Negotiations and Client Sales for SEOs – A Rebuttal

Todd Malicoat invited Calum Coburn (from to write a blog article on ways consultants could convert prospects into sales. I particularly enjoyed this article because we don’t often hear about business component of search marketing in blogs. In the article Calum offers some tactics for SEO negotiations. Now, I agree with the premise and many of the assertions in the article, but would like to offer some additional thoughts.

Herein lies the typical process most consultants encounter with searching clients. The phone will ring (usually the phone) and the prospective client is ‘streamed’ through some type of ‘pre-plan’. Generally you’ve been through this process so many times before you know the questions you’ll be asked and what responses you’ll give. Rather than the ‘here’s what I can sell’ Calum suggests the ‘reverse sales’ approach. He even goes on to suggest prepared answers and questions to help steer your conversation in this direction.

I agree with his approach, however, would argue with semantics. ‘Reverse sales’ should be called ‘reverse marketing’. You see, it benefits your business when you move away from sales focused activities to marketing focused activities. What’s the difference? Frankly, one is more concerned about the needs of customers, and the other tries to ‘sell things’. Clients don’t want to be sold to, but rather, they want to be enticed, romanced, and drawn into a process that they can call their own.

Personally, I like to chat with clients until a point where both company and consultant have articulated and identified the correct needs and benefits. From this process an action plan and solutions are created to make their dream reality. This of course takes time that many of us don’t have. Calum Coburn’s article suggests a certain degree of ‘confidence’ right off the bat, to create a first impression that says, ‘I don’t need to sell you anything cause I’m the best at what I do.’

More Ways to Separate Good and Bad SEO Firms

Again, I like the approach. Obviously it’s harder to pull off if you aren’t confident in your services, but it certainly gives the impression you have a solid handle of your business. This gives you a certain level of legitimacy, however, it also brings up some problems.

Firstly, you have to be ready to loose clients. Some prospective clients (although the number is quite a bit smaller nowadays) want to be sold to and don’t want to be asked questions about why they chose you. Approach them the wrong way and your ‘reverse marketing’ may turn into an interogation. Identify who the quality client is early and be ready to loose a few in the proposal. Frankly, there is a market out there for client’s better suited for the low low prices of the ESL SEO.

Secondly, a good SEO firm will ensure client’s feel completely immersed in the planning and analysis process, and they generally complete this process for free of charge. Why free you ask? It serves two functions:

    1) Helps the client feel a part of the overall solution that makes them more inclined to go ahead with action (since it was ‘their’ solution to begin with :D)
    2) It builds trust and ensures the SEO knows what is really needed for the web site in your specific industry.

It is at this point that I would engage Calum and ask him to shed some light regarding ideal timeframe with clients. I got the impression through his article that there is an expectation clients will choose to love or hate you in one phone conversation. I do agree first impression are crucial, but I don’t think it is wise for prospective SEO clients to choose any consultant based on one phone conversation, nor do I think SEOs should judget clients on the first call.

My experience suggests 3-5 conversations is what it takes to move to the action stage (the signed proposal). Investing the time necessary will turn prospective clients into lifelong clients. And I mean this seriously, invest time into the right client, show them genuine concern for their goals, and deliver on those goals, and you’ll create a long term relationship that will put money in your bank.

To sum up: be confident in your approach, try the ‘reverse marketing’ be ready to loose prospective clients, be prepared for 3-5 conversations to close the deal, and use cheat sheets to help lead your phone conversations.

[tags]seo negotiations, negotiating seo, how to negotiate seo sales, marketing negotiations[/tags]


  1. You’ve given this topic a lot of broad thought Barry. This alone gives you an advantage of converting the interested prospect on the other end of the phone.

    I don’t live in a world of “shoulds”. My experience and the research that prompted me to go down this avenue are more persuasive.

    If you expect to close every prospect you speak with, you’re either setting yourself up for failure (in which case, share your stories with me at my next pubcon), or you have supernatural powers (and I’ll be the one buying you beers at the pubcon to learn about your new sales methods, just before you publish them and become a millionaire). So yes, you should be prepared to lose prospects using Reverse Selling. Look a little deeper and you’ll notice that the prospects you’re losing would either not have converted anyhow, or would have been too expensive to service.

    I agree with all the value-add you’ve outlined, still got to get to what the client really needs and do all the hard work of understanding their business and sites.

    The distinction between whether you’re marketing or selling isn’t imho an important one. Simply put, marketing is what you do in order for the client to call you. Sales is what you do to convert them from that point on. Ask a salesperson if you’re not persuaded. Of course you would have to be doing a decent job of the marketing in the first place in order to get the call… but that’s the domain of Internet Marketers, so I bow out at this point.

  2. Hi Calum, thanks for stopping by.

    I agree with your thoughts about losing customers, thats’ the nature of business. My thoughts about marketing and selling semantics is merely a secondary point as you’ve pointed out. I do, however, believe that the first step in changing common perceptions is changing the language. Selling implies just that, selling. Marketing is far harder, requires more experience, and only the greatest lovers have the skill to seduce prospects. But that’s what it takes, more lovin’ then sellin’.