Qualifying Your SEO Prospect

We’ve all been there before in the SEO Game: The opening SEO consultation goes swimmingly well. The prospect seems to know exactly what he wants, and is adamant about taking on the world.

It’s great news for you: In your mind, his aggressive outlook means more billables for you: SCORE!

Not so fast, buddy…

A few days later, you send over your proposal. This is going to be your BIG. NEW. CLIENT. This is the guy you’ve been waiting for. The grandaddy of them all. The rainmaker.

“Thanks for your proposal, I’m really excited,” his words confidently reassure you.

“Great! Let’s touch base 2:00pm on Friday, I’m excited too!”

If any sale was in the basket, this one was it. After all, he had to know that the keywords he was after were super-competitive. And anyone with common sense knows that shows up in the budget, right?


2:00pm Friday comes and goes. But it’s no big deal. You’ve been in the business a while, and you know that sometimes things just have a way of coming up.

The next week you try reaching him on the phone a few times a day. You tack on a daily email for good measure. WHERE IS THIS GUY? This is my star prospect! How can this happen? Did someone die?!?

Turns out your deal did. And it happened long before you clicked send on that proposal. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news here.


Well..What on Earth Went Wrong?

Let’s reconstruct the sale: Did you talk about budget, or were you afraid that it was going to put a hamper in your day out? After all, the interaction seemingly could not have gone any better.

Rule #1: Bring up budget as SOON as possible in the conversation.

Yes, bring it up. And get it done in the first THREE minutes. Don’t skirt the edges on this one.


Well, let me ask you this: What if the prospect has $200 to rub together? Do you want to spend the next 30 minutes, building rapport, chatting away…and then realize there’s no budget? Of course not! TIME IS WORTH MORE THAN MONEY. That’s right, you can’t have the time in your day back. You could have had more productive conversations.

But, you see, there’s a right and wrong way to do it. That’s what brings me to…


Rule #2: Be direct, yet tactful when discussing budget

Yes, there is a RIGHT and WRONG way to discuss the budget of your prospect. Would you want to buy something if you thought the salesperson viewed you as a money machine? F** no! So don’t be over-pushy and obnoxious when discussing their budget.

Make sure they understand you are asking the question because you are ON THEIR TEAM: Your conversation is about what THEY want.. Not what YOU want.

How NOT to bring up their budget:

“So what budget did you have in mind?”

“What can you spend on this campaign”

“Well, before continuing, I need to know what your marketing budget looks like”


Try something like this instead:

“SEO, like a lot of other things requires a different amount of resources for different initiatives to be successful: Some campaigns require only a few man/support hours to make an impact, others require a whole lot more. The good news, is that what I have found is that for each level of resources, there is almost always an initiative where we can make an impact for our clients…

Now, I’m not asking this to ask ‘How much can I bill _____ for each month,’ but part of my job is being responsible for recommending campaign goals that make SENSE and that are FEASIBLE.

When a client gives me a range of where they are comfortable, I’m able to go to work and find the sweet spot of where we can make the most impact to their bottom line, given their situation..

There’s no point on trying to over-extend a budget, or use more budget than is needed, right?

I’m completely indifferent as to what a client’s budget may be: Trust me, I take clients of all different sizes, I have clients who have started small and have become my largest clients over time.

Don’t feel like you have to tell me what you want to hear, but what range, more or less, makes you feel comfortable for starters?”


What did I do here that’s effective?

A) I distinguished the fact that different campaigns require different resources. I’ve immediately de-commodotized what I’m selling. There is now an understanding that this isn’t a neatly packaged product, but instead one that’s suited to individual needs

B) I’ve taken the 300 ton elephant out of the room by saying “This isn’t to ask ‘how much can I bill ____’ for a month.” Putting that out in the open will help your prospect feel at ease: You aren’t here to see “what’s the most he can spend.”

C) I’ve shown that this question is ONLY being asked for their benefit. If I was remodeling a kitchen, a budget would determine what can/can’t be done, so I can construct a VALUABLE proposal, right? Well, why would this be different?

D) I’ve demonstrated that I’m indifferent to the sale amount, and am eager to help on whatever level I am needed. (And if you don’t service the level they ultimately suggest, you now have the luxury of explaining why, and walking away: That’s 30 minutes back that YOU have.)

E) I let him know that it’s OK to tell me the truth. Don’t EVER forget: Prospects will lie to keep things polite. It’s YOUR job to make them feel comfortable telling you the truth.


Once you’ve gotten to this point of the sale, you will want to take the next step…

Rule #3: Double Qualify & Button Things Up

That’s right. Be very clear when setting expectations for where everything is going to go.

Now, to take a step back: This is mostly done at the end of the sale. After getting the prospect’s budget, you’ve started talking about their marketing priorities, as well as added your thoughts as to what you think will make them successful within their objectives.

Now..here’s the important part: BEFORE hanging up that phone, make sure he’s ON BOARD.

Here’s an example:

“Great. Well here’s the next steps as I see them. I’m going to really sharpen my pencil here. I will spend ___ hours kneading out this proposal for you, now that I’ve really gotten a strong feel for your marketing objectives..

Now, just to make sure we’re on the same page, because we DO spend a lot of time on these proposals. And by the way, we’re MORE than HAPPY to do them..

If I send you out a proposal that goes over the objectives we spoke about, and that is in the $__ to $__ range, again, I’m going to have to sharpen my pencil here.. If everything looks good, and don’t tell me what you think I want to hear.. Is this something that you realistically see ourselves moving with?

Because after all, if we’re going to spend time on this proposal, we want to make sure it’s a proposal that actually makes sense, right?

So I just wanted to make sure that this is something that realistically makes sense for you..”

OK..WHY do I keep giving him the easy out?

A) I’m making it EASY for him to take my “easy-out bait.” If he takes it and starts acting unsure, I now have time to go revise things that we talked about and see if those work for him. My goal here is making sure I don’t send him a proposal that he will flake on.

B) If he takes the easy-out bait, I STILL have a shot at closing him on an idea now. If I just “let things move swimmingly” for now, and he’s not 110% on board, there’s a good chance it’ll be tough to EVER reach the guy.

C) I’m making him feel comfortable in voicing his concerns. The more honest he is with me, the better shot I have constructing something that makes sense for him.

D) When he’s said “Yes” after all of this, you can bet there’s a very good chance that this guy is the real deal and worth your time: You’ve given him the easy outs, he hans’t taken them: When you do your proposal, you know that this is something he’s REALLY on board with.


So, bottom line: Don’t be someone who runs through the sale and purposely goes for no resistance. Don’t write wood. Have the tough conversations. I PROMISE..they will come to help you as you move this deal through the pipeline.

And think about this: If you have the tough conversations, and it turns out the prospect really has no budget, or is not agreeable to your proposal in principle (or if he’s just “being polite”), you just saved yourself a HELL of a LOT of time that could have been used closing other prospects.