Breaking Up With Clients

This week Matt Umbro (@Matt_Umbro) let Julie Bacchini (@NeptuneMoon) take over with an intriguing question set titled “Breaking Up Wtih Clients.” The following is the transcribed Streamcap from the live chat:

Q1: Have you ever had to break up with (fire) a client?

  • I’ve never been in a position to do so, but have recommended it to those who are. – Michael Fleming (@SEMFlem)
  • Yes, I have had to end a client relationship. – Julie Bacchini
  • Yes, they didn’t see our value/PPC couldn’t help them because their product/service was bad. – Mike Crimmins (@mikecrimmins)
  • Couple times. It has to work for both ends. – Joe Martinez (@MilwaukeePPC)
  • Of course. If you’ve never sacked a client, you are a masochist. – Steve Gibson (@stevegibsonppc)
  • Sort of. We pulled out before we got properly started as an alarming number of red flags were raised in our general comms. – Colleen McCaskell (@SpitfirePPC)
  • Personally, I haven’t had to yet. Hope I don’t ever have to either. – Michelle Morgan (@michellemsem)
  • Yes, we’ve also parted ways with clients. Bad fits usually don’t last long, but good client fits go the distance. – Glenn Schmelzle (@heyglenns)
  • Yes, a few times. Worth it in a few cases. – Alberto Merola (@AlbertoMerola)

Q2: What were the circumstances that lead to the point of break up?

  • Their requirements were changing. I wasn’t a good fit any more. – Richard Fergie (@RichardFergie)
  • Continuously demanding more time for less money, I think is a big one. – Michael Fleming
  • Unrealistic expectations from them. I addressed all of it up front, they agreed, but just couldn’t stay in reality ultimately. – Susan Wenograd (@SusanEDub)
  • One example was client not replying promptly to communications (for me “promptly” can be within a week, I don’t live online.) – Steve Gibson
  • Mainly boils down to demands on time that didn’t correlate with the TOS and what they were paying. – Colleen McCaskell
  • Different reasons, but increased workload w/ no increase in compensation & personnel changes that just did not work. – Julie Bacchini
  • They had crappy websites. We needed LPs or CRO updates to go to they next level. They refused for a year. Goodbye! – Joe Martinez
  • Slow payers – a couple of those were sacked. You should pay your marketers, folks. They’re gold. – Steve Gibson
  • Lack of understanding despite bending over backwards to work with them & explain. – Timothy Jensen (@timothyjjensen)
  • Continued use of resources for the amount of money they gave us was not worth it. – Alberto Merola
  • I haven’t had to personally, but have been a part of the agency-lead breakups. Late payments, changing goals, literal yelling a lot. – Nate Knox (@nateknox)
    • I love when people get emotional over business. So silly. – Susan Wenograd
    • In previous job, was yelled at over the phone by client who saw an ad from (just barely) outside geo radius. – Timothy Jensen
  • Poor website and no intention to fix it. Blamed us for poor conversion rate. – Melissa Mackey (@Mel66)
  • Definitely have some themes emerging – increase in desired work for no additional $$ seems to be a biggie. – Julie Bacchini
  • Slipping into perpetual state of emergency due to lack of communication / foresight / planning resulting in poor use of time. – Peter Thistle (@PeterThistle)
  • Non payment of fees, swearing down the phone at me and the client being struck off by his industry body. Can’t remember order. – James Hume (@zerospin)

Q3: How, specifically, did you handle the situation (ending things)?

  • Try to reconcile if at all possible. If performance concerns, show & explain DATA. If payment issues, make those clear. – Timothy Jensen
  • I didn’t! That’s why we have account managers. – Colleen McCaskell
  • If beyond saving, have let contract expire and also have terminated early. – Julie Bacchini
  • Being in the Midwest, we mostly just let contracts expire and then tell them we’re refusing to re-sign. – Nate Knox
  • I didn’t have to physically end the relationship. I was just part of the reasoning behind why we should. – J. Prentice Parton (@tracknicholson)
  • If a client treats others badly (other vendors, staff, etc.) sooner or later it WILL be pointed in your direction. – Julie Bacchini
  • Really helps the break up process if boundaries were clearly set up front. – Michael Fleming
    • Absolutely. This is where contracts protect both parties and set clear processes for termination. – Julie Bacchini
  • We explain in the beginning we’ll need their help in some cases. If it truly isn’t a 2-side relationship then it needs to end. – Joe Martinez
  • Cite the irreconcilable differences: “you need X and that’s not something we offer at this time.” – Amy Hebdon (@amyppc)
  • Explained with numbers. If you boil it down, it doesn’t risk to become personal. – Alberto Merola
  • I’m not at all beyond sending them to someone that CAN provide what they are looking for if I can’t, as well. – J. Prentice Parton

