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How to work with an agency

Published: April 12, 2012

Author: Sean Marshall

Image credit: lawaonline
Clients expect a lot from agencies, but what do agencies expect from their clients? Unsurprisingly – a lot of the same things. If you’re thinking about working with an agency (or you want to make sure you have a good relationship with your in-house teams), strive for the following:
1)      Set Clear Goals – The absence of clear goals is perhaps the number-one killer of search agency engagements. If you can’t set clear goals, you are toast (and so is your agency). While your agency can give you a sense of the competitive landscape and SEM market conditions, they simply don’t have the same visibility into company economics as you do. For agencies, there’s nothing more frustrating than having a client move the goalposts on you. It’s especially difficult for your agency if you don’t have a clear picture of what profitability means to your business. The best agencies won’t stand for it, and while it might seem like a ridiculous notion, clients will get fired over these things. (Yes, agencies do fire clients.) Nothing says your goals can’t change — and often, they should change! — but this leads us to our second hearty recommendation:
2)      Be Reasonable and Patient – Even the best, highest-recommended agencies need to earn your trust. That’s on us. That said, it’s very helpful when the client understands, going into the engagement, that PPC optimization is an iterative process and there are very few overnight cures. (This is doubly important if you introduce revised targets.) It’s one thing to process information and determine you need to cut your CPA in half (good agencies loooove challenges); it’s an entirely different matter to achieve the target quickly. Setting up your agency to fail doesn’t help anyone. It’s OK to push the pace and demand excellence; just don’t get mad if you asked your agency to double conversions during your down season and it doesn’t happen overnight.
3)      Know Your Industry and History – This is especially important when it comes to seasonal trends. If you just emerged from your peak season and still expect your new agency to rock your all-time high, it’s best to re-align expectations. If you’re feeling the effects of new competitors, it’ll impact paid search. If your prices are higher than your competitors’, your conversion rate will suffer. This sounds like prototypical agency excuse-making, but in most cases I’ve encountered, these are truths. It’s one thing to have a lazy agency that never returns your calls or make changes to your account and then drops excuses; it’s another to have one that never stops working to optimize your account and can give you clear, data-driven insight into things you can to do help. The things your agency does on a day-to-day basis should go a long way to helping you realize if their explanations are insights rather than just excuses. (P.S. Agencies that give you insights should also be able to suggest ways to use those to help your business.)
Image credit: cebit2011
4) Get your Data Straight– Goals are great, but data is king. Data integrity drives everything in paid search, so if you suddenly realize you’re only registering half the conversions you were before your big site redesign, the issue might just be on your end. Using the agency as a scapegoat for internal issues is just delaying the inevitable;  using bad data is just a set-up to fail. Redundancy is key, and regular verification against multiple sources is critical. Settle on a reporting structure early and trust in it. Things might change, and snafus are bound to happen, but the data-integrity issue needs to be the first thing you handle after goals are set (hell, you probably want to get the data squared away first since you’re probably using it to set goals…). This should be revised monthly, and if new data shows things need to be changed drastically, go back to step 2.
5)      Be Courteous and Professional – Often the most forgotten aspect of the client-agency relationship is that an account manager is a human being…and that a good account manager is a human being with a personal stake in helping your business succeed. Agencies strive to create partnerships, hoping its AMs will be regarded more as team members than vendors. The truth is, for this to happen, clients need to be professional and treat their counterparts like they would their colleagues. Having to pay agency fees emboldens too many clients to be crass and rude to their day-to-day contacts.  Bottom line: don’t be a jerk.
Actually, that’s not the bottom line here. The true bottom line is that an agency worthy of your business wants, more than anything, to help your business shine. We want to feel like we’re in it together (maestro, cue the kumbaya), that our successes are your successes and vice versa. The more a client recognizes this, the stronger the partnership. Trust me, the metrics will bear it out.
Sean Marshall, Director of Search Engine Marketing

25 E Washington Street
Suite 420

Chicago, IL 60602

(650) 539-4124

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