By:Dave Wilkie, Published:2005-7-1

At our company, we do our best for all of our clients. As a team we all work well together and strive to achieve good rankings, traffic and conversions for our clients. We assess and retool when things aren’t going as we’d like. We aim to please, and we aim to renew our contracts with our clients.

On occasion, (and only about 5% of the time) a client will not renew with us. They give us various reasons for this, the most common of which has something to do with “not the results I was expecting.”

When we are knee-deep in a project for a client, there is sometimes a little warning light that goes off for many of us. It is a small beeping indicator in the brain, perhaps in the conscience that says, “This business will never make it. These people are simply trying to make a buck, offering an inferior or flawed product, or a product or service so ill-defined as to be impossible to figure out.”

One recent client, who did not renew, offered what seemed like a great service for a very fair price. It wasn’t until one of us investigated their “terms and conditions” page that we discovered all the White Hat techniques in the world were never going to help this business. Buried deep in the fine print was a clause that basically stripped their customers of the promises made on the home page and throughout the site. In effect, these clients were lying with a very clever bait and switch tactic that is sure to kill their business eventually. We got taken. There really was no way that we were to know, short of completely combing through their entire website, how they operated.

Another client, who did not renew, offered a service that was so ethereal and cloaked in business-speak that it seemed to me as the writer that anyone who hired this business was going to get taken for a very expensive ride. The little warning light was going off and I was finding myself wondering, “Why would anyone hire these people when they can’t even articulate in plain English what they are offering?” They promise to help your business become the well-oiled, moneymaking machine you’ve always dreamed it to be, but they are very sketchy on how they will make that happen. By the time I realized this it was too late. We had a contract with them and we were going to do our best to help them achieve great rankings in their sector, hard though that sector was to define.

We didn’t help that client, and they took their business elsewhere. We all usually breathe a collective sigh of relief when this happens, as the pressure to get rankings increases and the client becomes more and more disheartened that “this SEO stuff is a bunch of BS. I wanted to be #1 on Google in 10 days.”

Naturally, we don’t promise the #1 spot when we meet with prospects, nor do we promise results in any less than 30 days. But perhaps we owe it to ourselves to start being a little more selective in who we take on as clients. If we aren’t sold on the business model, should we rightfully be trying to sell anyone else on it? This is a hard thing to determine and the mind can be blinded by the paycheck forthcoming. We are able to trick ourselves into believing with the prospect that they indeed are a legitimate business with a legitimate product or service to offer. We don’t recognize them for what they are at the time, poor businesspeople at best and con artists at worst.

These 5% who come to us need to be weeded out, or they need to employ a Black Hat hack operating out of his mom’s basement, who has an all text website and promises to make you #1 in no time, no matter what you’re selling. Don’t get me wrong. I have a very deep respect for salespeople, mainly because I am not one. I do not have the skills, the temperament, the clothes or the vocabulary for it. I can’t meet someone and guide him or her through the sales cycle and eventually close the deal. But I do share something with most salespeople: I can smell BS.

The frontline for sniffing out flawed business models that reputable SEO companies can never help is the New Business Development group of your company. We can whittle that 5% down to nearly nothing if we carefully screen our prospects and have the guts and integrity to say, “We don’t believe in your business and we honestly don’t think we can help you.” Of course a salesperson will find a nicer way to say that.

Maybe we need to have a committee of screeners in our company who comb through the prospective client’s literature or current website and see if we can find anything that looks out of place or questionable.

Bad clients breed negative testimonials, cancelled contracts and sometimes even ridiculous lawsuits. I know it’s hard, when you’re counting on commission, to say to a person, “No, thank you. I don’t want your money.” But in saying this we will be rewarded in the long term. And interestingly, bad clients are almost always slow to pay. Save yourself the collection phone calls and the arguments about how you failed this client.

We can all be White Hats by accepting only White Hat clients. We are all hoping to find for our clients “qualified” leads from their websites. It’s time to qualify our own leads. The 5% we will sacrifice will make up for itself in the end with real businesses we can help. When the BS detector is beeping, heed it.

Dave Wilkie is vice-president and co-founder of Zunch Communications, Inc., a Dallas web site design and search engine optimization services company.
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