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Recently, I read that I client I worked with a few years ago “crashed and burned.” To be more specific, they were sold to a rival for a sum less than my yearly salary (plus debt assumption). There were good people I worked with during that engagement, and it’s sad that the company did not meet a positive end.

Their demise was also totally predictable.

Many clients don’t realize that while they might engage with a consultant for a small aspect of their business (such as paid search), if the consultant is savvy, the will be able to take the pulse of an organization as a whole and perceive its overall health.

Ironically, I knew there was trouble brewing not from anything I saw within the actual paid search account. The company was in growth mode and for the most part, everything related to the campaign ran extremely smoothly.

Their external circumstances were most telling.

For example, 9 months into the relationship, I was notified that the lead count data in the AdWords UI was 2x larger than actual.

Or, throughout the entire engagement, they had no viable way to tie PPC leads to sales and revenue.

Or, when I was given the command to push spend 10x almost overnight to meet some internal goal even though the action was the equivalent of losing weight by chopping off a limb.

However, what was most telling about the client’s future fate is when they outlined a business plan for the (then) upcoming year that contained aggressive MOM growth goals and revenue targets.

Nothing unusual about adopting an aggressive growth strategy.  There was one major problem, however:

They had a very seasonal business. Their peak season began in mid-autumn and lasted until late winter.  Once people began thinking of spring, the natural product shift within the vertical heads towards a much less expensive offering and a corresponding much lower order value. Had these folks viewed their business through the lens of objectivity, they should have known this wasn’t going to work, and I, the external consultant who had no direct exposure to any internal business operations, saw the problem immediately.

I knew they had a deeply flawed strategy. Were I to see the same thing today, I’d totally throw down on their myopia and explain (via data and my own expertise) why this wouldn’t work. Back then…I was less experienced and wasn’t quite comfortable enough to give them the confrontational voice they desperately needed to hear. I didn’t…they didn’t meet their goals…and we ultimately lost the account when we were replaced by the 3rd marketing manager we’d worked with over a 16-month engagement period.

As I’ve worked with more and more clients over the years, the commonalities amongst successful organizations and failed organizations have become much more easy to detect and perceive. Also, I’ve evolved my voice as a consultant from being mild and polite (which for anyone who knows me is somewhat of a lark) towards a very direct voice with dash of snark. Ultimately, I’ve come to believe that a client needs to hear the advice that will best help their business, whether it’s positive or negative. If they want their ego stroked, they can go work with someone else.

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