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Are You Making Clients FLEE When You Pitch Them SEO?

SEO Clients Fleeing

As SEO consultants or agencies, we are always on the hunt for new clients.  This side of the business typically gets less focus than the technical skillset of SEO and inbound marketing, mostly because a lot of us are not comfortable with our selling skills.

If you:

  • Usually build out your own websites but want to get into SEO for clients
  • Are just starting out in SEO
  • Are an experienced consultant or agency, but feel that something is missing from your pitching process

Then we hope this series of posts will be helpful in learning some effective mindset shifts and tactics.  Through working with clients ourselves and reading heavily in the fields of sales and psychology, we have accumulated a good working knowledge on how to effectively pitch and close clients in a way that leaves both you and your client feeling amazing. This will be the first post in a three part series and will focus on the anatomy of a pitch – but before we get into that, here’s a quick background on our experiences with client work.

Our Experience

All of us on the serpIQ team have experience working with clients in our various disciplines.  Our founder, Darrin, used to work at a digital agency, so he’s got quite a bit of experience on the design and development side.  Our backend coder, Jake, is constantly in demand for coding jobs.  I do freelance SEO consulting and reputation management alongside my work with serpIQ.

In our opinion, it’s tougher to pitch clients on SEO than it is to pitch them on nearly any other type of small budget B2B transaction…even website design.

Why?  Because there are so many fly-by-night SEO and web design companies around these days.  The most common targets for SEO – doctors, lawyers, restaurants, dentists, auto repair, etc – are bombarded day after day with pitch after pitch.  They may have even paid one of these consultants for SEO…and not gotten the results they were promised.  Unfortunately, we work in an industry with little certification or regulation.  Along with that, it’s tough to quantify the exact results of a SEO campaign to clients sometimes, so these bad consultants are able to tell white lies, over-promise, and under deliver.  This hurts those of us who have real SEO skills and are seeking to monetize them by doing client work.

In order to pitch a business effectively, you need to dissuade them of their fears and misconceptions about SEO while at the same time displaying value and competency.  That’s not an easy task and to do it well, you need to have a good understanding of how a pitch is structured.

The Anatomy of a Pitch

Pitching is different from selling.  When we are selling, we’re usually building a relationship over time and trying to nurture that relationship.  Selling is what we do after we land a client and want to continue working with them on a contract basis.  Pitching is generally a one-off situation.  It’s not TOO often that we’ll have a client that says,

We like the idea of SEO, but we’re not comfortable committing to it right now.  Come back in a month or two and we can talk then.

That’s a no.  While we might close them later on down the road, it’s unlikely.

When we’re pitching your services to a client, treat it as if you’ve got one shot – because you often do.  This one-off dynamic means that some of the standard selling techniques that you know and love just aren’t going to be as effective.

To understand how to pitch effectively, we first have to understand the “bones” of a pitch.  In the simplest words possible, pitching can best be described as helping a potential client convince themselves that they need to hire you through storytelling, emotion, and a sprinkle of technical details.

So…How Does a Potential Client ACTUALLY Decide If They Will Hire You?

Homo Economicus

Despite what we think, our brains do NOT work like this.

We all believe that we’re perfectly rational beings that make decisions based on logic…but time and time again it has been shown that this is not the case.  We have three brains, all of which serve different functions for us and two of which have very different processes for making decisions.  When pitching, you need to satisfy both of these systems in order to close a client.  This is because when a client is hiring you, they need you to satisfy two desires for them:

  1. They need to feel confident that you are skilled and can solve their online marketing problems (this is the easy part)
  2. They need to feel that they are spending their money well, that they are hiring someone reliable, and that they will have a good experience (this is the harder part)

The First System: The Rational Brain

This is the brain that we all think we use to make decisions in our daily lives.  It’s the brain that clients think they’re using when they sign contracts or deals with you for your marketing services.  The rational brain likes cold hard facts, arguments based in logic, and compelling evidence supporting a position.  While it’s true that it is very important to the pitching process, it’s often over-focused on when we are deciding how to pitch clients.

The Second System: The Lizard Brain

The Lizard Brain

This is the type of thought you want to enter your potential client’s head.

