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How digital agencies often sell their paid search/paid media work is a problem for both their clients and their internal teams - there’s a better way. Don’t worry, you don’t have to scroll past a superfluous intro for the answer, the better way is an engagement based on clarity, mutual understanding, and realistic goals vs. one based on confusing lingo, bombastic positioning, and unrealistic expectations.
…but there is more detail included in the full post (along with a pretty decent superfluous intro IMO), so if you’re interested, please do keep reading.
I want to start by confessing that I am not a wizard. Nor am I a superhero or guru - and given that I play in a folk band, I am the furthest you can get from being a rockstar...yet many digital agencies refer to their team-members as such - whether in their job postings or when referencing those who will be working on a client’s account during a sales cycle. While I understand such titles have become short-hand for “capable go-getters with a good attitude”, it is an example of a tendency in the agency space to over-hype, over-complicate, and most damagingly, over-sell the tools, tactics, and team members involved in the trade that is paid media marketing.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a high ceiling for paid search/paid media marketing acumen and performance, but there is also a low barrier to entry for the work - and certain tactics are commonly used to short-cut the selling process and to justify lackluster performance ongoing. The main tactics being to actively mystify the landscape and to obfuscate results to skirt questions about actual bottom-line value and return.
What to Watch Out For
Unfortunately, such tactics payoff – it can be a powerful selling tool to make businesses feel like they have little hope of understanding what the best paid tactics and strategies are, and that only a select group of quirky superstars could possibly do the job right.
Once an engagement has begun, it is far too common for agencies to continually move the goalposts on target outcomes, and cloud performance data with a myriad of metrics and reports that may or may not speak to bottom-line value.
Here’s the kind of vague/mystifying tactics to watch out for:
- Focusing on complex-sounding internal strategies and tactics instead of the unique challenges and opportunities of the client’s business.
- Emphasizing vague metrics like “reach” and “awareness” instead of the KPIs that actually drive a business's bottom line.
- Setting expectations for performance based on general industry standards or an unrelated client example.
- Not providing estimates for volume and performance based on actual research specific to one’s industry and needs.
For comparison, here are just some of the sort of questions that should be discussed before aligning on a digital strategy with a client
- Is your site and offering in a place to take advantage of paid visitors (strong navigation flow, relevant content that aligns with potential keyword targets and ad copy, clear calls to action, etc.)?
- What are your primary goals for paid performance and how do they ladder back to bottom-line revenue?
- Are your measurement methods set up to reliably report on agreed-upon KPIs - and is there a final source of truth to calculate ROAS/ROI?
- What learnings and takeaways do you have from previous paid campaigns that have run?
- What is the opportunity for volume from various paid channels/tactics based on actual research, what is the opportunity for potential return based on past performance and other relevant businesses, and does the competitive landscape make success prohibitively challenging?
Obviously setting unrealistic expectations that aren't rooted in reality will be to the detriment of the client, but there are major downsides to such tactics within agency teams as well. If an agency’s sales tactics include over-complicating the nature of the work and over-selling the potential returns, the internal strategists tasked with executing campaigns are starting at a disadvantage, which may exacerbate or even lead to the need to game the ongoing results in order to justify the initial investment and keep the engagement going.
There is a Better Way
All this to say, there is a better way. Yes, there is a lot of specific knowledge required to be successful in the digital landscape, but it is not rocket science or magic. Like anything else it just requires one to have the interest and desire to master the skills required to best meet the needs of the client. At the end of the day, being a successful SEM/paid media marketer has more to do with understanding how a business’s specific situation and goals can best benefit from the paid media ecosystem vs. just understanding the ecosystem itself. So the focus of a sales cycle should not be about the complexity and challenges of the digital landscape, but rather the goals, challenges, and opportunities of the business.
The aim should be to demystify digital work in the sales process vs. the opposite, with the focus on aligning on what specific opportunities exist for a client’s unique business case. This common understanding will help both parties to establish not just realistic performance targets and goals, but also ones that are most valuable to the client’s bottom line.
This then will free up the strategists tasked with the work to not feel they have to move heaven and earth to live up to expectations, but can strategically execute a well-thought-out and reasonable plan that not only has a good chance of success, but also is focused on delivering robust bottom-line value, which is always motivating for a marketer.
Set Yourself Up for Long-Term Success or a Clean Exit
The benefit of starting an engagement this way is that the path to success is defined and realistic - giving the paid search agency the best chance to develop a long-term partnership, giving the client the best chance at seeing strong results, and providing clarity in the case that it’s best for the engagement not to continue.
In my experience, there is little value in extending a client relationship where the client is not seeing value and the agency is not set up to deliver value. It is far better for both parties to find situations that will lead to more ongoing success for them both. If expectations and goals were realistic and clear from the outset, there should be no hard feelings in parting ways.
After all, we’re not wizards, we’re just people doing our best. We can never guarantee that one’s digital efforts will deliver a desired return, no matter how well thought out or expertly executed the effort.
That being said, I have high confidence that paid media engagements that begin with honest, realistic estimates that focus on delivering bottom-line value have a great chance at long-term success. Sometimes the path to success takes some testing, learning, and ups and downs, but so long as such things are expected at the outset, I’ve seen far more successful partnerships than unsuccessful ones.
Want to see first-hand how we at Uproer strive to start client engagements the right way? Reach out to start a conversation!
P.S. Re: the headline of this post, yes I’m aware that the BMM match type is going away, I just liked it though.