When is Enough, Enough?

It is difficult to position what I want to write about this week without it coming off as a complete rant.  The thing is, I have become completely astounded by what I hear lately from our new business prospects, as well as what I hear about prospecting from other search marketing agencies.  

On numerous occasions, especially over the last six months, I have spoken with prospective clients about what we see today in their campaigns.  Most often, this is conducted with access to their Google account and all conversion data.  We point out instances of what I would classify as gross mismanagement of the search campaigns and ultimately, they say they are sticking with their current vendor.

First off, I give kudos to the account person at the incumbent agency that has built and maintains the relationship.  However, I just cannot fathom how someone sitting on the client side can overlook opportunities to improve their paid search.  In this economy, with massive layoff reports every day, does one not feel compelled to make certain the programs they are responsible for are as optimized for volume and efficiency as is humanly and technologically possible?  Presented with compounding and systemic issues that represent a 20+% increase in sales within the same efficiency, how can one turn away?



I have gone through this over and over again in my head and the most logical reasons I can come up with can be classified as complacent, jaded or nearsighted.  

Complacent:  Search works for almost everyone.  It typically outperforms most other channels and is considered a rock star  among marketing mediums.  So if your goals are being met, is the thought that you don't want to rock the boat? Or are the opportunities being presented beyond belief and/or comprehension?

Jaded:  Does your workload exceed bandwidth?  You would normally have interest, but you are just burn-out and the mere idea of entertaining vendor proposals only sounds like additional work.

Nearsighted:  Does it seem like the long-term outlook is too far removed from the short-term investment of time?  Is the cost benefit not there?

I truly do not intend for this post to be a rant.  I do hope my counterparts at other agencies will provide their own two cents.  But more importantly, I want to hear from those who are client-side and responsible for search engine marketing.  I challenge in-house search marketers to put themselves under review.  Do you fall into one of these three categories?  If not, please share your rationale for keeping the status quo.

20 comments about "When is Enough, Enough?".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Tim Rohrer from Radio One, February 6, 2009 at 11:04 a.m.

    Although plausible, I would say that none of these is the answer. Buyers are skeptical of sellers because sellers have an agenda. This truth causes a disconnect. The seller may be honest and forthcoming and telling the whole truth and the buyer may perceive that the seller is spinning, obfuscating and shading. Perhaps, there is nothing more frustrating to an honest seller to present facts to a buyer and have those facts treated as simply a matter of perspective.

    The challenge for you is to uncover needs before presenting facts. Send me an e-mail and we'll exchange phone numbers if you want to spend a little time talking about it. I'm happy to help,

    Tim Rohrer -

  2. Troy Stacy, February 6, 2009 at 11:06 a.m.

    It's all about the relationship - once they love you, they never leave you. Logic goes out the window.

  3. Steve Baldwin from Didit, February 6, 2009 at 11:09 a.m.

    Why clients stay in dysfunctional relationships with underperforming SEM agencies is one of the most nettlesome issues out there. I praise the author for raising the question. I would only add the following.

    Inertia, AKA the fateful "I prefer the Devil I Know to the Devil I Don't Know" rule. This rule explains why people stay in unhappy, dysfunctional relationships generally.

    Sales Talk Overload. Who wants to invite a bunch of pushy geeks whose pitches all sound the same into the executive suite?

    CYA. In bad economic times, in-house search people tend systematically undermine any conversations that might lead their bosses to a decision (however beneficial that conversation might be to the organization's bottom line) that will marginalize their own positions.

    No Trust. There are no meaningful barriers to entry to this business. Anybody with a fancy website, a software license, and a trade show budget can bill himself as a SEM expert.

  4. Greg Scott, February 6, 2009 at 11:22 a.m.

    I work on the client side (B2B though), and I have a couple thoughts for you. Not trying to make excuses, just provide some insight into what us client side suits might be thinking...

