More threads by Michelle Darling

Oct 18, 2013
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Interesting conversation with a home improvement contractor client today. He said, as a marketer, I should be able to "control" what visitors do on his website. That's our job. To "make the right people schedule an estimate".

It's not enough that his specific target audience - in his local market - easily "sees/finds" his business online or that they click through to his website. It doesn't matter that his website is user-friendly, informative, easy to navigate, with a clear call to action ... that it does everything possible to "influence" visitors to take the next step (i.e. schedule an appointment).

All that matters is landed jobs he gets from local SEO efforts (and he says he has a 50% close rate).

He stated that SEOs should be paid on commission only - a percentage of the actual work landed directly from SEO (not estimates, but closed jobs). He acknowledged how much time SEO takes - content, link building, audits, GMB management, etc. - but it doesn't mean squat if website visits or even appointments from the website or GMB - don't turn into paying customers. He says that SEOs don't understand what marketing really is.

It's not that he isn't getting leads. It's just never enough ... definitely not enough, he says, to justify spending more on SEO. (I didn't ask him to, so not sure why that came up). But, he says he's very happy with our services and hasn't had this level of satisfaction with any other marketing agency in his 20 years in business. So I asked him, "why do you keep paying for SEO if it doesn't accomplish your goals?" He said we aren't on the same page about what marketing is supposed to achieve - but no one else in the SEO industry is either, so he wants us to keep trying. Ugh.

This is not a 'new' conversation. All of my contractor clients complain, year after year, that they need more leads - especially over the holidays, economic downturns, pandemics, and elections! Many of them do no other marketing but SEO, against my advice. Regardless, they hold our SEO services responsible for the majority of their leads/closed jobs. Years ago, I could work with that metric. But not anymore. Now, we set expectations in the form of deliverables, visibility, and similar.

Should we be responsible for a certain number of leads? Like phone calls and form submits? We're not a lead generator (like Home Advisor). Am I missing something? What accountability do local SEOs have? What proves our worth?

Interested to hear insights from other SEOs.
I am not an SEO, I’m a contractor so I can give a view from a different perspective.

All I was thinking while reading your post was “This guy is a bad customer, fire him!“. He’s just an unrealistic complainer whoants to finagle a way to pay less well getting more out of you.

I’ve learned that you can’t please everyone, and trying to do so can be nothing more than a waste of time and loss of profit.

His entire premise doesn’t make any sense to me since he wants to pay only for closed jobs. Why should your commission be subjected to his ability to close a job?

Instead of him complaining about you, he should look into his own issues. A 50% close rate is terrible, I’ve been at 80% since 2 years after I went into business.
“This guy is a bad customer, fire him!“
I was thinking that too.

That type of pricing model sounds like an invoicing nightmare. Attribution is hard and I think it would be extremely difficult to say for sure what clients came from Google. For example, if someone sees his Facebook ad, but then Googles the business, is that a Google lead or a Facebook lead?

This pricing model would also be in full control of the client. I would never want to run a business that way. What if he doesn't get back to you one month or what's to keep him from lying about the leads?

I see SEO mostly like lawyers. The price you pay should be based on the value, time, and expertise of the person you're hiring.
@DontBiteUrNails Great closing rate!! Thanks for your response. This was actually a combination of two different client calls - and another one this morning leads me to believe that these contractors are scared. It's a cry for help.

Some of my franchise owners, for instance, were forced to lock down for 3+ months when it would normally be their busy time of year. Now we're going into the slow season. They haven't been able to catch up to the revenue they were at last year. 2020's been tough. But that's not the fault of my team or SEO.

Regardless, I had a polite conversation with one of the clients from yesterday, said I agreed we aren't on the same page about marketing/SEO, and that this incompatibility makes it difficult to work together effectively. I gave him until December 31 to move to another marketer. He is not a happy camper - fighting to "patch things up", but I'm firm. There have been other issues with him.

Then I saw this response and feel validated I made the right decision. Thank you!!!

My biggest question isn't so much about getting paid by commission. That's ridiculous, right?! It's whether other SEOs agree to a certain number of leads (phone calls, form submits, newsletter signups, whatever the goal)? It sounds like @JoyHawkins is saying no? What metrics/deliverables do you base your value on?
He says that SEOs don't understand what marketing really is.

I can relate to this. I find that most people looking at revenue contribute to a similar sentimate. And from a marketer's standpoint, we're not always focused on revenue but we really should be. SEO's not excluded - but we also don't have the full picture, so we need to focus where we can. An in-house marketer would be a better fit for this guy - say a business manager. Someone who can see the whole sales cycle and control it.

If as a marketing contractor, you were to take on a position of getting paid on booked work you would need to control EVERYTHING. From attracting potentials to the sale and just give the contractor the details and when to start work.

This isn't what most of us sign up for, we not here to run their business too.

