Agency Framework: Overcoming Common Barriers in the Pitch Process
It’s no secret that digital marketing has evolved into an absolute necessity for businesses large and small. Spending on digital advertising continues to grow year after year at an unstoppable rate. In fact, spending on digital is expected to reach more than $110 billion by 2020. Companies are increasingly turning to digital as their main vehicle for reaching their prospective customers.
As a result, the market has become flooded with agencies that specialize in the digital space. While this market saturation may seem to benefit businesses looking to outsource their digital marketing, it also carries a significant amount of risk. The number of digital agencies that over-promise and under-deliver is high and the sad fact of the matter is that poor experiences turn business owners away from the digital space. Combine this with the fact that many businesses don’t fully understand what digital marketing is or how it works and it’s clear to see the unfortunate circumstances that digital agencies must overcome in order to win over clients during the pitch process.
Your agency may get a decent number of leads, but a large number of leads means nothing if you can’t close the sale. In this post, we’ll be taking a look at some of the common barriers that come up during the pitch process and discussing strategies to overcome them. We’ve reached out to our extensive network of Top Local Agency partners to get first-hand examples of how some of the most successful agencies tackle these challenges.
Clients That Are Weary to Invest in Digital Marketing
There are a number of reasons that potential clients may be weary to invest in digital marketing. Maybe they’ve been sold snake oil by another agency in the past, maybe they’ve tried their own hand at digital marketing and weren’t pleased with the results, or maybe they simply don’t understand what digital marketing is or how it can benefit their business. Your pitch needs to take these obstacles into account and help to make the client more comfortable with how exactly digital can become a key component of their overall marketing strategy.
Education is Key
SEO. PPC. Social media. Content marketing. Email marketing. It’s likely that your client has heard of digital marketing in some form or another. Your job is to make potential clients aware of the digital marketing options available to them and explain how each of these channels can positively benefit their business. Your pitch should focus on education, first and foremost.
Our process is very education-focused. Prospective clients come to us with a problem or a desired outcome via our complimentary digital strategy session, and we are very free with information. Being generous sets people at ease in two ways: 1) they feel confident because they understand digital marketing better and 2) they trust us because we provide value from the get-go. – Jackie Bevilacqua, Turnpost Creative Group
The education phase of your pitch should be two-fold. On the one hand, you should explain the digital marketing channels that you’ll likely employ. On the other hand, you should also explain what your process is, how it differs from other agencies and what the client can expect.
Be as clear as possible. Most marketers don’t have a process or a plan…The most important thing is to have a process and to communicate it with your client, especially in the beginning. There are two problems that come up if you don’t. One is potentially upsetting your client because expectations were not aligned. The other is that you miss out on the new business you’re trying for. We always start setting expectations for process early on, so they don’t have to call us back and ask, “What happens next?” – Peter Dulay, Conversion Giant
Understand Your Client’s Goals
Building a relationship with your prospective clients is crucial. It allows you to better align your proposed strategy to their overall business objectives and helps you build trust that will make the engagement easier to manage in the long run. The client needs to feel comfortable knowing that your agency has the necessary skills and experience to fulfill on the promises you make. A significant portion of your first conversations with a new prospect should focus on their business and their goals. In fact, before you ever start discussing your services, it’s important to set the precedent that your agency puts the client first.
We first approach prospective clients by asking them what they wish to achieve from a business stand point from a successful digital campaign and then we discuss their current digital marketing “pain points”. We then go into exactly how we can help them achieve these goals and the details of how we project manage our clients’ deliverables. – Andrew Ruditser, MAXBURST Inc
Understand Your Client’s Business
An integral part of putting the client first is getting to know their business inside and out. Who are their ideal customers? How much profit does the business make for each new customer, on average? What geographic areas do they operate in? Are they looking to expand into other areas? What are their key services or products that they want to sell? This information is invaluable in not only demonstrating that your agency cares about the client, but also in formulating a strategic marketing plan that will be able to verifiably show results.
The knee jerk reaction is to offer marketing solutions because we want to win the business. We try to slow things down by learning about who their ideal buyer or prospect is. This takes time and a little bit of detective work – but it can leads to wonderful things like proper messaging and placement of that messaging. Establishing that is what we lead with – the rest of our process is then wrapped around setting clear expectations and milestones so that our clients aren’t left guessing “What the **** is happening?”, but rather taken by the hand and shown where their investment is going and how it will produce a return. – Michael Aldea, Flynaut
Clients That Are Too Focused on Costs Rather Than Results
Especially if your client has had a poor experience with previous digital agencies or if they aren’t confident in the potential return that digital marketing can provide, they might be overly focused on cost. This is often the case with small businesses, in particular, whose overall marketing budget may not be very high in general. Your pitch should demonstrate the ROI that they can expect from various digital marketing channels and should help them understand how digital can allow their business to outperform their competitors.
