It’s 3:15pm and you’re just wrapping up your budget optimization plan for the week. You get a ping from sales informing you of a brand new client – time to break out your trusty onboarding plan. Beyond the basics of onboarding, of course, is the challenge of connecting with your new client in a quick and impactful way. Please forgive the cliche, but there really is only one chance to make a positive first impression.
First impressions aside, there are plenty of other controllable factors that go into a successful professional relationship. In the first few months of your client’s lifecycle with your agency, it’s crucial to build trust and camaraderie. You can do so in a number of ways, but it all comes down to communicating as equals. Here are 3 ways to build effective relationships with your current and future clients.
1. Be a teacher
Businesses hire PPC agencies for one central reason: they don’t have a digital advertising master on board. While many team members may be savvy to bits and pieces of the full PPC marketing journey, there is still a lot of negative space to be filled when it comes to the nitty-gritty details of a successful paid digital campaign.
We, as humans, are characteristically afraid of the unknown. This fear leads to frustration and distrust. Ultimately, the PPC knowledge gap between you and your client can lead you both down the rabbit hole to an unsatisfactory relationship. While this seems like a bit of a slippery slope fallacy, the best way to build a positive and collaborative client relationship is to create a solid foundation of knowledge and shared understanding of the service you’re providing. Now, I’m not advising you to give each new client a full crash-course in digital advertising to the point where it eliminates their need for outside marketing. More rather, it’s important to give each new client a very high-level understanding of the following:
- KPIs you’ve deemed important to their marketing goals
- Benchmarks for these KPIs
- The why’s and how’s behind your strategy for them
Additionally, one of the reasons your new client has hired your firm is to be set up with a marketing strategy that most other marketers aren’t using. Simply put, they want to be confident in your ability to come up with and execute innovative marketing strategies to boost their business. In order to properly communicate to the client that you can meet this need, it’s important to teach them not only about strategy basics but also about the innovations you layer on top of your strategy to make it unique. This involves laying the groundwork with a few basic building blocks of campaign strategy and checking in with your client to ensure they understand the difference between the two.
Quick tip: Create a PPC Playbook template that you can customize for each new client that includes KPI definitions and examples for each. This serves as a reference guide for your client throughout their lifecycle.
Beginning an agency-client relationship with education not only shows that you care about your new client but also lays a foundation for trust. It eliminates the barrier of understanding what you’re doing for them while mitigating the risk of potential mistrust down the road.
2. Communicate with transparency
Of course, communication is key to building any type of new relationship. We know this going into new client onboardings, but a lot of the time, this is much easier said than done. Some of us have clients who will email seventy-five times per day, every day. At least this is what it feels like. With this kind of volume, we can fall into the trap of putting transparency and open communication on the back burner, send a quick surface-level throwaway response, and get on with business as usual.
While this method takes care of the immediate question at hand, it’s can lead to a loop of placing band-aids on broken arms. The best way to combat the negative consequences of poor or non-transparent communication is to do so proactively. Let’s break this proactive communication model down into 3 parts: setting proper expectations, performance reporting, and follow-up.
Set proper expectations
Ideally, expectation-setting should be done throughout the sales process, and then again during onboarding. This process should go both ways, as well. It’s important to solidify what your new client expects from you as an Account Manager, but it’s just as important to communicate your expectations for your new client. Do you need certain information from them on a monthly or quarterly basis? Do you expect them to be available for calls on a regular basis? Get this out of the way first so there are no surprises down the road. two-way expectation-setting is also a great way to hold your client accountable for what you need now and in the future.
Send timely reports
Reporting is the next step in our transparent communication model. Sending visual representations of your agency's performance to your clients is by far the best way to maintain transparency throughout the entire client lifecycle. With a regular reporting cadence, your client will feel that they are in the know and up-to-date with the advertising you are doing on their behalf, which will lead to fewer check-in emails down the road. A solid reporting structure that focuses on the KPIs and performance goals identified during onboarding is the best way to consistently and transparently communicate your progress with any client. It’s important to note that different clients require different types of reports. Some businesses prefer table-style data like you would see in a spreadsheet, while others digest the info easier with time-based charts and graphs. Find out what works best for you client, and show them what they need to see in the way they want to see it each week, month, or quarter.
Quick Tip: Set a regular, predictable cadence for all your reports, and customize them based on each client’s needs, including choosing the type of visuals they prefer. Consistency builds trust.
Be consistent in follow-ups
Lastly, following up on these reports with a quick email detailing what you gathered from it shows a level of accountability from you to your client. Instead of only showing your client a chart with a conversion count that exceeds your goal line, send them a 2-3 sentence email explaining what you believe the cause of their campaign’s excellent performance was. This is not only a great way to subtly brag about your PPC management skill, but also helps your client up to your level of understanding. It is equally as, if not more important to follow-up with your client when a campaign underperforms. If you send out a report with potentially disappointing news, you should always follow up with your deduction of what went wrong, and how you plan on shifting your strategy to adapt. While this is a tough email to send, it shows that you are holding yourself accountable, and are not trying to hide any shortcomings from them.
Voilà! You’ve set the standard for transparent communication with your client, and likely built a little trust along the way.
3. Build empathy
This is a big one. As an Account Manager, your number one job is to, well, manage your clients’ accounts. You do this job because you are a highly-skilled PPC advertiser who also has some client-facing experience under your belt. Of course, customer service isn’t always top-of-mind, but treating your client with empathy will only help you foster a more positive and effective relationship.
Now, when I say “empathy”, I don’t mean catering to your client’s every whim. Nor do I mean being hyper-conscious of every word you send their way as not to offend them. Here, “empathy” means changing your mindset about how you treat your clients; you should be working with your client, not for them. This holds true especially when your client calls you frantically demanding explanations for underperforming campaigns. No one likes fielding these types of questions, and it can create a divide in an otherwise positive client relationship. It’s important to keep in mind the factors on the client’s side that have led up to this moment. Chances are, there’s someone above them demanding answers even more frantically, and someone above them, and so on.
The easiest and most consistent way to show empathy toward your client is to communicate in a way that puts you both on the same level. Kent Pearce, Director of Customer Success at AdStage, who’s also my boss, gave me the following advice when I once asked him how he builds such great relationships with all of his clients: “Just talk to them the way that you would want someone to talk to you.” At first, I didn’t believe it was that simple. The more mindful of this type of empathetic communication tactic on my calls and emails, the easier it was to build and nurture relationships with my clients.
Quick tip: Communicate with your client like you would a team member. If you treat your client as an equal, they will return the favor.
Leveling with your client is the foundation upon which a positive relationship is built, and layering education and transparency on top of it make it effective and mutually beneficial – even when things go wrong.
What are your best tips for managing client relationships? Tell us in comments.