Use caution when buying search marketing services

This will not be an unfamiliar cry from people who have read my posts before, wherever that may have been. I am sure I have used the words caution, sales, and search marketing in the same sentence at least once (or maybe a thousand times). Well, make it 1001. As the economy continues to crawl along (or move backwards depending on the day), this will be even more important as sales people get (gulp!) desperate. I am not afraid to say that there is nothing worse for business than a desperate sales person and that it holds true on both sides of the equation, meaning for the employer and the client.

For the company who employs desperate search sales people, there is very quick response of “Well, we need the revenue.” This is a slippery slope that will ultimately lead to a series of bad deals and bad blood. I have seen this happen, and no one wins here. In addition to the sales that are generated by one rogue, there will now be a culture created that other sales team members can follow. Sales people are the worst sheep in the sense that they are quick to say “If it’s OK for him/her, then it’s OK for me.” You would be surprised at how many good people who work in sales will chuck their personal ethics out the window and justify bad sales practices because “the other person did it.”
For the company who is a prospect of a desperate sales person, the trouble occurs on many tiers. How this all concludes depends on how the company representative deals with sales people. I am always amazed at how many people on the prospect side simply don’t know how to say no.

A kind of caution sign.

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Rather than say no and look like the heavy, many people will simply stay neutral and allow the desperate sales person to cling to the hope that the deal will happen. Then there are the numerous follow-up calls and e-mails that turn into a nightmare on the prospect’s side.
You see, desperate people are like a bear trap. If they feel they have you, there will be blood. The way to avoid the trap is to say no definitively and with good solid reasoning (by the way, budget IS NOT an acceptable reason for not doing something online, especially if you are advertising elsewhere) then there is no confusion. If you play the wishy-washy “I haven’t heard back from so and so” or “We’re still looking at our options,” the desperate sales person will believe that they can turn the screws and somehow close the deal. If you are being closed then you are being sold, and if you are being sold then you are in trouble.
So what happens when the desperate sales person wins and has closed or manipulated a sale? Sometimes it works. Most times, however, the engagement is doomed from the start. The footing is so bad when there has been a “square peg in a round hole” decision made that the customer will always look to get more than what they paid for. It’s a form of revenge.
Even worse, the customer will discover that the sales person (who may or may not still be at the company) has embellished in order to convince the customer to sign. In search marketing you then have a service delivery team that is resentful of the sales people who supposedly make all the money but have to do none of the work. It can get ugly fast.
So how do you avoid this? One way is to take your search marketing in-house. Sure there are risks but in the end you will have a much better shot at identifying why a program is or is not working because it will be right there under your nose. There will be no agency account managers looking to “make a save.”
All in all. going in-house an option that I am beginning to think every business should at least seriously consider. At the end of the day, do you want your fate in the hands of an agency that you really have no idea how they are doing your work, or with a group that you can sit down with daily and develop? I think it would be irresponsible to not at least look at this option no matter what size shop you have.

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