    1) I would go with overwhelmed instead of jaded. With all the layoffs you mention, most people are picking up more tasks. Sales increases are certainly our goal, but in a tight economy an in house SEM expert is redundant to the agency, so the agency contact becomes someone in marketing who already has other assignments. Entertaining new proposals take time away from other campaigns and sales support that tie to sales increases as well.

    2) Right now capital expenses are strictly limited. A new contract would involve cancellation fees, up-front costs, and push out the date when we're supposedly contract free. Large chunks of money are hard to come by, so call it near-sighted if you will, but it can be a real financial asset and risk management issue.

    What do you think?

  5. Eric Oliver from TheCosmonaut, February 6, 2009 at 11:30 a.m.

    In my opinion, the leading causes are CYA (as per Stephen) and buyer skepticism (as per Tim). In these economic times, people are terrified of losing their jobs. In many companies, doing consistent B+ work is a better way of ensuring longevity at the company than shaking things up in order to get an A (and risking a C). As a result, many nervous buyers would rather stick with what they've got that's yielding OK results than risk it on something that MIGHT yield an A, but might not.

    When that nervousness is combined with natural buyer's resistance and skepticism when they are being "sold" something, very often the result is a pass.

    You're starting at the right place though: identifying what the buyer's concerns are. Once those have been identified, you can then start addressing them with a variety of tactics. The trick is to really treat their concerns as valid without allowing yourself to be overrun with "What the hell is wrong with these people?!" emotions :)

    Once a seller takes a buyer's concerns seriously and can really identify with them, the seller can identify solutions which will ameliorate those concerns.

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, February 6, 2009 at 11:37 a.m.

    For a most blatant example of staying the course, I would say see newspapers. However, the mind set of not rocking the boat and that's the way we've always done it runs rampant throughout many industries as we have seen the US outsourcing (Yes, there are other reasons for outsourcing,too) as other countries pick up our slack. Also, there must be affordable alternatives. Some can be done just by changing one aspect at a time and showing clients how they can ease into a better, more efficient, more productive and profitable system.

  7. John Rasco from RefreshWeb, February 6, 2009 at 11:40 a.m.

    Another possibility is that the incumbent vendor has been responsible for what the client sees as amazing results. What if your promise of a 20% increase is on the tail end of a 100%+ runup? Why not stick with the team that has performed so well?

    A slick pitch can win business, but the new vendor doesn't always make things better. We had a client relationship where we had increased the web sales by over 200% via natural search. After a couple of years of an excellent relationship, the client moved the SEO budget over to white paper marketing. After such big gains, we could only show a 10-15% annual increase. Per the web marketing manager, with the white paper marketing, they saw a 10% increase in sales, but they took a 60% hit in cost per lead. Without getting into the specifics on our pricing, let's just say they lost more than a good vendor.

  8. Tom Cunniff from Combe Incorporated, February 6, 2009 at 11:55 a.m.

    Janel, I'm a SendTec paid search client. Are you really 100% sure you want me to put our search under review? :-)

    With that said, let me offer some perspective from the client side. These days, I get a half-dozen calls a day from search agencies. The pitch is always the same: "your agency does it wrong, we do it right, you'd be an idiot not to switch to us." There's usually also a distinct whiff of, to borrow a phrase I recently read, "you must be complacent, jaded or nearsighted."

    This is, to put it mildly, a lousy attitude. Worse, it never works.

    Clients aren't knuckleheads. What we are is busy.

    For the most part, marketers are generalists, not specialists. They juggle a million things including search. As such, they must do daily triage: what is the most important thing for me to focus on today? On many days, paid search -- even if it's not performing as well as it should -- is not at the top of that list.

    Also, smart marketers value loyalty. REALLY smart marketers know it's a two-way street. If our paid search needs improvement, the first step is to talk with our current agency and ask how we can improve together.

    Jumping ship is not only not nice, it's not smart. Building long-term relationships takes patience, but with the right partners it pays out over time.

    Back when I owned an interactive agency, I pitched a lot of business. Here's the plain-spoken advice I wish someone had given me back then.

