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SEO Newsletter - BACK TO BASICS: Dealing With Client Buy-In

By Dærick Gröss, May 30, 2008

As a search engine optimization service provider, we see clients of all sizes and complexities. One and two-man operations are just as likely as large international corporations to begin a project with us, and each needs to be serviced with the same level of attention and concern. Every client is different; each has a unique structure and a unique way in which things get done. But across all these clients there is one very important component that never changes, the need to get buy in.

For this article, I will be addressing the question of achieving buy in from clients who have a relatively simple model for getting changes / recommendations approved and done. Generally these tend to be smaller companies, where decision makers are relatively easy to access or may even be among the direct players in the project itself. In companies like these, we find that we have the potential to move very quickly (depending on available resources) and that getting things done can be a relatively simple process. One of the biggest things a service provider can do in cases like this is cultivating a comfortable level of trust and buy-in.

In smaller companies or departments where there is a "simple approval" model in place, getting the core team fully on board is crucial. These are the people who either have the authority to get things done or are often merely one step removed from that process. In a situation like this, having to continually spend time and energy to convince a person or "sell" them on a recommendation is an unnecessary burden and from a project management perspective is an inefficient use of resources.

It would be nice to believe that merely hiring a search engine optimization service provider for the task would indicate that a client on board and ready to jump at every idea and suggestion but that's simply not the case. On some level however, every client needs some convincing or some explaining to get things done. Bruce Clay, Inc requires that all of our clients attend our SEO training. We find that when the client understands the basics of how we're trying to accomplish the service for which we were hired, it removes many barriers as to why we're requesting that certain things be done.

Most accounts are going to run into problems every now and again, but they can be dealt with if you keep your cool and work through it patiently. Let's say your agency is brought on board to help with market expansion but the VP you will be dealing with for this critical endeavor isn't necessarily sold on your agency specifically as the strongest candidate for the job. In short, every idea, suggestion, and even completed deliverable is likely to be questioned at every step or at least put under the microscope every time. So, what is a service provider to do?

The short answer of course is do your best. Thorough research, sound advice, professional presentation, these are all a given. In and of themselves however, these points will not alleviate the fact that the relationship is developing a "prove it to me" culture or possibly even outright distrust. This might even just be a localized issue, with a single person or on a particular facet of an otherwise smooth-running ship.

One way to approach the issue is to really define what is happening. Is this a result of a specific person and his personality (he are always like this)? Is this the result of a mistake that has put you behind the proverbial eight-ball? Isolate the issue that seems to be the root of the matter and see what might be done to address it. Perhaps a direct conversation is in order to help put the person at ease or explain the impact on the project the issue is having. In many cases, a simple conversation explaining how the constant need for whatever procedure a cautious client has in place (extra meetings, detailed slide presentation, redundant data reports, etc.) ate up valuable project resources and time. Sometimes that's all it takes.

On the other hand, some clients simply will always have some level of confidence problem, even to the extent an exasperated service provider may find themselves pulling their hair out and asking why there is even a project to begin with. Fortunately extreme cases like this tend to be very rare, the vast majority leaving room for improvement.

Remember that a healthy client/vendor relationship has good communication. This is absolutely the first place to start when there is a problem of any kind, and buy-in issues are no different. Good communication is one of your greatest assets and best weapons. In our experience even the most stone-faced and expressionless of clients are open to two-way discussions and are willing to listen to you as the resident expert at what you do. They are investing money in a service after all; they will want to know if there are any issues or impediments to success. Give them that courtesy and respect.

If directly calling out that there is a confidence issue would lead to a potentially delicate or compromising situation, consider offering potential solutions as simply as project improvements without mentioning there is even a problem to begin with. By proactively suggesting ways to streamline a process, you simultaneously demonstrate investment in and competency with the project and potentially build a client's confidence as well.

The bottom line in any situation where your expertise or quality as a service provider are questioned on a regular basis is to let the results speak for themselves. You may not ever be able to circumvent the regular "prove it to me" emails or calls with some clients, but as an agency your integrity and professionalism will still come out on top.

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