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Sharing difficult truths about clients’ PPC accounts/businesses can be tough, but it’s a necessary challenge for experts in their PPC careers. Do they find it uncomfortable to tell clients hard truths? what tips do the experts have for the inexperienced once? These and more questions were answered during this week’s PPCChat session which was hosted by Julie F Bacchini.

Q1: Do you find it uncomfortable to have to tell clients hard truths about either their PPC or their businesses? And if so why and if not, why not?

I feel that this is an important part of my job. So telling clients things they don’t want to hear doesn’t really bother me. I have also been doing this for almost 25 years and I am sure that helps with my comfort level. @NeptuneMoon

I don’t think anyone like to be the bearer of bad news, and it feels like delivering bad news when you say that their current offer won’t be profitable with current metrics or that they don’t have the margins to compete. @robert_brady

If it’s about PPC – sometimes. If it was something out of my control – I make that very clear and try to communicate that I was actually quite speedy in picking up on it if it’s about their business – definitely not. Especially as those usually fall in the category of them leaving out pertinent information for me to do my job well. @TheMarketingAnu

@robert_brady It can depend a lot on your relationship and rapport with the client too. @NeptuneMoon

I consult to a lot of agencies and it isn’t my client so it makes the conversation more challenging for sure.  I am noticing agencies need business so they are taking on work they wouldn’t necessarily take on but everyone is trying to stay afloat in this economy. @runnerkik

Nope. You’re not doing anyone any favors by sugar coating or glossing over hard truths. At the end of the day, if they can’t accept the reality, then neither you nor them will be happy. My job isn’t to make them feel good or feel happy; it’s to give them the best possible chance at achieving their desired outcomes for their business or organization. Growth doesn’t happen when everyone is happy and content and comfortable. @DigitalSamIAm

Did hesitate initially. Now, during our discovery call I clearly mention that I will say the truth (from my perspective)Have found it to be more refreshing And some do get offended but I try to back up my view with as much data & logic as possible with a caveat that it is my opinion or my version of truth and because of this, I have clients come back again even if in that moment they may not have agreed with what I had to say. @alimehdimukadam

No, I don’t find it hard telling clients what they don’t necessarily want to hear. Obviously, I don’t want to be the person who is always bringing bad news to them, but if it needs to be done, I’m usually the person in the company who does it. Most of the conversations that I have had with clients are mainly around them not being profitable with their ads as their margins don’t have a lot of wiggle room. A surprising amount of business owners don’t want to believe that. @adwordsgirl

If you aren’t straight with them at the beginning, the pain grows exponentially the further things go along. @DigitalSamIAm is right on. @robert_brady

In my own business the advantage of being small, I won’t take on a client where I don’t believe I can succeed and I don’t budge here. @runnerkik

I don’t hesitate to deliver hard truths, but delicacy makes sense. You want to avoid clients feeling backed into a corner, or that something is somehow their fault. Pairing a hard truth with, “But here are XYZ viable options in the short-term and ABC options down the line” can help. Alternatively, “To unlock X, we need to address Y and Z first.” @teabeeshell

Can definitely relate with @runnerkik. I personally don’t take on a client if I know it won’t work for them but have been handed over such clients by agencies where they don’t necessarily care about success much but just short-term revenue. @JawadZaheerKhan

No. Before I even sign a contract with them, part of my initial pitch is that I’ll be transparent with them when things aren’t working well, whether that’s in PPC or another area of the business. I’m not there to sugarcoat anything or use vanity metrics to make data look better. My clients appreciate the candidness and employees often come to me with issues/challenges they’re facing internally and ask for advice on how to handle those issues.  I tend to build pretty deep relationships with my clients to where my transparency leads to them reciprocating that trust. @Austin_Dillman

Q2: What are some examples of hard truths you have had to tell clients? And how was it received?

That their product & business model isn’t sustainable and ads won’t make a difference. @JawadZaheerKhan

I have to tell clients all the time that they don’t have enough budget or they need to consolidate their PPC campaigns so that they do have sufficient budget to actually have a shot at success there. Sometimes they already know and just need someone to say it. And sometimes there is more resistance to the concept. @NeptuneMoon

Most recently, it’s that “testing” budgets on Google have gone by the wayside. To produce meaningful results, I require clients be willing to invest an absolute minimum of $5,000 monthly, in addition to my fees. I explain the reasons why, and if it’s not a good fit, I offer to pick up the conversation at a future date when they can make that investment level work. @teabeeshell

I had to tell a prospect that they would keep having quality issues because their portfolio of clients they were handing to PPC agencies as what they thought was a “big book of business” was actually 20 individual clients spending too little in an industry that is historically higher touch for ads management. @runnerkik

Usually, it’s something along the lines of: @DigitalSamIAm

  • your business isn’t viable
  • you don’t have a sufficient budget to achieve your goals/objectives
  • You aren’t ready to scale // you don’t have PMF
  • Ads aren’t going to save your business if you don’t diversify your traffic sources
  • You don’t have an acquisition problem; you have a retention problem
  • Your product and positioning aren’t differentiated in the market, so you’re likely to see your surplus value generated from paid media go to 0 until you solve that.

