Client Communication 101: How to Answer Difficult Questions

10 Difficult Client Questions & How We Answer Them

One of the things that I love about Seer is how everyone shares their challenges to help each other level-up. We’re all for sharing the learnings from both our wins and failures to grow our client communication skills as SEOs.  Without practice navigating these difficult questions to answer, we risk missing critical opportunities to build our client relationship and make our client’s SEO dreams come true.

During our bi-annual Release Days, Seer’s SEO Leadership shares real-life tough client questions with the team and challenges us to practice answering. We love any opportunity to flex our consulting chops, and this role-play exercise is no different. Better communication skills help us to build stronger relationships with our clients, leading to long term partnership success.

Thoughtful client communication skills are essential for any digital marketer to get management to buy into their strategies. Learning from others who have dealt with challenging situations helps to prepare us to be better communicators within the client-agency relationship.

Ready to level-up your client communication skills?

The client-agency relationship can be tricky to balance - shifting priorities, reallocated budgets, implementation backlog, the list goes on and on. Communicating with clients is all about having the right tools in your toolbox - and today we’re sharing that toolbox with you!

We’ve compiled 10 difficult client questions that our team has faced, with our recommended approach to answering them, based on our trusty client communication best practices and real-life in the wild experiences.

Scenario #1: Seer has been brought in by a digital marketing manager. She knows she needs digital marketing but needs help setting goals.

She doesn’t have 2019 goals but the business does have 3-year goals that were recently set, and marketing as a whole is responsible for a % of those. She is open to us helping her forecast what digital marketing’s contribution can be to those larger marketing goals.

Her digital analytics manager recently closed the loop between Salesforce and the website, so she knows the value of all touchpoints from top to bottom-funnel.

Question 1: We don’t have goals for SEO, what do you recommend our goals should be?

Answer: First off, when communicating with clients it’s important that we ask about the current benchmarks and growth trends in order to better understand how they have been growing to date.

Then, we would explain how we’ll forecast impact based on market opportunity, through estimated keyword volume, how the site converts, and the value of those conversions. Forecasting is essential to getting buy-in from upper management.

We will want to discuss both the Year 1 goals as well as the evergreen nature of SEO and the 3-year impact of our recommendations.

Next, we would prompt the client for input on the goals by framing different examples:

For example: Would people be excited if we grew 10%? 20%? Does it seem possible to grow 50%?

Based on the conversation, we would then align on the priority metrics to confirm which metric is the most important for us to influence.

Scenario #2: We just kicked off a new client and delivered our proposed project plan for the first quarter of our partnership. Our POC is eager to start hitting goals and wants to accelerate the deliverable timeline.

Question 2: How can we get started sooner than outlined? How do we speed up our timelines?

Answer: First off, we want to mirror the excitement of the client wanting to get started as soon as possible. We also want to hit the ground running and are thrilled when our POCs feel the same way.

Then, we would want to try to unpack the why behind this ask. Asking strategic follow-up questions is a great way to gain more context when you’re learning how to communicate with clients.

  • Is our POC being held to aggressive goals?
  • Is our POC looking to get management buy-in for expanding the initiative?
  • Is the client’s busy season coming up very soon?
  • What is causing the urgency?

Once we have a better understanding of this ask, we will want to align on how the client will get buy in to implement. Estimated implementation speed will help us understand how quickly we can move and adjust the project plan accordingly.

For example, we would ask our client questions like:

  • What is the process for approving content that will go live on the site?
  • What is the process to get changes made to the website from the tech audit?
  • Which teams are responsible for implementing copy updates, metadata changes, redirect recommendations, etc.?

From here, we would share context on the research and analysis that we typically start with (such as audience research, keyword research, etc.) but also share that we desire to hit the ground running with our quick wins, given the speed of SEO.

Scenario #3: The client is kicking off today but they reviewed the proposed project plan and need to add some items.

Question 3: We also need X, Y, Z completed on top of the expected deliverables. Can you do that?

