5 Essential SEO Consulting Intake Questions

by on 06/19/2012 • 8 Comments | SEO

If you haven’t checked out Rhea’s Whiteboard Friday discussion of vendors vs. consultants, now is a great time to take a peek. In our effort to transform from SEO vendors to true SEO consultants we’re evaluating our client intake process, focusing on establishing a long-lasting relationship from the moment a potential client clicks “submit” on the contact form.

I’ve been taking on more business development responsibilities as part of my new role at Outspoken Media. Working with the team, we’re exploring ways to organize and simplify our client intake process with the help of tools such as Infusionsoft and by using the first call with a prospective client to position ourselves as an online marketing partner. That might mean translating their contact form request for “x links a month to our site” to a goal of increasing organic search-driven revenue by 10% over the next 6 months. Transitioning vendor relationship-based questions into business goals that foster a consulting partnership is one of my favorite things about the business development process.

In reality, our client intake process doesn’t start when someone fills out a contact form. It begins when a potential client reads a blog post that inspires them to reevaluate their marketing tactics, when someone sees Rhea speak about personalization in search and is blown away, or when a current client talks about the great relationship they have with their account manager at Outspoken. 65-70% of our leads come from people who have heard of us or been referred to us through word of mouth.

The message we want to convey, whether it’s through speaking, writing for our blog, or talking with prospective clients after they’ve reached out to us, is that our approach to client work is centered on collaboration, consultation, and strategic planning. Yes, I’ve probably given you your daily dose of business buzzwords. But our goal is simple –to pre-qualify ourselves as the right consulting partner for the right businesses.

A crucial part of establishing the consultant relationship is asking the right questions during the intake process. It can help you develop a focused proposal, have an upfront understanding of resources, and set realistic expectations. These are some essential questions that you should be asking during your first call with a prospect to set yourself on the road to a consultant-based relationship:

Who are your target customers?

In a vendor-based relationship where the goal is simply to build links, the audience might not matter as long as the target number of links are built each month. In a consulting relationship, we want everything we do, including building links, to be tied to conversions. So whether it’s link building or creating content, we want to focus on the audience that will ultimately buy from our customer. Knowing who those customers are up front will allow us to estimate the time needed to build links and create conversion-focused content.

What kind of resources do you have to implement a marketing strategy in-house?

Let’s face it – not every business has the time or resources to dedicate towards implementing a 45 page SEO audit. In cases where a prospect is requesting a strategy document, we want to make sure that our recommendations can be implemented in a reasonable timeframe. If resources are limited, that will not only change the budget for the work, but also our prioritization and implementation recommendations. Depending on the type of project, we emphasize that Outspoken Media is capable of assisting in the implementation of the work.

Who else is involved in making decisions?

As Rhea mentioned in her Whiteboard Friday talk, we have been burned far too often on relationships that crumble after our main point of contact leaves the company. An intake call is a great time to identify other decision-makers in the company who we can connect with in the event that we lose our contact. Also, we want to keep the decision maker’s priorities in mind to make sure we’re working towards the company’s goals. Knowing these goals helps us translate our work into return on investment.

What online marketing tactics have you used in the past?

Knowing what they’ve used, how long they’ve used these methods, and (if possible) who they’ve worked with will help us avoid tactics that don’t work or refine those that are already working. Budget and timeframe will also be contingent on what might have been done to damage the site’s rankings or authority in the past.

How will you measure success at 6 months? At 12 months?

This is a true trust-building question. It’s possible that a prospect doesn’t know how to gauge success of organic search marketing, especially if they’re used to the paid ad model. We don’t force prospects to adhere to our definition of success. We truly want to know what it will take for their C-suite to know that we’re a valuable marketing partner. Our job is to translate those benchmarks into the SEO metrics we understand and translate that back to the prospect.

For example, a client who sells a product for $1,200, ranks 40th for their target keyword, and wants to increase revenue from organic by 30% over the next 6 months will need those goals translated into rankings increases per month, visits per month, content needs, and estimated number of links built to the site. Ultimately, we hope that understanding the metrics we use to gauge success as they relate to their metrics will help us come to an achievable benchmark.

These questions are just a launch point, but are not exhaustive. If you’re doing more listening than talking, every conversation you have will be different and will spur a new set of questions. The key is to stop trying to squeeze your prospective customer into your service offerings and start identifying opportunities where your expertise and services can help them achieve their goals.

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About the Author

Danika Atkins

Danika Atkins likes to speak her mind about local restaurants on Yelp. You can also connect with Danika on Google+.

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8 thoughts on “5 Essential SEO Consulting Intake Questions

  1. Good thoughts, Danika – I like your sentiments of deferring to the client to ensure they essentially are getting what they desire:
    “We don’t force prospects to adhere to our definition of success. We truly want to know what it will take for their C-suite to know that we’re a valuable marketing partner. ”

    But also, I like the sentiment of addressing fallacies or doings of prior ‘experts’ as well as standing your consultant ground – because the client wants to flourish using roads you’ve traveled often, being in the industry. They need to listen to your insight, and in this case, defer to their consultant:
    “In a vendor-based relationship where the goal is simply to build links, the audience might not matter as long as the target number of links are built each month. In a consulting relationship, we want everything we do, including building links, to be tied to conversions.”

    • Hi Anthony,

      Thank you! Gaining the right to be trusted as a consultant is hugely rewarding for us. It’s so essential that we understand the client’s business inside and out so that our strategy is well informed, avoids prior pitfalls, and aligns with broader corporate values.

  2. Great post and very timely! I was just revising my intake questions last night. I also ask if they have a set budget figure for marketing in general, and if they know their cost per lead from their current marketing efforts.

    • Hi Dana,

      Thanks for commenting! Having an estimate of cost per lead is a great way to estimate the resources you’ll need to provide value to the customer. The budget question tends to flow naturally from that conversation as well.

  3. In order for the client/consultant relationship to be productive the client needs to treat the consultant like a partner. It’s important to provide them with as much information as possible. Withholding information can negatively affect a campaign. It’s important to set realistic goals and expectations from the beginning.

    • Hi Nick,

      I absolutely agree! Ask as many probing questions as possible during the intake process to understand all aspects of their marketing strategy. Clients may not realize that an off-line campaign could positively/negatively affect your online marketing strategy. It’s a two-way education process.

  4. Your comments work well in a lot of industries. It especially works well in the printing and marketing arena. I don’t know how many customers we loose contact with because we did not have a conversation with the decision maker. Good luck on your new focus.

  5. Great post Danika, you’re customer centred view of business really comes across. This is definitely a good way to go, after all, without your customers you have no business.

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