How to set and manage PPC expectations for teams and stakeholders

Have you ever been in a situation where not everyone was on the same page?

It happens often in the workplace and usually is caused by different expectations among stakeholders.

Here are some ways to set and manage expectations for PPC clients and agency teams.

Outline expectations during the sales process

Setting expectations at the beginning of a client engagement or project is crucial for success.

For advertising agencies, the time to set expectations is before the advertiser even becomes a client – during the sales process.

Giving the client an idea of how your team operates will help you both decide if the relationship is a good fit.

For example, does your agency have an account or media lead who oversees the client relationship, or do individual practice leads handle the relationship? Or is it a hybrid? Who is the main point of contact?

Be clear about how your team operates generally while you’re still negotiating.

Dig deeper: How to build and maintain client trust in your agency

Agree on parameters in the statement of work

It’s critical to lay out the engagement parameters in the statement of work.

The clearer you can be about the parameters of the relationship and how it will operate, the better you can manage expectations once you’re actually doing the work.

Agree on what work will be performed

What services will you be providing to the client? Here are some common agency services:

  • Paid search
  • Paid social
  • SEO
  • Programmatic and display advertising
  • Traditional media (print, out-of-home, etc.)
  • Website or landing page development
  • Analytics
  • Strategy development
  • Revenue operations/CRM work
  • Organic social management
  • Creative design

This is only a partial list!

Agencies can offer a wide variety of advertising and marketing services. 

Some agencies provide strategy and execution of the services listed above and some only provide consulting, with the client responsible for implementation. Spell out what work you intend to perform.

If you’re not clear in the statement of work about what work you’re performing, clients will ask you to do work that you’re not staffed for.

Make it obvious what’s in scope and what isn’t. Be detailed.

It’s impossible to list every possible scenario in a statement of work – and that’s why it’s crucial to be clear about the services the agency will handle.

Tell the client what work is in scope and be clear that anything else is out of scope.

For example, how many search engines will you manage for paid or organic search? How many social engines will you advertise on? Which ones? Are analytics services included? If not, who handles that troubleshooting? What about CRM?

For B2B advertisers, closing the loop between the initial website lead and down-funnel CRM actions is an important piece of the puzzle. Are you prepared to provide these services, or will the client be responsible for this work?

The same thing goes for landing page optimization and development.

Not being able to create optimized landing pages can be a performance blocker that can ultimately doom your relationship with the client. Be clear about who owns this responsibility.

By outlining who is responsible for CRO and landing page optimization, you can help stave off disappointment down the road.

Meeting and reporting cadences

Another aspect of client service to deal with during the sales process is deliverables and cadences.

How often will you meet with the client? Will the meetings be held online, or in person? Who from the agency will attend?

Meetings can become a giant time suck, yet they’re also necessary. Be thoughtful about how to make them efficient for both the agency and the client.

Reporting is another deliverable to address in the statement of work.

What types of reporting will be provided and on what cadence? Will you use Looker dashboards, PowerPoint reports, QBRs, or all three? How will you handle ad-hoc reporting?

Dig deeper: 3 steps for effective PPC reporting and analysis

Response times and client communications

You’ll also want to agree on client communications.

How will day-to-day communication be handled? Will you use email, instant messaging (IM) platforms like Slack or Teams, project management boards like Asana or Trello, or a combination of all of these? 

What response times should be expected?

One pitfall of using IM for client communications is that everyone starts to expect instant replies. That’s neither feasible nor productive for anyone.

Agree with your clients that regular communications will be responded to within 24 hours.

For urgent messages, perhaps a 6-hour response time is reasonable. Agree to this ahead of time – that way, no one is disappointed.

Think too about how easy it will be to search for relevant communications later.

I find it much more difficult to find messages and topics in Slack than email, although Slack is easier to organize into channels. Each has pros and cons! Think this through before you engage with the client.

Account staffing

Every statement of work should include a staffing plan. You don’t need to name names, but list the roles and percentage of time each role will be allocated to the engagement.

