It’s been just over three years since Andy Rooney died. For a time, there may have been a shortage of curmudgeonly commentary on our planet. Luckily, I’m here to pick up the slack. Or if you like, pretend Andy has come back to life, channeling Eminem: “This looks like a job for me… cuz we need a little grumpy old man, and it feels so empty without me.” La la la la.
As a consumer, are you as annoyed as I am by all the pesky hoops you have to jump through just to make a purchase? In my mind, the hapless shoe salespeople at the Geox store should be high-fiving and when a man of few needs such as myself decides he needs yet one more pair of shoes. Shoes specifically tailored to January. In a city that spreads salt on sidewalks like the Colonel batters chicken.
To buy those marked-down brown sneakers no one else wanted, I endure a five-minute lecture on the virtues of the bottles of the organic, edible shoe spray. The bottles I already have a drawerful of, and never use. For the hundredth time, no! Can’t we just go about our business? This has cost me enough time by now, I’ll have to reschedule pants-trying-on to some other day.
Sadly, in a B2B setting, we’re not immune to the same insane maze of inducements and distractions.
Move my cheese wherever you want: I’m off cheese.
Let’s start with a light example: business travel.
Booking a flight to Europe this week, I felt boxed in by my need to continually build up my reserves of status air miles. Doing so might lead to continued premium status, of course. At worst, this pursuit of points would allow me to book future travel, even pay for hotels, luggage, apparel, and – if I really wanted – an espresso machine.
The problem is that too many of us, vis-à-vis my airline of choice, are chasing these ridiculous perks, apparently completely forgetting to comparison-shop on flights.
For this flight, I liked neither the available flight options nor the price. With the help of William Shatner, I decided to do a little research.
I was pleasantly surprised. A top-tier airline – Delta – offered a price $500 cheaper than my airline. On top of that, they offered the coveted direct flight. Done deal.
Which brings me to the follies of those who come to us with perks to “thank” us for our business, instead of just improving the core aspects of our business relationships.
Google – to be precise, the part of Google responsible for agency relations – has taken to running contests and subsidizing small office parties for the lucky agencies who manage to land new clients during Google’s contest promotion periods.
Include 1,000 gum wrappers or hand-drawn facsimile. Void where prohibited by law.
Recently, we were offered the chance to score an espresso machine if we bring in “$33,277 in new client spend between January 1st and March 31st,” (bold in the original). Yes, that exact amount. I wish I was making it up.
Remember when you went door-to-door selling newspaper subscriptions for a guaranteed payday of $10, with the chance to “win a 10-speed bike”? (Oh. I do. I assume that this would violate today’s child labor laws.) This feels a little like that. And as anyone around here could tell you, I’m no kid anymore. We work for a range of serious clients, sometimes with total marketing and advertising budgets that would be staggering to a little kid, or even that kid’s parents. We have significant intrinsic motivation to see to each client’s needs.
For obvious reasons, we’re also motivated to look for and onboard new clients. But not in a hurried way. Every relationship needs to be treated with care. One of the clients we started up with in December had just come to us in late November. Another had been in talks with us for 18 months. In light of all that, for the sake of the #1 focus of our enterprise – the clients [http://www.thesempost.com/marketers-clients-vanity-plates/] – this extraneous hoop-jumping tomfoolery resulting in beverage-making paraphernalia is like a pesky, annoying buzzing in my ear. “No mosquitoes” is supposed to be one of the few advantages of the month of January – a crappy month where I have to buy special shoes just to slog around in salt.
Let’s sweat the big stuff, OK? Because our clients’ needs are, to us, the big stuff. And landing them is big enough stuff to us that we don’t rejig our marketing and sales efforts based on a potential influx of small appliances.
Reached at his Nashua, NH offices, and pestered for his insight into the matter, Find Me Faster President (and PPC curmudgeon-on-demand) Matt Van Wagner quipped: “This is better than saving S&H Green Stamps.”
