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Navigating The Gap Between ‘Client Expectations’ & ‘Client Budget’

"What’s most important: good, fast or cheap? You can only choose two", writes Katharina Murray.

If you are browsing you are sure to have come across one of the widely shared ‘brief vs budget’ memes (like the one above) on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. One of my biggest challenges is truly understanding the client's needs when the budget just doesn't add up to the expectations.

I am a member of a number of groups through local business networks, Facebook and our local chamber and become so frustrated at the amount some businesses are spending on their marketing and what they are really receiving for their spend.

Why is this such an issue in marketing?

. . . more specifically the online marketing and SEO industry? When you need an electrician you don’t offer him a budget to rewire your house, do you? No! You get a couple of different options or quotes from a few contractors and make a decision based on which one is most likely to do the best job at the best price with long-term outcome.

Navigating Competition.

How often do you receive connections, emails, and tracks on your website from random marketing companies telling you they can improve your "SEO"?

Sadly the industry we find ourselves in is littered with circling sharks, making it very difficult for the clients to swim without being bitten. How do we work on shortening the gap between expectations and budget without losing clients to competitors who cold-call day-in-day-out promising to do things ‘better and cheaper’?

As a small, all service agency, I get bombarded with misleading requests for me to help international and local SEO providers sell their ‘cheap’ offers on a daily basis. Offering their services to me to be able to multiply the price of 400% to on-sell to my clients.

Some clients receive similar emails, and most of the time, those providers don’t have the expertise to get the results they promise. These methods of "customer poaching" leaves our entire digital industry with a tainted reputation.

Good - Fast - Cheap?

"You get what you pay for" has never been so relevant as it is today. From graphic design to website design, SEO and digital marketing, it is important for clients to keep in mind that you may choose only two of the options good, fast and cheap, they can never exist all at once.

When we discuss our work with our client, we keep it real, ensuring the process is outlined and how we can best obtain the results our client requires. What they can expect, realistic timings and budget. By doing so we can cut through the sludge of the spammers and begin to build a relationship as a legitimate and worthwhile marketing organisation that can really help.

By looking at areas where the gap between budget and expectation may not match up, we communicate ways to address this with the client.


The most common request is to gain maximum exposure for the entire product or service or be all things to all people. As we all know this is just not the case, not everyone everywhere is interested in your product or service. So despite what the client feels their needs are, we need to take the time to learn about their business.

It’s important to educate the client as to where online marketing is unique to his/her business and where you can attract multiple target audiences. Pick and choose the most lucrative products or services to focus on without wasting dollars on less important lines but use them to add value.

By obtaining feedback from the client about the areas of the business that are profitable, allows you to demonstrate the variety of options available to suit their budget – i.e. market a core group of products with a lower budget, or aggressively cover the whole market with a larger budget. Allow the client to choose.

The Time Game

The two-parts of the service within online marketing that clients need to understand are;

  • While paid search and display advertising can get results quickly (almost completely) from day one, as soon as you stop investing dollars they stop getting results.

  • SEO, on the other hand, has a longer-term pay-off. Good SEO can benefit a website for years to come, though results are slow to appear and may take six to nine months to actually start seeing significant results.

Often a client will become impatient before results can be identified, another reason why those cold-calling, sneaky competitors can get their foot in the door with empty promises of 'doing things better' before the client's current SEO has even had enough time to kick in. This breeds a lack of trust in SEO as clients feel they don't know who to trust. Should they be patient with their current provider or cut their losses and try someone new? This is such a huge issue, it is now one of the top SEO related questions searched on Google.

For any SEO professional, the only way to overcome the time gap is total transparency and open honesty. Regular monthly or weekly discussions about the work performed and results achieved helps to offer an appropriate plan. Leads can be created within days, but long-term gains are gained with effort.

Close The Gap

SEO and online marketing are often an after-thought or "something extra." Clients have been conditioned over time to set aside larger budgets for older marketing channels, advertising, merchandise, PR, design, and even web development. In fact, SEO is a highly technical, robust and major marketing channel. If you choose the right SEO agency, they should become an extension of your in-house marketing team. it is a very skilled profession. Brilliant talent is hard to come across, and those who do excel expect to be well paid for their talent. So online marketing budgets should reflect this.

Successful online marketing is a matter of skill and experience and if those are demonstrated clearly to the client alongside the expected ROI, the gap between expectations and budget can be addressed.

At the end of the day, we can’t assume that client expectations will change themselves. We need to cultivate a better reputation for our industry as a whole by engaging in less unscrupulous poaching and pitching tactics. SEO professionals also need to offer better client education upfront – even before the proposal process, it's key to addressing the discrepancy between expectations and budget.


© 2017 The Wicked Web

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