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If there is one thing that has truly caught me by surprise in my role as Senior Digital Advisor for the team at Hanapin/PPC Hero – it’s the amount of traveling our sales department has done over the last couple of years. Do not get me wrong – it’s a blast and who would complain about getting out of the office now and again for a little change in atmosphere? Not me, that’s for sure.

There has been something in the water for the last year or two though that is quite different from our experiences pre-2013. We no longer live in a world where a GoToMeeting or Google Hangout is necessarily as efficient as we would like it to be (internet connections are weak, video freezes…the list goes on).

The in-person meeting for prospective new agency/client relationships has become crucial. Not just for the potential client, but for the agency (in this case, us), as well. Why is this, you ask? I’ve got a few ideas…

The client didn’t vibe well with the last agency and their personalities…

You could be the smartest PPC mind on the planet, but if you can’t break down the walls and just *talk* the road will be bumpier than necessary. We’ve run into situations before where performance is below goal with our clients but it’s an easier conversation to have when the person on the other end of the line is someone you can get along with beyond the business side of things.

Let’s all just be honest…PPC can be pretty dry and boring at times, so I’d bet the client would rather have someone to chat through metrics who knows when it’s appropriate to lighten the atmosphere with a joke than just keep trudging through KPIs and reporting segments.

…So they want to make sure you fit better.

Will the client and agency be BFF’s? Probably not. The point is that it’s highly likely the reason you’re being asked to present on-site before you even know if you’ve won the business is so that the client can look you in the eye. They want to know that they’re able to get along well with you before the goals and performance start to stress the relationship (because they will). The key here from both parties is not to act like people they’re not. If you look up the prospects favorite sports teams and pretend to love football but don’t…they’ll sniff that out. Don’t put yourselves in a corner where you pretend to get in the door and then can’t keep up. That’ll be worse than if your personalities aren’t a perfect sync and you just know that going in.

They also want to know you’re dedicated to getting to know and understand their business.

It never fails – with every in-person pitch I’ve gone on, we’ve learned something about the brand and their needs that we probably wouldn’t have picked up on over the phone and that will help us be a successful partner for them. For ecommerce companies, you can get a glimpse behind the scenes and see how the order fulfillment process works. For lead gen businesses, you find out whether the CMO not answering your emails promptly is as bad as it seems when you realize (s)he is so busy they come in late to your on-site meeting.

Further, just taking the time and effort to make these trips can mean a tremendous amount to the client. Generally, there isn’t a ton of notice (maybe 1-2 weeks) so the client will likely see your willingness to make the trip happen to show that you’re truly dedicated and want the business.

It’s much easier to communicate face-to-face – body language can say a LOT.

You know that feeling you get in your stomach when you say something you think is brilliant to a prospect…and then they don’t say a word. That sinking nausea and when 10 seconds feels like an hour? Ok, I’m being a little dramatic but it truly is not a fun event to deal with. You aren’t sure if you really did some something life-altering and the client is nodding along like “oh wow – YEA!” or if they’ve muted the phone and are laughing at you to their colleagues (“what is this guy TALKING ABOUT?”). If you’re there in front of them, this is obviously a much easier puzzle to solve. Even if the silence still happens, you can see the look on their face or how they shift in their seat and know where you stand. Priceless benefit.

But what about our travel budget? We can’t always go when asked or our CFO is going to flip.

And let me tell you, I couldn’t agree more. Should you always go when invited on-site? The short answer is no, but to decide when you should – ask a few questions.

  • How many other agencies are being invited?
  • How many people from the client-side will be in attendance (and are decision-makers on that list)?
  • What’s the total agency investment on travel versus the potential ongoing revenue to be generated with the win?
  • Honestly, how confident do you feel that you can knock it out of the park if you get in front of the prospect?
  • Is this an account that’s healthy for your agency (you read that correctly – I’m telling you to walk away from new revenue sometimes. Maybe I’ll write about that next month)?

It’s not inappropriate to look for clarity on the purpose of the in-person meeting, so don’t be afraid to ask the client for some detail to help you (or your bosses) make the decision to go.

Now for those of you reading who are on the client side of this process…

Do yourselves a huge favor and think through why and when you’re asking agencies to present on-site. If you’re still trying to pick your top three – save the in-person meetings for that stage, not when you’ve still got more than a handful to weed out. You and your team will be exhausted and by the time the last agency presents, you’ll barely be listening.

Additionally, give the agencies something specific they can present. We call our version a Solutions Blueprint, but what matters is that it’s more than a capabilities overview. Hopefully you’re bringing some people into this stage of the game that haven’t necessarily met your shortlisted agencies yet, so you’re going to get some of the “this is who we are and what we do.” But give the agencies read-only account access and let them speak to what they might do for your actual accounts, too. Provide the option to analyze and present their plan or strategy toward improving your campaigns and make them put their money where their mouths are. Anyone can say they do PPC. If you’re going to use your precious time to meet them – you might as well make sure.

So let’s hear from you! Are you agency folks finding yourselves traveling more and presenting face-to-face at a higher frequency? How’s it going? What about those of you on the client side – do you feel more confident on an agency selection with an on-site meeting? Share your thoughts, comments and experiences with us below!