But if you were to somehow develop a strategy or business that could do this, each 'booked lead' would likely be 30 to 50% of the total sale. You have to eat, he has to eat - the customer rates would go up.
I find that small companies don't have great CRM tracking. If I can get my hands on call stats, sales stats I'll get a baseline - but only if I can see data. I'm not trusting word of mouth. If they have analytics set up on their site I can show page rank improvements or increased form submissions, maybe even sales if set up as an ecom.

But when I can't I'll share data from what I can control.

If it's GMB I track 'actions' - website, calls, review subs, and forms subs. If it's SEO I track page position, keyword positions, calls, and form subs.

Being sales-minded I try to find out the sales process and see if there are suggestions I can make for better conversions.
My biggest question isn't so much about getting paid by commission. That's ridiculous, right?! It's whether other SEOs agree to a certain number of leads (phone calls, form submits, newsletter signups, whatever the goal)? It sounds like @JoyHawkins is saying no? What metrics/deliverables do you base your value on?

So I would say no, but at the same time, they're not gonna stay as a client if you don't deliver this so clearly it needs to be a goal. I just think pricing should be based around time/value/expertise.
Agreed with Joy on pricing should be based on time/value/expertise.

I know my rate is competitive for the work I do and the value I generate. If a prospective client can't appreciate the transparency I provide with the results I bring in, and if they want to low ball me or give me a hard time, it isn't worth it to me. There are other people I can help that I would have a better work relationship with.

Unless you are desperate for the income from a "bad client" I would fire them.
I have never seen a client accurately stat how many inbound leads they get (nevermind the source) if they aren't tracking everything. We do have a few marketers that we work with the do get paid on a per scheduled lead basis. It's an interesting model for sure but the marketer needs to have a surefire way to drive hot traffic. The marketers we work with that do this are usually pretty picky about their clientele though and either get their clients to dedicate $XXXX to ad spend (the client pays for ad spend) or if they only do SEO they have clauses that they must get X reviews per quarter.

It's not an impossible model but the marketer needs to be able to 1 - hold firm to the price per scheduled demo/call/appt, 2- have a sure fire way to drive traffic, and 3 - be able to track everything. It's high risk high reward. Had my career not gone in the direction it has, I would probably be pursuing this marketing structure for an agency play myself :)
I also believe this client will never be happy with your work. He gives you a carrot and wants to tie to closed jobs. Think of all the excellent leads you may bring that he hasn't the expertise for, or doesn't contact quickly enough, and on and on. That can't be on you.

Not everyone is going to "get it" and be a good fit. We are at the point where every client we have feels like a partner. The feeling is amazing and we work together and when we get contacted by someone where we feel they see all SEO;s as the same and it's a commodity, we send them on their way to work with someone else.

Similar to Joy's comment it's like if your looking for an attorney and you only chose the one that has the best rate... May not be a good outcome for you in the legal fight. Better to pay for the right attorney and get the best outcome.

If it was us, we would rather have less of the client like you shared and work harder to find the contractors that fully get it and work hard to keep them
The relationship is a two way street. If a client thinks a marketer should be paid on full commission, he should put that job offer out there. I suspect he would find that he would find nobody would agree to his offer unless the upside was huge. In the end he would increase his marketing expense if he could find someone to take on this risk.

One strange thing to me is that he seems to want to treat the SEO marketing as a sales position. Marketing and sales are not the same thing. Marketing and advertising are not the same thing.

Ultimately this sounds like a client wanting to be cheap and cut costs.

I have found over the years that tough times often drive bad decisions. When sales are down, many businesses want to cut their advertising budget, just until things pick up of course. What this amounts to is a decision to reduce asking the public to spend money with them, which then reduces revenue further. It is a vicious cycle!

The counter intuitive, but correct decision in my opinion, is to increase asking the public to spend money with you. Increasing revenue is the solution. Cutting costs only helps so much before you go out of business. Increase revenue and grow the business while others are going retreating into a shell!
Get paid per lead? Hell yeah! So long as the attribution process is robust and the price per lead is fair and more than covers the true cost of everything generating the leads plus an element for risk and margin. Get paid per conversion? Hell, no!
So, when a customer invests in a radio spot, or a billboard, or a tv commercial, they pay by closed leads? Of course is getting your product/service in front of the ideal prospect...nothing more, nothing up a radio station, tv station, billboard company and ask for “commission” type deal...they will politely decline, then hang up and make fun of you with their peers.
Depends whether you are trying to sell marketing or leads, I guess. Both can work so long as expectations are clear and pricing is right.
His claim reminds me of the eternal debate over the percentage an agent is entitled to receive for a new client.

In traditional trade, an agent would usually receive 3-5% of the turnover for a defined period, usually not greater than 1-2 years.

However, many would claim that since the client will probably continue working with the company, the deal is unfair for the agent. On the other hand, companies usually complain that agents are making money without offering much than the initial contact.

My advice would be to think of where you are and where you want to be tomorrow. If you need the cash flow, keep him because he (or they) like your service and benefit from it.

If you can make some customer selection, you probably want to work only with people who respect you and your services and clients who can help you get where you want to be.

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