Posted by RonGarrett
For the past 1.5 years, I have been the Client Development Executive for Distilled's NYC office. I helped open this office in June 2011, and at the time we were struggling as an office because we had few leads, minimal recognition in NYC, and massive competition from both local bespoke agencies and larger full-service agencies. Within 6 months, I was able to ensure the SEO consultants were at full capacity.
For SEOs: how to set up your project for success
Why the cycle of sadness is so important
I'm going to start off with something to wake everyone up. The first touch point for any new prospect is generally sales. I can't stress this enough. Although every organization has its own inefficiencies, the first step in the process is often times the most important. Think back to a time when you took on the wrong client, the wrong project, undersold the scope of work yet still had to deliver on it, or didn't set up a proper handover. You have a brief window of time to qualify, mine information, set the client's expectations, and hand over the project to the SEO. It's even tougher if you are the one selling and delivering the project. It's a never ending cycle of sadness, so it's imperative to try and get it right the first time around.
A few ways to mitigate the cycle of sadness are as follows, and more detailed information about all these points are broken down throughout the rest of the post:
- Ask lots of questions and repeat back the information that was provided by the client to ensure you have an accurate picture of their organization.
- Request examples from the client's work that they think represents their best content, relationships for outreach, PR, etc… so you can match their definition of excellence against yours. This will mitigate risk when talking about leveraging their teams assets versus your own.
- Get a consultant to do a quick sample audit of their site (I usually ask for 20 – 30 minutes of their time) to identify major opportunities and how those opportunities will end up being prioritized in a first stage project plan.
- If you are new to putting together costs, it's always wise to get your numbers and hours to deliver the project cross-checked by a colleague you trust. If you are proposing work that you are weaker in and need to to research and prep, try to be transparent about that with the client and account for those costs. You can make up for this on the back end once you become super efficient at delivering this type of work.
- Make sure you document everything and centralize it for sharing with your colleagues or referencing at a later date. Spend some time cleaning up the data and making it easy to find and read through.
- Push back on clients who are asking for things that aren't in line with the way you do business or that you don't feel comfortable doing. Whatever you do, don't become a yes man or woman. If the client is asking you for something you aren't sure about, take some extra time to research, ask questions, and budget in enough time for you to be able to sufficiently deliver the work.
How to build relationships with clients (the right way)
- Be likable / personable – It is so important to let your personality shine through when talking with the client, whether it's on the phone or by email. We encourage being personable in our responses and letting a bit of humor shine through. It really gets the client to open up and be more direct in their communication.
- Be professional – Before communicating with the client, always do a level of due diligence to streamline the process, whether it's doing a bit of research, thinking about their considerations, cleaning up your notes, sending over a meeting agenda, reiterating next steps via email, etc. Having a buttoned-up approach to business that shows that you are prepared and have taken the clients considerations into account before actioning something goes a long way.
- Be effective – The challenge with this one is that effective can take on many definitions. It's important to deeply understand the strategy you have laid out for the client, and make sure that when you apply time towards delivery of the project, that you are prepared, focused, and set up for success. Here are some of the ways I try to stay effective:
- Make sure I'm getting enough sleep at night
- Take breaks throughout the day
- Time boxing (set a certain amount of time to get one thing done and limit yourself to that time)
- Keep your energy levels up by snacking / eating meals throughout the day
- Be helpful - Never stop reading. When you have a client in a particular sector or targeting a specific demographic, start reading sites that will help you stay up to date on what is going on. It's also particularly helpful when you stumble across an article that talks about what your client's main competitors are doing, so you can gain intel and share that with your client. You can also take on a subset of responsibilities that your client would have to fulfill otherwise to help them out so they can focus on other things. The great thing about being helpful is, it's often times greatly appreciated.
- Be transparent – Don't just be transparent about the good stuff; get comfortable delivering the bad news as well. It can be very challenging to deliver bad news to a client, push back a deadline, or not be happy with the first iteration of your work and tell them that, but the more open and honest you can be with them, the more open and honest they will be with you. It also sets the precedence for them to trust you more.
- Be proactive – This can be challenging as well, especially when you have a never ending list of things to accomplish before noon, but always look for ways to be proactive instead of reactive. One of the largest complaints I receive from clients when I ask them why they are leaving their previous agency is that the agency wasn't being proactive enough. The client was finding things out after the fact on their own instead of hearing it directly from the SEO / Agency. You can even try scheduling something into your calendar as a bit of forward-thinking research time or brainstorming with your team. You can take the output of what you research or brainstorm and deliver to the client. Clients love to know that you put thought into their success and wellbeing without them asking for it.
Helping to define the KPIs and ROI of a project
- Helping the client mitigate risk
- Hiring new employees
- Training existing staff
- Providing the client data that helps form a new strategy
This can all be seen as ROI, but is much more difficult to measure the impact of.
