Managing a paid digital account can be stressful. There is content to create, performance to optimize and the alway evolving idea of “strategy.” But many marketers find that the real challenge surfaces when preparing for a performance call. Otherwise productive energy is wasted on the fear of what’s on the other end of a weekly check-in or monthly recap. 

As a young PPC marketer, I would find myself with heart palpitations waiting for a client call, tortured by the “on hold” music of the conference line, convinced there was a truly soul-crushing experience on the other side of this conversation. Yet I survived them. ALl of them. And then I began looking forward to the calls, as I felt confident and strong how I’d prepared myself. Now I look back at all the fear I invested in the unknown and see the now-obvious path I should have taken all along. 

The solution is having a system for addressing and dissarming that fear. For that reason, I provide you with five checkpoints that will ensure a smooth, relaxed, and stress-free client call. 

To make any client call a breeze (yes, even the tough cookies), consider these 5 points:

  • Don’t waste their time with a call that should have been an email
  • Rehearse your content
  • Don’t bury the lede when it comes to a client’s real interest
  • Keep them engaged in your call
  • Establish an open flow of communication

Call vs. Email

While the concept of “calls that should have been emails” existed prior to 2020, this year has been an exercise in human engagement, lending to many video calls, simply to keep us connected as social beings. But after months of this practice, yet another conference call may be less appealing. Be sure to verify that your side of the call is worth a meeting and couldn’t be replaced by an email. Most of us love the “I’ll give you your 30 minutes back” message and the frustration that comes from an unproductive call-that-should-have-been-an-email isn’t worth the damage to your partnership. The folks at GoTo Meeting know a thing or two about how to gauge when a meeting actually isn’t necessary and share it in their blog post, 7 Warning Signs your Meeting Should Be An Email. To ensure that you are making the most of your and your client’s time, always do a quick check that a call is the most effective option.

Rehearse Your Content

Go through content you plan to bring to the conversation (presumably in an agenda sent ahead of time). 

The first benefit of doing this allows you to flush out what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. Working through talking points gives you the opportunity to choose your wording wisely, how you explain something that’s going well or something that’s not going particularly well. It’s surprising how quickly conversations can go pear-shaped because of a misspoken idea or question. Rehearsing your word choice and how a concept is presented gives you the opportunity to rework language before it comes flying out of your mouth, into the reversible abyss of a conference call. 

Another benefit to having a peer or supervisor hear your materials first is having someone identify what you may be missing. Are there areas of progress or performance you’re forgetting? Although you may know what you want to discuss, you may be inadvertently skipping over details that help define the story. Any good update begins with the source. 

Often the biggest point of discomfort is the fear of the unknown. Will they ask me something I didn’t prepare? What if it’s something I’ve never thought about? Never heard of? These questions can begin a call on the defensive foot which is a total disservice to you. So instead, have a peer or supervisor listen to your talking points.

  • One example may be if you’re speaking to a bid strategy test you’re running. You want to give an update so you recite the current stats for CPCs and click-thru-rate. But what’s missing? A client might ask if we should expand the test to more campaigns. Or if we should stop the test and switch everything to the winner. They might request examples of accounts where this bid strategy has worked before. Is this something you can replicate in other search platforms? 

Each talking point you want to share may have a series of possible questions and engaging in a dry-run of your call content will vet that list. 

Don’t Bury The Lede

Preparing for a client call likely begins with what you want to cover. Projected monthly outcomes. Performance thus far in the month. Nearness to an agreed upon goal. This is all very likely content your client will also find informative and useful. However, there is nothing more frustrating and unproductive than a call where one party is biting their tongue, waiting for the opportunity to get to what’s really important, while the call lead goes on about stuff you’re not that interested in. And this applies directly to your client. 

To make a call productive, enjoyable even, start with what’s most important. Is it a big launch that took the past 2 months to coordinate? Is it resolving that pesky pixel issue in the Facebook account? If there is any chance your client is eager to talk about something specific, make space for that first and foremost. We’ve long used a Client Call Guide, which Mary Hartman has outlined here, to help structure a product call. While this exact template may need adaptations, getting to the heart of a client’s concerns keeps momentum up and frustrations low. 

Engage Your Call Attendees

As much as you may be interested in what you’re bringing to the call, it’s likely you’re pulling your client from other meetings or productive work. So how do you ensure you’re not talking into a black hole? Find opportunities to keep them engaged

This may mean planning talking points that they themselves own, such as internal updates or feedback on a proposal. You may simply thread questions to them by mentioning an idea, suggesting the value you expect it to have, and ask for their thoughts on the topic. And there’s always the ever-relevant standby of “Does that look similar to what you’re seeing on your end?” How does the information you’re presenting align with the real results your client may be seeing? Giving the client the chance to verify their truth will keep focus on collective actions, instead of creating a distance between what you see and what’s real to them. Finally, it can prove valuable to ask if a client is surprised by what you’ve shared. Performance went this way or that, does this align with their expectations based on what they know of their business? The answer to this question often turns into a broader discussion of what’s been done historically and frequently what assumptions the company has been making that may now be proven outdated. Asking for input on ideas, performance, and expectations keeps the client listening for what’s next and teaches them that you do in fact want this to be a conversation, not just a monologue. 

Keep Your Communication Flowing

Perhaps the simplest advice of all is to keep the doors of communication open. Allowing information (good or bad) to build up behind the moment of a weekly call, you are creating an unnecessary point of pressure. If you have something to share, share it now! Send a quick email to say “Great news! The new campaign has already seen 19 conversions today at a 4% lower CPA.” Or you might have to send a midweek message with “I’ll go into detail in tomorrow’s call, but I wanted to reach out about an ad disapproval that has caused 40% of our text ads to stop running. We’ve already contacted our rep but we will likely see up to 30% lower traffic while this is being remedied.” 

Sending these “bubble bath” emails as Kristine Hyman calls them in her PPC Hero post, serve to give the client peace of mind that if you had something important to share, you’d do it. Calls shouldn’t be the high pressure reveal of an issue or a litany of the great work you’ve done this week. These conversations should be discussions that need the attendees there at that moment, with a clear agenda that will empower both sides to continue to succeed.  

By practicing these techniques, you should find a reduced sense of worry or fear as you prepare to meet with your client. And all that mental strength will position you beautifully to take on new sources of stress, such as these SEJ examples. All joking aside, managing one’s stress from the perspective of what you can control is the fastest way to grow and actually become the next, better version of yourself.