How to Overcome Four Tough SEO Business-Building Challenges

by Tony Dimmock  |  Published 9:00 AM, Wed June 25, 2014

In May 2014, I asked the online marketing and SEO community to name the parts of selling, account managing, and pre-qualifying clients that they struggled with and found the most challenging.

From the responses gathered (thanks everyone!), five common themes were prevalent:

  • “commodity” competition
  • client business investigation
  • feasibility decision making
  • objection handling
  • working with sales funnels

By addressing and overcoming these obstacles, you’ll build your business more profitably, experience less stress and focus more on the future.

A bold statement? If you continue to think and work the same way you’ve always done, you’ll most certainly receive the same results you always have.

This isn’t meant to be a mini pep talk, but if you’re struggling with these areas of your business, taking some action now and forming new habits can pay big dividends for your agency or consulting practice in the short and long term.

Challenge #1: Competing Against Snake Oil, Bargain Basement and Cowboy SEOs

The problem? Clients see them as “cost-effective,” commodity-type “quick-fixers.”

The painful truth? We know better. Clients simply don’t know the warning signs. It frustrates the heck out of us and we become desperate to “save” the client from evil.

How to Overcome Four Tough SEO Business-Building Challenges

The challenge? To convince best-fit clients they’re making (or are about to make) a grave mistake, while upholding our integrity and professionalism while progressing in the sale.

The answer? Develop the confidence to compete for business you’ve identified as a best-fit client, regardless of who you’re up against. That’s your #1 goal. How?

  1. Help your potential client know the difference between you and them! See our own How to Choose the Right SEO / Internet Marketing Company guide and adapt / change for yourself as necessary—you’re welcome!
  2. Have the tenacity and conviction to question poor advice. Set them straight when “John’s best mate” utters nonsense. Listen: being “nice”, hiding in the corner and saying nothing is the biggest disservice you can offer your potential client.
  3. Educate them on what is now considered online spam and why the transition from “strings to things” and semantic SEO is key. Helping them understand what is now required will differentiate you from the competition.
  4. Do they have a history of SEO company “problems?” Read between the lines, ask open-ended questions and correct any false assumptions or expectations. They don’t know what they don’t know.
  5. If they’ve received discounts and freebies in the past and their business isn’t where they want it to be online today, explain that their bargain-basement approach to SEO has resulted in this, so they need to adjust their perception and investment in professional SEO. Harsh, but true.

Challenge #2: Learning About a Client’s Business Model FAST!

The problem? Due to time constraints, we don’t have the luxury of spending large amounts of time delving into a potential client’s business model—especially without knowing whether they’ll eventually become a paid client.

The truth? We’re problem-solvers and fixers right?! We want to be let loose and “own the interwebz” in our frenzied pursuit of finding out all about them.

The challenge? Find out business information fast, without affecting our daily, paid-client activities.

The answer? Give yourselves 30 minutes max to gain a fast Internet snapshot. How?

  1. Use Pocket to save information you find and to collate it later
  2. Use Panic Button to manage your tabs and group topical pages
  3. Review About Us, Mission, Shareholders / Directors, News, Blog and Press Office pages
  4. Read between the lines quickly and find out:
    • Who are they?
    • What products or services do they provide?
    • Which problems do they solve?
    • Are they nationwide, regional or local?
  5. Explore the Internet (now’s your chance):
    • Use search operators: “” + Reviews, News, Blog, Growth, Sales, Case Study and Directors
    • Reviews on Google+, Yelp, FreeIndex and others
    • Industry-related online publications
  6. For client audience engagement, if you don’t already have social account details, use search operators: “” + Twitter, Linked-In, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram—check out their social activity, interaction and reach.

Challenge #3: Handling Objections (aka The Art of Listening)

The problem? We’re often put on the spot. Clients (rightly so) ask us hard questions. “Why you?” “How can you help my business, when the last three have shafted us?” and “How do I know you won’t harm our website?”

The truth? We know we can make a real difference to their business. We’ve already mapped out what they need to do and how we’ll help. Please…let us loose!