Q4: Is there anything you would do differently next time?

  • We’re becoming much more specific about who we work for. Making sure there business can succeed and is ready for advertising. – Mike Crimmins (@mikecrimmins)
  • I always think I/we could do a better job of setting expectations upfront. – Davis Baker (@davisbaker)
  • Crystal clear expectation setting and TOS, followed by regular communication for expectation reminders. Always have a series of discovery meetings BEFORE signing anything. This helps vet things/personalities on both sides. – Nate Knox
  • Build CRO into the SOW. – Melissa Mackey
  • Do a better job in screening clients. Not just taking on any client with a big budget. – Orlando Valencia (@ValenciaSEM)
  • Can’t stress enough the importance of clearly defined goals and SOW before signing new clients. No matter how exciting they are. – J. Prentice Parton
  • Establish different levels of service packages for various budgets. You get what you pay for. – Colleen McCaskell
  • Do it earlier. I hung on for far too long. – Richard Fergie
  • I’d think referring them to someone else wouldn’t be good in most cases, except if you simply couldn’t provide what they needed. – Michael Fleming
  • I like basecamp to show clients my to-dos. Also gives me the ability to assign tasks to clients so they know what’s on them. – Joe Martinez
    • Assigning tasks to clients is a great way to involve them, communicate and set expectations. Smart. – Nate Knox
    • Yeah, managing tasklists on both sides is mission critical! – Colleen McCaskell
  • There’s always something I would do different next time. So much of it is about scope and expectations set at beginning. – Amy Hebdon
  • Learn what the red flags are for the future. – Michael Fleming
  • Outline & document clearly the items you need from the client for success. Keep communication lines open. – Timothy Jensen
  • Hindsight is often 20/20 vision but randomness comes iwith search landscape, business envt, client POCs/orgs throw curveballs. – Lisa Sanner (@LisaSanner)
  • That’s tough. Better expectation setting? In my exp. it’s been about client not understanding time/cost. – Alberto Merola

Q5: Did the situation change the way you do things now in any way?

  • I’m much more likely to hold boundaries in place than I used to be. I’ve seen how it can snowball if you don’t. – Michael Fleming
  • So many learnings! Make SOWs super detailed and clear, set expectations from the start, incorporate CRO. – Melissa Mackey
  • I’m now more aware of unrealistic elements in a client consultation. Not afraid to tell someone its not the right strategy. – J. Prentice Parton
  • Not yet. Still thinking the implications through. – Richard Fergie
  • I’d rather scare them away with detailed expectations when pitching than deal with the issues in the future. – Joe Martinez
  • Nope, & IMO it shouldn’t. Continue to be clear about your work, the good 1s will stay and grow. – Alberto Merola
  • Most learning situations change or should change the way you do things. Optimization of *Client* Mgmt Skills is impt. too. – Lisa Sanner
  • Grew me in (1) identifying potentially difficult clients/industries to pre-filter, (2) becoming more direct in communication. – Kirk Williams
  • My contracts are living documents & clauses or exclusions are added as needed to make terms & scope as clear as possible. I should clarify – not living once signed, but they evolve for the next project from things I learn. – Julie Bacchini
  • Yes. Now, if someone hires me to do PPC, they first have to read my book, and take a test. (Joking about that 2nd part). – Steve Gibson
  • We have account execs that deal with the relationship, firing, etc. But they’re not search experts. That’s where I come in. – Melissa Mackey
  • Because it means they’re far more qualified and want PPC done my way, rather than just PPC management. – Steve Gibson
  • Also, leaving emotion and excitement ‘out of scope’. It’s easy when new in the industry to get excited about big clients. – J. Prentice Parton
  • I bring up fees and money sooner in talks with clients. Make sure they know my POV on it. – Duane Brown (@duanebrown)
    • Great point. Talking about money & not apologizing for it is so key to keeping the equilibrium. – Julie Bacchini
  • Have a process for scope changes & include it in your contract docs. – Julie Bacchini
  • It’s a balancing act between sticking to the TOS / contract and the AMs who want to lavish time upon clients and retain them. – Colleen McCaskell
  • Side Q: I’m curious, do you or do you not talk about hours with clients at the beginning? – Michael Fleming
    • We’re moving away from hours. We’re worth more than just our time. – Mike Crimmins
    • Do you mean total fees for work scope requested? – Julie Bacchini
      • More like “here’s my fees and this is the amount of hours you can expect those fees to translate to monthly.” – Michael Fleming
        • I prefer to define the scope of work to be done at a set price for the scope. – Julie Bacchini
    • Not often. We feel it sets the wrong expectations. Not unless it’s an Hourly billing client. – James Svoboda (@Realicity)

