Posted by willcritchlow
Another business-focussed post from me today (with a little SEO at the end). I was answering a Q&A the other day in a kind of tag-team formation with Rand when I realised that some of my thinking would make a good blog post.
The question was about how to grow a new agency and asked whether we thought that contacting site owners and pointing out flaws / suggesting improvements was a good way to win new business. Rand and I sung with one voice to say (paraphrased) that we weren’t big fans of the cold approach and that networking (both online and offline) was one of the keys to success. I wanted to elaborate on that a little bit.
Before I get into that, I wanted to point out that there are many ways to get ahead. I am not saying these are the only ways – just that we have found them to be effective not only at winning new business but at winning the right kinds of business (which is at least as critical).
There is also a glaring omission in what follows, which is the one you will find in all the textbooks: USP. Having a Unique Selling Point is often referred to as the way to win in business. It can be rephrased as having a defensible advantage. It is going to be very important (in my opinion) over the next 3-5 years of our industry’s growth. Right now, you don’t need it to win clients (even big ones). I’m going to write a follow-up post at some point about my views on defensibility, technology and our plans for the future, but for now, we’re talking about winning business today.
OK, we’re actually talking about winning business next week, since it’s now Friday. Tip #1 – don’t bug your prospects after beer o’clock (a little site knocked together by Rob – one of the guys in the Distilled office who tells me it’ll be much better next week!).
Just as with SEO, it’s all about trust
I think it might be partly the relative youth of our industry, but my experience has been that when you apply traditional selling techniques to SEO, you end up with prospects who aren’t that sure exactly what they are buying or why. If you manage to convert these poor souls into clients you will fall into a particularly horrible trap that I like to call “aaaaaargh not that client again”. They will suck your soul and make you hate work through endless demands for unrealistic things (for any clients reading this, I’m not talking about you).
You are far better selling to people who respect, trust and value your advice and are generally a joy to work with (for any clients reading this, I’m talking about you). This is where you will do your best work and get your best results.
So how can you find these people?
In my experience it’s all about increasing the trust that people have in you. Every single marketing effort we have done can be grouped into one of two categories:
- Didn’t work
Which correlated almost perfectly with
- Increased trust
- Didn’t increase trust
Things that have worked really well for us:
- Networking (both online and offline, within the industry and outside it)
- Referrals from existing clients
- PR (effectively getting the seal of approval from a journalist)
- Speaking engagements
- Running our own seminars
These all increase your trust – they are all effectively about someone passing some of their trust to you (colleagues, friends, journalist, clients, suppliers, conference organisers, Google, etc. etc.). This has obvious parallels with pagerank for those of you paying attention at the back, which might tell you which kind of publications, conferences and friends you want to be associated with 🙂
(*) The reason SEO has an asterisk is that actually the highest value we have ever had from ranking well was a journalist finding us on Google and then writing an article that generated a lot of business.
Things that have not worked for us:
- Advertising (even PPC)
- Email marketing
The common denominator here is that there is no trust increase to any of these activities.
I’m not saying these can’t work in any environment – I’m sure that many more mature industries see great returns from getting their brand around the place or demonstrating some edge (even if it’s only a pricing edge) to potential customers, and I know PPC can work! For our own business, however, we haven’t seen good results from these.
It’s not an overnight fix – it’s a long hard slog (go and read about the flywheel concept again) but once the momentum gets going it can be fantastic.
I think the main reason this works so well in our industry is the lack of trust many business people have for SEO providers (often not without reason). We’re the responsible builders operating among the cowboys – you are always going to trust the person you are referred to.
So there you have it. That’s all my secrets revealed for this week. Stay tuned for real secrets next week when Tom is going to release a post that might be the best thing he’s ever written. No pressure…
PS Your community needs YOU(moz)
More: continued here