Theories of human motivation, revisited
What does motivate people? Is the carrot-stick mindset suitable for an adult relationship with business partners, especially when the carrot is so low in calories?
For us, the handful of high-quality clients we landed in December and January seem to easily surpass the contest spend threshold. Not that this is important. What’s important is that we have new clients. At any agency, the value of this is self-evident. It offers clear validation, to say nothing of gainful employment.
If somehow this gamification of our formerly adult process did lead to a fiery new determination, what does Google suppose the top business developers at agencies would do with that motivation? Get angry like Ray Lewis before a playoff game? Shout louder into the phone before the end of a sales conversation? Wear a nicer shirt to the interview? Make some cold calls on weekends?
Will a $600 reward make me more likely to land a client this quarter?
Hardly. As the Original Unofficial Third-Party Google AdWords Evangelist™ since 2002, scarcely a day has gone by when I haven’t gushed to business owners about the advantages of this marketing channel. Of course, I also warn people that along this journey, danger lurks: cutthroat competition, difficult puzzles, Google-friendly pitfalls, and sometimes inscrutable foibles. As long as the channel is there in something resembling its current form, and as long as consultants and agencies continue to figure out how to add lasting value, our commitment is unlikely to waver.
Experts in the field of workplace motivation, according to author Daniel Pink, have found little evidence for the traditional “pecuniary incentives” models wrongly assumed by classical economic theory, anyway. According to Pink, most of us are motivated by self-actualization goals such as autonomy, mastery, and purpose. (Some folks, admittedly, are motivated by a curiously robotic “whatever Google tells us to do” trigger – for example, switching all the pages of a blog over to https because of some offhand comment a Googler once made.)
What do we really want? How about tablet bidding? (That, or $40,000).
Speaking of autonomy, let’s turn to substance: platform features many of us PPC experts have asked for repeatedly. Google has always provided great products and platform, despite the attitude sometimes leaving something to be desired. Their monopolist’s arrogance seems all too clear when it comes to money-losing channels or segments we can’t control. I’m speaking primarily, of course, about separate tablet bidding. Bidding separately on smartphones is a very important principle of PPC advertising today. I have clients bidding anywhere from +40% to -100% on smartphone traffic. While it’s true that tablets sometimes perform similarly to laptops and desktop computers, they quite often do not. On behalf of client ROI, optional tablet bidding is an example of an unmet request that would give us that sense of autonomy and mastery we crave.
But sure, if we’re talking about what pecuniary incentives get people’s motor running, let’s not be naïve. A cash commission or rewards structure in the 1% range – as sometimes seen by users of premium credit cards, for example – would probably get agencies’ attention.
Instead of $600 worth of kitchen hardware available to just about anyone with a pulse, an Office Ergonomics budget that would be provided to a select group of partners – naturally, the specter of back-saving chairs would just be deployed as a euphemism for a payoff in the range of $40,000 worth of fancy furniture and avant-garde design work – would get the attention of some more serious participants in the daily auction.
And I don’t mean a big easy chair emblazoned with the Google logo. I saw one of those in Yahoo purple in the lobby of one agency years ago. Ugly as sin. And quite frankly, it made me feel like the agency had sold out. No, this will have to be done subtly.
For those who already have nice offices, what about food? Friday lunch outings at the Google office of your choice, for the whole team, for a whole year – in a parallel dining venue called Reese’s Pieces Not Provided. Don’t scoff. When it comes to motivating quality people to close sales, it’s important to think outside the box.
Sticking with the culinary theme, Matt Van Wagner makes a more modest final request: “I am holding out for the wireless waffle iron that imprints yesterday’s CPC (or any other AdWords metric!) on your breakfast.”
If these suggestions seem fraught with complications, then let’s just focus back on what made Google a star in the first place: a great platform that I, for one, was happy to evangelize from the get-go, to anyone who would listen. Keep the change.
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