Be A Strategic Partner By Adopting The Consultative Approach

By Jeff Baum | @jeffbaum71 | Associate Director of Services at Hanapin Marketing

I’ve noticed a philosophical shift regarding my client’s expectations of their PPC partner relationships. They want their agency partner to be more strategic in their approach. Whether it’s an existing client who’s providing us feedback or a prospect who’s looking to change agencies, the feedback has been nearly identical. We hear statements like:


  • “We’re happy with our account manager, but we’re looking for more innovation”
  • “We’re happy with the work, but we want new ideas brought to the table more often”
  • “We like our agency, but they can’t take us to the next level”


What I’m going to discuss today is an account management approach called the ‘consultative approach.’ I believe this approach can change the perception of being viewed as ‘the PPC guy’ vs. being perceived as a valued strategic partner.


What Is The Consultative Approach?


The consultative approach is actually a method used by many sales professionals and is also referred to as ‘solution based selling.’ In the solution based selling model, the salesperson spends time with a client to understand the primary problem they are trying to address and then recommends an appropriate set of solutions to solve it. In other words, the salesperson focuses on selling the solution, not the product.


We can apply this philosophy to account management in pretty much the same way. By fully understanding our clients business and what their key challenges are, we can recommend the appropriate set of PPC strategies and tactics that helps them reach and exceed their goals.


What I’ve learned over the course of my career is there’s a ton of ‘best practices’ or common optimizations we should be doing in our accounts on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, but in reality those ‘best practices’ may not be applicable to your client’s particular situation. In other words, apply the strategies and tactics that solve the biggest problem, not the smallest or unrelated problem.


How Is The Consultative Approach Different?


The consultative approach is much different. Instead of solely focusing on short-term wins, fulfilling requests that bring temporary client happiness, or relying on our clients to drive strategy, we need to take a more long-term, strategic approach.


The consultative approach can be boiled down to:


  • Identifying our client’s big problem to solve, needs to be addressed, and obstacles to success
  • Provide strategic recommendations for solving the problem or addressing the key need
  • Obtain buy-in and agreement
  • Implement & measure


The purpose of taking a consultative approach towards our client relationships is to demonstrate we’re trusted strategic business advisors that use paid search to solve overall business problems.


Implementing The Consultative Approach


Below are recommendations for implementing the consultative approach with your clients.


  • Conduct research to gain a deep understanding of your clients entire business, not just their PPC
  • Asking plenty of open-ended questions. The purpose of asking open-ended questions is to influence your client to volunteer key information about their business.
  • Active listening: restating and paraphrasing what your clients tell you in your own words to confirm understanding of what they’re sharing
  • Consistently educate your client through sharing of key insights and takeaways. Explain the ‘what and why’ behind performance.
  • Focusing on long-term success and always strive to understand ‘the big picture.’
  • Regular follow-up: Check in with your client to make sure your account strategy is still on track and relevant. Get feedback and adjust!


If you have an existing client that’s accustomed to a more transactional type of relationship (Here’s what I want, go execute it), it will take some time for them to feel comfortable adopting this way forward. I recommend not implementing this approach all at once but rather find an opening where this approach can be applied. For instance, if your client drives overall PPC strategy, it might make sense to apply this approach within the context of a specific initiative. As your able to show results from use of the consultative approach, it will be easier to build into additional areas of your PPC program.


An ideal client partnership has the PPC agency or consultant driving the recommendations, translating those recommendations into strategy, and working closely with their client to mutually decide the best way forward. This way you maintain your position as a subject matter expert while including your client as part of the decision-making process. When everyone is on the same page, the chances of success increase dramatically.


Business Storytelling


One of the most powerful tools you can use to successfully apply the consultative approach is storytelling. Storytelling evokes an emotional response because people relate to stories. It allows us to take dry topics and brings them to life. No one wants to sit in meetings or business reviews where all you do is listen to someone drone on about performance numbers without any context as to what those numbers mean. Paid search can be a dry topic because it’s so analytical, therefore wrapping our work within the context of a bigger business story will get and keep our clients engaged.


What’s a more compelling story to tell our clients?


“Last month your account had 1000 clicks and 10 conversions.”




“Last month we learned that only 30% of conversions came from desktop and 70% came through mobile, which signals a distinct market shift towards mobile and we’ll need to adjust our strategy to capitalize.”


Our clients are striving to understand the underlying drivers behind their paid search performance and the only way to do that is to provide context. Telling the underlying story is a tool in our arsenal we can use to assist clients make strategic decisions and furthers our standing as trusted strategic advisors.


Tactics For Building A Compelling Business Story


  • Understand your audience. Meeting with a C-Level executive is a much different conversation than meeting with a marketing coordinator.
  • Provide what matters to them. For example, a C-level executive will want high-level insights that inform overall business strategy vs. the marketing coordinator who will want to know tactic level insights. Build your story accordingly.
  • Frame your stories so they connect with clients emotionally.
  • Engage the senses.
  • Tell the most important point of your story first. Keep in mind attention spans are short and too much lead in info will tune out the client before you get to the ‘A-Ha’ moment. A great way to form your story is to use the formula below.


    1. Lead off with the big takeaway.
    2. Explain how/why performance is the way it is.
    3. Explain what’s been learned.
    4. Explain next steps.


Final Thoughts


The consultative approach is designed to put you in a position of being a trusted business advisor to your clients vs. merely being their vendor. The deeper you understand your client’s business and how to use paid search to solve their key problems, the more valuable you will be. I’ve found that clients are less apt to change agencies or consultants when they feel the time it would take to retrain someone to gain the institutional knowledge you already have greatly increases client retention rates. Consider adopting the consultative approach to achieve better success on behalf of your clients.