Why SEOs Should Work with Sales to Obtain/Retain Clients

When I first started at Distilled in June 2011, I was intrigued to learn from the Sales team on what worked, what was effective, and how to apply it to my consulting in order to boost client relationships, maintain momentum on projects, and always be forward thinking. Currently, Distilled integrates SEO with Consulting and Account Management and consequently, we have our work cut out for us when setting and maintaining projects for success. Having worked at other agencies in the past, I understood the importance of building a solid relationship with a client from the first touch point (which in my experience is sales) all the way through to signing and kicking off the project. I also quickly figured out how vital it is to make sure we sell them the right project and manage their expectations from the get go. It is so much easier to set expectations right the first time than it is to go back to the drawing board 4 months later to try and correct it. These were just a reasons why I felt compelled to integrate myself into the Sales process as much as possible. Below are some ways that the integration of SEOs with Sales has improved Distilled’s ability to win the type of projects/clients that we want, while also preventing the “Cycle of Sadness” that many SEOs feel a part of.

Cycle of Sadness

Image courtesy of SEOMoz

Integration Has Improved Our Ability to Win the Projects We Want

Currently, the Sales team is the first point of contact for any lead that Distilled receives. In general, they’ll first contact the prospect and decide whether this project would be a good fit by looking at a variety of factors, such as project scope, project goals, client expectations, project budget, as well as the client’s business. If the prospective client has goals and expectations aligned with Distilled’s, we would deem the prospect a very good match and integrate SEO consultants into the process.

Identifying Opportunities By Analyzing the Client’s Site

By the time an SEO consultant is brought into the Sales process, we’ve already identified the prospect as being a project we want to close. As a result, a SEO consultant is brought in to analyze the prospective’s client site and identify opportunities (both short-term and long-term) as elements that we should focus on during our engagement together.  Distilled has put together a universal questionnaire created by Paddy Moogan that would be answered by the consultant as they peruse the site.

The questions include:

  • If you were the in-house SEO on this project, what are the first 3 things you would do?
    • This helps Sales understand the overarching possibilities of any project, regardless if the client has specifically identified for us what he/she wants us to do. As a company, we don’t want to limit the type of projects we have based just on what our client’s want, but what they need. As a result, we are also able to position ourselves more as building a partnership with our clients and less as SEO vendors.
  • Can you give me 3-5 quick wins for the client?
    • This isn’t always possible, but if it is we should absolutely pre-deliver this information to the client. Examples could include non-crawlable converting pages, homepage issues, and accidentally blocking important pages .
  • What are the major risks for this project?
    • This question ultimately helps the Sales team properly set expectations.
  • What are the major opportunities? What would a game changer look like for this client?
    • We want to ensure that we do understand the specific needs of a prospective client. Sometimes, a game changer won’t be SEO, but instead could be paid search, CRO, content, PR, or a combination thereof. Helping the Sales team identify that for us will result in a win-win for everyone involved.
  • What do you think is the main goal for this strategy?
    • Once we identified an opportunity, we want our clients to understand why they should care about the opportunity. Is it aligned with the client’s goals and if not, are there opportunities to work with the client on making sure this will become a goal?
  • Do you recommend the client need internal SEO training?
    • I often answer this question in collaboration with the Sales team, as I’ve not had the opportunity to speak to the prospect directly at this point. If they deem that the prospect has very limited SEO knowledge, often times we find it’s worth the investment to provide these clients with basic SEO training. This serves two purposes: an understanding of how detailed we need to make our recommendations (example: if we recommend the client 301 redirect specific pages, will they understand the rationale behind this recommendation? If not, we want to make sure the explanation is included alongside the recommendations), as well as educating the client on SEO best practices to make sure they’re learning (and the client’s company is learning) throughout the engagement.
  • What needs to be done before the project can start? (Examples: understanding of the team structure, existing assets, existing industry research)
    • We want to avoid producing redundant work as much as necessary to ensure we make best use of the client’s budget and everyone’s resources, both agency side and client side. The goal is for Distilled to integrate ourselves into the existing company rather than reinvent the wheel.
  • Provide a 3-month schedule for the project
    • The purpose is to properly set the client’s expectations on realistic timelines for the engagement.
  • What are your personal targets for this project/KPIs you’d like to set up for the project?
    • This forces the consultants to understand the client’s site in more depth. Although there are always standard metrics/goals that consultant’s track, such as organic search traffic, etc... if we can provide the prospective client with even more detail, that provides us with a unique value proposition for any client that we really want to work with. It also goes along with the goal of ensuring all of our recommendations are customized to the specific needs of any one client.
  • What will the client need to do for the project to be a success?
    • This helps set proper expectations on the client side. From experience, we know that in certain types of companies we often run into very similar challenges, like lack of integration between different departments, long sign-off processes that are beyond our control, etc... Opening up the communication channels now often provides a full picture for our client of how long a project will realistically take, as well as making sure we have some ideas on how we will deal with these challenges once a project is officially signed off.
  • Where do you think the site could be in 3 month’s time? 6 month’s time?
    • This will help paint a complete picture for the client of realistically how long some aspects of this project will take and how long it may take to see results. Doing so early on helps to avoid major friction points later on and get all parties involved on the same page before a project starts.
Why Building Rapport with Sales is Important