Keep a Focus on Education
Beyond simply educating a client about what digital marketing is and how it works, it’s important to show prospective clients real results. Whether this comes in the form of statistics or studies, case studies of similar clients you’ve worked with in their industry, or other resources, their focus should be shifted away from “How much does this cost?” to “How much can this increase our revenue?”. Make sure the client feels comfortable with the ways in which marketing in the digital space will help drive new customers and increase profits.
Focusing on price could be a signal that they 1) have scar tissue from a previous experience or 2) are going a certain route because it’s what they “ought to do”. Either way, being able to lower their defenses is key. Certainly education is key – articles about our processes, current client wins (a.k.a. case studies), and online courses or webinars are examples of ways we can make sure that by the time we speak with them, cost is a secondary concern. – Michael Aldea, Flynaut
One of the great things about digital marketing is that it’s so easy to verifiably measure the return on investment that a prospective client can expect. Working within their budget, you can determine how much it will cost to generate a new lead and compare that number to how much the business will make, on average, for each new customer they acquire. You should take this analysis a step further to show how each aspect of your proposed digital marketing strategy will play into their ROI.
This is very common, especially with SEO where it can take several months to see the results of your work. Providing ROI consultation with our clients is a service that is needed, especially for small businesses. We discuss the average of how much it costs to generate a lead compared to the average amount a customer spends with our client, then we make adjustments if needed. – Anthony Melvin, Signa Marketing
Another simple way to overcome the challenge of a client that is more focused on cost than results is to present a competitive analysis. Digital is becoming more and more commonplace, so it’s likely that their competition is already taking advantage of at least some form of digital marketing. For most prospective clients, it can be eye-opening to demonstrate the amount of business that they’re losing to competitors due to their lack of digital marketing.
Most clients still see digital as nebulous expense versus some other forms of traditional media that are more “tangible” for them. If it’s hard to convince them to use terms such as investment or returns, it may take a competitive analysis to show the cost of not being present on digital. Chances are their competitor is finding success digitally and if we can show them that, it’s typically a wakeup call. – Jackie Bevilacqua, Turnpost Creative Group
On the off chance that your prospective client’s competition haven’t expanded their marketing efforts to include digital, your pitch should show how your client can expand their market share and increase their revenue by capitalizing on the vacancies in the digital space.
We usually explain to prospective clients that we provide solutions and not services. We explain to them how our solutions can solve their business problems. We talk about the benefits of pursuing something that their competitors are not currently doing and show them numbers and facts about their market share. – Mansi Takyar, Markovate
Clients That Are Focused on Results But Are Hesitant to Provide a Reasonable Budget
Sometimes prospective clients understand the results they want to see out of a digital marketing campaign but they aren’t willing to set a realistic budget to achieve those goals. You should never insult your client by making them feel cheap, and you don’t want to give the impression that your agency is unwilling to work within their defined budget. This challenge can, once again, be solved through proper education and setting appropriate expectations with the client. If they’re unwilling or unable to adjust their budget, then it’s crucial to define what types of results they can expect with their current spend. If there is the possibility to expand the budget, the best course of action isn’t always to try to convince them to raise it from the onset.
Work Within Their Budget, There’s Always Time to Upsell
Sometimes the best strategy is to play it cool and let your work speak for itself. Try to work within the prospective client’s proposed budget and find a suitable balance of digital marketing strategies that can produce quantifiable results. Once the client is able to see the ROI of your work, they’ll be more willing to increase their spend. Especially in the case of larger prospects where you may need the approval of company executives for budget decisions, demonstrated results go a long way in helping that conversation proceed more smoothly.
Most prospects believe, as we do, that the website is the key to everything. It has to showcase the company’s positioning and branding. It must be optimized to show up in search results for relevant keywords. Its content needs to answer questions on the minds of key persona. The complexity of SEO makes this task a priority. A company should start early and never quit. That being said, doing additional digital marketing, such as social media ads, retargeting ads, Google AdWords, is a financial decision, based on the acceptable cost of a lead. We would recommend, once the website is strong, running pilot campaigns until the right mix, the right creative, and the right channel produce results. That keeps your investment small, until you can prove it is cost-effective. – Tom Lauk, HiveMind Studios
Go Back to Their Goals and Discuss a Reasonable Budget
Let’s face it: sometimes clients will expect unreasonable results from a small budget. Be sure to set appropriate expectations from the get-go. If they expect a ten-fold increase in revenue, you may be able to help them achieve that, but only if they are able to invest enough to make it happen. If you can only expect a 50% increase in revenue with the client’s current budget, then be open and honest. Digital marketing is an investment, so position it as such.
