An Incomplete PPC Cinderella Story

Cinderella_disneyThere once was a young girl who lived in a quaint Bavarian cottage with her step-mother and two step-sisters. This young girl was a hard-working, kind girl who loved all and hated none. She did much of the hard work that was customarily required in a household, yet, sadly her step-sisters took credit for everything. They would sit in bed all day, playing Candy Crush on their iPads while she whisked about, cleaning their toys off the floor, rinsing their chamber pots, and combing their hair.

Image of meeting

Every day, their step-mother would enter the room at precisely 10 am and her step-sisters would wheel about onto their bed, smiling sweetly and taking credit for all of the young girl’s hard work. The young girl, on the other hand, would glance up looking quite disheveled (because of all the whisking about, of course) and the step-mother (who was not unkind) would cluck her tongue at the young girl and then take the step-sisters off to get Turkish Delight for their hard work.

Each day, the young girl would sink sadly into her dusty papazan chair and begin to cry for Turkish Delight… until she realized how much work she still had to do, and would begin the process again.

Now, sadly, unlike every other Cinderella story, there is no happy ending in this story because it is an allegory for our modern PPC industry.

The young girl’s name? Client Management

The step-sisters? Technical Work & Account Management

The step-mother? the PPC Community (us)

A Call To A Client Management Emphasis

There are 2 crucial, essential, unyielding sides to PPC. Without these 2 sides, PPC isn’t PPC.

2 sides same coinOne may see them as 2 sides of the same coin, or perhaps the Force, or duct tape. Each of the 2 sides provides balance to the world of PPC. With only one side, the world of PPC comes crashing in.

In light of this, I would like to call us, the PPC community, out on something.

We are publicly imbalanced. In our writing and our speaking, we focus and emphasize and applaud and praise Side 1: Account Management, while “putting up” with, “dealing with” or even ignoring Side 2: Client Management (If you are in-house, perhaps you refer to Side 2 as “boss handling.”).

The purpose of this post is to draw our attention to this dangerous shift and call the PPC community back to a more balanced view of our beloved industry.

Dastardly Decisive Definitions

Since this is a significant claim I am making, and since miscommunication on the internet is as common as noise with young children (of which there is no shortage of either in my household), I thought it would be helpful to define what I mean here.

First, I see account management as the area of PPC that gets into the nitty-gritty of technical account details. It involves bid management, ad copy testing, keyword decisions and research, audience research, etc. Really, when I refer to account management, I am referring to what everyone generally thinks of when you say “PPC”.

Second, I see client management as that area of PPC that deals with any aspect of interaction between the main decision maker/owner of an account, and the person/department that makes the technical, account management PPC decisions.

Why is Client Management important in PPC? Because my dear PPCer, in-house and agency, it’s their account. You are the steward, they are the owner. There is no PPC without the client. YOU DON’T HAVE A JOB WITHOUT YOUR CLIENT or BOSS. It’s about more than you.

han solo life is about you

You can make all the bid decisions you want, but if you or your team or someone can’t communicate well with the client, you’ll probably lose the client. Those fancy scripts you learned about aren’t doing much to help you in a client that just unlinked from your MCC.

This is why I see these as 2 sides of the same coin. You need to attract the client, keep the client, report to the client (Client Management) and you need to do it well (Account Management) so you have great things to communicate to the client (Client Management) as you continue to grow the account (Account Management).

If you don’t hear anything else in this article, hear this: I’m not dissing technical Account Management, I think it’s exceptionally important. I just think we in PPC have downplayed the importance of Client Management for the data-licious technical side of things… and I’d like to change that!

Personal And Random Observations Of The Problem

It’s funny, but I have begun to notice this positioning (I hesitate to call it a “shift” since it’s possible we were never strong in this) more as I began to pitch to speak at conferences and write articles.  I have heard from more than one conference or website something like: “sorry, we would prefer more technical posts/sessions.” So, I have begun asking myself (and others), “why aren’t there more posts and sessions on client management, client sales, reporting, etc? Why aren’t we talking as much about the client management aspect as we do the interworking of ad customizers? Aren’t they just as important?”  Everyone seems to agree that these two sides are equally important, but this sentiment doesn’t seem to transfer into sessions and posts.

