Contrary to what some may believe, potential SEO clients don’t automatically choose the service provider whom they find first on Google. Business people looking for search marketing services typically look at several agencies and contact them to see who can make the most compelling service offer. In a scenario like this, search ranking advantages take a back seat to business case building and soft skills. The freelancer or agency that can make the client feel smartest about his decision will ultimately win the SEO contract.
In my seven years of serving SEO and content marketing clients, I’ve come to realize that there’s no magic bullet in converting leads to customers. Certainty is a myth in the art of client acquisition, but there is such a thing as maximizing your chances. With a combination of professional polish, a display of mastery and personal touches, you can win most of your leads over and give your competitors a big run for their money. Here are seven power tips on how to do just that.
1. Get Someone with Good Business English to Answer Emails
First impressions last, and the initial interactions between prospects and SEOs usually happen via email. Your first correspondence with the lead is a critical juncture in your relationship with a potential client. Mess this up and the prospect could walk away in a hurry. Do it well and you’ll enter the next phase of acquisition.
For small businesses, that person could be the CEO or another senior member of the management team. For bigger organizations, sales representatives or account managers are responsible for this type of communication. Whoever you put in charge of this type of answering emails, that person has to have a good command of written business English, extensive knowledge of the solutions you provide and a cordial attitude that puts people at ease.
Good written English is crucial especially when you’re from an outsourcing hotbed like the Philippines, India, Costa Rica, etc. It shows that there won’t be language barriers which can put a damper in operations later on. It also gives the impression of intelligence to native English speakers. Keep in mind that you may be a legitimate SEO expert but if you can’t express yourself properly, it would be very hard for anyone to believe you.
Knowing exactly what you’re talking about also helps a great deal. Some prospects like asking technical or strategic questions through email and it’s up to you to deliver responses that will make sense to the potential client. Doing so takes away any apprehension they might have about your degree of competence. Therefore, the person assigned to answer emails should either be an experienced SEO himself or the person should have a strong working knowledge of the industry.
2. Set Up a Call. Invest in Voice
I’ve been working long enough with Western clients to know that voice conversations go a very long way in client acquisition. When people are trying to decide whether they should hand you their hard-earned money or not, you better appear as trustworthy as you possibly can. Voice conversations give prospects a sense of intimacy and it allows you to break the ice a little by establishing some rapport. It’s also a great opportunity to showcase your smarts by handling yourself in a professional and knowledgeable manner.
The easiest way to get in voice conversations with your potential clients is via Skype. It’s free, it’s easy to set up and the sound quality is better than what you get with most phones. You can even buy Skype credits so you can call phones and get a localized number where people can call you. The only drawback is that Skype calls tend to break up from time to time. There are also some clients who don’t have Skype and would prefer to do conversations via good old landlines.
In that regard, GoToMeeting is a great alternative. If you aren’t familiar with the service, GoToMeeting allows you to do teleconferencing online or through phones. It has a limited free version but I’d recommend getting the Pro version which costs $39 per month. Pro allows you to have conferences with as many as 25 participants and it lets people dial in using toll-free numbers. Both the free and the paid versions have screen sharing functions which will allow you to have richer discussions with your prospects.
On the surface, these may seem like additional expenses for your operations but when you consider the value and ROI of getting a reliable telecom solution, it’s all worth it. Not only will you be more likely to close more deals, you’ll also be more likely to retain customers because you have a better platform for consistent and clear communication.
3. Enthusiasm is Contagious. Show it
It’s nice to send well-written emails, engage your prospects in calls and exude knowledge in conversations. However, you have to realize that a huge percentage of communication is delivered via non-verbal cues. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. When you speak to prospects, tone and pace of your speech carries a ton of weight.
My tip: make your prospects feel that you really want to take on their SEO programs and make a difference. If there’s one thing I learned from Digital Room Marketing VP Sam Nam, it’s the fact that a high-energy voice is great for business. It sends the implicit message that you’re enthusiastic about what you do and you’re ready to showcase your expertise. I found this to work very well with even the most skeptical of clients. When they get a sense that I’m really looking forward to making their business better, they become more motived themselves to get a deal done and start with the optimization program.
