Aaron Agius is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of the award-winning global marketing agency Louder.Online.
Statista estimated in 2017 that there were 13,740 advertising agencies in the U.S. IBIS World put the number at 78,883 in 2020.
While different definitions of what, exactly, constitutes a marketing and advertising agency contribute to the discrepancy between these and other estimates, one thing is clear: There are a huge number of businesses offering promotional services these days.
While these huge numbers wouldn’t be possible if there wasn’t a demand to support them, it’s also true that higher competition makes it more difficult to stand out. Yet, in the face of these challenging market conditions, I still see agency owners shoot themselves in the feet, over and over again.
Based on my over 14 years as the owner of a global marketing agency, here are five things I see most digital marketing agencies get wrong when selling their services.
They Sell Features, Not Benefits
This is a “sales 101” type of mistake, but it’s one I regularly see agencies making. In my experience, part of what makes marketers — digital marketers, especially — so prone to selling on features is the dynamic impact of new technology on our work.
Managing to keep up with all of Google’s changes is notable. Figuring out advanced PPC campaign strategies is remarkable, given the complexity of Google Ads and other platforms. But expertise on these different channels is still a feature — it’s not a benefit.
Your customers need you to be up-to-date on these strategies and changes, but they don’t need to know the nitty-gritty technical details. They need to hear what your expertise means to them.
So although they need you to be up-to-date on the latest algorithm changes, what they really need to know is that your agency can help them recover lost traffic or beat out a competitor who’s constantly outranking them. They don’t always need to know how you structure your PPC campaigns, as long as you’re able to show consistently positive ROI for any traffic or leads generated.
Show your clients how your features will benefit them. Otherwise, you’re always going to be a step behind agencies that can make the connection.
They Don’t Sell Their USP
As marketers, we love to preach to our clients about the importance of defining a unique service proposition (USP), but we don’t always hit the mark when it comes to selling our agencies in the same way.
I could do a Google search for “Dallas SEO agency” right now, and I’d probably come up with dozens of different websites — all describing what they do in likely the same language. Even if they manage to sell on benefits instead of features, some agencies don’t always take the next, necessary step of explaining how and why they’re different from others.
How is your process unique from your competitors? What’s special about your approach? Are you uniquely skilled in a particular channel or suited to supporting a specific type of customer?
If you can’t answer these questions (let alone explain your responses to your customers in a compelling way), you don’t just have a sales problem. You have a foundational issue that’s going to hold your agency back until you can offer a stronger, more differentiated suite of services.
They Discount Themselves Into The Ground
When you operate in a competitive market, there’s always going to be someone willing to do the same work you’re doing at a lower price. Of course, there are people charging more as well — yet, for some reason, few agency owners respond by raising their rates.
Instead, they set up a “race to the bottom” by discounting their services. Sure, they might tell themselves that it’s a limited time thing, or that they’ll only do it to score a quick sales boost. But discounting your services has a pernicious effect. Once you’ve established yourself as a low-cost, bottom-tiered provider, that’s a tough hole to dig out of.
Know your value, and be able to defend your rates through a compelling USP. The right clients will respect you for it, while those who aren’t a fit will fall away naturally.
They Ignore The Power Of Inbound
There is a time and a place for cold calling. But if that’s all your agency is relying on for new leads and new business, you’re missing out on the ability to drive pre-educated, pre-sold leads through an inbound funnel.
Increasingly, customers are demanding that the marketing agencies they hire be able to effectively deploy inbound strategies as part of their campaigns. If you provide these services, you have the expertise internally. Put these skills to work not just for your clients, but for your agency as well.
They Overpromise And Under-Deliver
This one drives me crazy, but I see agencies do it all the time: They overpromise what they’ll be able to deliver, and then they aren’t able to follow through with the results they promised.
To be fair, I don’t believe this is always done maliciously. Often, agency owners and salespeople fear losing the sale, so they’ll fudge the truth a bit to get the client on board. But, not only does this eventually result in a disappointed customer, it gives our whole industry a bad name.
A better alternative? Set expectations correctly, to begin with. Your customers will be happier (and more likely to refer you to others), and you’ll sleep better at night.
Certainly, these aren’t the only mistakes agencies make. So even if you don’t see yourself reflected here, don’t assume you’re in the clear. Regularly evaluate how prospective customers are moving through your sales funnel. If attrition is greater than you’d expect at any stage, there’s an underlying issue you need to find and deal with to be successful in the long run.
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