In an Industry Void of Promises, How Do You Guarantee Value?


mborgelt

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I was on the phone with a new white-label partner and they said something along the lines of "I know there aren't any promises in SEO but what can I tell my client to expect as an outcome?" I thought this was a great question to a problem a lot of agencies have in regards to selling and service. So my question to the community is: What will your clients leave with at a minimum?
 
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For my two cents at least, there's two main principles that seem to be working very well for me in my own business. I don't need a ton of clients though, and I'm building a personal brand, so once you're working with sales people the equation might be very different.

But for me at least, the two things that seem to matter, are finding the right kinds of business owners, and starting with education. Find business owners that understand the difference between an expense and an investment, owners that have clear goals for their business and are ready to put in the work to make it happen, and owners that are ready and willing to invest the time needed to follow your directives (gathering reviews, working with you where necessary for backlink building, making themselves available for citation phone verification when necessary, taking accurate records about new clients and how they found the business and sharing it with you, etc.)

Once you know those owners, the easiest thing to do is just to share the power of what this stuff can do for their business. Give them knowledge they can use to make an informed decision, and (ultimately) the right clients will realize they'd rather bring in a trustworthy, knowledgeable expert to take the reigns in that area of the business. Even a single webinar can easily accomplish all that if you fill the seats with the right people. A salesman could help, but I feel like even for a bigger company, you're much better off using salesmen to sign up hot leads at the end of your funnel, or for filling seats at the beginning of your funnel, than you are having a salesman try and find and convert cold leads all on their own. Otherwise you're relying on promises, I'd much rather have a business owner just grateful they found someone they know is competent and that has their best interests in mind.

I do believe it's important to be results minded, and to make sure you're being paid from a percentage of new revenue (in the long run) but I'd much rather be guiding that conversation, instead of making direct promises. I'd rather have a conversation around what their goals are for their own business, how many new clients they're looking for, what their ideal clients look like, and then stay involved with them and make that a mutual goal you work towards together. Providing ranking reports in my experience at least hasn't impressed very many clients so far, I still include a bit of lip service there, but I haven't met any small business owners that actually care about it if that's what you focus on, and worse, if that's where you focus, you're much more likely to end up with clients upset that you aren't in one particular 3-pack they've decided is important, regardless of how big of a difference you've made in their bottom line.

To really answer your question though... after talking with a few business owners in your niche, you'll get a sense for how they measure success. For wedding photographers, it's about how many bookings they're getting per season, and how much they can charge per booking while still getting new clients. I wouldn't promise them specific numbers when signing up, but I do work hard to actually reach those numbers, because those are the kinds of stories I love using as testimonials. Working with clients to track and organize those statistics doesn't just make it easy to keep them as a client, it also makes it easier to find new people next time.
 
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mborgelt

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Great points. I agree that value is best identified on a personal level and as long as clients see you working and making progress toward their KPIs things move along swimmingly. I would say that with my agency clients can rest assured that they are setup for the future of search-based marketing and will at the very least have a great online marketing cornerstone that they can build on for the future.
 
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I think James makes some great points, especially about goal setting. At the end of the day the only thing that really matters is how many customers a website can bring in, so at a minimum I would say the client can expect to have the road-map how to improve their website's ability to convert. Like James said, if you have the right client then you'll be able to teach them how to promote their business properly, build a brand, and understand some of the basics around website conversions.

You can be the main strategist behind the campaigns, but you still need the face of the business to help execute. You need to teach the owner how to apply fundamental marketing techniques to their day to day to not only bring in new customers, but keep them coming back.

At this point if you're just selling SEO and not a digital marketing partnership, you're doing it wrong.
 

JoyHawkins

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I get this question all the time. I often tell people that hiring an SEO company is like hiring a lawyer. No lawyer can promise they will win your case. They can predict outcomes based on previous cases and they you can rest peacefully by hiring the best lawyer you know based on their track record and knowledge of the law. Same with SEO. People who hire me generally know about me because they've read things I've written or posts I've made and are confident that I know what I'm talking about. I find these types of customers are way better than random ones that have never heard of me because the trust is already there.

I generally will provide a prediction based on their situation on how long I think it will take to rank but I'm always very clear that this is just an estimate and anything could change the outcome since Google changes their algorithm constantly. I always avoid overpromising. Never a good idea.
 

mborgelt

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I really like the analogy, Joy. I think the sooner you can establish trust the more likely the relationship will be. To Eric's point, you have to show the client that you care about them specifically so from there it means solving a lot of their problems which, spoiler alert, might not be considered "SEO."
 

