The biggest mistake most agencies make when they try to attract small and medium-sized business (SMB) clients is that they treat them the same way that they treat their larger clients, but SMB clients are different. Don’t believe me? Ask Google. Why have they had so much success selling Adwords to the Fortune 500, but yet, they still churn SMB’s like crazy? It’s because they still haven’t learned that SMB clients are different.
This is not an article about how to manage a PPC campaign on behalf of a SMB. There are particularities about managing smaller campaigns, and managing local campaigns, but learning those particularities is the easy part. For the most part, the best practices for SMB management are nearly identical to those for larger companies. To make life even easier, the best practices for managing SMB clients is the same for pretty much all SMB clients.
So, if the campaign management is so similar, and it’s the same for all, why do so many agencies have such a hard time? Quite simply, it’s in the way they treat their clients.
SMBs need to be treated differently from larger clients, and not all SMB’s should be treated the same.
Before we dive into how you should service an SMB, we need to talk about the different kinds of SMBs.
There are a lot of kinds of SMBs out there, but of those that will purchase SEM through an agency, you can generally split them into to two buckets: those that understand and use digital media, and those that understand that digital media is important to them, but don’t touch it themselves.
The difference between the two seems subtle. After all, both recognize the importance of search marketing advertising, so why bother making the distinction? To put it simply, because their expectations are different.
SMBs who understand and have dived into digital media in the past expect an agency to partner with them, to speak to them as equals, or in some cases, want to direct the management of the campaign, and just want someone to do the grunt work. Conversely, SMB’s that understand the importance of search marketing, but don’t necessarily understand the intricacies of it, want someone they can trust to handle their marketing for them.
These two types of advertisers will not go for the same one-size fits all servicing model.
Let’s start with the advertiser who wants help with their SEM campaign, but doesn’t necessarily want to have to spend hours on it. This is the easy scenario. These advertisers are looking for one thing and one thing only: results.
To handle an advertiser who is only concerned by results, the servicing model is dead simple:
- Set expectations for results
- Deliver on expectations
That’s it. As easy as it sounds, where most agencies fail is on the first point. Aligning the expectations of a client with reality is the most critical piece of this relationship. The client’s expectation is that he is going to launch a search marketing campaign, and he will start making sales. Unless you’re tracking sales conversions, you won’t be able to prove that, so get as close to tracking the sale as possible.
For most small businesses, this means tracking phone calls. Anything higher up the funnel than that becomes too intangible. A click means nothing to a small business owner. A click doesn’t represent revenue coming in. It doesn’t represent customers walking through his door.
Give the small business owner a sense of how many leads he will get, deliver on it, and you’ve created one satisfied customer.
The second type of client, the digital marketing savvy client, is different.
A client looking for a partner to help him with his marketing strategy needs to trust that you know what you’re doing before he can let go. That is where most agencies fail. They assume that their clients implicitly trust them, when really there’s no reason to believe that this would be the case. Why would a new client trust that you know what you’re doing before you’ve proven it?
This is why the worst thing you can do with a client like this is let them drive the show. After all, if they know more than you do, why would they hire you? Letting a client drive is a sure-fire sign that you don’t know what you’re doing.
Instead, to handle sophisticated clients, start by taking the same approach as you would with the less sophisticated and setting clear expectations at the outset. The difference in approach comes with how you set these expectations. Discussion of the campaign strategy and the desired result should be more collaborative. The campaign manager should set a clearly defined strategy and then explain why s/he has constructed the campaign in this manner. The idea is not to have the client tell you what to do, but rather to explain to the client why you’ve built his campaign in the manner that you have.
In most cases, the reassurance of having clear reasoning behind all decisions is enough to build a foundation of trust. The rest of the trust relationship will be built when you begin delivering on expectations.
The Road to Success
By following this simple recipe, treating clients appropriately, and not using a one-size fits all servicing model, you end up with happier clients. Happier clients are the key to keeping clients in the ultra-competitive SMB agency segment.