Every day business owners are bombarded with phone calls and emails from “digital marketing experts” vying to help them get on the first page of Google, get social media likes and followers, build a new website, etc. The promises made by these marketers are endless. All of this leaves most business owners frustrated and confused about who to trust and believe when it comes to their business’ digital marketing strategy.
With freelance marketing agencies and freelance consultants on the rise, chances are any prospective client you reach out to has had some experience with a third-party marketer or advertising agency. If they are now looking to hire a new digital marketing agency there are a few possible reasons why…
First, some brands simply outgrow the agencies they use or reach a point where they want services that their current agency doesn’t provide. Yes, some brands will purposely ask for RFPs (Request for Proposals) just to make sure they’re getting the best prices in town or to open themselves up to a fresh strategy and approach. But you’ll probably find that most of these businesses have decided to move on and find a new marketing partner because they’ve had a bad experience with their current digital marketing agency. This could be due to a variety of reasons, like poor performance, relationship breakdown or billing issues. The overarching theme is that the potential client in front of you has been burned in one way or another by another agency or marketing provider.

Some companies will ask for RFPs to make sure they’re getting the best prices
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This potential new client needs a digital marketing service, but they probably have a chip on their shoulder and maybe some trust issues because of their last, negative experience. If you want them as a client, this is something you will need to deal with. You’ll have to earn their trust. Selling yourself and your services to burned out businesses can be particularly challenging and can change the dynamics of your pitch. You’ll also need to show a little more TLC to convince them to sign on the dotted line again.
So, what can you do to improve your approach to selling yourself to clients who have had bad marketing agency experiences in the past?
Listen and Validate Their Complaints
This tip is more of a psychological step than a strategic change. Burned brands will often be more than happy to talk about their negative experiences in extreme detail. The important thing is to listen. These complaints are not something to be glossed over. The company wants to know that you have heard and understand why they consider their previous experience to be a negative one. Ask questions, probe for more detail and acknowledge that part of your role is to ensure they don’t see a repeat of these experiences.
Provide a Clear Point of Difference
It’s one thing to acknowledge your prospect’s issues and another thing to reassure them that you can deal with the scenario better. Lay out as many points of difference between you and the previous agency as possible. This can be as simple as outlining your communications process or highlighting the way your teams are structured. Let them know how you will ensure that issues like they experienced in the past will not occur in your relationship. This will not only show that you understand the complaints but that you actively combat those types of issues.

How are you DIFFERENT from your competitors?
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For example, your prospect may feel that they didn’t have enough senior agency contact in their previous relationship. Build in scheduled times for regular monthly meetings where a senior member of the agency is in attendance – in person or on the phone. Reassure them that this is a common practice for your business and even go one step further by adding this meeting in your proposal or contract.
Create a Relationship Agreement
This is an approach I’m a big fan of. A relationship agreement is a collaboration document that outlines the basic processes and methods for working and communicating with each other. Many agency relationships fail because of broken down communication channels or simply a poor account management process. This lack of communication can leave clients feeling like they aren’t being heard or can’t get access to their agency as quickly as they’d like to for ongoing support, questions or to raise potential issues. Establishing a “promise to respond within a certain period of time” communication agreement does wonders in establishing clear lines of communication. (And this agreement can – and should – work both ways!)
This outline of working together should also include details of when and who will attend regular calls, meetings and reviews as well as outlining a basic issues and request handling process. A popular criteria is to promise clients that any issues or questions raised will receive a response with a certain time frame – whether it’s within 24 hours or a set number of business days. It should also dictate the best way to raise issues (like by phone or email) and who the main point of contact should be for both companies. Outlining processes like this sets expectations clearly from the start of a relationship and avoids any uncertainty later.
Work In Detailed Deliverables
Many burned prospects will look for a very specific and detailed contract when they hire a new agency. For many this means they want some kind of performance agreement relating to services, fees and billing. In today’s rapidly changing marketplace, most agencies are leery to make performance promises, like guaranteeing a minimum number of leads, increase in visitors, specific rankings on Google, etc. And rightfully so. (It’s actually against Google’s terms of service to promise or guarantee ranking placement.) In most cases, performance promises are just too risky because, as an agency, you are simply not in control of all the factors contributing to digital marketing success.
Instead, you could agree to work on weekly or monthly deliverables — the undertaking and delivery of work that you will perform for the client. In the contract, state very clearly which items/tasks will be performed and delivered. For instance, if you’re a content marketing agency you might provide a set number of topical pieces of blog content per month. State this clearly as well as the average word count the client can expect and when the content will be delivered. Don’t leave anything to chance or leave the prospective client in any ambiguity as to what they’re getting for their money.
Show Your Work to Your Clients

If you don’t deal in the delivery of actual items of work, you can base your contract on delivering a set number of hours of work and document where possible from which members of the team this will be made up of. Reinforce this by providing accurate time sheets – which means your team needs to keep track of their time.

Starting Off On The Right Foot
Working with new clients who have been burned by a digital marketing agency in the past is never easy. But if you take away the guesswork and ambiguity out of the services you offer and outline exactly how it will be delivered, it will go a long way to providing additional security and trust for them. Make promises that are outlined and detailed accordingly and then keep those promises and show your new client that you have kept your word. This is the foundation under which new trust and a solid client/agency relationship can be built.
Let Us Know What You Think
How do you approach working with a client who has been burned in the past? Or, if you’re a business, what did the successful agency do to ally your fears and concerns? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.