Working with Sales has been instrumental both in signing clients we want to work with, as well as retaining and upselling the clients we want to keep. This allows both SEOs and Sales to spend considerable time/effort on their strengths. For an SEO, it’s about defining the strategy and gaining a deeper understanding of a prospective client’s niche market. For Sales, it’s about spending resources researching the prospective client’s company, understanding the role of the point of contact at that company, and ensuring that when we actually speak to the client, we can speak directly to the client’s needs. I’ve personally learned to use Sales to help build my knowledge of a prospective client’s company, such as is my point of contact using a consultant to build their company’s knowledge base, to convince higher-level executives of internal changes that need to be made, or to bypass internal red tape? By gathering a complete picture of the client’s needs, you can be much more resourceful with your time and get straight to the point. This also builds trust/a partnership between you and the client, resulting in more opportunities to work on bigger projects and longer engagements with the projects you care about.

Sales Cartoon

Image courtesy of Ted Goff

How Sales Has Helped me Retain Clients

I’ve personally used the support from Sales to help me discover pivotal information about my clients that have ultimately resulted in me resigning/upselling my favorite clients. Our Sales team has specifically helped me:

  • Think long-term and discover what the client needs in order to have an ongoing relationship - above and beyond the existing scope
  • Forced me to continuously ask questions about the client’s company, such as:
    • Any changes in the internal structure of the organization?
    • An understanding of overarching company goals. This could be brand awareness, brand recognition, and/or understanding of the long-term vision of the company
  • Understanding of the company’s existing pain pointsand how we can help resolve them
    • Examples could be lack of resources, lack of integration between teams, undefined internal structure, lack of collaboration
  • Constantly request feedback from the client on whether or not they are happy, as well as what you can do to provide even more value
  • Clear communication and transparency- this helps build a strong partnership between you and your client
    • Communicate when project momentum has deteriorated or any concerns you ever have directly to the client
    • Communicate how much you enjoy working with the client and how you’d like to continue the engagement in the future
    • Clearly communciate your own strengths and weaknesses
    • Communicate mutual long-term goals and future plans
I’ve personally found the integration of SEOs working together with Sales fulfilling. Not only do I have another internal support system, but I’m also able to work on projects that bring the most value for my clients, continue to work with clients I enjoy, and help bring in more exciting projects to the Distilled pipeline.

Stephanie Chang

Stephanie Chang

Stephanie helped open Distilled’s New York office in June 2011 after working for a year at a New York-based full-service agency. She oversaw the SEO and social media execution for a variety of clients including B2B, B2C, e-commerce and international...   read more

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7 Comments

  1. Great thoughts Stephanie. I've found out a couple things in working with sales people. First, sales people should do sales, not be SEOs. I had one friend who spent a ton of time learning SEO so he could really understand it for sales. Unfortunately, it actually started to hurt his numbers because he knew so much, he had a difficult time communicating on the level of the lead. He just ended up confusing them. So, let them sell the service, but not the campaign. Let the SEO do that once they've signed.

    The second thing I've learned is that working closely with a sales team can help you retain clients. The more we work with the sales team, the more likely we are to keep a client for a very long time and the more likely we are to get a client to increase their spend and give us more time to spend with them--if their account is set up that way. Keeping sales in the conversation provides better communication and perspective to the customer.

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    • I think it has been incredibly useful that our sales team is familiar with SEO and can speak informatively about it, but still keeps the conversations flowing at the 10,000 foot level when speaking to prospective clients. And I 100% agree, working with the sales team has helped me retain clients at a very high rate.

    • Paige, I think that selling SEO is a solution sales process in which being able to convince a prospect that the agency has a proven process that can be customized to the prospect's needs are important. Especially for enterprise sales, prospects who already know quite a bit about SEO want to learn about the X-factor that an agency brings to the table. It isn't enough for a sales person to just know the basics and communicate that in a convincing manner. Besides, good sales people will always be able sell a service at the client's level of understanding, much in the same way a good SEO can break down a difficult SEO concept into layman's terms.

  2. Daniel Braddock

    Hi Stephanie,

    A lot of really great ideas in this post. Very valuable.

    Working on the business development side of our operation, making sure that projects are closed in the correct way is imperative. I think one of the strongest points that we are able to communicate is that we're all in this for the long run. Our relationship with the client, our own business, our client's businesses - we want to have fruitful relationships until the end of days (if possible). Being realistic and honest during the engagement stage provides a great platform for an amazing relationship.

    Thanks for the post :)

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  3. Stephanie you have given every true and useful information about SEO. I agree with this post and want to say increasing sales is primary motive of SEO these days. For growth of Business you need to hire SEO experts for maximum benefits.

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  4. Being in real estate in the Italian market I've found its essential to work with the sales team to gather insights into what clients want and what are they searching for which doesn't translate into their search queries. It takes a little pyschology to SEO for the right keyword queries.

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  5. Definitely true. I used to work for an agency and unfortunately we were segmented from the sales dept. Each client's situation is unique, and often the sales team wouldn't sell the most appropriate solution to the client, or something ridiculous would be sold and service delivery would have to scramble to make it work.

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