Innovation Vs. Execution (Part 2)

A couple of weeks ago, I addressed the issue of how innovation is often over-estimated in terms of its influence on the success of technology companies, including the big players in search today; Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. (See:

Today, I want to address this same issue because it also impacts the way products and services are sold in the SEM industry. Many SEM agencies compete by offering prospective clients "the most innovative technology" or "the most innovative campaign strategy." There's certainly nothing wrong with dazzling clients with what a given technology can do: It's just the way that companies compete for new business.

Unfortunately, debates over the relative merits of any given SEM technology obscures the more important point that most campaign automation tools work very similarly. Some campaign management tools are better than others, and clients should always choose a SEM vendor with care. But in my experience, the difference that a given campaign automation tool makes in the ultimate success or failure of a given search campaign is far outweighed by non-technology factors, including the ability to field teams that have the raw person-power necessary to build out, maintain and adjust it, so it delivers satisfactory results.



The fact that account directors, analysts and account managers are so vital to executing successful search marketing campaigns might seem paradoxical. After all, isn't an appropriate level of campaign automation supposed to replace these people? Well, campaign automation does replace some grunt work, but staff still has to make an enormous number of decisions on any individual account. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that we as an industry have really come to grips with the fact that it's people, not machines, that play so important a role.

A recent survey by Jupiter Communications on the profile of typical in-house search teams shows that many personnel on search teams have been "drafted" from other departments, with many having to support additional functions, even while managing search campaigns. This is a recipe for two unfortunate results. First, search campaign failure and second, employee burnout, which should be avoided at all costs. Enterprises that consider search a critical strategy should invest sufficient resources; those that can't or won't should consider outsourcing.

Unfortunately, there are big differences in the quality of outsourced SEM agencies, and prospective clients need to be careful when selecting one.

Agency A may post a stellar client list, but these clients may be running very unsophisticated campaigns. Agency B may boast of the incredible potential of its campaign management platform, but be so short-staffed that it is unable to realize this potential. Further, SEM agencies are subject to the same migration of talented personnel which is endemic throughout this industry. That means agencies become more or less capable as time passes. One must often do considerable detective work before making this kind of decision, although impartial industry rating services (such as Jupiter) often can narrow your short list.

In summation, the next time you find someone touting how "innovative" his/her company or software is, let this person finish his speech. Then ask some questions of your own. "Sure you can innovate, but can you execute?" If this person can show a real track record, with real growth for his clients, you might have yourself a partner who can help you realize your search objectives. If not, you're just talking to "an innovator," and innovators are a dime a dozen in this business.

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