I have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet with entre­pre­neurs, mar­ket­ing exec­u­tives and teams from com­pa­nies of all sizes on a fair­ly reg­u­lar basis. Many times these meet­ings come about for one of two rea­sons: they are either inter­est­ed in putting a toe into the dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing pool, or they were burned bad­ly by anoth­er agency and are com­ing to us hop­ing it will not be more of the same.

In both cas­es, prospects usu­al­ly come in scared and unsure of what we do or how this “stuff” works; they just know they need to be doing it. They know this because the things they’ve been doing for years don’t work any­more, and they are hear­ing suc­cess sto­ries of oth­er com­pa­nies expe­ri­enc­ing mas­sive growth from a sin­gle Face­book page or Insta­gram account.

These meet­ings call for good lis­ten­ing and under­stand­ing of what these com­pa­nies are actu­al­ly look­ing for. That way, we can try to uncov­er the real need being stat­ed so we can pre­pare a solu­tion and start a rela­tion­ship. Most express that they are look­ing for sales, leads and pos­i­tive ROI. Basi­cal­ly, we hear the same ques­tions: Can you help grow my busi­ness? How are you going to do it? How much is it going to cost? But one ques­tion I rarely hear is: How long is this going to take?

A Shift In Perception On The Client Side

Peo­ple often per­ceive that dig­i­tal is some­thing you do for your com­pa­ny when, in actu­al­i­ty, it’s some­thing your com­pa­ny does for your cus­tomers. Peo­ple often per­ceive that dig­i­tal is a pro­mo­tion or cam­paign that has a begin­ning and an end. This could not be fur­ther from the truth. Dig­i­tal is not some­thing that is pur­chased, pro­mot­ed or spon­sored. Dig­i­tal is your com­pa­ny’s abil­i­ty to not only share your sto­ry and val­ues but to engage with those who share those val­ues. Dig­i­tal is not just a Face­book post, Google key­word or spon­sored video. Dig­i­tal is the way to engage in con­ver­sa­tions and share infor­ma­tion.

The new year is upon us, and I’d like to encour­age a new train of thought as it per­tains to dig­i­tal and your busi­ness: Instead of look­ing at dig­i­tal as a means to gen­er­ate more busi­ness, look at dig­i­tal as a means to engage with those who share your val­ues. What do your cus­tomers care about most? One way to find out is to clear­ly under­stand the spe­cif­ic pain points your sales teams are address­ing before engag­ing in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing. Talk with your sales team. Ask them about the most fre­quent­ly asked ques­tions they get about your com­pa­ny, and answer those ques­tions in your mar­ket­ing col­lat­er­al.

… And On The Agency Side

This is why I endorse dig­i­tal agen­cies that charge for pro­pos­als, as well as clients will­ing to pay for them. How can you pro­vide a valu­able pro­pos­al with­out clear­ly under­stand­ing how your pro­posed efforts will impact the clien­t’s bot­tom line or spe­cif­ic need?

Most of the time, the amount of work required to find these answers goes beyond a free pro­pos­al. This is why com­pa­nies are get­ting burned, and it’s hav­ing a neg­a­tive impact on the indus­try. Hub­spot reports that 57% of agen­cies win less than 50% of the pro­pos­als being sent out. How many pro­pos­als are get­ting accept­ed that have no chance of being suc­cess­ful because they are being slapped togeth­er for free, result­ing in not only wast­ed time but also dimin­ish­ing con­fi­dence in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing? Take part in paid engage­ments that include a dis­cov­ery process to come up with the best pro­pos­al.

We have been prac­tic­ing a process for a few years now that shifts the val­ue of work­ing with busi­ness­es — from deliv­er­ing work to clients to deliv­er­ing val­ue to clients. This process includes, in many cas­es, a paid engage­ment at the begin­ning, where we sit down and uncov­er spe­cif­ic needs of their busi­ness.

If you decide to go this route, I can tell you from expe­ri­ence that some don’t like this approach, and think of it sim­ply as you charg­ing for a pro­pos­al, which isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly true. This should be an oppor­tu­ni­ty for you and the client to clear­ly define what you both wish to achieve from paid mar­ket­ing efforts and how to do it. This approach allows agen­cies to work with clients on a small­er project before singing them on for a long-term agree­ment. This also allows both par­ties to work togeth­er on a small­er scope to eval­u­ate how you work togeth­er. This could also be an oppor­tu­ni­ty for you to help the client bet­ter under­stand dig­i­tal.

Dig­i­tal isn’t a cam­paign. Instead of start­ing the dig­i­tal con­ver­sa­tion around what medi­ums should be used and what type of con­tent should be cre­at­ed or pro­mot­ed, think about the spe­cif­ic pain points your cus­tomers have. Then, prove that you are the best solu­tion. In my opin­ion, this should be start­ed under a paid engage­ment; it’s too much work not to be. There is no val­ue on a free pro­pos­al, even if it is accept­ed.