Welcome to the most significant challenge facing inbound marketing agency owners. It’s not staffing, it’s not sales, it’s not hiring and it’s not finance. The most significant challenge facing us all is helping our new and existing clients understand what to expect from an inbound marketing engagement.
For all of you who are positive you’re setting these upfront during the sales process, guess again. After 13 years of selling inbound marketing engagements of all shapes and sizes to clients of all shapes and sizes they rarely hear what you’re saying to them.
In fact, I’m sure that most inbound marketing agency clients don’t hear anything other than the magic word—leads.
You’re going to get them leads, regardless of their budget, their timing, their participation, their direction. You’re going to get them leads no matter what they do. That’s what they hear, no matter what you say. Let’s agree to this right up front.
Now what? If you don’t accurately set expectations and fast, you’re going to have a client disappointed with your efforts after just a few months.
Here are some of the techniques we use to set expectations early and often with the goal of creating a situation where we over achieve client expectations.
Just Do Projections
Projections are not promises, they’re not guarantees, they’re guesses. They might be educated guesses but they’re guesses nonetheless. Regardless, its important to take the time to project program performance based on a client’s current state.
The more you do these projections, the better you’ll be at producing them. However, projections have a way of self-correcting. What starts as a guess, quickly becomes more and more accurate based on actual data. As you see how website visitors grow and the impact your content has on the conversion rate and the number of leads generated each month—your projections will become better.
Help your client understand the process of improving projections, how the data plays a key role in creating accurate projections and the importance of using these projections to build the actual inbound tactical pieces.
Set Them Early, And Adjust Them Often
The more you adjust your projections, the more accurate and useful they become. The exercise includes a continuous improvement component that feeds on itself. The more data, the better the projections. The more accurate the expectations and the easier it is to overachieve.
People are afraid to set expectations because with expected results come the opportunity to fail. Push past this fear. Do them for the sake of doing them. Keep them to yourself, if you have to, but do them anyway. Use them daily, weekly and monthly to help create the inbound program tactical details. Need more visitors, deploy visitor improving tactics. Need more leads, deploy lead generation tactics, but let the estimated results be your guide.
One of the most challenging conversations you’ll have with your clients is about falling short on their expectations. These are going to happen. Practice having these conversations. Practice explaining what contributed to the lower than expected results and what you can do about improving those next month. Make the results a shared metric, not one the agency is solely responsible for. This is going to create stronger more partner oriented relationships with your clients and help them feel like they’re getting better at inbound by working with your agency.
Help The Client Understand Consequences
When it comes to inbound, everything you do has consequences. Postpone approval on a blog article, that has the potential to produce lower than expected organic visitor results. Change the title on a eBook at the last minute causing a rewrite, this has the potential to push down conversion rate and lead numbers.
Delay the launch of your new website or new website pages is likely going to impact almost all your metrics in a negative way. Your client should understand that their actions cause reactions that almost always impact results.
Results can be impacted positively too. Sticking to the agreed to messaging strategy as opposed to hoping around from message to message is going to help you get traction in the market more quickly and would produce better than expected results. Getting a website live faster because you decided to launch a smaller site using agile and then build on that site based on data will produce dramatically better results than waiting for the full site to be perfect. Helping your clients understand their options and the impact those options have on results is mandatory.
Make Education Priority Number One, Two and Three
Which brings me to education. You have to help your clients get smarter. They’re already smart. They understand their business, their industry, their prospects and customers. They just don’t have a lot of experience with inbound, so they’re making some decisions based on how marketing used to work.
Weave education into the very fabric of your engagement. Take every email, phone call, status update, progress report, strategy session and tactic review to educate your client. Help them understand not only what you’re doing, but how you do it and why you’re doing it. The smarter you make them, the better the engagement. Don’t feel threatened if your client knows as much as you do, this is when you get excited about the opportunity to work together with them to help them grow their business.
Teach Your Team To Be Brilliant
Which brings me to your people. The smarter your people, the better your agency. It’s going to be hard to find brilliant inbound marketers who’ve been working in an agency for 10 years and now they’re ready to join you. Those people are few and far between. Instead, focus on creating the training, education, practicums and experiential learning to help your current team be the best they can be.
It’s always been difficult for me to accept letting people learn on our client’s dollar. Instead, we experiment on our own agency. My advice to you is let your people loose on your agency. Let them look at your data, let them create experiments, let them try new, innovative techniques, let them create projections and expectations around their experiments, make them practice communicating to you and working through, not only the successes (those are easy) but the failures too.
This approach is how your team will truly learn how to use inbound as a tool to produce the expected results your clients are looking for, waiting for, and happy to reward you for when you achieve them.
After all that, clients are happy when you get them more leads than they expected and they’re firing you when they get less leads than they expected. The key word in this phrase—expected. Everything you do has to be geared to setting and the over delivering against those expectations.
Here’s where the magic happens. Set them too low and you don’t get hired. Set them too hire and you get fired. What a wonderful business we’ve chosen to be in. The balancing act takes years of experience and training. It takes a deep understanding of the math and science associated with inbound and it takes a set of communication skills that are second to none in the agency world.
As owners, you job is to collect the experience and skills. It’s your job to teach and mentor your team to set expectations accurately based on current performance and the appropriate budget required to achieve your client’s goals. It’s going to be better to pass on a client engagement that is underfunded and over expected. Make that priority one during the sales process.
Start Today Tip – It’s very difficult to rest solely on this challenging balancing act within the sales process. New clients will tell you then understand. They understand it’s going to take longer, they understand their results will be lower, they understand they’re have to do more of the lifting. But they don’t know (because they don’t have the experiences) the impact this will have on their program. But you do. Because of this condition, you have to focus your energies, not on qualification, but on training your team to be better, to be clearer, to be smarter when it comes to getting a client’s inbound marketing to produce results. This is how you’ll take your agency from its current state to the future state you envision for you, your team and your agency.
Agencies 2 Inbound – Helping You GO ALL IN ON Inbound!