Four meetings and seven demos ago, your digital marketing agency had what you thought was a promising lead. “So what went wrong?” asks your boss. You ramble semi-coherently and head back to your desk, do some mental detective work on why your agency got a no, and plan for the next big fish you’re hopefully going to land.

For the digital marketing agency, the principles behind why you do or don’t get the deal are fairly universal. There are certain scenarios that your sales team will encounter over and over again. While not an exhaustive list, here are five common reasons why companies say “thanks, but no thanks” to digital marketing agencies.

1) We don’t have the budget/We’re not focusing on SEO.

Few reasons are more ubiquitous or misused than “the prospect had no budget.” Is it possible that the client literally did not have the funds in the war chest to purchase your digital marketing solution?

Sure. But “we don’t have budget” is often synonymous with “we don’t see the value in what you are proposing.” There are plenty of ways that you can prove the value of your services, but two that we’ll focus on are showing ROI and building pain.

“We don’t have budget” is often synonymous with “we don’t see the value in what you are proposing.”

Show ROI through stories and near-term opportunities

Ah, yes, the ever-so-elusive dragon we call “ROI.” Obviously the benefits of paid search are that the path is pretty linear to ROI. In organic search, it can be a bit trickier, especially when you are talking to a prospect. Two ways that can help tie a dollar sign to your sales pitch are by telling a data-driven story about your previous work and by using intelligent forecasting to show the opportunity in the prospect’s market.

Tell Data Driven Stories About Past Clients

With secure search knocking out our beloved keyword data, you need to show how you are measuring revenue or traffic at the page level. Using the aggregate numbers from your analytics will do, but a smarter way to do this is by grouping the content together into segments; you can do this in some analytics platforms (or through our platform, Searchlight!).

This will allow you to show how you improved a past client’s KPIs for specific products or sections of their site. If the site is e-commerce, focus on revenue or transactions. If the site is B2B or a more general content site, then traffic or specific types of goal completions like email signups might be more appropriate.

If you can, it’s important to focus on the timeline here to show how your digital marketing agency was able to find money in the market for your client that they didn’t necessarily know they were missing out on. Did the prospect recently launch a new product? Do they have products or services that are underperforming?

Use real data and past experiences (case studies, white papers, ghost stories) to build your case and establish your digital marketing agency in the prospect’s eyes.

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Show Near-Term Opportunity…with a Dollar Sign Attached to It

Yes, SEO takes time, but there is a good chance you aren’t starting from scratch with the prospect. Do a bit of research and find the terms that are sitting on page two or three. By looking at the search volume for those terms, using a click through curve, and getting the prospect’s current conversion rate (or using an estimate), you can show a reasonable prediction for short term revenue gains. We have a pretty great tool called the Business Case Builder in our platform that does this, but you can also work out a manual version of it using a bit of math.

Do a bit of research and find the terms that are sitting on page two or three. By looking at the search volume for those terms, using a click through curve, and getting the prospect’s current conversion rate (or using an estimate), you can show a reasonable prediction for short term revenue gains.

Let’s say your digital marketing agency set out to prove the following: If a keyword with a monthly search volume of 1000 ranks in position 13, what would happen if you increased the rank 10 positions to position 3?

To predict the traffic, you would need to know how often a searcher clicks on the third position; this is where the click through curve (right) comes in handy.

So now the keyword is in position 3, and according to our click through curve, that means it is likely to get about 10% of the clicks. So how many visits can we project? The keyword’s search volume is 1000, and 10% of 1000 is about 95 visits!

If you’re looking for a traffic projection, you can stop here. But, to get a revenue projection, you will need the conversion data or projection.

If the site converts 4% of visits into a sale, then we can project that we will get about 4 conversions (4% of 95). Finally, how much money can we make? If a conversion is valued at $30, then we can project that our efforts for improving the rank of this keyword would be $120.

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So now that you know the math behind calculating opportunity for a single keyword, you could do at scale for several keywords to get some more compelling numbers. Here’s a sample from our platform, Searchlight:

Show Prospects their Competition

So, they’re not sold on the opportunity you’ve shown, eh? Then show them how their competition is already capitalizing on said opportunity.

