There are many challenges involved in selling search marketing services, including the different types of prospects, how to thrive in a competitive marketplace, and whether you should hire a sales professional. Let's look in more detail at the actual sales process and whether you should use performance-based techniques.
Anatomy of a Sale
In search marketing the typical sale plan differs slightly from those in the conventional sales plan.
My sales plan involves the following steps:
- Communicate with the prospect and find out all about their business. This is critical to providing an intelligent proposal that speaks to their needs. What if the prospect won't tell me about their business and simply wants a proposal? I move on. You're going to present a solution to help them achieve their business goals and grow their business. If you don't know what that looks like, your proposal will look like everybody else's, reducing your chance of making a sale.
- Next, explain what you can offer to help the prospect's business. Ask what budget they have to work with. This will help you weed out any cold prospects. If the prospect is hot, analyze their site and write a proposal. Don't put too much detailed information in the analysis. You don't want someone else to do the work from your proposal. Rather, keep it abstract and high level.
- After following up, if they're still interested, there's a good chance you can convert them.
Converting the Sale
What does it take to convert the sale? Your proposal may be one of many and put in with a pile of others. The work you've done with the client in advance of the proposal is the most important factor in making yours stands out. If you've spent time with them and demonstrated you understand their business they're much more likely to take notice when your proposal arrives.
To stand out, make it obvious they're not buying a cookie-cutter package. You've designed a customized proposal for their business. So many proposals go out offering run-of-the-mill packaged SEM (define). If the proposal talks to the business and marketing goals of the prospect, then there's a much better chance of conversion.
I never write a proposal without talking to prospects. If they won't talk to me, I walk away. Some people are just fishing around or collecting information to convince themselves their current vendor is doing OK. I don't have time for people who waste my valuable time.
This may be where I differ from some traditional sales reps. I don't see every prospect as a good prospect. If you've been around SEO (define) for a while, you know many people will waste your time. Other people to weed out are the overseas SEOs posing as potential clients to get hold of your collateral. Unfortunately, I've fallen for this on a couple occasions.
Perfecting the Sales Process
There are a couple things you should find out from new customers as you refine your sales process:
- What made them initially contact you? This will help you refine your marketing message.
- Why did the customer buy services from your agency? This will give you a clearer understanding of what differentiates your agency from competitors.
I'm often asked whether we can work with the client on a performance basis during the negotiation stage of the sale. In other words, they will pay when they achieve results.
I try to avoid these types of situations. They never work out well.
SEO involves doing the majority of detailed work upfront. In a performance-based relationship there's nothing to stop the client from walking away when you've done the most expensive part of the work. If the person is out to take advantage of you, forget contracts. In this situation, they aren't worth the paper they're written on.
Another issue with performance-based contracts: you have no control over the sales component of the client's business. If they can't convert, then you lose out.
The only way I could see a performance-based contract working is if you have complete control of their site. This should include access to sales data, conversions, traffic, and other performance metrics.
Performance-based PPC (define) contracts may work better if you take a percentage of increased sales. Beware though: you're going to do all the work. You may come up against resistance from them. For example, what do you do if they won't change landing pages or correct issues you highlight as barriers to a sale?
We've looked at the search marketing agency sales process and asked whether you should look at hiring sales staff to convert the sales. We've evaluated the pros and cons of performance-based relationships. Next time I'll look at an issue that troubles many a search marketer: hiring the right people for your growing agency.
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