Now, surely I am exaggerating, and more people are writing and speaking about client communication and management than I am reporting?  I mean, sure, people like digging into account management details, but there are people discussing client stuff somewhere while we have our technical sessions… right?

Let’s make a beeline for the facts.

I was curious to dig into this more, so I did a brief, manual survey of the public agendas for seven marketing conferences, in which I counted the number of PPC sessions making note of how many were clearly about client management.  I also did a quick, high-level analysis of two well-known and respected guest blogger PPC sites. 

Here is what I came up with:

Our Imbalance By the Numbers: Conferences

  • Conferences Analyzed (2014-2016): 7
  • Number of PPC/SEM Sessions: 153
  • Number of Those Sessions On Client Management: 2
  • % of PPC Sessions On Client Management: 1.3%
  • % of PPC Sessions On Account Management: 98.7%

Our Imbalance By the Numbers: Blogposts

  • Websites Analyzed*: 2
  • Number of PPC/SEM Posts: 388
  • Number of Those Posts On Client Management: 22
  • % of PPC Posts On Client Management: 5.7%
  • % of PPC Posts On Account Management: 94.3%

*PPC Hero & Search Engine Land – admittedly not a massive, scientific undertaking; but on the other hand, I believe these 2 publications represent a good portion of the “popular opinion” of current PPC standards and best practices. Also, I don’t have time to count thousands of posts from hundreds of websites, it’s possible an outlier out there does a better job of balancing these two.

It should be noted that PPC Hero had the lion’s share of the Client Management focused posts (21 out of 22). In fact, 13% of their posts I analyzed (I left out whitepapers and webinars, but actual submitted posts) had something to do with client management. I believe this is in part because they have their executive team write about their strengths (client and team management – which is exactly what I am suggesting we need more of).

It should also be noted that Search Engine Land seems to be in large part a PPC news site, and PPC news tends to be more technical in nature, so this will have an effect on the data. However, with 230 posts analyzed, even if half of those were user submitted posts, there was only 1 client management post so the percentage would still be 1% (which is still not great).

imbalance in PPC

Shocking! Outrageous! Conference organizers and online editors everywhere are guilty as charged and must be brought to justice, right??  Right????

Well… here’s the thing. I asked some of them. This was their rather logical response:

ppc client management sessions conferences

Conferences are a business, they offer what is in demand. It’s not the conference organizers at fault here, it’s us.

It is PPCers the world over who consistently ignore the client management sessions and instead go for the account management sessions, thereby telling what sessions and speakers will sell conference tickets.

I’m not saying technical account posts and sessions are wrong. We still need a lot of those. What I am saying is that I believe there is an imbalance in our minds of importance, and that is demonstrated by the numbers.

If we are investing 1-5% of PPC industry thought into client management, it is difficult to argue that there is no room to grow here.

Potential Objections… And Their Subsequent Smooshing

There are undoubtedly going to be objections as we think this through. Great! I’m sure there will be some I’ve never thought of. However, here are some I think would be brought up, as well as my answers to them.

Objection #1: Who cares? I’m an Account Manager, I’m not on the client side of things.

“Who cares if we ignore or de-emphasize the client/boss aspect of our work? I was hired to dig deeply into Search Query reports, and by golly, that’s what I’m going to do.”

This sentiment is a little difficult for me to hear. It is the PPC “Not My Job” answer. You’ve seen those hilarious memes right?

not my job

I have done work as an account manager on many accounts in which I had no contact personally with the client, and each and every account was NOT the better for it. There was always a loss somewhere in communication between the client’s questions/wishes/feedback/ideas/suggestions and the actual implementation of those, and vice versa! Frankly, my philosophy is that a great account manager will be one who really understands the client, and it is difficult to understand a client that you don’t also have some sort of direct communication with.