If they buy in to the math of the business case you showed, then they should be bought in to the idea that somebody is getting that traffic and revenue. A good way to increase the pain here is to analyze their different product offerings and find where they lack visibility.

A manual approach to this could be as simple as doing a handful of searches and finding the gaps, but this can also be done at scale by pulling rankings for your prospect’s site and their competitor’s sites and showing the gaps and culling it together in Excel. At scale, it might look something like this:

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What this view shows is which sites have the most URLs in the top 5 positions for a group of keywords, in this case “Seasonal Products” for Bed Bath and Beyond. This was not chosen at random. It’s meant to focus on a product set where you know the prospect is not doing well when compared to their competition. Again, the point here is to build pain based on where they are missing out and where the competition is capitalizing on the opportunity.

2) We’ve been burned by a digital marketing agency before…

Chances are most of your prospects will have previously worked with an agency. If they aren’t still with that agency, then something could have gone wrong. Sometimes it goes horribly wrong and you can end up wearing the black eye for somebody else’s shoddy work.

There are all kinds of fun, salesy cliché lines to use in this scenario (“If you got a bad haircut, would you just stop getting haircuts or get a better barber?”) but here are a few tips when addressing this objection.

  • Save the day. If their pain is recent or current, you may be able to play the knight in shining armor by showing how you have had success with these types of clients. If they’ve been affected by a manual penalty, show your experience in getting penalties removed. If their traffic is down, show the real data behind how your agency can regrow their traffic.
  • Be consultative. A high-octane “how we’re different” pitch is less likely to be successful here. Use lots of active listening. Go low and slow. Find the root issue here and then map out your solution to solve their specific need without going into a “feature overload” or being overly aggressive.
  • Provide references. Yes, I know this obvious. But when you’re dealing with this kind of prospect, really all they’re looking for is assurance to help mitigate risk. Leaning on reputation and accolades would be appropriate here, but still is not going to be the best substitute for the abovementioned bullet point for being super-consultative.

2) Your agency is too big/too small.

There are merits to large or small agencies and the prospect will often have a preference on this. Rather than choose a side, here are some objection handles from both perspectives.

What to do if your agency is “too big.”

Assuming it’s not a price issue, they’re probably worried about the level of attention they will get or they are seeking a more boutique firm that specializes in a single area of search. Certainly, you should talk about the strengths of your customer service or account management team, but there are also a lot of benefits to working with larger agencies. Here are a few tips on this objection from the large agency perspective:

  • Resources. Big agencies have big partnerships to leverage to make their clients successful. If you use a web presence management platform like Conductor or bid management platform like Marin, then you should show why that’s a huge advantage for the client. In the world of paid, agencies get exclusive advantages through the Google Partner program.
  • Multi-channel co-optimization. Managing all of your channels, like SEO and paid, in one place has a lot of benefits. If you are a full-service digital marketing agency then you should be armed with real numbers and case studies showing how you make the channels work well together. With the right data, you can make this decision a no-brainer because when done well, paid and organic co-optimization yields tremendous results.
  • Eliminate inefficiencies. If your agency is looking to own the solution soup-to-nuts, then it’s important to show why everything from the site rebuild to the ongoing content calendar should be housed under one roof. A lot of businesses have different agencies or webdev companies managing different channels or sections of their sites which can breed inefficiencies. Being able to implement new content or fix technical issues directly in the CMS eliminates a lot of bottlenecks that will be present when separate agencies are managing separate channels.

What to do is your agency is “too small.”

