For up-and-coming digital marketing agencies, finding new customers can be a challenge. In fact, this seems to be an ongoing struggle for many of the smaller agencies that I work with. These businesses walk a fine line when it comes to prospecting clients; not only do they need to find advertisers who want to work with them, they also need to verify that these accounts are a good fit for their PPC managers—not an easy feat!
I have a soft spot for up-and-coming agencies, so I made it my mission to find the top ways that successful PPC agencies get new clients.
To develop this list, I turned to a seasoned group of experts, many of whom work for, own, or consult to SEM agencies. Participants included Aaron Levy , Andrew Lolk , Andy Groller , Anisha Dattani , Bethany Bey , David Szetela , Ginny Marvin , Heather Cooan , Jeff Ferguson , John Rampton , Julie Bacchini , Lisa Sanner , Mark Kennedy , Melissa Mackey  and WordStream’s very own Rich Griffin  and Chad Larson . So, straight from the experts—here are our best ways to get new clients!
Get More Clients Tip #1: Let Your Clients Do the Work for You
This was, by far, the most common response I received. In fact, Jeff Ferguson  from Fang Digital said that as much as 90% of their new business comes from client referrals. Referrals are awesome because these leads are attained at little or no cost, meaning you can allocate more of your marketing budget to different projects. Plus, since a third party has already endorsed your skills, referrals tend to be easier to close.
Getting referrals doesn’t always come easy. Sure, delivering good results in your clients’ accounts certainly helps, but we all know that paid search progress tends to ebb and flow. The key is knowing how to communicate with your clients about changes in their account. Andy Groller  of Dragon Search explains:
Client education is one of the best methods for building trust with those potential referrers. Not only does education help make clients understand the inner workings of PPC, which you are creating and managing on their behalf, but it also leads to more strategy-based, in-depth conversations that typically lead to more exponential growth compared to if you need to walk a client through the basics all of the time. So essentially: Increased Client Education ---> Increased Trust and Performance ---> Greater Likelihood of Referral ----> Increased Agency Business
Get More Clients Tip #2: Foster an Internal Community of Brand Ambassadors
This tip, from Ginny Marvin  at Search Engine Land, rings true for all agencies. As she puts it, “Every employee, from the junior account manager to the office manager to the CEO, should be an ambassador for the agency. If employees are excited about and confident in the agency's work, that will rub off in any number of contexts. It's also why all levels of employees should be encouraged to network and attend local and/or national conferences. It builds employee confidence and knowledge and expands an agency’s network.” I couldn’t agree more—your employees should be your biggest advocates!
Get More Clients Tip #3: Become a Thought Leader
Thought leadership is one of the most effective (albeit vastly under-utilized) methods of fostering a positive reputation for your agency. Many companies try to manage their paid search internally before joining forces with an agency. These do-it-yourselfers often rely on online educational material and marketing conferences for help. When the time comes to outsource their PPC accounts, they will gravitate to agencies that they recognize as leaders in the space. As a professional marketer, you have all the ammunition you need to become one of these experts!
There are a variety of ways you can establish yourself as a thought leader. For starters, join the #PPCchat conversation on Twitter. Nearly all the big shots in the industry follow this hashtag and use it to discuss new AdWords trends, specific account challenges and PPC tips. Don’t just read the responses; actively participate in the forum and share your opinions. I recommend following the lead of Heather Cooan,  who has truly established herself as a PPC guru via #PPCchat.
Blogging is another great way to gain PPC street cred. The key is to develop high-quality content  that resonates with your audience, such as data-rich case studies or instructional material. If readers find your content to be helpful, they are bound to come back for more. For example, when I first started working with paid search, I really enjoyed reading articles by Bethany Bey  on the PPC Hero blog. Because her suggestions have proven to be useful and trustworthy, I continue to share them with my clients and colleagues. If your agency doesn’t have its own blog, you’re not off the hook on this one. Prominent SEM publications are often looking to publish articles written by guest bloggers.
If you’re not a fan of writing, try presenting at an industry conference, such as PubCon or SMX. These events always include speaking sessions by paid search experts. Beware, the application process tends to close months before the actual event. Participating in these events, even if you are not featured as a presenter, will help to boost your agency’s prominence.
Get More Clients Tip #4: Be Laser-Focused on the “Right” Prospects
Julie Bacchini , from Neptune Moon Marketing, suggests: “Think of it like dating – know your short list of must haves and deal breakers and stick to it. Stay focused on good fits.” Successful agencies know how to identify clients that they can deliver good results for and target their sales efforts accordingly. Remember, onboarding a new client requires a great deal of up-front investment. Before the account manager even touches the account, he or she must become familiar with the industry and learn the ins and outs of the clients’ business. Before embarking on this undertaking, consider whether you truly believe this client will be with you for the long term.
Rich Griffin , who leads WordStream’s Managed Services team, has created an RFP process to assess prospective clients. We use this set of information to assess their paid search goals, past performance, and business model before committing to work with them. Doing this analysis up-front has helped us to build a happy, successful client base.
Get More Clients Tip #5: Honesty Is the Best Policy
When it comes to selling PPC management, transparency is key. Sure, lofty promises may bring plenty of sales through the door, but if you can’t deliver on these promises, your client lifetimes will be short and your negative reputation will precede you. Instead, be honest, realistic and set prospects’ expectations accordingly. Melissa Mackey  takes this one step further and recommends taking an under-promise/over-deliver approach. Many new agencies are hesitant to do this, but it certainly pays off in the long run. In fact, our Managed Services Sales Manager, Chad Larson , credits this policy of transparency to helping him close many deals in which competing agencies guaranteed infeasible results. Savvy prospects will see through agencies who promise “smoke and mirrors” and appreciate your refreshingly honest approach.
CMO of White Shark Media, Andrew Lolk , recommends applying a similar approach when working in client accounts. He explained:
My best advice is to be honest. Challenges arise when you try to squeeze a client into a market that’s already heavily populated or where their budget, website, or product can’t compete. Many agencies try to do right by these clients and help them, but sometimes the best help is to give an honest assessment and just say no.
Get More Clients Tip #6: Get Your Google On
I tried to limit this blog post to only five tips, but I couldn’t resist throwing in this gem from David Szetela , CEO of FMB Media, which is particularly useful to agencies looking to work with local advertisers. David recommends that you:
Identify the biggest companies in your area, then perform Google searches to discover whether they're advertising. For those who are, determine whether they're employing best practices. Are their ads appearing for pertinent searches, and are they well-written? Then email or fax a top marketing executive or the CEO, listing the mistakes and offering a free mini-audit.
This is an excellent way to show these companies that their current management strategy is not optimal and showcase that you have the expertise to improve it. Even if they aren’t ready to make a move, your call will certainly make a lasting impression. If you want to take this one step further, recommend that your prospects run our AdWords Performance Grader , which will help to pinpoint their account’s weaknesses.
It’s Your Turn to Get New Clients!
So, for all you up-and-coming PPC agencies out there, what strategy will you use to make your mark? Will you proceed with a combination with our experts’ top tips, or do you have other client acquisition tricks up your sleeve? Feel free to comment below!
Erin Sagin is a Customer Success Manager at WordStream. In addition to conducting software training and consulting calls for clients, she also helps to maintain our usability testing program. Originally from Western Maryland, Erin majored in International Studies with a concentration in Latin America and the Caribbean at Kenyon College. When she’s able to take a break from PPC, you’ll find her practicing her hula-hooping skills or planning her next trip to Latin America. You can follow Erin on Twitter  and Google+ .