@NeptuneMoon what you said, I have had to spreadsheet it out for them too. You are asking for 100+ campaigns with each campaign budget being $4 and the average cpc is $2.15, math doesn’t math. @runnerkik

Your account will never ever get approved in Google Ads because it is full of false claims – this happens when people get very attached to a product and it is sad to see tbh (supplement and herbal medicines)  @runnerkik

I had to tell the founders of a business that paid media was not going to be profitable for them and that their model for selling, in general, was going to be a huge obstacle for their business. They refused to accept that and wanted to hire me anyway. I now turn down these opportunities, but I set expectations and told them I was willing to run tests for them to prove my point and rule out paid social/search with data. They were selling a food product that nobody had ever heard of at a cost higher than most things you’d find in Whole Foods. They made you buy multi-packs of 5 for pasta sauce, pesto and salad dressing at $50+ per pack.I explained the market of people willing to spend that kind of money for something they’ve never tasted from a brand they’ve never heard of is likely slim. They were against sending samples or single packs due to shipping fees. In the end, we just couldn’t make ads profitable given their low margins and conversion rates (website sucked too), and I convinced them to go a different route (invest in their website, improve email marketing, work with influencers and do more traditional marketing). They tried to keep me on, but I fired myself as I didn’t want to waste more of their money. Founders tend to think their product is the best thing on earth and will go bankrupt trying to make it work.@Austin_Dillman

Also telling them that their current offer and/or positioning just isn’t competitive. That can be a tough one…@NeptuneMoon

Most of the conversations I’ve had are around the product and/or business are not sustainable and ads won’t be profitable. @adwordsgirl

“Your new website is not performing better than your old one” is a really hard truth we’ve had to tell clients a few times. When we have the data to support that, it’s hard to argue with, and I like to think it softens the blow a little bit. At the end of the day, someone has to say something. @revaminkoff

So I got a subcontractor white-labelling agreement from an old print media agency looking to expand digitally. They would charge clients upfront with no account ownership and incorrect reporting. And just pure ‘bad agency’ practices like we know. No conversion reporting etc etc. And they would not standardise a reporting timeframe a client was billing on the 15th. They wanted me to look at their monthly budget as starting from the 15th ending on the 14th. Someone did on the 16th Etc. I gave the leadership team the truth They terminated my contract and did not pay the last invoice. @alimehdimukadam

Q3: What tips do you have for those who are either inexperienced with this or find it really uncomfortable?

Every, no is a yes. Also, protect your brand (personal or professional), nothing good can come out of working with a brand that is set up to fail. @runnerkik

Rehearse! It’s like any public speaking endeavour. The more times you practice, write things down, pre-address objections or questions…the smoother it goes live. I can’t stress this enough. @teabeeshell

It gets easier over time and your confidence will build. Be honest and use facts over feelings. Don’t take on something you know you’ll fail at simply for a paycheck. It’ll hurt you in the long run. @Austin_Dillman

Remember that it is business. And part of your job is to manage that business. That can help. @NeptuneMoon

Also, don’t let it build and build. Honestly, sometimes the anticipation of the conversation is way worse than what actually happens!  @NeptuneMoon

It gets easier with time and practice, but also remember that they hired you for your expertise. It’s our responsibility to be honest and build that trust with our clients. @adwordsgirl

Having data to support your assertions will make you feel a lot more empowered / make it harder for them to argue with you. @revaminkoff

Also, no relationship is 100% positive 100% of the time, and that’s what working with clients is — a relationship. @revaminkoff

How these conversations go also has to do with the work you put in along the way and the trust you build with the client. If you have a good working relationship, that can also make it easier to have to give them a stick of the reality gum (as I like to call it!). @NeptuneMoon

Run the scenarios. A good point I always use or look at is their organic conversion rates If they are poor
I warn the clients beforehand that paid conversion rates are poorer than organic conversion rates and work backwards if need be But at least that gives me a point to establish because if it’s a poor PMF fit
Organic traffic usually tells it all. @alimehdimukadam

Be proactive. Biggest complaint I heard from clients during my initial pitch is that their agency never came to them with feedback, issues, opportunities. It’s better that you proactively tell them about an issue before they notice something is off and ask you about it. They’ll either think you’re hiding something or you’re not good at your job if you didn’t notice the problem in the first place. @Austin_Dillman

