Usually SEM starts in-house as a very viable tool to meet the company’s objective. The issue arises when the SEM team (usually consists of one person) outgrows the campaign and plateaus. If your in-house technology capabilities don’t allow you to build automation tools to help you manage and improve the campaign, it is inevitable, if you want to continue to grow, that you will need a 3rd party tool or service.
Letting an outsider into your account is a very sensitive thing to do, it requires very careful consideration and it is important to take your time with the due diligence – your company depends on it. Going into it, look for a vendor that can be a true partner where the goal is to establish a win-win relationship.
Preparing to choose a third-party provider
Before looking for a 3rd party tool and/or provider, make a list of what your needs are going into the search. At minimum this list should consist of features and benefits broken into must-haves and like-to-haves, and most importantly the end goal you are trying to achieve. This is extremely helpful when you get on the sales calls and you get a lot of bells and whistles thrown at you – using your original list you can check off which criteria the 3rd party meets, stay true to your basic needs, and you can add a comments section of “extra features” (that you can use as a tie breaker).
Browse the web for reputable service providers by listening to webinars, downloading white papers and case studies to understand who the players in the field are, and where their expertise lie; if possible ask business partners for referrals, but make sure to measure them as objectively as the others.
Interviews / Sales Calls
Remember that this is an interview exercise in which you are evaluating whether to hire the people on the other end of the line. Do not be shy to ask the hard questions and pay attention to the finest details. Also communicate all your expectations to the team and understand how they intend to meet or exceed them. Have one sheet for each vendor that lists the criteria that are important to you (from the previous section) and take notes on how each one meets your needs.
Some factors to evaluate include but are not limited to:
- Technical capabilities – does the company provide a technological solution that would not only support your campaigns, but take it to the next level?
- Human factor – do you click well with the team, and feel that you would be getting the level of support that you need? Do they sound like leading experts in their field?
- Aligned Goals – do they “get” your business model and understand what you are trying to achieve? Do they provide further insight into future opportunities?
- Implementation Timeline and execution – Exactly how will implementation take place? What will be the resource requirement from your own tech team? What is the timeline for full implementation? When can you expect results? Is there a backup plan / low risk option / 30-60-90 days-out clause? What are the expected success factors in this time period? Set the expectations of the level of engagement you will want to see during this test, and after.
- Fees – learn about the different pricing options and which works for you: flat fee, % of spend, % of profit, CPA deal etc. Will the vendor take any risk onto them?
Once you interview the service providers, objectively compare your sheets about each provider against your criteria and finally choose a “winner”. Upon selection, make sure to work with the vendor to establish clear milestones with hard numbers to objectively evaluate the test – it is important that these goals are realistic and take into account projected seasonality (if applicable).
In part 2 of this post, I’ll take a look at the keys to implementing an engagement with a new SEM agency or technology solution. In the meantime, please leave a comment and let me know what tips you have found to be most helpful in choosing the right partner.