How Agencies Should Sell Content Marketing Strategy to Clients

Marketing agencies know the pain of submitting proposals, RFPs and vying for new clients. That process is time-consuming and, if it leads to only one-off projects, is often ineffective. Instead, companies should look at implementing a content marketing strategy.

According to Agency Spotter, there are more than 120,000 marketing agencies in the U.S., and the industry has become increasingly competitive as agencies continue to proliferate. If your business model depends solely on one-off projects like web design or branding, your agency will spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to win new business as opposed to providing services to existing clients.

And that’s where selling content comes in. Selling a content marketing package to your clients allows you to create recurring revenue and the ability to provide ongoing services to existing clients. Again and again, agencies that provide content marketing strategy or content writing services to clients survive and thrive in this competitive environment. Because, as it turns out, becoming a strategic content partner for your clients comes with a number of considerable benefits.

If you’re here, you’re probably aware of those benefits, so we’ll cover them quickly.


The Benefits of Selling Content Marketing Services

As an agency, whether you’re primarily a website development and design agency, a more traditional advertising agency, or a full-service digital agency, you’ll see a number of benefits from selling content marketing services to your clients.

Those include:

  • It’s a natural way to produce an ongoing revenue stream with clients. Since a content marketing strategy is never really “done” (in contrast to more distinct projects like building a website), you’ll have an indefinite way to engage with clients, and create value for them.
  • Content marketing can create high ROI for clients. Unlike paid advertising, the cost of executing a content marketing strategy doesn’t include an ongoing cost (the ads), so once the content is produced and optimized, there’s relatively little ongoing cost.
  • Content marketing creates a tangible product that clients can see and understand. Compared to, say, technical SEO, where much of the work is behind the scenes, the content created through content marketing is relatively easy to see and grasp, which can make clients feel like they’re getting “more” for their money.

Overcoming Common Objections From Clients

If the benefits of selling content are relatively obvious, overcoming common objections from clients can be a bit more daunting. Here are some that we’ve heard in talking with our agency clients:

  • Doesn’t content marketing take a long time to show results? You probably already know this one, but agencies we’ve seen be most effective in selling content do two things to overcome this: first, they start early and pair content packages with other services at the beginning. If you’re creating a content strategy and beginning to execute on it early in the engagement, you’ll have a head start. While you’re doing other exciting work at the beginning (redesigning a website, setting up ad campaigns, etc.), your content marketing package can be humming along in the background and gaining traction. Second, agencies who are effective at selling content set good expectations and show example results. A good case study showing that three months down the line there’s a growing payoff to growing a content offering can go a long way toward getting a client to be patient.
  • I should probably just do this in-house. It is understandable clients may want to keep content (or at least the execution of content strategy) in-house. After all, content is deeply personal. We’ve found the best way to overcome this one is by pointing out that everybody says this, but content marketing is incredibly easy to de-prioritize (because it doesn’t deliver instant gratification.) By outsourcing to you, or co-creating with you, you’ll be able to ensure it gets done, AND you’ll be able to use your expertise in content, SEO, etc. to create the prerequisite strategy necessary to deliver results.
  • Yeah, but how can you possibly create content for my business? As an outsourced content creation platform, we hear this one a lot. And the way to overcome this one is twofold: first, you need to acknowledge that the client is the expert and let them know you aren’t going to be able to create an execute on a content marketing strategy with no involvement from them. Involving clients in strategy, persona development, topic ideation, and final editing can pay dividends if done well. Secondly, find writers that have subject matter expertise in the client’s industry. This will help produce authentic content more likely to resonate with your client and their audience.
  • Let’s just create content that’s all about my business or products. While not a direct objection, this sentiment can really get in the way of producing a quality content strategy that will deliver results. To counter this one, we’ve found turning to a well-established player who does a good job of explaining the basics can go a long way. HubSpot’s explanation of Inbound Marketing is a good, approachable primer.

Hopefully, that helps with some of the most common objections you’ll hear. A good set of content marketing stats can also be helpful.

Creating & Executing a Content Marketing Strategy With Your Clients

Once you’ve sold your clients on the concept of you creating and executing a content marketing strategy, it’s time to get to work. At its simplest, there are two big phases here: creating the content strategy, and executing on it. We’ll assume you know all about creating and executing a strategy, and focus here on doing this for (and with) your clients, based on what we’ve seen be effective with our marketing agency clients.

Creating a Content Marketing Strategy with Your Clients

The key word here is “with”. As we said in the objections section, in order for a content strategy to be effective (and also to get buy-in from the client), you’ve got to involve them.

How much you’ll need to do this probably depends on the client and their industry. If the industry is relatively straightforward (real estate being a prime example), you’ll understand it well enough that you don’t necessarily need to involve the client as much. For more niche or technical industries, getting input from the client will go a long way toward creating effective content.

In terms of how to involve your client, we’ve seen a couple of things be effective:

  • Interviews, not assignments. Talk to your client as opposed to giving written assignments. This will (1) ensure it gets done in a timely fashion and (2) spawn conversation that uncovers interesting opportunities.
  • Show some work, but not too much. If you go away and simply tell the client the first 10 pieces of content you’ll be creating for them, you’ll struggle with buy-in. If you show every bit of work, every tool you used, to create the strategy, they’ll be overwhelmed. Walk your client through the basics of how you created their strategy—the persona research you did, the buyer’s journey you created, the keyword research you did, and show them examples of each. Keyword research, for example, can show how much demand and traffic is up for grabs.

Executing a Content Marketing Strategy With Your Clients

Executing on content strategies is commonplace for agencies to get tripped up—especially as you try to do it at scale, and across a wide variety of clients.

A few pointers that will help you avoid common pitfalls:

  • Keep it all organized with a content strategy you share with your client and an editorial calendar. Having a physical plan you can point to will help keep the execution on track, and allow you to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing and where this is all headed. You can download the editorial calendar we developed to get started.
  • Involve clients more at the beginning. Having your clients involved in reviewing work from writers, editing drafts, etc. can feel painful, but will increase buy-in and teach you what your client is looking for. Over time, you can dial this back as your client learns to trust your methodology and the content you’re creating.
  • Consider a flexible, scalable, resource for content creation that can provide subject matter expertise. Many agencies have in-house resources for content creation. And even as an outsourced content creator for agencies, we think this is a good idea. But, in-house resources are hard to scale up and down as content creation needs fluctuate. There’s also a physical limit on the number of industries an in-house writer can be an expert in. Blending in-house content creators with outsourced resources can provide the best of both worlds. Many of our most successful agency clients have elevated their in-house content creators to content strategists who manage a platform solution like Verblio (formerly BlogMutt), select content from it, and put the finishing touches—edits, final SEO optimization, etc. on the content they purchase from us.
  • Leverage your clients for their strengths. Different clients will have different strengths in-house. If your client has a great network, ask them to help you with content promotion and link building. If they have folks in-house who are an absolute wealth of knowledge about their industry, interview them in-depth and use the results of those interviews to create great content.

To Sum it All Up

Selling content—both strategy and execution—can be a powerful tool for creating stabilizing, ongoing revenue for your agency. By helping your clients understand the benefits of content marketing, being prepared to overcome inevitable objections, and having a solid plan in place to co-create a content strategy and then execute on it with your clients, you’ll be well on your way to helping yourself, and your clients, achieve revenue goals.

Paul Zalewski

Paul runs marketing at Verblio and is a self-proclaimed digital marketing and SEO nerd. When he's not helping sad, empty blogs find Verblio content, he enjoys writing and spending time with his wife and two daughters. His prerequisite I-live-in-Colorado activity is snowboarding.

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