Ensuring an SEO project is set up for success internally and externally
- Get a full project brief / handover from the individual that worked with the client before signing.
- Always budget in time (1-2 hours) to do some preliminary research before kicking off the project. This should include taking a look at all of the different stake holders in the project, making sense of the project brief/handover from the individual (ask questions/get clarification), and taking a look at the client site/blog/PR/News/etc. to get a good snapshot of where they currently are.
- Define 2-3 topic points you can bring up during the kickoff to establish credibility, expertise, and confidence in how prepared you are to succeed with the project.
- Take full advantage of the knowledge and expertise your point of contact has in working in house during the kickoff call. Do not stop with surface level questions, but when you get a response and want to know more about a particular aspect, make sure you ask more specific questions. EX: "I noticed when you were talking about X you mentioned Y. What did you mean by Y? Oh, that's very interesting, how would you define Z? I would love to have a deeper understanding of that last part we talked about. Would you mind unpacking that for me?"
- Take rigorous notes, or have somebody who isn't leading the call take notes.
- Clearly define next steps off the back of the call. Because the client is going to have expectations (they are now paying you and waiting to see what you can do), it's best to have the next steps pre-determined before hopping on the call and setting their expectations, or letting them know you will compile all of the information they have provided you during the kickoff and put together a more detailed project delivery plan for the next few weeks and send it over by no later than "INSERT DATE".
How to retain clients
- Do enough discovery at the beginning to make sure you are working on the right things and providing immense value as early in the project as possible. Defining a strategy and a plan for execution is important in making sure you are working on the high value activity more often times than not.
- It's also important to have a clear project roadmap that can be easily updated and found by both parties.This is important because it keeps everybody on the same page, and represents the most updated path to success for the project. Make it easy for the client to find. I often times find using a shared Google Doc does the trick.
- Make sure you have at least 3-6 months built out to ensure enough visibility to what you are going to be providing the client. This will put them at ease knowing that we are building towards a bigger vision while hitting milestones along the way.
- Have quarterly reviews with your clients where you can bring in a third-party person who is not closely tied to the day-to-day activity (in most cases the Client Development Executive). This happens in order to get perspective on the success of the project, the direction it's heading, and ideas on areas we can make improvements. During quarterly reviews, I will normally pick a set of 5 areas of the project and have the client grade us between 1-10. They are:
- Account management
- Project management
How to speak to a CEO or a high level marketing director, specifically if you need a bigger budget
For those who manage their own agency or are head of sales of an SEO agency
How to determine whether a client is right for you
- "What is the URL for your domain? I want to make sure I have it up while we talk further."
- Once I have their domain up, I will do a quick review of their site to see if their SEO is nonexistent, basic, intermediate, or advanced and try to get a sense of where they could use the most support. This will give me talking points for later in the call.
- "Tell me a brief history of the company [I would have already conducted an initial research of the company before any call, but I want to see how my perception matches up to what the prospective client says], how it got started, where the organization is as a whole right now, and what the plans are for the foreseeable future."
- I will specifically take a look at the site's PR / news section to see the topics of interest they are most interested in talking about. This will give me perspective into the things they are most proud to shout about.
- "What is your role at the organization?"
- By this time, I will have already dropped their email address into Gmail, hovered over it with my chrome plugin Rapportive, and found all the social networks associated with their email account. I generally like checking out LinkedIn, About.me (if they have one), and any personal blog to get insights into their professional track record, personality, likes, and dislikes).
- "How did you get started a this company?" (This is a great ice breaker. It gives them a chance to open up about themselves and tell you a story. This may give you talking points that you can use as part of a follow up conversation).
- "How long have you been at the organization?" (This will give you quick reference as to whether or not you need to expand your reach within an organization and how quickly).
- "Why SEO now?" (If they don't elaborate as to their previous SEO experience and use of agencies, make sure you elaborate on that with them).
- What type of work did you do with your current / previous SEO / Agency?
- What made you decide to transition at this time?
- How many SEO / Agencies has your business worked with in total? (this normally gives me an indicator as to whether or not the client could be a bad client and their SEO/Agency fired them, or they had mismanaged expectations of the work.)
- What would your existing SEO / Agency needed to do differently to keep your business? If you select our company as your next SEO / Agency, and you could wave a magic wand and get the type of relationship and results from working together that you wanted, what would that look like? I generally try to keep digging on that last question for as much detail as I can. People aren't used to being asked if I could have anything I wanted, what would I ask for.
Turning away a project that is not right for the agency / freelancer
- Are you being honest, transparent, proactive, and delivering on the original or updated agreement you signed with your client?
- Do they have a clear picture of what is to come next?
- Can you provide them with a unique value proposition that will make them look look good that they can't find anywhere else?
This is easier said than done, but hopefully the examples of emails and types of responses I give in particular situations will help you through these times. I really appreciate you all taking the time to read this post, and please feel free to ask any questions below in the comments! Happy Mozzing
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