    1) Ask your prospect if they're in the market for your services. If they're not, be sincerely glad for them. Why be mad that they're happy? Don't you want people to be happy? Ask when the best time is to check in again. (Clients: You can do salespeople a real favor by being specific, e.g. "ping me in 12-18 months. Salespeople: you can do prospects a real favor by thanking them for a specific answer and respecting it.)

    2) Remember that you're looking for people who *already* want to buy. Most people won't be. When you find one who is, don't tell them how brilliant and amazing you are. Ask where it hurts, and what would be the best way you can help.

    3) Your sales quota is NOT your prospect's problem. If a thousand people in a row say "no", don't take your frustrations out on them. I know cold-calling is a tiresome, thankless job. But part of your job is to stay optimistic: if you keep at it, eventually you'll reach somebody who is totally glad to hear from you and really wants to talk. Despair and anger doesn't sell; optimism and caring does.

    Here's the bottom-line question.

    Which would you rather have? A client who keeps the status quo and who will partner with the agency to improve results over time?

    Or, a client who will fire you instantly if another agency calls and claims they can do your job better?

    Hmm. Maybe the status quo ain't as awful as it sounds :-)

  9. Michael Munz from Making Law Easy, February 6, 2009 at 12:06 p.m.

    All the above points are very valid. Most buyers are fearful of more work, rocking the boat and losing their current growth and rank. Lets think about how our market has grown from an unknown medium to the next "snake oil". There has been far more horror stories published, than success stories. Clients who see positive results from an agency will not broadcast this info, in order to stay ahead of the competition. I work in one of the most jaded fields "Law". Lawyers have deeper pockets than most small to mid-size businesses. Lawyers seem to believe whoever has the next great "mouse-trap". Well now, these once Internet Marketing shopaholics, have put on the brakes for the exact reasons mention in this article and following comments. Blind, blind , blind! I can point out obvious weaknesses in their search marketing campaigns but they will not budge. In my opinion, the common denominator thats leading to this "stale' search marketing is, lack of a search marketing strategy.

    Strategy is the difference between throwing a couple of bucks at PPC or SEO and being happy with a high rank and visibility , to understanding the #1 isn't always the best gauge of search marketing. Many agencies sell rank and position, rather than identifying "real" conversions. A click-thru doesn't always = conversion or ROI.

    To conclude, the current economic state has turned many search marketing reps into "set-it-and-forget-it" merchants. In coming months this type of marketing tactic will become transparent, and allow other agencies to make offers but, keep in mind that the perception of these once burned buyers will be a cautious one.

  10. Marc Engelsman from Digital Brand Expressions, February 6, 2009 at 12:09 p.m.

    Did you ever consider that maybe public rants like this one essentially calling your prospects idiots might lead them to stay with the agency that actually respects them and their decisions?

  11. Frank Watson from Kangamurra Media, February 6, 2009 at 12:38 p.m.

    Well that got some people talking. I agree that people tend to fear change especially if it is working at the moment. The idea of the possibility of even more is one that seems either greedy or fantastical - more so when hearing it from someone pitching to take over an account.

    I use new tools and added incentives like social media to get an opportunity to show things can be improved.

    Good article Janel - see you in NY for SES no doubt!

  12. Adam Davis from Think Wide Productions, February 6, 2009 at 1:38 p.m.

    I am impressed with the passion in everyone of these posts. I am single person shop, and I deal with small clients. I had one pitch the other day, the prospect spent 15k a month on three keywords. He was happy with his results. I followed with a proposal, which allowed for flexibility in pricing, which I thought would make him choose from one of three options.

    His feedback, he does 1 mill a year, 6 yr in business, was to just keep doing what he is doing.

    What does this mean? Not sure, but it shows me that I couldn't even replace him doing himself.

    PS - This was a plum job as he didn't even use conversions, and didn't look at results ever. Didn't even no where to look.

  13. Joe Fredericks, February 6, 2009 at 1:38 p.m.

    Great post. It's nice to see the feedback on both sides here.

