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Payment by results: a warning from the marketing trenches

Payment by results: a warning from the marketing trenches post image

Q: “If you’re so confident in your ability to drive sales will you work on a commission-only contract?”
A: “If we agree a sales commission of XX%, then yes.”

The opportunity

In the early summer of 2013 I uncovered an interesting opportunity: a commission-only contract to build an online brand and drive sales using social media. The property in question was making a late transition from a traditional hard-copy voucher-based publication to online. It was a classic inbound marketing challenge.

I weighed up the risk and reward. On the plus side the commission was very healthy, I liked the service concept, and I was excited by the challenge of proving my worth.

In the negative column there were problems with the website where design, messaging and usability were all poor. I was promised my input would include specifying the resolution of these issues.

Put in the work and they will come

All marketing consultants and agencies know that there is often a period of heavy lifting at the start of a project. My calculation was that, after a big initial investment of time and energy on my part, a good monthly revenue stream would develop over three to six months. With the goal of getting to revenue as fast as possible I went at it hammer-and-tongs.

Alongside the production of content and the grinding work of building an online presence where there was none, I made clear recommendations for changes to the client’s website. We needed:

  • Action-driven landing pages
  • A clearer customer journey
  • Less clutter and more space.

The developer worked in the States, wasn’t easy to get hold of, and I became increasingly worried at the lack of re-design progress.

Meanwhile my hard-won traffic to the site was converting at a pitiful rate and, worse still, I wasn’t making any money. I was reassured (again) about the design changes.

Referral traffic from social media activity

Referral traffic from social media activity

Finally, a single landing page was delivered for a specific promotion and — guess what — converted 800 new users in two weeks.

Decision time

Another month passed. Every day I checked referral traffic from my activity and resulting sales (trackable through cookies). Conversion rates broke my heart. My pleas for site changes become more frequent and impassioned.

After eight weeks I had delivered 13,000 unique hits to pages across the site (see graphic above). But after pouring so much energy into the project for such a low financial return it was crunch time for me. The project was seriously affecting my focus, draining my time. My other clients were suffering.

I opted out.

Looking back, my error of judgement is obvious, and I am still kicking myself. I was in charge of customer acquisition but had no control over conversion. With these two processes mis-aligned customers were bound to be disappointed (and my fat commission cheque would never materialise.)


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