Of course, there’s where agency life gets more complicated because you may have someone who knows a lot of technical PPC, but with the personality of a rock… not really someone you want on calls. Perhaps one solution is to invest in them over time to grow their ability on that side. That’s really all I’m saying here, not that there is any one single perfect answer in our industry, but that we need to grow better at this.

Perhaps one way to do that is to spend less time keeping account managers siloed away from the client, and more time growing their abilities to communicate with the client.

Objection #2: Clients only care about one thing, making money. Nail that, and silly client management doesn’t matter.

To be as blunt as this made up quote, anyone saying things like this hasn’t experienced much client management. Life is just too complicated for statements like that. Lean times hit every single client. Every single client. It. Will. Happen.

fire you after profitability

And when the lean time hits, you WILL get that phone call or email asking for demanding an explanation. And you WILL wish you had focused more on listening, developing a good relationship, good reporting, being more skilled at communicating, etc (I.e, Client Management!).

It sounds cliche, but trust really is a big deal in PPC client relations and you don’t build trust overnight. You build trust by growing in your Client Management skills (which takes blog posts and sessions and reading and learning – and someone has to write and give those!).

Objection #3: Ain’t nobody got time for diving deep into account AND client management.

Admittedly, this is a valid objection. I think one of the reasons we focus so much in PPC on the technical side of things is because of how much it changes! You have to invest considerable time just staying up on changes and diving in deep, much less worry about the client management aspect of it!

too busy meme

For the in-house or independent (where I am at), we don’t have many options here. We have to communicate well with our boss or clients AND learn to dive deep and keep up on technical account PPC. Time management is crucial here, and unfortunately, there is no easy answer.

However, one place to start is to just begin reading one post a week on client management aspects. Perhaps it looks like reading one chapter a week in a book that has to do with growing in communication skills? Or, when you go to a conference, don’t go to all technical account sessions. Take that unique chance to go interact in a featured client management session (benefit there is the Q&A time!).

For agencies that split their client and account managers into separate people/departments, I would suggest investing time/resources into training the account managers to be client managers as well. Heck, if your B team for Client-interaction (your account managers) grows to be great at client management too, then it’s less stress when your A client team goes on vacation. It also allows those account managers to become more personally well rounded. Many times, the client managers began as account managers, which means they already have that technical expertise. Wouldn’t it be great if your whole team was well-rounded and able to cover?

Objection #4: No one will read Client Management posts or go to those sessions.

This is a tough one because it’s true. This objection is why I wrote this post. Perhaps we as an industry will begin balancing the amount of energy and effort we spend on account and client management so we can continue to grow in our abilities to not just do well on a PPC account, but communicate with and maintain that client relationship as well. Perhaps a residual benefit will be a reduction of “agency hopping” clients over time as well?

Objection #5: There are other conferences and blogs that focus on “people skills,” the PPC industry needs to focus on the technical side of things in accounts.

I disagree. Yes, there are many resources that cover general aspects of people skills and communication, however, they can only go so far in practical application. I find it immensely helpful when I can talk to people in our industry as we discuss how we sell PPC to prospects. PPC is a unique animal, selling it isn’t like selling insurance or Dilbert figurines. There are unique aspects to it, unique questions to ask the prospect, unique ways to prepare for a call, unique ways to audit, not to mention all of the different pricing models and how those fit into selling PPC.  I don’t just want to discuss communication skills with people, I want to learn how people use communication well to discuss PPC!  This sentiment goes beyond selling PPC and to communication with landed clients, as well.

Objection #6: I don’t want to give away my agency’s secret sauce to client relationships.

This is probably a more valid objection for the bigger agencies like 3Q, Hanapin, and Wordstream since they are likely bidding against each other fairly often (I assume). They don’t want to give a competitive advantage over competition in how they deal with their clients. Even then, I think there are still basics of client competition that these large companies will all have down, that they can share to help smaller agencies.