I use humor when people aren’t sure about their own budgets. I’ll say, “I’m imagining your budget is more than a dollar and less than a million dollars. Am I right?” People are usually confused at first, but then they laugh. I also make sure people understand the importance of having a robust enough budget to get the results they want. – Anna Colibri, Colibri Digital Marketing
Talk ROI, Rely on the Numbers to Convince the Client
As mentioned above, one of the advantages that digital agencies have over other forms of advertising is that almost every part of a digital marketing campaign can be tracked and analyzed. You can quantify the cost per lead and the cost per conversion. You can show the ROI a client can expect with simple math. Sometimes all it takes is going back to the numbers to get a client to understand why a larger budget may be necessary to achieve the results they desire.
If a client has a small budget and is really focused on cost, then we redirect them. We offer a free (drip email campaign) course they can take. We also give examples. For instance, you wouldn’t mind spending $10,000 per month on Yelp ads if it gets you $20,000 per month in new clients. – Anna Colibri, Colibri Digital Marketing
Once you’ve started to convince a prospect that your agency will be able to provide real value to their business, the final step is to set proper expectations so that everyone is on the same page. There’s nothing worse than closing a deal only to lose it a few months down the line because the client’s expectations weren’t aligned appropriately.
Communication is Essential
There’s no such thing as over-communicating in a new client engagement. The more you can show your client, the more they’ll feel comfortable with what you’re doing for them. An educated client is a happy client. No matter what tool you use to communicate information to your clients, it’s important to keep it consistent. Your best bet is to communicate early and communicate often. Make sure your client feels comfortable reaching out to you with any questions, big or small.
This is where technology steps in and flexes. Tools like Slack, Trello, and Basecamp are fantastic in setting the tone of our client engagements. It keeps them in the loop and gives them a look into how the digital marketing world operates. It’s the reason why Krispy Kreme has their process on display – there is something really cool about seeing how something is made. Having dedicated account and project managers for each of our clients is key. When in it comes to keeping a client happy, over-communicating is definitely the way to go. – Michael Aldea, Flynaut
Consider KPIs as Guides, Not Guarantees
Some agencies live and die by the key performance indicators they set for a campaign. It’s important to remember that KPIs should guide a campaign towards achieving the client’s overall goals, they shouldn’t be the goal itself. Getting a client’s site to page 1 is great, but it only matters if that position is providing a tangible benefit to the business. You can increase traffic by 300%, but if that traffic isn’t converting, then you’re going to end up with a client that’s unhappy.
While great case studies and success stories may help clients pull the trigger on a digital investment, we always let them in on some of the realistic outcomes. However, it’s important to not leave it there. We look at why something wasn’t as successful as it should have been and take measured steps to help our client find success. Was it the offering, the landing page, the audience? To be successful, we also need to set realistic goals. What are they trying to get out of searches, impressions, visits, opt-ins, leads, transactions, etc.? – Jackie Bevilacqua, Turnpost Creative Group
You should use KPIs as targets, as ways to track the campaigns progress towards the end goal. Don’t ever guarantee a given number of visits, leads, transactions, etc. Track those numbers and use them to tell a compelling narrative of success to your client as the campaign moves forward. Decide on KPIs and make sure your client understands where they’re starting from. If they’re expecting an increase in leads, show them the amount of leads they’re currently gathering from their website; in a few months, show them their current numbers compared to their starting point. KPIs are guides, not goals.
We stay away from promising KPI targets but do set them as goals. We say what we “think” we can achieve but make sure we’re not setting a guarantee. – Peter Dulay, Conversion Giant
Share the Responsibility With The Client
Too often agencies neglect to consider that a good digital marketing campaign requires work and input from both sides. On the agency’s side, you need to be able to fulfill on the deliverables you promise and ensure that work is done in a timely fashion. On the client’s side, they need to be flexible, receptive to the agency’s suggestions, and remain competitive in their market. Be sure to let prospective clients know that digital marketing campaigns are a two-way street. You’re a team and you need to work together to ensure the success of a campaign.
We can do everything in our power, and if the clients aren’t able to do the things on their end (such as be competitive and have a good website), then hitting a KPI just might not be possible. Delivering that message is the art of managing expectations. I guess it goes back to properly talking about process (what we are going to do to get them there). I like to repeat myself 2-3 times. And I speak slowly. That’s me personally. I know when I talk to people, I’m usually giving them lot of information so I want them to really have a sense of what steps are coming. No one likes surprises. – Peter Dulay, Conversion Giant
Be Realistic With Timing
The fastest way to kill a client relationship is to over-promise when it comes to timing. It’s your responsibility to ensure that your prospective clients understand the timeframe in which they can expect results. Beyond just results, it’s important to stay consistent with your schedule of deliverables. Make sure the client knows what to expect and when.
Setting expectations can vary depending on the client. When setting expectations, not only is it important to understand the client’s goals, it is just as important to understand what’s trending in their industry. Setting relevant and realistic goals and expectations dictates the success of the overall campaign. – Anthony Melvin, Signa Marketing
These are only a handful of the many obstacles that digital agencies must overcome during the pitch process. As an agency, you can’t expect to win over every client, but if you follow these tips, you’ll be on your way to increasing your close rate in no time.