The challenge? Before any business invests in us, they need to know we’re the real deal—that we’ll do what we say we’ll do, when we say we’ll do it, and that we have their best interests at heart. Business owners want results and they don’t hire us through love.

The answer? As a consultant or agency, to build trust and credibility you need to learn to answer questions and handle objections confidently. That’s your #2 goal. How?

  1. Objections and questions are usually signs of interest. It’s how business owners find out the facts they need to make informed, intelligent decisions. Before we can answer them, we need to listen to their underlying concerns, without interrupting them.
  2. Listening and asking questions helps us extract real, explicit uncertainties, fears, doubts and challenges that prospects face, well before we begin to help them understand why our solution or service might be right for them. Some useful phrases that I’ve used to investigate and uncover deeper client concerns:
    • “If I/we could help overcome this challenge, what other concerns or issues are holding you back from moving forward?”
    • “Why is that a challenge to your business?”
    • “What is causing these problems? Can you give me examples?”
    • “What do you see at the biggest hurdle you face in order to meet your online marketing / SEO objectives?”
    • “In evaluating your current situation, where are the biggest areas or opportunities for improvement?”
    • “If you could turn back the clock, what would you change or do differently?”
    • “Why do you think this is affecting your business?”
    • “In what ways do you see your company increasing its market share in the future?”
    • “What future events do you see negatively and positively influencing your business?”
    • “Where do you see growth opportunities for your business in the future?”

    Especially good for past SEO / client relationships:

    • “On a scale of 1 to 10, how satisfied are you with your current SEO / Internet marketing partner?”
    • “If you could change one thing about your current SEO / Internet marketing partner, what would it be?”
    • “In what ways can your partner better align themselves with your goals and objectives?”
      Pro tip: Once you’ve answered an objection, get confirmation from the prospect that you’ve addressed it so you can both move forward. Unresolved questions or objections can quickly become major roadblocks in advancing the business relationship forward down the line.
      Listening intently to concerns, asking insightful questions and uncovering opportunities where you / your agency can add incredible value sets you apart from your competition in a huge way—and it could be the first time the clients had an online marketer really listen to them.
      If you can paraphrase what you heard in your own words, it shows you’ve listened—and we all need to listen twice as much as we speak.
  3. Wherever possible, begin your questions with “What”, “Why”, “Where”, “How” and “When” using open question methodology—this will help the conversation flow naturally and allow the other person to express themselves.
  4. These type of open questions ask the respondent to think and reflect, promotes opinions and feelings and hands control of the conversation to the respondent.

  5. If you need fast facts, quick answers or to control the conversation, begin questions with “Do,” “Are,” “Can,” and “Will”—commonly known as closed questions.
  6. Try to control your breathing and pause before you reply—it shows you’ve taken time to consider their question or objection. It also builds confidence with the listener and shows you’re worth listening to.

A true story:
A while ago, I pitched to a chairman, six directors and some senior managers in the companies’ head office boardroom—to say I was outnumbered is an understatement.

Throughout the presentation, members of the management team chipped in with questions, so I wrote them down and asked if could answer them fully at the end. Thankfully, they obliged. The pitch lasted approximately two hours and, as promised, I began answering questions and asking for clarification and feedback to ensure I addressed all questions raised.

An hour and a half later and having just addressed their last question, I asked if anyone had any more questions, concerns or needed additional information. They all said “no,” but one director said the following:

“Tony, we’ve spent over four years asking our current provider questions. They’ve never taken 15 minutes, never mind two hours, to fully answer our concerns and to help us understand the online landscape. You’ve answered everything thrown at you and we feel confident that your company can lead us forward. Thanks for your time today.”

The next morning, I received a phone call from the chairman, confirming us as their new partner. It’s also worth noting that we replaced a nationwide 250+ staff company in the process. If little we can do it, so can you.

Challenge #4: Managing and Developing Your Sales Funnel

The problem? If new opportunities aren’t entering your sales funnel (whether that’s referrals, website enquiries or other), your sales pipeline will eventually dry up, leaving you or your business up sh*t creek without a paddle. Another harsh, but brutally honest reality check.

The truth? We’re Web marketers and SEOs right? The world needs what we’ve got. We think leads will never dry up because, well, we’re at the forefront of online technology.