There is a reason that supermarkets have a bunch of junk food, drinks, and magazines surrounding the checkout aisles. By the time you get to the checkout counter, you have already committed to purchasing your groceries, which are the items you think that you really need.  At this point, your defenses are down and you are much more easily persuaded to pick up a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup or magazine about the latest divorce that Kim Kardashian is going through.

This is the lizard brain at play.  It is our most primitive brain and it makes snap decisions based on impulses and emotions.  Understanding how to trigger the lizard brain when pitching clients is absolutely essential to closing clients successfully.

Appease the Rational Brain and Stimulate the Lizard Brain

To have the best chance of closing a client, you need to satisfy both of these brains.  The rational brain needs to believe that you are skilled and can solve the technical problems that the client faces. The lizard brain needs to feel good about the relationship.

Remember: most of the people who hire you are hiring us because they are NOT proficient in marketing and want us to do it for them.  So many people forget this when they pitch and bore clients with lines like this:

I propose that we develop a content strategy that involves guest posting, high PageRank blog commenting to get “in” with the community, and developing some evergreen content for your website that makes it stand out in the industry and drives persistent traffic to your site.  With strategies like these we can expect a reasonable increase in traffic, leads, and/or sales.

Most clients fall asleep as soon as they hear this.  Now, we’re not saying to never get into the technical details of your inbound marketing strategy with a client…it IS important.  But it’s not the main reason that a client agrees to your pitch and wants to work with you.

You need to give them just enough of the technical, strategic, and logical reasons to hire you…and then move on to the lizard brain.  This is where they get hooked and this is where you create that burning desire for them to work with you.

What you want to do is craft your pitch so by the time you get down to talking about the technical details and your fee…it’s almost a non-issue.  If you can do THAT, then you have successfully pitched a client’s rational and lizard brain.  In the next post we’ll go into some strategies and examples of ways that you can pitch to get clients wanting to work with you so badly that they barely care about your fees.

Thanks for reading this article! If you found it interesting and actionable, feel free to share it with your friends. If you're interested in checking out serpIQ, you can get a fully-featured 7-day free trial by zooming on over to our main website!
I'm the marketing and operations guy at serpIQ. When I'm not working with serpIQ, I run my own inbound marketing consulting business and I'm also involved in the sustainable food, hydroponic, and restaurant businesses.


  1. ruggero

    Hi – I am one of those wannabe-clients that receives the pitches and is turning them back.

    I think what a lot of pitches misses is – to be honest – a proposal of good quality, honest work.

    An SEO will spend 2 paragraphs saying what every other SEO is saying about white hat, analysis, optimization… and not much time telling me WHAT they will be doing for me.

    It is quite easy: as a small business owner, I treat every purchase as an investment (also SEO). Will it bring me positive ROI? How do I know if you don’t tell me what actually you will be doing ?

    I know you can’t know the results beforehand and can’t calcuate a proper ROI. But then let me at least know how my money will be spent. Do you want to guest post for me? Write on forums? How many, how often, what PR, what domain names….

    Most SEOs want 500-1000$ a month and up… business owners (maybe me excluded) are smart people, don’t think you are going to sell them 1,000$ worth of pitch. They want to know WHAT they are buying before separating from their cash.

    • Hey there,

      Thanks for sharing the client perspective! Right off the bat it’s clear you know more about the online marketing space than the average client…which is awesome. I definitely agree with you – SEO is not a small investment and you absolutely have to know what your money is buying. In the context of this article, that would be the section on “appeasing the rational brain.” As a SEO, I need to come in and show EXACTLY what I’ll be delivering to you as a business owner on a monthly basis…otherwise you’re spending money on “better online presence” which is the most nebulous phrase of all time.

      I’d love to hear your thoughts on the other side of it as well though. Aside from the actual work that a SEO is performing for you, what intangibles have you gotten out of the relationship? Less stress, more time, etc?

      Thanks again for the comment – I’ve got a draft of the next post in the series in the pipeline!


      • ruggero

        Kevin – I have been looking for a SEO consultant for months and still no help.

        I would love to have less stress and more time – but it seems people just want my money but are very vague when telling me what that money would buy.

        To be fair… an SEO would be doing his/her job if visits/conversions increased in a way that outperforms the money spent in SEO. 500$/month, that’s 50,000 extra visitors for me.

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