Answer: For this client question, we will want to start off by making sure that both parties have a solid understanding of our partnership. The key to client communication is to ask additional questions to gain more information instead of providing an immediate solution. We recommend using these questions to guide the conversion:

  • Are we aligned on what our objective is for this partnership?
  • What does success look like at the end of the 12-month engagement?

Once we identify that we are on the same page, we can back our way into how we will get there.

We recommend answering this question with a  “yes, and” solution.

For example, “Yes, we can support you with what you need to be successful, and we’ll need to discuss how we can accommodate that additional work with our existing priorities. Are there deliverables that we will cut or delay in order to handle this higher priority?”

We will provide support here by explaining the existing process and the why behind it, to give context to the client.

Finally, we will want to wrap up the conversation by asking the client to help us understand why X, Y, Z are higher priorities than what was originally detailed in the project plan.

Scenario #4: Your POC at an enterprise-level company is in charge of all content that lives on the site. She works closely with the “Brand Content” team, who sets the content strategy for all channels, not just SEO. The Brand Content team is unhappy with their current agency and wants to work with Seer, but isn’t sure if it’s a good fit to support their holistic brand mission.

The Brand Content team feels lost when it comes to strategy and that they can’t prove their impact. They love the data that Seer brings to the table but they don't fully understand how digital efforts can influence a user's decision. Their main goal is to figure out how to connect with customers through the brand voice and activate insights via all marketing channels. 

Question 4: Is that something you can still help with? Can you explain how?

Answer: We would address this difficult question by talking about “one SERP, one strategy” approach. We believe that our insights shouldn’t just be leveraged via SEO, but we should use our research and data to help inform decisions about what strategic investments to make in different channels.

For example, we may recommend:

  • Using search terms in commercial scripts

  • A/B testing PPC ad copy for billboard messaging

  • Building sponsored content partnership opportunities with high ranking sites for competitive topics

In this situation, we would not want to get super tactical with our next steps, since our POC is not interested in the nitty-gritty details of digital strategy.

We would also want to tie this strategy back to measurement, and how it will help our POC understand what’s working as well as the potential impact of these recommendations.

For example, for an initiative like Audience research, we would want to apply the audience insight findings to channels beyond organic, including paid channels like social or programmatic, where we can quickly measure the impact of our findings.

Scenario #5: The CMO unexpectedly attends the kickoff for our new client, an enterprise manufacturing company. She has a background in digital so speaks our language, but we don’t know much about her. She shares that the company vision is to be the most trusted and valued customer-driven manufacturing company. We are a family of companies dedicated to delivering unparalleled customer service and exceptional protection to our customers.

Question 5: They have revenue goals, but they’re interested in how Seer will support the mission with these SEO strategies?

Answer: At Seer, our tried-and-true client communication best practice is to always show empathy. So, our primary recommended tactic here is to listen.  Listen to what the CMO is saying and what their goals are as a brand. From here, we recommend echoing back the themes we heard along with how we will tie those themes to our strategies.

Theme: Customer-driven. We will tie a customer-first approach to everything we do from blog copy to title tags.

Theme: Unparallelled customer service. We will tell that story through our content, audience research, and UX recommendations.

Theme: Exceptional protection. We will discuss what Seer’s process looks like in the context of this brand mission.

Scenario #6: The client is an innovator in their industry and has created a new solution for an audience. There is nothing like it on the market yet, and they want to capitalize on that advantage with as much growth as possible.

The client measures brand health using an internal proprietary system that they can share with our team.

The client has a strategic opportunity to go to market with a solution that is first of its kind, but our runway isn’t very long. They have about 9 months to get as far as we can before the competition catches up, at which point the marketing strategy will need to shift accordingly.

Question 6: Tell me about how your SEO strategies will be developed with consideration to that goal?

Answer: We would recommend beginning by getting as much top of funnel exposure as possible, since there currently may not be much demand for head terms if you’re creating a new market. We will want to be present in the SERPs for folks searching for the problems that our client’s product solves. We recommend optimizing for top-funnel visibility, targeting commonly asked questions that our audience is asking.

We understand that building a brand is a team effort, so we will want to incorporate a holistic multi-channel approach to support our organic strategy.