The challenge? Unless you’ve been asleep recently, you’ll notice that our industry has become saturated with SEOs who’ve read three blog posts, use Dreamweaver to build websites and have purchased the new .guru and .expert domain names to become “authorities.” Re-read Challenge #1 and rush back here. Are you ready for when opportunity strikes?

The answer? Continuously adding new opportunities to your sales funnel is critical to the future health of your consultancy or agency. You need a reasonable percentage of new leads progressing from “interested” to “order placed.” Regularly closing deals and adding to your sales funnel is not an option—it’s a necessity, and is your third (and most important) goal.

Before we talk funnels, if you’re new to the concept of selling SEO, read my post on pre-qualifying clients and a deck I presented at BrightonSEO.

So what does a sales funnel look like? Let’s do the maths:

  1. Calculate your “lead to closing” ratio. This means, for every ten leads you receive, if you turn one of them into an order, your closing ratio is 10%.
  2. Work backwards to determine how many “leads” you need in your funnel to turn into sales to comfortably cover costs and make a profit for you / your business. This means, for every 200 leads, at a closing ratio of 10% you’ll win 20 orders.

These figures reveal two important facts:

Fact 1: The better your closing ratio (winning business), the fewer leads you need to generate and develop into sales.
Fact 2: How good you become at winning new business determines, to a large extent, your monthly take-home pay

This is why competing against bargain-basement and ultra-cheap SEO “packages” is pointless—in doing so, you run the risk of winning business that could ultimately ruin it.

Every potential SEO or Web marketing client you speak to is in one of these six stages of the buying cycle:


Your task is to rate your leads and move them into the appropriate categories. Be ruthless—there’s no room for fuzziness here! Then develop “commitments” and “advancements” by guiding them through the various sales stages using “touch-points.”

Commitments: Scheduled phone calls, meetings, Google+ Hangouts, Skype or any time investment by the client
Advancements: Clear signals that they’re advancing the relationship via language, proposals, financial or contracts
Touch-points: Helpful emails, valuable phone calls, education, case studies, testimonials and targeted white papers

Create a range of PDF documents that address sales objections or common questions that potential clients have and use these tools throughout the sales process.

You need to think smarter and be wiser. It’s more profitable to win best-fit clients who pay the rates you deserve (think of all the effort and time you put in!), not the rates that will put other, less-savvy SEO business owners out of business.

What can you do to keep your sales funnel topped up?

  • Look for opportunities to add incredible value to businesses, especially those local to you.
  • Striking up partnerships with other local businesses? Make sure you help them understand what your best-fit client looks and sounds like—this way, they’ll only promote your services to the right type of clients.
  • Fancy running your own event?
    • Events offer an economically smart way to expose your services to a target audience.
    • Think of how much time thirty appointments would collectively take: If each were 1.5 hours, you’re looking at 45 hours (or just over five eight-hour working days) of investment.
    • If you can present for 1.5 hours to thirty best-fit potentials at the same time, you’ve maximized your output—and those who want to discuss their business needs in more detail with you (level 1, 2 and 3 leads) can be set an appointment.
  • Diversify your lead generation activities!
  • Think about where most of your leads currently come from:
    • Are they generated via referrals, networking, telephone inquiries, social activity or website leads?
    • If one of your lead channels generates 80% of your business, try experimenting with others.
    • By spreading your activity, you won’t be as negatively affected if your main sources dry up in the future as you would if you relied 100% on them.

If I’ve missed anything or you want to find out more about a specific area covered above, please let me know in the comments below—all feedback is welcome!


Tony Dimmock owns Dimmock Web Marketing, a Hertfordshire-based online marketing & web usability consultancy. Prior to running his own business, he spent 13 years selling IT solutions to the corporate market-place. He calls himself a ‘search sanguine’ and loves reading books, with deep interests in web search psychology and the semantic web. A doting dad to three, when he’s not losing tickle fights, he loves watching Liverpool FC and his eldest son “own” football games.