It could just be that the prospect is looking for an agency with more name recognition or it might be that they are looking for more services outside of your specialized offering. It can be an uphill battle when going against the big guys, but it’s a battle that can certainly be won. Here are some tools for the arsenal:

  • Agility. A smaller agency with less clients should be able to adapt to the ever-changing world of search quickly. The bigger guys will encounter more internal red tape and may not be able to pull the trigger on strategy shift when the industry is seeing change. When the next Panda or Penguin rolls out and a site’s rankings and traffic starts to take a hit, a client should find solace in knowing their agency is able to react and implement change quickly.
  • Specialization. This is a relatively obvious one that you are likely already using. If you’re an SEO-only agency that encounters a prospect wanting to house all of their Search efforts with one agency, stress the fundamental differences between paid and organic to help show why it’s fine to choose a specialist.
  • Culture. Personal attention is the go-to for a smaller shop so of course the customer service should be top notch. But more than that, a smaller agency should consider flexing their strong, non-corporate culture and how it may be a better fit with their prospect. You’re not a small digital marketing agency because you can’t get clients, you’re small because you’re selective about who you work with.

3. We’re going through a site redesign/migration; call us in 6 months.

Six months? I won’t even remember your name in six months! There are a few other projects that could fall under this umbrella, but the point here is a lot of prospects are under the impression that they should wait until site projects are done before involving an agency.

Assuming the team managing their site is not the same team doing their search marketing, this is a huge mistake. So why should they hire your digital marketing agency now instead of “when the website is ready”?

Save their time and money.

In their mind, why would they pay you to start consulting before the site is ready to show the world? Mainly because if they don’t, they’ll likely be paying you to tell them things they need to fix on their site that could have been done right the first time with your help.

By getting in early and making sure the site is being built SEO-friendly, the prospect can avoid a few months of double-work. This also is helpful in familiarizing your team with the site and their webdev team to ensure a more seamless transition into actively marketing the site. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Show the necessity of measuring and monitoring.

This is another big miss for a lot of companies. They redesign a site but don’t meticulously track pre and post performance metrics well enough to ensure they don’t lose their visibility and traffic. They should be benchmarking their metrics and pulling important keyword ranks. Show them why that’s necessary.

Ask them: How are they measuring the success of the migration? How will they know where they are losing or gaining keyword rankings? There are plenty of site migration horror stories and the way to avoid them is to have good monitoring and reporting in place. Here’s how that might look:

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4) No thanks, we do this in-house.

There are a lot of excellent brands that have really good web presence management teams in-house. The in-house team that manages every aspect of search effectively is still rare, however. Even when you are dealing with teams that are in-house, there is a good chance that you can get your hooks in and close the deal.

Join their team.

Depending on whether or not you sell your services a la carte, this can be a good opportunity to show how you can complement their current team. In many cases, if the in-house guy is somewhat search savvy, they can become your biggest ally in bringing your agency on to fill the gap in paid/organic/display/link building or whatever thing they don’t have time to tackle earnestly.

Again, most companies don’t have entire search teams built out, so show how hiring your digital marketing agency won’t require them to have to hire a whole team.

Show your thought leadership.

As a digital marketing agency, you are the expert in web presence strategies. You have experience across a roster of clients where you have proved your concepts and you can do the same thing for your prospect.

When pitching in an environment where there are savvy stakeholders, you have the luxury of espousing your most forward-facing concepts. The biggest corporations in the world certainly have marketing departments, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work with agencies when they need fresh ideas.

BONUS: What to do if you lose the deal…

So you’re not winning the Cadillac and maybe not even the steak knives because they balked in the eleventh hour. It happens. But it doesn’t have to be completely over. Our friends at R2integrated, a leading digital marketing agency, recommended continuing to track and monitor a big prospect’s performance when you have the means to do so.

Continue to track and monitor a big prospect’s performance when you have the means to do so.

By continuing to track performance, you’ll have a fair amount of data to arm yourself with when you want to get back in on the deal. This tactic also allows you to see if the team they hired is performing well.

Several months or a year down the line, when you are looking to land the lost whale, you’ll show that you were still heavily invested in the partnership even though it didn’t work out the first time. And companies break up with agencies all the time, so why not be waiting with your shoes shined and a bouquet of fresh data?

Hopefully, some of these tips were helpful for you and your team to go out and close mountains of business. If I missed something or was off-base, then feel free to eviscerate me in the comments and enlighten your peers on some good tips for selling your web presence management services!