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A Framework For Maximizing The Agency/Retailer Relationship

When it comes to managing search marketing campaigns for retailers, customizing support and services is as influential as managing the performance of campaign assets.

With the fast-paced digital environment that we currently live in, it’s not only important for SEM agencies to understand how to analyze and optimize advertiser data, but also how to efficiently manage client interactions.

Even though I work at a technology company, I’m responsible for client interactions. Many of my best practices are transferable to the SEM agency/retailer relationship. As such, in this article, I’ll explore:

  • Where agencies get client management wrong
  • Why retailers require different level of service from agencies; and
  • Applying traditional business practices to digital agency relationships


Agency Communication

Developing and maintaining trust among all client contacts can be very labor intensive, but it’s instrumental in maintaining a positive partnership. Simply setting up weekly calls and sending reports is not enough to engage your clients.

Each client will have different preferences on how to engage with them on an ongoing basis. Some clients prefer half an hour once per week, while others prefer an hour twice per month. Be flexible with your clients and let them dictate what kind of schedule works for them.

Here are some simple but often overlooked tips for agencies to improve their communication with retail clients:


  • Send out agendas and presentations to your clients ahead of time — not 15 minutes before a meeting, but at least 5 business hours ahead of your call. If you have a recurring call at 10:00 am on Tuesdays, get reports out to clients by 2:00 pm on Mondays. Providing presentations ahead of time enables your client to review the data you have prepared and prepare questions.
  • Keep it short and to the point; meetings that run longer than 45 minutes tend to lose both momentum and attendee focus.
  • Keep the number of attendees to the minimum required; for each additional attendee on the meeting, input is significantly reduced for those participating.
  • Visit personally with important clients 1 – 2 times per quarter; getting face time builds a certain rapport that phone calls cannot satisfy.


  • Transparency is a must; when clients ask for data, agencies need to provide it, along with any insights that can impact the performance of a client’s campaign.
  • Schedule weekly high-level reports to go out to your clients at the same time every week so they know when to expect it.
  • Fully engage your client by providing deep-dive monthly reports. This is also a good place for a sanity check on how current performance is lining up with original goals.
  • Tech-savvy clients may want to hop on Skype or do a Google+ Hangout in order to have the personal touch to the interaction.

Email Etiquette

  • Respond quickly to email requests, even if it’s a response that says “I’ve read your email, I’m going to investigate and will report back within a certain time frame.”
  • Be concise with your emails. Don’t send your clients a novel. If clients have to scroll, your email is too long. Make sure to cover meatier topics with presentations and a phone call so you can walk them through the information
  • Document all calls with call notes, objective setting and milestones reached with emails. Keeping a record of what you’re going to be held accountable for is important to ensure you understand client goals correctly.  It also gives your clients the opportunity to review and confirm the accuracy of your notes.

Retailer Communication

Client/agency communication is a two-way street. To maximize their relationship with agency partners and desired results from those relationships, retailers should follow these best practices:

Communicating Objectives

  • Communicate both short-term and long-term objectives up front.
  • Be specific — clearly define what metrics are important to meeting the end goal.
  • Establish timeframes to measure results and track progress.
  • Be responsive in a timely manner; you cannot hold an agency responsible for work that you have failed to execute on.
  • Communicate with clarity about the current year’s goals compared to last year’s goals.

Sharing Necessary Data With Your Agency

  • Grant them access to your legacy AdWords, Microsoft adCenter and web analytics tools. If you’re going to hold them accountable for performance, they should have access to any and all reports they need to improve campaign performance.
  • Share promotional marketing calendars. Sharing promotional calendars can help your agency plan ahead for ad copy changes. Furthermore, trends in performance can be more easily identified if your agency is aware of what is going on within your business.
  • Leverage your product feed data; your inventory is constantly changing and your agency needs to be aware of the changes happening within your product catalog to adjust performance. Your agency can help manage your keyword portfolio by activating/deactivating certain keywords based on current inventory.

Questions To Ask Before Engaging With An Agency

  • Technical– will your database impede the ability to implement agency SEM best practices?
  • Human– do you have people to write content, make site changes, champion results, etc.?
  • Financial– do you have the financial resources to dedicate to paid search or is paid search a smaller byproduct of your marketing department?

Educate Yourself, Don’t Take Your Agency’s Word For It

Demand that your agency send reports in advance of the call. Allow for proper time to investigate their analysis and recommendations and challenge their analysis if you disagree.

Strategic partnerships between retailers and agencies develop stronger bonds when both sides are educated on the data at hand, are able to approach analysis from different angles and agree on conclusions.

Agencies – clear and timely communication with your retail clients around the above framework will go a long way towards maximizing the impact you are able to deliver and establishing the deepest relationship possible.

Retailers – clear communication with your agency encourages them to act as a catalyst on your behalf. Challenging their analysis and providing your own insights breeds a partnership that is certain to grow better and better every month.

In upcoming posts, I will focus on search campaign optimization techniques and tools to help facilitate some of the issues retailers encounter.