  • Patrick Coombe

    Thanks Tony, great post and glad to see you here on Isoosi, really liking this tool a lot lately :)

    Anyway just wanted to comment on #4 – this is currently where I am kind of stuck at as a business owner. We have a few different leadgen methods that have been working great for us for a very long time, but we are in dire need of expansion.

    “By spreading your activity, you won’t be as negatively affected if your main sources dry up in the future”

    Very well said. For me its not only about having a “backup” it is finding creative new ways to scale.

  • Tony Dimmock

    Pleasure Patrick and thanks – the Isoosi blog contains a wealth of experience and expertise that I regularly learn from :)

    On #4, a big challenge is in educating prospective clients while marketing to them. As consultants, if we focus on commitments and advancements, while using prospecting-journey touch-points, we’re able to spot clients that need education and those that are ready to act, much faster – thereby creating a natural progression of enquiry.

    The grades can be used to facilitate whatever action(s) are required to move the prospect nearer to a sale. Where we often go wrong is in approaching a client the wrong way who, with better insight on our part, needs another form of help, trust or guidance.

    This is why listening skills and asking the right questions can help the client and us reach a natural conclusion – whether that’s education, a meeting or a pre-project scoping or specification agreement written up

    To do this, we must become better at learning to read the signs (body language, language used / tone etc) so that we know (instinctively) when to guide, when to educate, when to ask for an order and when to walk away.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment Patrick – I’m glad the post helped!

  • Paudy Heal

    Fantastic post Tony!

    Loved the true story too – if you want a customer to invest time in you, you’ve got to invest yours in them :)

    • Tony Dimmock

      Thanks for your kind comments, Paudy! Absolutely :)

  • Tom

    #1 is the hardest challenge for me, especially as an independent contractor. Less and less people are willing to pay for genuine long-term goals when the snake oil promises cheap insta-fame.

    • Tony Dimmock

      Hey Tom, thanks for commenting and I couldn’t agree more.

      The frustration of #1 is that 99.99% of the time, clients who seek instant success and ignore putting together a long-term strategy will often have work done that puts them into hot water and pushes them further back.

      Unfortunately, the only way some clients learn is to experience the pain of being conned or let down. As time goes on and they don’t get the results they’d been promised, they begin to realise that “cheap” wasn’t a good idea after-all. Tough lesson to learn but one many need to learn if they’re solely “price” driven.

      • Tom

        Completely. Over time clients become pickier about who they work with but the problem still remains if you’re looking to work with smaller companies and independent sites.

  • Nick Ker

    This is excellent! Challenge #1 is probably everyone’s biggest problem, at least at some point or another. One thing that seems to keep happening to me, is that I will think I have successfully deprogrammed or untaught the bad stuff they learned from a previous SEO or they read somewhere.
    Then maybe a month or two into the campaign, I discover that the client is actually holding me accountable for ridiculous promises a previous SEO provider made – despite having frequent conversations about it to set them straight. It is as if they have been lied to so many times by others, that when I tell them the truth, they don’t believe it and hold me to someone else’s promises!

    • Tony Dimmock

      Hey Nick, thanks for commenting and excellent points made.
      False expectations can crop up at any given during time during the pre-sales or project processes, especially those ingrained and repeated to them over a long period of time.

      Our task is to help them understand what’s achievable and this can sometimes require “tough love” to set them on the right path. Sometimes I’ll say:

      “Right now, I’m (or we’re) working with you to help your business grow and expand using internet marketing and SEO. If we allow someone else’s false knowledge or expectations to negatively affect or hinder your campaign, would you be happy with me / us to let your ROI and results slip? No? Right, so you need to let me / us guide you using the right path, because if we don’t help you succeed, who will you blame? Us or them? OK. Before we continue, let’s discuss other areas regarding your understanding that I / we need to put right..”

      Although the above sounds harsh, it’s shows your client conviction and proof that in you’re in it for the long haul with them – hope that helps?

      • Nick Ker

        That does help. I’ve actually been trying to take that approach and it usually does work – except when they don’t remember that I told them the opposite. It is frustrating when you do exactly that, the client seems to get it -and next week you have to start all over again with the deprogramming. (Basically my monday morning email answering routine in a nutshell).