  14. Rick Simmons from Dinkum Interactive, February 6, 2009 at 2:26 p.m.

    I believe it is more about ignorance - they just don't understand enough about the Internet to make any better decisions. If they knew better they would make better decisions. What is the saddest part is that they would rather stay ignorant and less effective than do a bit of homework and make better choices - my two cents

  15. Jeffrey Ogden, February 6, 2009 at 4:33 p.m.

    I hear this all the time, even from the CEO of one of the above companies and I'm growing very tired of it. The problem is not the customer. Look in a mirror.

    Does the customer know me?
    Does the customer trust me?
    Does the customer think I empathize with his pains?

    If all those are no, you get nowhere.

    Trust is built over time. This is why marketing plays huge role today and companies need to invest in building solid relationships.

    One SEO firm blew $25,000 on SES NY and did not get one good lead. When is everyone going to wake up?

  16. Mark allen Roberts from Out of the Box Solutions, LLC, February 6, 2009 at 5:41 p.m.

    I think the issue you are discussing is something I wrote about recently "they don't know what they don't know.
    You can view my thoughts about the most dangerous executives at

  17. David Jaeger from Global SEM Partners, February 6, 2009 at 6:06 p.m.

    I've suffered from similar issues. I typically do it the other way around. "I've just taken XYZ clients to a 100-300% increase just by optimizing their accounts, I'd love to do it for you".

    It's true. Most companies have no frame of reference for what is "good" or "bad". As mentioned by many comments above, when people see something successful, they are terrified of changing it, even if it makes logical sense. I "fight" with clients all the time.

    That's clients, not even prospects.

    I've ended up accepting that the service I'm providing my client is achieving their goals, even if that goal is to "be #1 for a specific keyword for 2 hours a day". I just suggest to the client that it's not ROI efficient, and if they insist, it's their money. Chalk it up to "branding".

    Also, as both a previous in-house marketer, and now on the agency, it's very hard for us to know best practices across multiple industries. Knowing that there's a better way of doing things is not only threatening to our levels of professionalism, but hard to evaluate (frame of reference).

    My two cents.

  18. Callie O farrell from The Really Simple Partnership, February 7, 2009 at 4:27 a.m.

    Reading through the responses to the original post it seems pretty obvious who is selling and who is barricading themselves against the onslaught of patronising hard sellers.

    Any relationship is about communication and it is about listening first. Not a barrage of what your current SEO is doing wrong. How easy to put someones back up lol.

    It MAY well be frustrating to see companies getting it all wrong, but at the end of the day if they have a valid business who is to say they have to change?
    The valid business just may not be wholly reliant on the net? Scary thought but there you go.

  19. Judith Cheney from, February 8, 2009 at 10:53 p.m.

    I find this very interesting from a client point of view. You want to sell me something and you want me to pay up front for something I may or may not like. Why would I pay first and get the service later? Would you pay the Dr before the exam? Would you pay the restaurant before the meal? Would you pay the plumber before he fixed the leak?

    Yet, you want me to pay for something whether I like it or not. I say "Show me the Money!". That translates out to "prove it to me first and THEN I'll pay you". When you do what you say you can do, you will have earned your fee.

    You people are in a strange business. It's like gambling, and I would prefer to know what I'm getting, and then pay for it once I have it. Why not try something new? Those are the concepts that instill loyalty. It's like the person who says "I'll work for nothing for a week". If you like my work, hire me. If not, no hard feelings.

    What I'm suggesting is "Prove It". What a unique concept!

  20. Janel Laravie from Chacka Marketing, February 9, 2009 at 9:17 a.m.

    I would like to thank everyone for responding! For the most part, I see many people echoing my rationale, just with slightly different verbiage. And Tom, of course you know you are in good hands! :) I wondered if any of our own clients would respond and I appreciate the well thought out response.

    To Marc, this rant is a personal frustration. I am in no way calling anyone an idiot, but rather trying to empathize. I think I am very fortunate to work in an industry that is filled with incredibly intelligent people, both client and agency side.

    Adam said it best we he referenced the passion in these posts. It is great to feel passion for your job.

    Again, thank you to everyone for responding.

Next story loading loading..