Q6: Have you saved a relationship on the brink? How?

  • Sure. Sometimes, it’s as simple as managing the relationship with the new exec. on the client side, or shifting strategy a bit. – J. Prentice Parton
  • Yes! It involved busting my ass to establish new targets / reporting structure with a new stakeholder with different priorities. – Colleen McCaskell
  • Yes, communicated clearly about concerns. No more tiptoeing around. Got on same page with expectations & things are going great. – Kirk Williams (@PPCKirk)
    • Sign of maturity to get honest and direct about concerns. Wouldn’t have been able to do it 3 yrs ago, but can now. – Glenn Schmelzle
  • Some version of the “what is really going on?” conversation. Dig to find out & decide if workable/manageable. – Julie Bacchini
  • Yes. Sound data based on results with a “we’re in this together” approach. – James Svoboda
  • Yes, direct in person discussions, reset expectations – what they need/what you need, revised contracts/fees, account teams, – Lisa Sanner
    • IN PERSON is so huge. So much valuable info is lost on video conf, phone or definitely email! – Julie Bacchini
  • Tried but no go. We couldn’t do more for the budget, they didn’t want to spend. – Alberto Merola

Q7: Are there warning signs about a client relationship falling apart that you recognize now?

  • Emails ignored. Calls missed or not returned. Radio silence is almost never a good thing. – Melissa Mackey
    • Nailed it. Radio silence is the first indicator. And sometimes, they’re brave enough just to ask for access to “get a better understanding.” – J. Prentice Parton
  • Everything from sudden long delays on contacts to unrealistic expectations popping up. – Mike Crimmins
  • "All 100 leads you’ve gotten us so far are crappy.” – Michael Fleming
  • Their check bounces. – Steve Hammer (@armondhammer)
  • When standard points of communication dwindle. No response in emails. Be proactive in reaching out. – Joe Martinez
  • Cleint returns fewer calls/emails and in a less timely manner. Doesn’t respond to requests for input/deliverables timely either. – James Svoboda
  • Oh yes… when they start talking about how other places do/include x,y,z for same budget. – Alberto Merola
  • (After 2 hour call the previous day) – “You mind jumping on the phone to talk about where we’re at. – Michael Fleming
  • For us, it’s the ABSENCE of questions. If they aren’t actively asking about what’s happening, they’re already at risk. – Glenn Schmelzle
  • They want to know EVERYTHING or they want to know NOTHING. Both equally bad! – Colleen McCaskell
  • Sometimes over-engagement & micromanaging, w/ask of do an Architecture & “Teach Us.” Other times, disengagement & radio silence. – Lisa Sanner
  • I find a sudden shift in communication, whether radio silence as Melissa said, OR an over-abundance of trust-laden questions. – Kirk Williams
  • When they suddenly ask about some made up concept. Like hyperlocal big data retargeting in search. – Steve Hammer
  • Adding users to their AdWords account and when they start sending over WordStream and PPC Hero articles. – Davis Baker
  • Suddenly bringing up ‘new’ pertinent questions – when actually I brought them up earlier and got zero interest. – Peter Thistle

Q8: What is your best advice if you feel a client relationship fracturing?

