Navigating the Google / Client / Agency Triangle
Google is known as an innovator and market leader in almost everything they touch, but one area where they have had ongoing problems is in client services. They have made amazing strides since launching AdWords with no customer support. There is now a developed rep program with account-specific reps in vertical-specific groups, agency-specific reps on top of that, and an SMB rep team handling the smaller accounts. Still, they remain behind the curve in some areas. This is particularly evident to me in the subtle dance that is the Google/agency/client relationship, within which Google, as generally bright and well-intentioned as its employees are, frequently fumbles the details.
The “client” is both a client of the agency and of Google, so the hierarchy and ownership can be hard to sort out. That said, both partners benefit from client satisfaction, especially since both the agency and Google can get blamed for the other’s mistakes. So, it is imperative to client satisfaction to make sure these relationships are collaborative and mutually beneficial.
Here are three of the more common troublesome scenarios – and tips for handling them from the agency side:
1. Agency account manager doesn’t communicate with Google rep
This is the piece that you have complete control over. Granted, talking to Google reps can seem like a colossal waste of time to a busy SEM, and the content of the discussions can vary from important to pretty useless. However, proactively engaging with your Google rep and demonstrating your engagement and expertise in the account has a host of other secondary benefits. If you have a good, proactive, and friendly relationship with your Google rep, you are likely to get a higher level of attention when something goes wrong that needs action on the Google end. It also may mean they will push harder to try and get you into betas or special features that you’d like to test and trust your “pitch” of why/how this will benefit the client. Overall, it means a higher probability that you can have some say in the way Google interacts with the client. For some clients, this may mean you need to talk to Google once a week; for others, once a quarter is enough. Either way, the benefits of regular communication will pay off in the long run.
2. Google skips the agency account manager and goes straight to the client
This is probably the most common problem I have seen in the Google/client/agency triangle. In one way or another, Google’s team goes directly to the client with a host of suggestions, beta information, or just a fancy dinner invitation. All that is wonderful, as long as the agency partner is kept in the loop. I hate hearing a client say, “When we were meeting with Google the other day, they said…” about a meeting I had no idea was happening. This stuff can erode trust in the agency for no good reason, and any erosion is the triangle is bad for everybody. I don’t need to be there at every meeting, but knowing that a meeting is happening and knowing the overarching content of that meeting lets me serve the client’s needs and back up the discussions with actionable items that have a higher level of insight into the client’s business objectives than Google generally has.
From the agency side, to get around this, make sure you have established a decent relationship with your rep (see scenario #1). If you still find he/she is still not looping you in, just ask your rep outright to please copy you on all client communications. This usually works, but sometimes you’ll get an over-zealous young rep who still hasn’t refined his or her relationship-management chops and doesn’t abide by your request. If that still doesn’t do the trick, escalate it to your agency rep (if your agency has one); he or she can generally moderate this and make sure you are kept in the loop.
3. Google gets too sales-y
Many of my clients are predisposed to resent Google a bit. I think it’s a natural byproduct of a couple of things: spending millions on an intangible digital platform, even if it drives stellar ROI; and relentless press on Google’s ever-more-giant earnings. Google generally does a great job in branding and retaining a “nice guy” image despite this. However, one way they shoot themselves in the foot is with overly aggressive sales from AdWords rep teams. Most of my clients at one time or another have felt strongly that Google is just trying to get more money out of them. This, like everything, is inconsistent, but the Google rep team does seem to have a pretty big focus on “selling” new features.
I understand that Google’s investment in new features has to be funded by advertiser participation. However, most advertisers would only like to be “sold” features that really benefit them, in situations where it’s clear Google has given the fit some real thought. My clients would definitely have less to grumble about if Google were more careful about not seeming overly aggressive and “sales-y.” This criticism usually falls on Google, but an agency can pick up shrapnel just from a client’s general feeling of resentment towards the whole channel.
As an SEM, the best way to handle this is to firewall the relationship a bit. If #1 and #2 are in place, you can usually moderate these discussions. Nip things in the bud by explaining to the rep why Feature X is not a good fit for your client before the rep jumps in with a sales pitch. Or, jump into the discussion to represent your client’s position so they feel that real thought is being put into the mix. Even if Google won’t do it, you can direct the conversation away from pure sales.
Ongoing and satisfactory relationships with large clients are going to need support from Google at some point. As an SEM, your best bet is to make sure that you establish great relationships with your Google reps. This is part of serving your clients well. In addition, it gives you some leeway in moderating the conversation between Google and the client. Hopefully as Google continues to improve their customer service, they will standardize more processes that help make the client/agency/Google relationship wholly collaborative in the interest of all parties.
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