Blake Denman

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We started incorporating a "consultant's promise" to our contracts earlier this year. Before I send and agreement, I qualify the potential client and get everything that I need. Once we agree on pricing, we both come up with a KPI (example is a 40% increase in lead volume by the end of the agreement) that we agree on. If we don't hit our KPI by the end of the agreement, we work for free until we do. There is a contingency that if they don't get us information we need to execute services then the promise isn't in effect. Client's seem to like it.
 

mborgelt

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That's a great idea, Blake! It seems like it would help retention, acquisition and client relationships.
 

JoyHawkins

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Have you guys ever been stuck working for free for many months as a result?
 

Blake Denman

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Have you guys ever been stuck working for free for many months as a result?
Hey Joy,

We have yet to work for free since implementing this. It's important to note that there are only 3 people at my agency, so we aren't growing at a staggering pace. I like slow and consistent growth so I'm picky with who we decide to work with.
 

Blake Denman

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That's a great idea, Blake! It seems like it would help retention, acquisition and client relationships.
It really does help. It shows that we have skin in the game too. We thought about a money back guarantee, but opted for this instead. I don't want to bring on clients that are in this strictly to try and get their money back at the end of the agreement.
 

katandmouse

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Like @Mborgelt, I tell them "they will at the very least have a great online marketing cornerstone that they can build on for the future." What's working for me now is to break my SEO projects in two with the first being the somewhat encapsulated Local SEO and the second being organic SEO. By encapsulated I mean there is a standard lists of items we need to complete such as website optimization, citation building, and review gathering. It can fit in a box. I tell them that is the foundation, the cornerstone upon which everything else must be built. It's something you can measure and quantify so it's an easy pill to swallow. After that is complete and enough time has passed to know how that plays out, then I make a recommendation for the more difficult, time consuming, and open ended organic SEO. By that time, I've earned their trust and usually better rank and more customers, so when I say in this phase we may not see results for a few months, they trust me. I also do it that way because I don't like selling something they may not really need, so I feel like this is best for them, maybe not so much for me, but I sleep well at night.

I like Blake's method but I'd be afraid of over promising and then working for free. So Blake, I'm wondering if you have a method for figuring out what a fair result would be? I would think that is hard because every market and location is different, some more competitive than others, and some with less demand. However, I think if you make promises like that, you would be in a position to ask and get more than the rest of us are doing, so it definitely could work.
 

mborgelt

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That's a great perspective on earning trust. Giving a client a tangible outcomes is a huge win but hard to do in some of our work. I like that you are using things you are already doing to show results as opposed to having to come up with a discrete solution. Meeting clients where they are in terms of needs makes things a little harder sometimes but working on the pain points really helps establish a great relationship.

Kathy, do clients ever start to waver or get wary when you start the more open-ended work?
 
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Kind of on the same discussion path, but what have you found to be the best way to establish performance KPI's with a new client? I always like solid goals to hit, but still kind of all over the place when it comes to properly forecasting and setting definite numbers.
 

Blake Denman

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I like Blake's method but I'd be afraid of over promising and then working for free. So Blake, I'm wondering if you have a method for figuring out what a fair result would be? I would think that is hard because every market and location is different, some more competitive than others, and some with less demand. However, I think if you make promises like that, you would be in a position to ask and get more than the rest of us are doing, so it definitely could work.
I spend a lot of time looking at the potential client's site, citations, links, etc. I'll spend some time looking at the competition as well.

Every industry and area are different, but if at the end of say a 6 month agreement the fee they pay isn't at least paying for itself then that's a failure on our part.

I find out how many new leads it would take to get a customer. If I'm charging $2000/mo and the client's gross revenue per new customer is $6000 then the math becomes pretty easy. Once you lay out the numbers to them it becomes apparent that the monthly fee doesn't look so high.
 

mborgelt

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Kind of on the same discussion path, but what have you found to be the best way to establish performance KPI's with a new client? I always like solid goals to hit, but still kind of all over the place when it comes to properly forecasting and setting definite numbers.
I like using traffic growth and conversion growth. It's simple to quantify for the client and if you are decent at analysis you can set the bar high enough without over-promising. Of course this isn't always the client's goal or biggest area of opportunity but that is usually the case for most clients that we take on. I'm curious to see what other KPIs people are using.
 

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