Great point about looking at overall conversion rates @alimehdimukadam – had a client that should have been a SLAM DUNK for the organic conversions. They had a referral stream that most brands would give anything for and their organic conversions were awful. We kept telling them that meant there was a website problem. It was perpetually “under advisement” and when our ads “didn’t perform” that was that. You just can’t help some clients get out of their own way. @NeptuneMoon

Do it as early as possible. The longer you leave it, the more it becomes a bigger deal than it actually is!! Most clients will be understanding if they can clearly see that you tried your best with the issue and the hard truth was beyond your control. @TheMarketingAnu

It pains me, I usually inform them with a generic infographic of organic vs paid traffic expectations and ask their overall conversion rate as part of the onboarding questionnaire. (After years of iterating) Funny part is most clients don’t even know their true conversion rates. @alimehdimukadam

This was actually an assignment in my college marketing program: delivering bad news. @robert_brady

That’s an awesome assignment for life! @alimehdimukadam

That’s fantastic @robert_brady – everyone can use coaching in this area! @NeptuneMoon

@robert_brady I also went to workshop on having difficult conversations – it helped a lot!! @revaminkoff

Q4: Is there anything you do proactively to help avoid getting into hard truth situations with clients?

I always talk about my amazing discovery form.  Requiring clients to fill this out helps from the start, but also having a measurement plan/goals is critical as well.  You wouldn’t believe the number of brands & agencies that don’t set up goals in 2024. @runnerkik

@runnerkik would you be willing to share? @teabeeshell

@teabeeshell of course! @runnerkik

I build an automated dashboard using Swydo that gives them real-time access to all of their ad channel data so they’re not waiting for a weekly report. Most clients lack the expertise to log into the ad channels to find what they need/care about. In short, I want them to be able to see actual performance using the metrics they care about in an easy-to-read format. @Austin_Dillman

I try to weed out potential “hard truth” clients from the start. It is frustrating for all parties when circumstances are firmly in place that will prevent any PPCer from being able to find success with that account. If you can identify and avoid, to begin with, that is awesome. Despite best efforts though that does not always happen… so I make it a point to be very honest and not sugarcoat things right from go. That does not mean being mean or unprofessional, but instead, I want my clients to know that I will always tell them the truth about what is happening or what I think is happening even if I think they don’t want to hear it. I’m not paid to be a “yes woman” – I am paid to be a consultant. @NeptuneMoon

For me, it boils down to weaving education into every touch point. Calls, emails, and even Slack messages can be opportunities to “drip” hard truths into the conversation. When it comes to facing reality, you have the ability to say, “Remember when we discussed XYZ in January and via email? Today is when we have to address that situation.”Hard truths rarely come from left field. They are “hard” because they are difficult to swallow in certain situations..but they are also established. @teabeeshell

I will also share that sometimes you have the hard truth conversation and the client is thrilled that the issue is being brought up from an outside perspective. Internally recognized but ignored issues exist in businesses all the time! And we can sometimes be the catalyst for them being addressed or at least taken more seriously!  @NeptuneMoon

When I do 1 on 1 agency training do a training module on relationship building because unless there is a relationship built on trust, these conversations can’t happen. Many times clients trust the owner or sales team but not the PPC lead and that is where conversations get missed when teams grow. @runnerkik

Q5: Have you ever had a client tell you a hard truth?

As in a client quit on us? oh yh! @TheMarketingAnu

I had a client tell me that ROAS improved because they raised prices the year prior (before I started on the account)
This was not only a hard truth but one I needed to know. LMAO @runnerkik

If you have been doing this long enough, you will have a client tell you that you are terrible at your job at some point. @NeptuneMoon

One that comes to mind is a men’s skincare company that I worked with for about 6 months. Beauty/health/wellness is difficult as it is, but with a (relatively) undifferentiated product, it became almost impossible to find success on Google Ads, esp. with a small budget. In short, we didn’t have enough “at bats” to compete each day. We would exhaust our budget and only get “hits” every few days. The mutual conclusion was to pause ads, reassess the product/offer, and return in the future with either a revision…or more budget. The client respected this hard truth, especially because it was something we discussed from Day 1. The hard truth they told me was, “I wish we could have made this work, and I wish Google didn’t have such a hurdle to find success.” @teabeeshell

@NeptuneMoon very very accurate LMAO @runnerkik

I will add that sometimes the hard truth conversations happen when a client brings some note of dissatisfaction with their PPC to us and that opens the conversation that includes a hard truth for them. I try really hard to make sure that these conversations are ongoing, but you don’t always get the info you need to be prepared for a “well, we are not really happy with the performance for the past few months” when it hits you. As from your data, you thought all was fine. @NeptuneMoon

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