4. Prepare a Deck. Show and Tell
Educational psychology tells us that most people are better at processing information through visuals than through hearing and touch. Take advantage of human nature by going beyond simple email exchanges and voice calls. Skype, GoToMeeting, WebEx and other online meeting services allow users to share their screens. This gives way to more engaging conversations when you use PowerPoint/Keynote decks to drive home key messages andconcepts.
Decks can illustrate charts that will instantly help prospective clients understand how your process works. Graphs can help them appreciate the kind of traffic growth you can bring in. Inverted pyramid diagrams will also help you explain how conversion funnels work so your audience can grasp what kind of benefits they’ll get if your SEO program with them succeeds.
In my experience, clients tend to ask more questions when they see visual information from a deck. That’s a good thing because it means you’re capturing their interest and making them think critically. Using a deck also implies that you’re well-prepared and you’re taking their business very seriously. All of these things add up to make you very memorable when it’s time for them to decide whom to work with.
5. Make them Feel Special with Your Proposal
A service proposal is the official document that you send the prospect to lay down how you plan to address his needs, what you need to make things work and what the general terms of the engagement are. It’s also an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise, impress your brand upon the reader and remind the prospect of what’s at stake.
With that said, a proposal ‘s content, design and breadth show your client how interested you are in doing good business with him. When a prospect is done contacting and meeting with all the vendors he considered, he’ll likely sit down and review all the proposals handed to him. The SEO service provider who has the best proposal has a definite edge in being remembered more positively and ultimately being chosen for the job.
In GDI, we use a proposal template that we’ve refined over the years. It converts leads into customers 71.4% of the times we’ve used it, making it a valuable part of our acquisition process. I wrote a piece on how we came up with it and I’ve put up the download for free. Feel free to use this template or modify it as you see fit.
6. Offer Closed-Loop ROI Tracking
As much as SEO is about improving a site’s rankings for its target keywords, it’s ultimately about making better business for our clients. Our clients may be interested in how we’re going to optimize their sites for search, but what they’re most interested in is how much money they’ll end up making as a direct result of working with us.
This is a common weakness among agencies. A lot of us don’t have definitive KPIs that demonstrate how much ROI our services provide. If we know how much money we’re driving in, it will be easier for us to justify the costs of our services. The easiest way to do that is by tracking conversions driven by organic search. Google Analytics can easily do that. You can then assign dollar values of conversions in order to keep track of how much money your efforts are bringing in.
Assigning dollar values to direct sale conversions is simple enough, but most clients have no idea what an opt in or a download is worth to them. You’ll have to work with the prospect to figure this out and if you aren’t sure how to, this post might give you some ideas.
In GDI, we make it a point to educate prospects about the concept of customer lifetime value. More than conversion tracking, we like to show SEO’s ROI to clients by letting them know how much profit each organic search-driven acquisition delivers throughout its business lifetime. This allows us to give customers a bigger, clearer picture of the kind of value we bring to the table.
In the proposal stages, offering to report based on ROI not only makes you look smart, it also lets the prospect know that you have every intention of being honest about the results you’re delivering. Transparency is a very attractive selling point and we’ve been using it to snag loyal customers over the years.
7. Social Proof is a Potent Business Aphrodisiac
You may have impressive soft skills and expertly crafted marketing materials, but a lot of prospects will still feel the sensation of risk if they can’t get more assurance that you know exactly what you’re doing. Given that SEO is not an exact science, prospects are well-justified in seeking evidence that they’re not burning their money by hiring you.
For situations like these, we like using social proof to reinforce our business cases. Essentially, social proof is a psychological phenomenon where a person assumes that the actions of others is the correct one. Showing the prospects who your clients are and what you’ve done for them are great ways to provide social proof. Testimonials, reviews and direct feedback from these same clients can help sell a prospect on the quality of your work.
Other trust signals can also help your chances in landing a client. Being a Google Partner, having the Better Business Bureau (BBB) badge and being associated with large, credible SEO brands definitely gets you more social mileage.
With these seven tips, any SEO lead will have a hard time saying no to your offer. Even when the prospect does turn you down for whatever reason, he’ll be sure to remember you for consideration in the future. Client acquisition is all about showing sincerity in your desire to help someone out. You may not snag the customer every time, but giving it your best sshot helps create good press around your brand. That’s an investment for more conversions down the line.