The Search Bachelor

I don’t think any show has angered me more than “The Bachelor” in the history of television. It’s not the fake reality, the women who fall in love in the first hour, or the countless “most shocking” rose ceremonies. What bothers me the most is the show continues to fail at its goal year after year, yet still gets renewed.

I’ve often equated the agency selection process and relationship to dating, and “The Bachelor” really drives this home. Each week, viewers are shown why a certain woman isn’t a perfect match for the bachelor. Each “shocking” rose ceremony shows us a surprising amount of reasons similar to why agencies end up losing business pitches and clients.

We’re Moving Too Fast

We’ve all dated someone who, after a few dates, is already picking out baby names; they’re in such a rush to get to the end game (marriage) that they skip over asking the important questions that they really need answers for to know how to make relationships work.

Dalton Conley’s discusses this in his book, “Elsewhere, USA.” He explores how, over the last decade, our lives have converged to the point where we play the roles of boss, parent, and client 24/7.

While I’m part of this culture, it bothers me because I know this type of overextension ultimately leads a business to failure. We’ve all gotten so crazed that we’ve stopped taking the time to ask more questions; we aren’t listening as hard as we’re working.

How often has an agency gotten an RFP with a tight deadline from a client who has no time to answer questions? We’ve all seen RFPs that didn’t include basics like a keyword list, technical information, or even disclosure that the site was about to be redesigned.

Clients who want the best possible responses have to slow down and make themselves available so that agencies can get questions answered. The more questions answered, the better the proposal and strategy will be.

This is also a two-way street, however. Agencies need to push back by saying they can’t respond until they have questions answered. Instead, the common response to a client’s silence is to try and find a way to make do with what is available. At times, this leads to a strategy that isn’t on target and can’t be executed because of variables that were assumed.

Last year, our agency lost an RFP mainly because we continued to push back on needing to know more about a client’s change management and CMS. The client was too busy to answer, which left us unable to create a detailed strategy.

I heard from this client later and he was unhappy because, unsurprisingly, things weren’t working out. When I probed further, the client disclosed that the agency’s strategy required significant changes to many product pages. The client lamented that their change management process is very difficult, and that the recommendations are stuck in a four-month queue.

Had the agency known this before crafting a strategy — or to return to our bachelor metaphor, during the dating process — they would have started with changes around link development and videos. Those are the two areas of opportunity that didn’t require major IT interaction. If there were a few more dates before the wedding, this unhappy marriage might have been avoided.

You Just Don’t Know Me

You know that couple where the guy still complains that he has to go see “He’s Just Not That Into You” and watch Lifetime while she complains that they can’t go out on Saturday night because he has his fantasy football draft? At some point, you want to shake these people from their rut because they just don’t know enough about each other and aren’t asking the right questions to learn and adjust.

Being constantly crazed also creates other conundrums — among them that we seem to have gotten away from vertical subject-matter experts (SMEs). There was a time when agencies prided themselves on being having retail or healthcare experts. Now, we think it limits career path or pigeonholes us.

Agencies need to make sure that they have enough SMEs to talk the language of their clients while still balancing client diversification. Clients get frustrated when they have to teach every new agency person on their account what their regulations are. But not doing this leads to wasted time, as agencies make recommendations that a client is unable to execute, due to their industry.

If an agency is working with a client in a regulated industry, they can’t get frustrated when the client takes too long to implement. They also can’t go to them with strategies that their industry can’t support and then claim they didn’t realize this. Each client wants it to be about them and agencies need to try to fulfill that as best as they can.

Agencies may not have time to have dedicated teams for each vertical, but certainly could do better at understanding the basic dos and don’ts. Your SEMs should be working across the agency to help explain to others on the team what you can and can’t do.

It’s All About Me

Many of us have been trapped on a date with someone who could do nothing more than talk about themselves — and if they ask you anything it’s what you think about how they look. How many times have you sat in a presentation where the vendor is talking all about what is so great about them: “We have these great capabilities. We have great technology. We have great clients.”

That’s nice, but they should be there to talk about you and your needs. While agencies are there to explain why they’re the best partner to work with, they should be framing everything as to why that matters to the potential client: “How can our technology help you sell more widgets? Does our having 10 offices across the U.S. help you?”

Agencies are conditioned to do a presentation that helps establish credibility. However, they need to balance establishing credibility with explanation of why it will help the client.

When you take the necessary time to do it right, the dating process helps you find a partner to spend the rest of your life with. If you approach the agency selection process the same way, you can avoid many of the pitfalls that are out there and avoid a dead end relationship.

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