardized services with defined parameters and pricing), account managers can take on a greater workload.
In contrast, if you provide custom work, you cannot assign several clients to a single account manager considering the level of work required.
This might come as an obvious, but senior account managers can take on more clients than junior ones.
Seasoned account managers are familiar with juggling multiple clients at a time and resolving commonly-faced issues. They might also have a greater team to which work can be delegated.
Junior account managers lack this crucial experience, which explains why they might be assigned fewer accounts at the start.
Looking at account managers’ billable hours – working hours that can be charged to a client(s) – is a quick way to determine how many clients can be assigned to them. If they are already on target, then it’s not wise to give them more accounts, as this can lead to a fall in quality.
One thing is certain: account managers have a lot to do. With that being said, how many clients should be assigned to a single account manager?
We asked this question to the agencies we surveyed and have rounded the best answers for you. Let’s dive in.
5 sounds like a good number of clients to have under the management of a single account manager. It is not overwhelming but, at the same time, competitive enough to keep account managers on their toes.
Michael Maximoff from Belkins.io shares the same opinion, “Account managers should typically handle about 5 clients in total, and this is usually the best-case scenario for both the clients, the agency, and the managers themselves. Exceeding this number usually leads to work overload for the manager, a drop in the quality of service for the client, and a lot of problems down the line for the agency.”
The reason behind selecting a relatively conservative number of accounts is to avoid the possibility of burnout.
When account managers are overburdened with work, the possibility of mistakes increases. And with the agency-client relationship being a fickle one, any errors can be detrimental. Josh Krakauer from Sculpt shares what may happen if account managers are given a large number of clients.
“Account Managers are at an especially high risk of burnout, so the more day-to-day firefighting or task shifting (between clients), the more likely a negative outcome. That’s why I prefer the model of each account manager serving a low number of larger accounts.
Another reason why agencies prefer sticking to fewer clients per manager is high client budgets.
If account managers are dealing with a high retainer fee, it only seems fair that they have a lesser workload. We saw earlier how this factor can affect the number of clients assigned to each manager.
Concerning high budgets/retainer fees, Perry Nalevka from Penguin Strategies says, “Our customers are complex B2B technology companies that work on fairly large retainers with us. This means that they expect a high level of attention as well as an experienced account manager that can understand their products and the world view of their buyer persona. Therefore our account managers can run up to 4 customers optimally.”
For some agencies, even 5 clients is an excessive number. These agencies usually deal with complex projects that require a great deal of attention, and they’d rather hire more account managers/executives than burden a few with multiple clients.
Regarding this, Frank Olivo from Sagapixel says, “An account manager with higher budgets or more complex assignments, such as a content audit of an old website, will only be able to handle 1-3 accounts.”
A great percentage of our survey respondents believe that the ideal number of clients an account manager should handle is between 6 to 10.
This number may be suitable for agencies with growing clientele. It is also a safe number to experiment with if you want to test assigning more clients to account managers.
For Gabriella Sannino from Level343, an account manager should handle between 4 to 6 clients. Anything more than this can prove to be inefficient.
Sannino says, “Any more than this (4-6 clients) can lead to an overstretched workload, which can cause a decrease in the quality of service delivered and lead to a less successful customer experience.”
“When an account manager is handling too many accounts at once, they may feel overwhelmed and, as a result, will be unable to dedicate sufficient time and energy to each individual account. This could result in details being overlooked, deadlines not being met, or important tasks not being carried out properly.”
Account managers may get exhausted if they deal with the same kind of clients. A better approach is mixing and matching different account types to add some variety.
Andi Graham follows a similar approach at Big Sea. Graham says, “We have limits on revenue level for our AMs, not the number of clients, but we do find that more clients at the same revenue level is a lot more stress. So, our AMs typically manage 2-3 core accounts and then 2-4 smaller accounts as well, with a project manager who does the task management and resourcing internally.”
PRO TIP: If you’re indecisive regarding how many clients to designate to each account manager, you may want to look at the monthly requirements of each client and then decide accordingly.
Anthony Gaenzle from Gaenzle Marketing explains, “Rather than putting a set-in-stone number on the amount of clients one account manager can handle, it’s better to look at it from an hourly perspective. Look at the typical monthly requirements of each client, then distribute the work, so your account managers aren’t overworked and getting burned out. Make sure you put your niche specialists on the accounts that require more of a niche approach.”
One factor we discussed earlier that dictates how many accounts can be given to an account manager is their experience level. The more experience, the greater the likelihood of a large clientele.
This large number (11-15 clients) can be justified when you realize experienced account managers have a sizeable internal team.
Serendipit Consulting follows a similar approach. Luci Peterson from their team says, “I personally have 5 accounts as an account executive, but my senior account executive has 14. However, she has 2 account coordinators and 2 interns underneath her as support. In my personal opinion, if an Account Manager exceeds 7 without that support team, the quality of the work decreases with the increased chance of burnout.”
A few of our respondents believe that account managers can easily take on up to 20 clients each. While this figure may sound scary, it is possible if the nature of work allows it.
Dmitriy Shelepin from Miromind reinforces, “It depends on the complexity of the client’s projects. For example, for clients who do not have many problems and the workflow is somehow standardized, we see no problem when an account manager manages up to 15 projects.”
Account managers can also easily manage 15-20 clients if they dedicate one day a month to each client. Sam Bretzmann from Whiskey SEO explains this better.
“Our goal is to have each account manager work with 20 accounts. They can take on more, but it allows them to invest a full day a month into that client. In reality, they are working with multiple clients a day, but this general rule of thumb allows us to give the level of service that we want to give to our clients. This number also allows us to expand a bit as needed before bringing on a new account manager.”
Founder at Whiskey SEO
Don’t be too quick to get rid of the possibility of having 20+ clients under the charge of a single account manager.
If your agency has designated departments and streamlined processes in place, then it is more than possible to assign a large number of clients to each manager. Doing so will increase your portfolio and help you to generate greater revenue.
For Daniella Pozzolungo from PupDigital, anywhere between 10-30 clients for their team is a good number. Regarding having more than 30 clients, Pozzolungo says, “Having come from a large agency before starting PupDigital, I personally have managed over 100 clients at a time.”
“The fatigue, drain, and stress associated with high client numbers isn’t worth it to us. Accounts are getting less than the bare minimum of effort at that level. We want our staff to feel empowered and happy, and we want each client to get the time and attention they deserve.”
Interestingly, if your agency deals with productized services, you can substantially increase the number of clients given to individual account managers. In such a case, account managers’ responsibilities are restricted to coordination and strategy, while other team members do the dirty work.
Regarding this, Nate Tower from Perrill says, “If an agency only serves a single vertical with standard packages, then an account manager might be able to handle 50 or more accounts because of the repeatability of everything.”
No matter the number of clients they handle, account managers are constantly juggling one task after the other. The last thing they want is to spend their already limited time building manual reports.
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