Selling SEO – Tips for the First Conversation
We hear “I don’t know how to sell SEO” frequently from agencies and developers. This post is the first in a series of insights into how to sell SEO.
Our company, Gravity Search Marketing, is a kick-ass boutique SEO firm. We’re very small, we’re very smart, and many people will attest to the fact that we do what we do very well.
Being “boutique” means we don’t have a sales staff – that’s a role I typically fill by myself. We’re not flying completely blind: I’ve observed sales teams in action at other companies, and I’ve even watched Glengarry Glenross, but I’ve never been trained in the art of selling. Nonetheless, you may be surprised to learn that we do pretty well for ourselves when it comes to selling.
I don’t know how the big guys do it (honestly, I don’t – could someone please tell me in the comments?) but I thought it would be helpful to share what seems to work consistently for me. Today I’ll focus on the first conversation with a new prospect.
Plan for at least a half hour of listening before you start talking
My favorite sales conversations start off like therapy sessions. People are calling with a problem they want me to solve, and I need to know what that problem is. This problem cannot be expressed in a hurry, and it often has many facets. Here are some of the open-ended questions I like to ask:
- “So, what’s going on with your site?”
- “How do you know this is a problem? (i.e., “How do you gauge the performance of your website?”)
- “What have you tried before?”
- “What is working well right now?”
- “What does your team look like?”
Even if it turns out that you don’t land the sale, by really listening, you’ll have added one more “business like this” to your mental database, and that can be helpful in your ongoing selling and consulting work. I find it indescribably satisfying to learn about the cogs and wheels of other peoples’ marketing campaigns. I’m fascinated to hear what their research has told them about their audience segments and their customers’ perceptions and biases. This knowledge adds up, and is quite valuable in informing my consulting work.
Only after you’ve gotten a thorough understanding of your prospect’s needs should you begin to launch into your “About Us” spiel.
Answer the unspoken questions
You might think your job now is to describe your company, your experience, process, and prices. But don’t miss your prospect’s unspoken questions: What it will be like to work with you? Are you honest and trustworthy? Will I understand this confusing subject of SEO any better if you’re the one explaining it to me?
One common unspoken question is, “Will we be able to phase you out as an SEO consultant and do this ourselves eventually?” Many prospects won’t say it directly, but they hope to reach a point of in-house competency when they won’t need you anymore. This is a reasonable goal. Will your SEO capability transfer to in-house staff? Can you develop “cheat sheets” for your client, to keep them optimizing according to plan? Do you provide SEO training? Is there a provision in your service for on-call SEO Q&A? You may find that talking about these services early on will increase your desirability.
You also need to prove beyond a doubt that you know your stuff. I’ll focus on tips for proving your SEO skills in a future post.
Gently Redirect Common SEO Misconceptions
Selling SEO involves listening encouragingly as someone struggles to state their goals in your language. This can be challenging for some prospects, and that’s why many goals come out sounding simplistic, like, “We need to rank #1 for [generic phrase]” or “We need to get [audience X] to find us.” Since you want to have a successful business relationship with this prospect, you must be able to identify unreasonable expectations and gently educate until you can rephrase these goals into something more specific and achievable.
When a prospect is unfamiliar with the basic touchpoints of current SEO best practices, you may need to explain things like:
- “Building links” is not a standalone task. Link building these days requires – at a minimum – a serious effort in improving your website’s content offerings.
- What you want from your organic ranks may be easier and cheaper to achieve in the short run with paid search.
- I value your thoughts on keywords, but with your best interests in mind, we always perform our own objective keyword research.
- Even the best social media strategies will not get off the ground without your input and participation.
If you don’t think SEO is the best way for this prospect to spend their money, do not try to sell them SEO
Believe me, I understand it’s difficult to walk away from a budget earmarked for SEO, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do. SEO cannot fix a product that nobody wants, and even the best SEO likely can’t save a business that already has one foot in the grave. Search marketing, by and large, cannot create demand where demand does not exist. And organic SEO may not be the best choice in a competitive space where a prospect doesn’t have unique value to offer. Nobody will be happy in the end if the money going into SEO is wasted because it’s not the right service to fill the need.
If you’d like me to focus on a specific aspect of selling SEO, let me know in the comments, or track me down on Twitter.
Hi there, thanks for the great info,, I’m new to the SEO world, just wondering if you had any tips for what should be in the emails to prospective clients, big and small business. I know to keep it short and to the point, anything you should always be mentioned, or not? Any feedback is appreciated!
Hello. I read the first sentence of the article a few days ago and today decided to return to it to read the entire thing after speaking with a client about possibly doing SEO work, and after reading about being paid commission for SEO and marketing work, which I discovered is labeled as pay per/for performance, which is one of things I thought this article was going to be talking about.
I was wondering what are your thoughts on this. Here are various examples: 1) pay based on the ranking of a set number of keywords on a set number of search engines and 2) pay based on a commission bases for the number of sales (i.e. 5%, 10%, etc. of sales), 3) something upfront, a small flat fee per month with the rest based on commission.
