Over eight years as an account manager, I pitched hundreds of budget recommendations. During that time, I discovered which strategies turned reticent clients into top spenders and which scared clients away.
As an analyst working for a digital advertising agency, one of the most nerve-racking parts of my job was pitching budget increases to clients. No matter the amount I was asking for, no matter the length or quality of my relationship with the client, I was reduced to a ball of nerves. Every. Damn. Time.
I went into each pitch prepared with data to back up why the client needed to increase their advertising budget. I was driving high-quality results I knew I could scale with additional spend. So why was each pitch a fresh new hell?
I couldn’t predict the outcome of a budget conversation. I was unsure of whether I’d leave a conversation with a big win for my department or getting yelled at by my client for two hours (true story).
Over eight years as an account manager, I pitched hundreds of budget recommendations to various levels of success. During that time, I discovered which strategies turned reticent clients into top spenders and which techniques scared clients away.
Nailing a Budget Recommendation
- Bring Data - Providing data that supports your budget recommendation is essential if you want to attain an increase. At the minimum, you should have historical performance and growth metrics for your client and their industry as well as estimated metrics you’ll achieve with the new spend. If you’re recommending new channels, networks, or beta tests that require more investment, industry statistics are great to get client buy-in.
- Play to Your Client’s Motivations - Is your client an early adopter? Uber competitive? The wait-and-see type? Understanding your client’s motivations will help you understand when and how to sell a budget recommendation.
- Early adopters = Often enticed to increase spend so they can be the first to try a new beta feature.
- Uber Competitive = These clients respond to metrics such as impression share or seeing a competitor's domination of the SERP.
- Wait-and-See = Respond best to verified, established industry statistics and case studies that support expanding their strategy.
- Reduce Risk - If your client is hesitant to agree to a budget recommendation there is one major way to reduce risk. See if the advertising platforms are offering any offers/coupons. Certain ad platforms offer marketing dollars to new advertisers (if they commit to a certain level of spend), or match marketing spend up to a certain amount. This helps convince clients to grow their budgets because it’s not 100% of their financial responsibility.
- Set a Cadence - Having a cadence for providing new budget recommendations and reviewing past budget-related performance changes helps drive client action. If a client knows they’ll receive budget recommendations quarterly, they’ll be much more open than if you spring one on them randomly once a year. Similarly, if they get to see how past budget increases benefited their business at the same time, they’re more open to approving the budget to at or near the amount you’ve recommended.
- Speak Up - As an account manager, it’s your job to have your client’s best interest at heart with every optimization and budget recommendation you make. Don’t hesitate to let a client know when their budget doesn’t support their goals or if there is a new product/feature you think would benefit their business. Conversely, if you feel that the current budget is being wasted, let them know how you’re going to reduce or reallocate their spend while maintaining or improving results.
- Be Transparent - Your clients are the owners of their advertising accounts. Provide them with access and reporting that shows them where their advertising dollars are going. Clients who don’t feel left in the dark are much more likely to engage with you on long-term strategy and budget development, rather than fighting you every step of the way. Plus, for most advertising platforms, transparent reporting is a must (not a nice to have).
- Know the Holistic Budget Picture - As a digital advertiser, you manage one part of your client’s marketing stack. Likely, there is a limited budget to go around. You may be able to justify recommending a $50,000 PPC budget. But, if the client’s entire marketing budget is $75,000 that they allocate to SEO, content marketing, TV, and radio, your request is likely to get denied no matter how good your pitch. Use as much information as a client will share about their marketing stack to recommend a digital advertising strategy that complements their overall marketing strategy without overwhelming it.
Failing a Budget Recommendation
- Ignore the Client - You bring digital advertising expertise to the relationship while your client (should) bring a wealth of knowledge about their industry. Discuss your client’s industry, goals, etc. as much as time will allow, and take their recommendations to heart even if you’re not sure that what they’re recommending will translate to PPC campaigns. If you ignore your client's suggestions (or worse yet, their limitations), they’ll be less open to your suggestion that they change their budget.
- Go All or Nothing - You’ve spent hours assembling a budget recommendation and presentation so flawless your client would be a fool not to implement everything. Instead, you get about 50% of what you wanted. Why? Getting a budget recommendation approved won't be all or nothing (especially if you’re asking for a 20 to 50% increase or more). Be willing to adapt your strategy based on what the client can allocate. When you knock performance out of the park, they’ll be more accepting of bigger budget recommendations in the future.
- Acquiesce to Unreasonable Client Expectations - Conversely, if your clients are asking for massive results on a minuscule budget, say so! It’s your job to set expectations as to what is and isn’t reasonable. Hold firm. Clients can (and will) ask you to stretch the budget to achieve great results. You could take shortcuts to achieve their request. But if acquiescing to their unreasonable demands are going to harm their marketing efforts, let them know. Then get their written buy off if they still make you proceed. If their results tank, it’s documented that they knew what might happen!
- Compromise Fees to get More Budget - It may be tempting to lower your fees as a trade-off to get more advertising dollars from your client. This is especially true if they’re a decent-sized enterprise with the potential to grow. Don’t. If a client doesn’t value your time at the pre-set rate they can use another vendor. But if you compromise your rates, chances are the client will ask you to compromise on other areas of your business relationship.
- Assume Everyone is "In The Know" - You likely work with one or two of your client’s marketing contacts on regular tasks and communication. When it comes time to pitch a budget recommendation often upper-level managers or even c-levels may be included for their approval. Ensure your pitch concisely outlines your current strategy and results, and provide enough information (without going overboard) to sell your budget recommendation to all the people in the room.
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