Depending on the brand, an awareness strategy could include Display, Social, YouTube, or Remarketing campaigns to build awareness and position the company as the ultimate problem solver.

Once the competitive market catches up, we would advise our client to shift product positioning to defend against the increased competition.

Scenario #7: The client is in a technology-focused business. The founder is a former engineer and CTO who understands the intricacies and nuances of websites built from the ground up. Every decision is made with data.

They are looking to redesign & migrate the website and know the process will be a long & arduous journey. Their developers will be backed up for the next 6 months implementing all the requests, code changes, updates, etc and we won’t have room to push updates from the Seer team live for the next six months.

Question 7: How do you suggest we proceed further and should we pause this partnership?

Answer: We’d want to ask some follow up questions to the CTO and push back on the no implementation problem, such as:

  • Since every decision is made with data, do you have all the data to make that decision?
  • How is a successful revamp & migration measured internally by the CTO? Is revenue a consideration?
  • What do you stand to lose by not optimizing copy or creating new content for SEO?

Ultimately, we would want to reach a point where Seer can use data to show the opportunity cost of not implementing so that the client can balance priorities to move forward with implementation. 

Scenario #8: The client is SaaS business with 30-60 day sales cycle / freemium options. Unfortunately, we don’t have revenue data in GA (inaccurate, sampled, don’t trust it).

We can request reports from Salesforce that speak to how many leads turned into marketing qualified > sales qualified > closed, and the total deal value.

Question 8: I’m getting questions from my execs on the value SEO efforts have on our business, they won’t understand what we are doing in general; can you help me quantify the impact / ROI?

Answer: We’d start by expressing empathy and repeating back the question to show that we understand the situation. We’ve all been in sticky situations with inaccurate GA data and understand that it can be frustrating for all parties.

Next, we would shift the conversation to discuss the terms of revenue and work through how to extrapolate revenue from the data we have available i.e. what % of traffic turns into MQLs turns into SQLs, etc.

We would then propose our closed-loop solutions to take the manual work out of impact reporting and better understand which pieces of site content are resulting in revenue.

Scenario #9: The client knows that getting world-class SEO consulting from Seer and their Account Manager, but they can’t evangelize SEO inside their organization because they don’t know anything about Title Tags, H1s, and rankings.

Question 9: How do I translate your work into what my internal stakeholders actually care about?

Answer: For this kind of question, we like to pull things up out of the weeds to a higher level that business executives can understand.

For example, on-page optimizations are done to reach an outcome: increase keyword rankings in organic search to be more visible when users are searching for content and solutions that our client’s business wishes to be present for.

One of the tools that we use to showcase this visually is our OST visual - which stands for Objective, Strategies, and Tactics. The purpose of the OST is to connect a business objective with channel-specific strategies and tactics leveraged to meet a revenue or growth goal. 

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Scenario #10: Our client just got a new CMO who thinks an agency is too expensive and wants to bring services in-house.

Question 10: How can I explain the difference in service and convince them otherwise?

Answer: We recommend approaching this question with another empathy tactic, mirroring. This is a great strategy to help preemptively solve communication problems by reflecting your understanding of the situation back at the other person. We would want to mirror back what the new CMO is saying to address head-on the doubts they may have about paying for our agency services.

Next, we will want to ask some clarifying questions about the new CMO’s experience in working with agencies:

  • Have you worked with an agency before?
  • Did you have a bad experience with an SEO agency?
  • What about that experience was bad?

Another tactic we commonly use in difficult client conversations is making an “accusation audit” where we list out all of the potential reasons why the new CMO might have doubts about working with an agency.

For example:

  • Cost
  • Lack of brand knowledge
  • Bad experience with a prior agency

From there, we would be sure to reference the ROI to date from the SEO engagement & reference Seer’s key differentiators, including

  • A large team working in multiple industries
  • ROI projections
  • Big data approach
  • Deep channel expertise

Hope this gave you some ideas on how to handle difficult client communication situations. Have some ideas on how you would address these scenarios? Drop them in the comments and keep the discussion going.

Learn more about Seer’s consultative approach to SEO and let us know how we can partner with you to make SEO dreams come true.


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