Regarding the being paid on a commission basis for total sales, the part that worries me is trusting the client to actually reveal how much sales they made (this is in regard to offline sales, as the ones online for most can be tracked: I say most because I have a client who receives orders online and then calls them to verify and to charge them since he needs to check what exactly he has in stock since he refuses to have an inventory system.). Orders made by telephone and in person would be difficult to track.
Can you please offer some advice concerning this?
You are the best,
I bought your book and I am impressed!
@melinda b, I’m sorry to say that I don’t have any advice on that as I have never sent an email to a prospect I haven’t spoken with first.
@RX, we don’t do work on commission for exactly the reasons you’re describing. In my opinion it would be prohibitively difficult, maybe even impossible to set up reliable tracking to attribute conversions to my efforts as an SEO. Even if your prospect would give you full access to their sales data, and even if the data were perfectly accurate (this is not a given!), it would be unfair to you as a consultant. For example, what if your SEO work helped to prevent your client from making a big design mistake that would compromise their indexing or conversion goals – how could you quantify the benefits in terms of sales? Also, if your client has an unnecessarily cumbersome “no inventory” system, it seems to me that it would be very difficult to assess how that problem might hold back some of the sales that your good SEO efforts might bring about. So, in my opinion, commission-based SEO payment plans are not really fair.
Thank you very much Jennifer for your response. I agree entirely with what you said. The issue I am trying to get at or better understand is what exactly should one be selling, and probably even how much.
I will start out with some background information on my experience, which I think / hope you will find interesting, and will try to keep it brief. My former boss needed SEO work done for his website. He hired one company which charged something like $1,000 for an initial / setup fee. They then charged a monthly rate, which I don’t remember now, with the stipulation that if something like 3 keywords are not on the first page for 3 of the top ten search engines (the contract said ten, even though it’s only really Google, Yahoo, and Bing that matter, and in that order) that a portion of the money would be refunded. The guarantee was not achieved and 50% of the money, which was accumulated over a 4 month period was refunded.
My former boss then hired another company which charged a setup fee as well, which I believe was in the $800 to $1,000 something price range, with a monthly rate of $800 to be charged. This monthly amount was then dropped to $400 after about 2 months because certain keywords were not performing well, but the rate was soon to go back up to $800. My former boss did not like this, and so he told me to learn how to do this and that he would pay me. That’s when I started with your book, which I chose because of all the excellent reviews it received on Amazon and for which my former boss paid for.
I was told to read the book during my work time when it wasn’t busy, and later on when it got too busy, paid something like $40 per week to read the book for about 3 hours on the weekend. I then told my boss that I was ready to begin after researching the keywords and ready to begin reading the Month 1 phase of the book. My former boss is paying me $150 per month and obsesses over one very important keyword being on Yahoo’s #1 spot, which has been there, but has dropped to #4 and is now back to # 3.
Now, before I got started, there were about 2 keywords on the first page of Google and Yahoo. I have chosen 11 keywords to work on of which 5 are on the 1st page of Google, 4 are on the 1st page of Yahoo, and 4 are on Bing. Three more are on the 2nd page of Google, 2 more on the 2nd page of Yahoo, and 2 more are on the 2nd page of Bing. Furthermore, other variations of the keywords I have chosen and even words I have not chosen, but are relevant, appear in the 1st and 2nd pages of the search engines.
I feel that $150 is too little, especially in comparison to what the others were charging and even doing way less work (I know because very little things were done on the site and no links were posted anywhere), and in comparison to what others do charge, and as a result, I have been moving at a slow pace to justify the cost. I also feel that with what I know thus far (I haven’t finished the book, but I have finished the Month 1 phase and have been reading several articles on this topic for a while now), that I could do this for others.
However, how much should I charge, and what exactly should I be selling: increasing visitors, an inclusion in the natural listings and when there, payment based on ranking positions, increased sales, what?
Looking forward to your response and to your future post, in which you stated that you’ll “focus on tips for proving your SEO skills”.
Excellent article! Thanks for sharing.
I am in a similar situation to the RX posting on March 8th. I don’t see a response regarding what to charge for this. Would you mind posting or emailing me a response? Great book by the way! You really did an excellent job of simplifying the process.
Great article!!… what is the key to getting a good conversion rate?…meaning dies any of it have to do with SEO or is it strictly the add campaign?
Hi Jennifer, thanks for this very enlightening article. I agree with every aspect and draw much benefit from your book too !
In your reply to @melinda b, you say that you have always first spoken to your prospects. But how do you first get in touch : do they contact you via your website or do you call them from the phonebook ?
I am interested in your experience in this because I myself am a freelance SEO trainer/consultant and I find it hard to take the phone to sell SEO. Should I only rely on my website’s optimization + social media marketing ?
Thanks again. Johann
Hey there! Do you know if they make any plugins to help with SEO?
I’m trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not seeing very good success.
If you know of any please share. Many thanks!