However, for the rest of us, can we hard-working, smaller PPC agencies all agree that we aren’t really the enemy.

  • The enemy is the agency that says “sure, we’ll do PPC for your company” and then says, “quick, Johnson, learn PPC so we can charge this SEO client more.”
  • The enemy is the mega data-hiding agency that ignores the client goals and gives them impression data as a monthly report.

At this point in PPC (and this can and probably will change, but hasn’t changed yet), I feel like a little secret sharing sauce won’t hurt us personally, but will greatly help the industry in general.

My Solution to World Hunger, Or At Least, The PPC Cinderella Problem

Lest I leave you with all negativity, here are some of my ideas for shifting this imbalance to where it should be in our industry.

Account Manager: read posts and go to sessions geared towards client management.

Keep challenging yourself, grow in the areas you aren’t strong in. If you are predominantly account management, nothing bad will happen to you by learning how to become better at client-facing aspects of the business. Heck, you might eventually get a raise as a more well-rounded individual to your agency.

hippo avinashAre you in-house? Learning how to better communicate with your boss, and the HiPPO in your organization might just give you the respect you deserve for all that awesome account work you are already doing (and a raise!).

Regardless, change starts with you: the in-the-trenches PPCer choosing which session to go to and which post to read and share.

If conference organizers and publications observe an increased interest in the Client Management side of things, you can bet they will increase the amount of sessions and posts dedicated to that, even specifically requesting those.

Speaker and Blogger:  begin pitching client management sessions and writing more posts that deal with client management.

If you are a “thought leader” (whatever that means, right?), then start placing inception-like thoughts in your reader’s minds by increasing the amount of content you put out that deals with Client Management.

Figure out the aspects of Client Management you have a handle on, and pitch those at conferences. Write more posts about selling PPC, client communication, client reporting, problem clients, identifying good clients, tricks and tips for keeping clients loyal, etc, etc, etc, etc. I personally would love to hear some old-guard-PPC give insight into how client relationships have evolved over the years since history teaches us much about current affairs.

You’re smarter than me, so go nuts on Client Management beyond what I’ve described here!  Spend more time thinking about writing and speaking on client management. Our industry will be the better for it.

If this doesn’t work, start sneaking client management aspects into your account management posts and sessions.  If conference organizers and online publication platforms don’t go for this, then just force it into your technical account management session!  Perhaps you’re talking about ad testing. Take 1/3 of your session and devote it to “Creative Ways to Learn More About Customer Benefits from Your Client.” Maybe you give a few brief tips (almost a sidebar) for the specific questions you ask your client to try to learn more about their company. It’s client management, how do you get the information you need (great ad headlines actually focused on what the client’s customers want) without getting lost along the way? This section will help think that through.

I think if we could begin doing things like that as speakers and writers, we could begin whetting the industry’s appetite for more of that. “Yes, yes I do struggle with asking the right questions to my client… I’d like to learn more about that and get better at that.”  BOOM, CLIENT MANAGEMENT, FTW.

Publication Editors and Conference Organizers: take a leap of faith, a deep breath, and begin purposefully highlighting more posts and sessions that deal with client management.

Perhaps the way to begin is with top-respected/entertaining speakers who will attract a crowd to their session simply because of who they are. I’m not convinced they will be 100% well attended in the beginning, but it takes awhile to turn a big ship, right?

If you wanted to be really daring as a conference organizer, you could always give a KEYNOTE to Client Management or even force an entire plenary session time to be primarily client-focused. If that doesn’t work, just play ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ over and over while trying again and again.

You Made It Through This Stupid Long Post!

Geez, this post got longer than I thought it would. Congratulations, you and my wife (my grammatical editor) made it through. I hope this has given you a renewed desire to learn more about communicating with your client and/or boss in PPC. I think there is much opportunity here and I hope to see our industry continue growing in this regard.

Has it helped increase a desire for more Client Management focused content in our PPC space? Do you disagree heartily and hate my guts? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, hopefully, it gets us talking!

Cheers for now.