I recently attended a panel at HeroConf where three advertisers working with PPC agencies shared what would make them happy with the relationship. In this post, I’ll share what stood out along with some ideas for how to ensure your agency can meet similar expectations.
And even if you’re not an agency or consultant, these points apply to any situation where you’re working with a client or stakeholder.
The initial stages of a project set the tone that defines the relationship, so it’s critical to meet or exceed expectations at the start. One of the best ways to put yourself in a position to achieve early success is to set reasonable expectations. Seems obvious, but it often doesn’t happen because there is a disconnect between the agency sales team and the account management team.
For example, one panelist mentioned it’s common to get the A-team during the sales process but as soon as the signatures on the contract have dried, get handed off to a B-minus team that’s supposed to deliver on all the lofty expectations that were used to close the deal.
Another panelist mentioned that hiring a new agency is very similar to hiring a new employee. The success of a new hire depends a lot on the level of effort that is invested in their initial ramp-up. Perhaps even more so than with new employees, a new agency needs help from the client to understand their business deeply enough so that they can become a strategic partner and give useful advice. Since they don’t work at the client’s office, they won’t absorb institutional knowledge the way new employees will so there must be a plan for it.
As an agency, this means you should plan for a ramp-up period in agreements with clients and set the expectation that you will need their help to learn their business. For example, make it clear that the first couple of meetings may have to be driven by the client to teach the agency about their business. Only later will the agency be able to take ownership and start producing results.
Because there is some time needed to ramp up, one of the panelists said that the timing of the start of a new engagement is critical. An e-commerce company, for example, might not want to start work with a new agency in Q4 when holiday sales can make or break their annual results. An agency needs to build in a buffer for onboarding and ensure that they have an adequate runway to make necessary changes to the account before the client’s busiest time of the year starts.
A common theme amongst the panelists was the desire of a client to build a personal connection with their agency team. It may not be possible for agencies to meet their clients in person all the time, but having some initial in-person meetings certainly breaks the ice and opens up a more direct and more honest and open line of communication.
In my last two jobs I’ve seen the power of personal connections first hand.
I represented Google as a public face of AdWords. When I represented Google Ads year after year at the same events, I got the sense that advertisers liked being able to share feedback with me, a person they could see, rather than over email to a sometimes faceless support team.
My job was to relay the feedback to the engineers and product managers and that same feedback would have gotten there if it was emailed to the support team, but people felt better sharing it with a person they knew. I think part of it was that people knew I’d have to be back at the same conference the next year and they could grill me if Google’s solutions hadn’t properly addressed their most burning needs.
At Optmyzr, we use technology that’s easy enough for marketers to use on their own. That means we never get to meet most of our customers in person. But when we do meet customers face to face at industry events, they simply seem more willing to send us their product feedback and are more receptive to getting proactive advice from our team when we send an email about a new capability of the product. It makes sense… when you know the people behind a company, the connection is more personal, the level of trust increases, and the customer treats the company more like another person than as a corporation.
Another point raised by a panelist was the need for CMO-level communications. Agencies frequently work with in-house teams who report up to the CMO, and the CMO controls the budgets for marketing investments, including the agency fees. So while the CMO has no day-to-day involvement with the agency, there is a lot the agency can do to help their counterparts with the client.
For example, providing a CMO or executive overview report is helpful. Sharing stats and charts in a format that can be directly integrated into presentations for the CMO is also helpful. The more the agency helps their client with the work of justifying the relationship, the less work the client has to do defending the agency and that generally reduces churn.
One expectation is that agencies will be on the cutting edge of PPC and know exactly what new things to try. This equates to the role of the PPC expert as a PPC doctor, something I’ve covered in my previous posts on how to keep your role relevant as artificial intelligence takes over more aspects of our jobs.
Clients hire agencies who are experts and who know the solutions that can fix their problems. You’re like a doctor in that you need to know the latest courses of treatments and how those may interact with other things your patient/client has going on.
Some new things that your client should try may be so new that there aren’t yet any good tools to scale the solution quickly. That means doing this sort of project may end up being more time consuming than the average project your agency takes on. But there must be a willingness to do the manual work if it means that you’re giving your client an edge. Of course, the client should understand that their agency fees will determine how much of this manual work they can get. If the agency isn’t fairly compensated, they may not work very hard at trying to retain the client.
The ability to profitably deliver campaigns that take advantage of the latest capabilities of the PPC platforms depends on how good an agency’s technology is. Scripts are great for proto-typing solutions. If you still haven’t tried scripts, I highly recommend adding this capability to your agency. If you need some ideas, myself and fellow contributor, Daniel Gilbert have both written extensively on this topic.
As mentioned before, exceeding expectations at the beginning of a new agency-client relationship is critical. So what should an agency focus on for the first 90 days when working with a new client?
Agencies need to understand why they were hired and use that knowledge to deliver a great first quarter for their clients. Remember that the client went to an agency because something they were doing before wasn’t working. It could be they were unhappy because they weren’t hitting their KPIs, or because they felt their last agency wasn’t delivering enough value, or because they’re experiencing a lot of growth and need extra manpower to keep up with the demands of a growing business. Whatever the reason may be, make sure you know it and make it a priority to address that concern before all else.
It’s easy to do this wrong because during the sales process, you may convince yourself the client hired you because of one of the amazing capabilities you sold them on. And while that may indeed have swayed their decision, it may not be the core thing that will make them happy in the end.
PPC pros are so used to measuring everything that it can sometimes be surprising to them when they deliver on the KPIs but their client is still unhappy. Results are just part of what makes a client happy; they also need to be made to feel good about the relationship.
— Frederick Vallaeys (@siliconvallaeys) May 10, 2019
Starbucks just changed their loyalty program and instead of 125 stars to earn a free drink it now takes 150 stars. But coffee-lovers can now also earn more frequent but smaller rewards like an extra shot of espresso, a flavor shot or other drink customizations at lower levels of stars. The idea is that people are happier with more frequent rewards, even if they are smaller and ultimately more expensive. From a logical point, it makes no sense, yet we have to remember that we’re dealing with humans and logic isn’t everything. As an agency, never forget that keeping your client happy with in-person meetings and frequent but short check-ins may be just as critical to a healthy relationship as delivering the numbers they want.
Clients have many options when looking for help with their PPC accounts. They can build bigger in-house teams or hire one of thousands of agencies. Hopefully knowing a bit more about what goes on in the minds of advertisers who went the route of hiring an agency will help you be more successful in landing new clients and keeping your existing ones happy.
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