Agency / client relationships was a subject came up whilst having lunch with Bas in London recently. We got on to the subject of pitching for new business and SEO pitches in particular, as well as developing client accounts. What was apparent from the lunch was that my experience over nearly 20 years gave me some interesting perspectives on the subject so I was asked to share a few of my thoughts on the subject with you and hopefully you can share a few of your own, whether from a client or agency perspective.
As a bit of useful additional background, I’m lucky enough to have pitched for lots of traditional offline advertising accounts as well as the online marketing ones you’re perhaps more familiar with. I’ve had lots of agencies pitch to me. I’ve spoken to a lot of successful agencies about how they approach pitching. I’ve also seen a lot of competitor decks. What I’ve noticed is winning agencies share some DNA. Here are the building blocks of what I think makes a winning pitch.
Honestly. Was the last pitch you did your best work? If you agree to pitch for an account make sure you give yourself enough time to do your best work. In my experience agencies don’t give themselves nearly enough time to prepare, even though coming second is expensive. So if I was back in agency land once again, if time was an issue I’d pitch less but do my best on each one, as opposed to frequently with a half-hearted effort.
For me a great pitch document and presentation is 80% about the potential new client, their market, their opportunity, and specifically how you propose to make them money. The opposite is normally true. Tell them more about their business, their competitors and their opportunity than they know.
Being the person who employs an agency comes with risk. So the person making the decision probably has thoughts like this rattling around their head: “What if they don’t so what they said they would. Worse still, what if rankings and traffic fall. I really need a safe bet here. I need to cover my behind and be able to show I did everything I could to reduce the risk of a disaster happening.” So what you need to do is structure an argument that counters all of these fears and builds confidence. For example, if a client comes to you because they’ve been attacked by a Penguin or a Panda then telling them not to worry you’ll sort it won’t work. Showing potential clients you understand the issues, this is how you propose to approach it, and here’s a client where you’ve done this already and it worked, will make them feel a whole lot better. Not reducing the risk makes them decide to choose the most well known agency – “you don’t get fired for hiring IBM”. Or keep the one they’ve got – “better the devil you know”.
If you were your prospective client, how would you work with an agency? If they don’t know help them out. For example make sure a potential client is put in a position where they can demonstrate that are in control of the channel. Being in control for me is about helping clients addresses the challenges of presenting internally, describing strategies and tactics being adopted, and demonstrating the management and reporting processes that illustrate whether what you (the agency) are working on and which aspects are working. I also think agencies should consider the issue of data ownership and knowledge capture. Some of Linkdex’s fastest growing agency clients are the ones that encourage their clients to take ownership of the Linkdex platform whilst they manage campaigns through it. A bit like a business sharing analytics and Adwords with a client.
If there’s an obvious potential objection, talk about it, don’t ignore it. For example, if you’re a small agency competing against a big agency, acknowledge it and turn it to an advantage. If you’re proposing on trying something with risk. Talk about it, demonstrate how risk can be minimized and how you’re both stay in control.
As I get older I get better and seeing situations from another persons perspective. If you’re a marketing manager or in-house SEO that uses agency help, or the other way around, and you’ve not got experience of the other party’s job, it’s difficult for you to understand the soft things that make motivate each other. Based on my experience and conversations with the people holding the budgets, these are the things that are wanted by clients appointing agencies, not just to maintain a budget, but develop it.
When all is said and done, the person that signed your appointment off needs to be able to show an ROI. If a client can show an ROI on a clearly defined piece of work, they can spend more. If they can’t and they’ve made a mistake appointing an agency. That won’t help their career or their desire to recommend you or use them again in their next job.
When you appoint an agency you’re not usually buying a physical product, it people and brainpower. What you want to know and be able to see is your agency using this brainpower to improve results. When you can see it, you’re more likely to buy more of it when required or when offered.
When you pitch you get the agencies A-team come and tell you that they are going to improve lots of stuff. At the very least, these promises need to be met. Nobody in their right mind would spend more with an agency that can’t deliver on their last promises. You’d also want to know if an agency is taking a risk with a strategy. Not knowing makes them look like they were not in control. How many people had had the conversation about the use of exact match anchors before Penguin?
Grown-up, mature relationships mean sometimes having difficult conversations. For example, the budget might be too small or the client might not be pulling their weight. Either way, getting issues out there in the open means you can deal with them.
Back to that feeling of being in control. Would you spend more money on an agency where you did not feel in control of the channel? If I weren’t in control, I’d spend an unexciting amount. Something I think too many clients do and never get to see the full potential of the SEO channel. I hope you’ve found that useful. I’d love to have your thoughts or stories on times when you’ve pitched or been pitched to.
About the Author, Matt Roberts
Matt Roberts is the co-founder and product manager of Linkdex. In 20 years of marketing Matt has developed a really broad range of skills which include media planning and buying, advertising account management, software development, business development, SEO, affiliate marketing, and product management. He is the founder and ‘godfather’ of Linkdex. His goal goal is to make Linkdex the best, and most useful SEO product in the world.
This post is part of a special guest post series this summer in which we’ve asked (search) marketers to take a ‘different perspective’ on things.