For example, staffing on a large paid search account might look like this:

  • Director – 5%
  • Manager – 50%
  • Analyst – 25%

Being clear about roles and percentage allocation helps clients understand who their key contacts are and how much time they will spend working on the account.

Dig deeper: Client onboarding and offboarding: The PPC agency’s guide

Dealing with unexpected issues

Unforeseen challenges can arise on an account. Perhaps the client’s conversion tracking breaks, or they need help spinning up a landing page when that’s normally something they would handle themselves. 

Outline in the SOW how you’ll handle issues that would normally be out of scope. 

Will you charge an hourly rate? Will a change order or new SOW be required? 

Good agencies will often pitch in and help without compensation. That’s part of being a good business partner.

Still, it’s important to set expectations on out-of-scope work to ensure the engagement remains profitable.

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Managing expectations during the engagement

Once the contract is signed, the work begins!

Now is the time to manage expectations.

It’s important on kickoff calls or meetings to establish your rules of engagement.

Reinforce how you will communicate, meeting cadences, turnaround times and other key service-level agreements (SLAs). Getting agreement from the client and buy-in on both sides is critical.

An effective way to get everyone’s buy-in is to whiteboard the rules during the kickoff, either virtually or in person. Then, take time to discuss the rules and hear all perspectives.

Be willing to add items you may not have thought of initially, or to adjust to meet everyone’s needs. Just make sure you can still deliver in the time frame you agree to.

Once you’ve aligned on the rules, distribute them to all stakeholders.

One agency I worked at printed and laminated the rules of engagement for each client. They shared a copy with everyone working on the account, both internally and client-side.

While this may sound quaint in 2024, it’s effective – a physical reminder stakeholders can keep at their desk and easily review at any time.

The rules of engagement could also be in an online document that’s pinned to a Slack or Teams channel.

It’s important to reiterate that getting everyone’s buy-in is key here. 

One of Dale Carnegie’s principles  in “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is to “Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.”

It’s important to remember this principle when establishing the rules of engagement with clients. If clients have a hand in developing the rules, they’ll be more likely to follow them. 

Dig deeper: How to retain clients in PPC

How to deal with issues during the engagement

Inevitably, issues will crop up during the engagement that require a review of the SOW.

The client might ask for more meetings than you’ve contracted for.

Or they start to expect faster turn times on the work you’re delivering.

It’s tricky because, on the one hand, you want to do everything you can to keep your client happy.

On the other hand, your agency needs to be profitable.

Think carefully about whether you should accommodate the client’s request or push back.

There are pros and cons to each approach.

If you’ve established ground rules and SLAs in the contract process, it’s not wrong to gently remind the client of what you agreed to.

In this case, I’ll usually say something like, “We understand how important this launch is for your business. Our contract stipulates a 5-day lead time for new campaign launches. Given the urgent timing of this campaign, we can aim to deliver it in 2 days. We’ll have to reprioritize some of your other work to accommodate this and we’re happy to do so to help you meet your goals.”

A statement like that does several things.

  • It acknowledges the importance of the ask to the client’s business.
  • It reminds them of the lead times you’ve laid out in the contract.
  • It accommodates their ask, while also pointing out the ramifications of compressing the timeline. 
  • It reinforces the client-agency partnership in the last statement: “we’re happy to do so to help you meet your goals.”

Making exceptions for clients is part of being a good partner. But if the exceptions start to become a regular thing, you’ll want to give a more forceful reminder of the rules of engagement and you may want push back. 

Renegotiating the contract is another option.

For example, you could add staff to the account that would enable faster turn times – at an additional cost.

Or you could charge the client the hourly rates you provided for in the contract. 

If you’ve set expectations clearly in the beginning, you have a good chance of avoiding a big mismatch between your reality and the client’s.

Clear expectations make for profitable relationships for everyone!

Dig deeper: 6 tips to build PPC client relationships

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