  • Think about it and make a decision about whether to try and repair it or not. My default it to just keep going which is bad. – Richard Fergie
  • Work on the relationship by asking about their needs and expectations. Get back on the same or new page if possible. – James Svoboda
  • Decide if it’s a client worth keeping or not. If it’s worth it, what can we do to improve the relationship. – Mike Crimmins
  • Is it salvageable? Sometimes it’s just not worth it, so better to have the “we’re not a good fit” talk sooner v. later. – Susan Wenograd
  • What Lisa Sanner said – face to face meeting – get off email/phone and have real personal interaction. – Michael Fleming
  • You first have to determine if it’s worth saving (factoring in profitability and potential aggro). – Colleen McCaskell
  • Don’t jump to conclusions, be transparent, and utilize data points to tell your story If it’s good, its good. If not, then..If you’re not showing good data, their concerns are valid. If you are showing good data, it’s “someone else”. – J. Prentice Parton
  • If you want to save, be direct. Also remember sometimes radio silence has nothing to do with you, so don’t assume, ask. – Julie Bacchini
  • Always be open w/client, but look at your bottom line. Will it cost more $ keep them than their worth? – Alberto Merola
  • Talk to client about their needs & pain points rather than your results. Make sure your efforts align directly w/ their needs. – Amy Hebdon
  • Be open and honest from day 1. Set clear expectations. Check in frequently. Talk about the relationship. – Melissa Mackey
  • Bad Clients are like Bad Friends. Sure you want to keep them around, but in the end you know you shouldn’t. – Andrew Bethel (@AndrewPPC)
  • Listen to your instincts. If something feels wrong/bad/off it probably is. Be deliberate in what you do about that. – Julie Bacchini
  • Don’t let ‘the honeymoon phase’ w/ a large client muddle your scope, and set the wrong expectations. Do good work. – J. Prentice Parton
  • Exit with honor, take care of them until they find an alternate solution, which will probably be quicker than you think! – Peter Thistle

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More PPCChats

Don’t forget to stay tuned for the next #PPCchat on Tuesday at 12 noon Eastern, 9 am Pacific and 5pm in the UK. Same Chat time, same Chat channel.


Check out the PPCChat Twitter list to see and connect with all current and prior participants.

• Matt Umbro (@Matt_Umbro)
• James Svoboda (@Realicity)
• Paul Kragthorpe (@PaulKragthorpe)
• Alberto Merola (@AlbertoMerola)
• Amy Hebdon (@amyppc)
• Andrew Bethel (@AndrewPPC)
• Colleen McCaskell (@SpitfirePPC)
• Davis Baker (@davisbaker)
• Glenn Schmelzle (@heyglenns)
• J. Prentice Parton (@tracknicholson)
• James Hume (@zerospin)
• Joe Martinez (@MilwaukeePPC)
• Julie Bacchini (@NeptuneMoon)
• Kirk Williams (@PPCKirk)
• Lisa Sanner (@LisaSanner)
• Melissa Mackey (@Mel66)
• Michael Fleming (@SEMFlem)
• Michelle Morgan (@michellemsem)
• Mike Crimmins (@mikecrimmins)
• Nate Knox (@nateknox)
• Orlando Valencia (@ValenciaSEM)
• Peter Thistle (@PeterThistle)
• Richard Fergie (@RichardFergie)
• Steve Gibson (@stevegibsonppc)
• Steve Hammer (@armondhammer)
• Susan Wenograd (@SusanEDub)
• Timothy Jensen (@timothyjjensen)

Notbody Puts Streamcaps in the Corner

This is a guest post by Paul Kragthorpe; works at WebRanking in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Connect with Paul @PaulKragthorpe, and Google Plus.

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One Response to Breaking Up With Clients

  1. […] the #ppcchat crew had a fascinating conversation about this very subject (check out the stream cap here). At WordStream HQ, we’ve been working hard to develop a better sense of our clients’ […]

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