I started my career in digital marketing working agency side, and like many other digital marketers, I was often involved in proposals and sales pitches to try and win clients.
The particular agencies I started with were extremely lean in terms of size but often punched above their weight when it came to the type of clients that they would win and the quality of their work was always excellent.
However, like any agency, they didn’t always win when it came to pitches and often lost out to companies who I felt wouldn’t deliver the same level of service. I think sometimes this just came down to luck, the other agencies may have pitched better on the day but other times it may have just been the sales team did a better job at selling the agency that won.
Now I work in-house, and have done consultancy work for a variety of business, I would like to share a few tips that I think will help agencies during the beginning of the sales process.
Sell the potential client what they want NOT what you want to sell them
A common issue that occurs during the sales process is that sometimes a potential customer knows exactly what they want(shock horror) yet the people selling the product or service goes through the exact same pitch process every single time.
This isn’t something that is unique to businesses selling digital services, it happens across lots of industries but it shouldn’t. Imagine you are in a rush and walk into McDonald’s and order a Big Mac, fries and a coke then the person takes you through the whole menu and tries to alsosell you a McChicken Sandwich, carrot sticks, milkshake and a McFlurry. You wouldn’t be happy that your time has just been wasted when you already told the person serving exactly what you want.
Obviously I’m using the McDonald’s example in jest, selling digital services is far more complex and there will be instances where you will need to further qualify the potential client to ensure that you are recommending the right services but it’s all about understanding when this is appropriate.
My point here is that if a potential client asks for X, don’t let your sales people try to sell them Y just because it will make more money in the long run.
I’ve sat through a number of sales pitches in the past when I’ve specifically said to the sales person making initial contact that I don’t want specific services from them because I’ve no need for it at that point in time.
On one occasion, after repeatedly mentioning that we should move on to the part that was right for the business I was working with, we ran out of time before we got to the part we were interested in which meant that it was a complete waste of time for myself and the people who prepared the presentation.
Understand your audience
I always find it difficult when speaking to someone about digital marketing as often you don’twant to dumb things down so much that you come across as patronising but at the same time you don’t want to appear that you are trying to baffle your audience with science.
Thankfully it has never been easier to gain a better understanding of an individual’s level of knowledge by simply doing a bit of research online before pitching.
I was once sat in a meeting with an extremely experienced SEO who has worked on several large and complex projects. The agency then proceeded to lecture him on the importance of page titles, meta descriptions and how that Google no longer pay attention to meta keyword data. If they had simply asked who was attending that meeting, Googled his name, they would have understood the level at which they should have been communicating at.
If you were unable to gather any this information online, an easy way is to ask for a brief introduction before that start of the meeting from everyone that is attending. This will allow you to gauge each individual’s level of knowledge.
Don’t be overly critical, especially not at first
This is something that I’ve certainly been guilty of in the past especially when I started out in digital marketing. I would audit a potential client’s website without them asking and then present to them a list of issues that I had discovered thinking that it would show them that I was qualified to work with them.
This can be an extremely dangerous tactic for a number of reasons and could cause a lot of discomfort and embarrassment for your agency or your potential client.
The reason it could be embarrassing for your potential client is because sometimes the people you are pitching to and their bosses, will be sat in the room while you are unleashing a barrage of bad news to them about how terrible a job someone, or a team of people, are doing.
Even if they have valid reasons for something not being 100% it may cause some serious issues internally and could lead to you seriously pissing off a potential customer.
Know that you don’t have all the answers and pick your battles
One thing that I’ve noticed during pitches in the past is that people who focus heavily on specific disciplines, especially if they have had little other business experience, sometimes dramatically oversimplify things. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this in the past too, but when you are at the receiving end, it can be very tiring and might even put the client off your pitch.
The following example is completely fictional but it is the type of thing I’ve come across in the past.
Say for example you are pitching a conversion rate optimisation service to a client that sells mobile phones. You know from experience that having lifestyle images of people using mobile on average converts better than normal product shots so you suggest running an A/B test to figure out if this is also true for your potential new client.
The client responds that they are unable to do this because it is company policy that they can only plain show product shots on their website to keep the manufacturers that supply them happy and it could take months before even considering such a test.
This will sound absurd to people that are used to working in fast-paced digital environments, but unfortunately when working with some businesses things aren’t always straightforward.
I think it is correct for an agency to challenge something like this, but many people make the mistake of labouring a point about something that sometimes the client has no control over and have no option but to ‘tow the line’. It is important here to pick your battles and understand that not everything can be solved by having a debate even if it seems like the right thing to do.
The best advice I can offer here is that if a potential client is adamant that they can’t do something due to brand guidelines, red tape or thousands of other potential reasons, then the best thing to do is try to find a solution that is workable solution or try something else.
Know when to stop calling
Before working full time in digital marketing I was one of the most hated people in the world – a recruitment consultant.
Of course, most recruitment consultants are extremely professional and provide an excellent service to businesses and job seekers.
I even think they are under appreciated at times but if you work for a business that really needs to recruit someone with specific skills or you are a job seeker desperate for work then you will truly understand the value of a good recruiter.
However, a few bad apples have given recruitment professionals a bad name and I fear that there is a risk that this is also starting to happen in the digital marketing industry.
It’s understandable that some digital marketing agencies rely on cold calling to generate leads but sales people need to be mindful that bombarding people with calls is going to be counter-productive. It will not only damage your business but could also damage the industry.
If you speak to someone a couple of times and they are not interested in the services that you offer then there is little chance that you are going to change their mind in the immediate future.
I suggest that if you think there is future potential for business then keeping in touch via email is a much better approach as it is less intrusive and takes up much less time. Whatever you do just make sure that your sales people don’t bombard a potential client with calls as it will likely make you appear desperate and diminish your chance of closing a sale in the future.
Some less intrusive lead gen ideas
Although a lot of companies will rely on cold calling for lead generation, I think there are other lead generation methods worth considering that could be more effective and slightly less intrusive.
There is a continual trend of businesses hiring in-house digital talent and a lot of the time external agencies are used to supplement the in-house team to fill any skill gaps.
These people will likely have influence over the choice of external agency selected so there is a huge advantage if you are able get on their radar by creating some good quality content.
One company that do this particularly well is Distilled. They even created an online training academy called Distilled U. I doubt their intention was to create this to generate leads but once the people they helped train are in senior positions it might just generate some leads as a result for Distilled.
Search Engine Presence
This will be so blatantly obvious to people that it is probably pointless even mentioning it, but having a good search presence can put you in front of potential clients when they are searching for your services online. It amazes me how many companies that sell SEO pay little attention to their own search presence.
Going to networking events are a great way to share ideas and meet new people but I’ve never been comfortable using them purely for sales purposes.
I think that digital networking events should not be used to directly sell to people, unless of course they want to be sold to, they should be used to form relationships and maybe at some point in the future if a potential client has a need then they will get in touch with you.
Forums and Social Media
Participating in the right kind of forums and interacting with people on social media will keep you front of mind if anyone is ever looking for a service that you offer. I am a member of a few groups on Facebook and people regularly pick up projects from them.
If you find a business that offers services that you could compliment then you could form a partnership as a way to gain business. For example, there are some web design agencies that don’t offer SEO or PPC but there is a good chance that their client will need this kind of service in the future.
I wrote this article because I’ve had experience selling digital services when working at an agency and have also experienced what it is like being sold to when working in client side positions and wanted to share my thoughts on some of the observations I’ve made during my career.
Have you noticed any trends when it comes to how digital agencies sell their services? How do you think sales should be approached? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.