<img height="1" width="1" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=2045020122447259&amp;ev=PageView &amp;noscript=1">

Building The Pain Mountain: The Successful Digital Marketing Agency Approach To Retainers – Part 1

We all have a friend who doesn’t take our advice. Even though we may be knowledgeable about the challenges they face, have some great insights into the problem, and can offer any number of workable solutions, they still don’t heed, or even want that advice. It’s frustrating, right?


Many digital marketing agencies face the same frustrations. They identify a potential client who is perfect for them, and who the agency is perfect for, can see how they can help that business or organisation dramatically improve their online capabilities, increase traffic to their website and generate all the leads they could use, but that client still says ‘no thanks’.

When this happens, it’s time to explore some new ideas around the traditional digital marketing agency retainer model, to examine how this approach can be improved, and what pitfalls to look out for along the way.

In this first of a two-part series, we take a look at how digital marketing agencies can re-evaluate and change how they can appeal to and win new customers by ‘building the pain mountain’ for potential clients.

Check your equipment

Of course, the first thing you need to do when considering a different approach is to examine your current retainer model. Ask yourself two simple questions:

  • What is my current qualification process?
  • What are the common objections to my proposal?

It is also important to keep in mind what exactly an inbound digital marketing agency does (or at least should do) and how that is ingrained within your agency culture code, and this can be summarised as follows:

Helping clients increase their website visitors, leads and customer engagement through online marketing activity

It’s that simple.

Of course, the degree to which you help and the number of elements involved will always come down to the client’s budget, and your own capabilities, but should involve multiple platform activity that incorporates SEO, content creation and social media as a minimum.

If you can clearly help them, then why are potential clients not taking you on? Well, as mentioned, they are like that friend who won’t take your advice, even though they really need it and you can deliver it.

It is tempting to write them off as lacking in insight, ambition, even an understanding of the digital marketing world and how important it is for every business nowadays, and in some cases this may be true. But apart from it being your job to convince them that they need you, the real reason why many retainer proposals don’t work out may lie closer to home. It is worth evaluating your approach to see what you may be doing wrong, and how you can improve it.

Pack light

One common mistake when reaching out to a potential client, or on first contact, is that of information overload. You may know digital marketing inside out, be full of expertise on the latest and best techniques to grow an audience, engage with consumers and generate leads, but dumping all of that knowledge on someone who is not so up to speed or savvy in the ways of online marketing, will almost certainly make them feel overwhelmed.

avoid_information_overload-that_will_leave_cleints_spinning_in_your_digital_marketing_agency_proposal.gifIf an introductory meeting to discuss the basics of boosting website traffic suddenly and breathlessly spirals into an explanation of how HubSpot’s COS outperforms a standard CMS, that potential client will leave with their head spinning, none the wiser about how you can help them, just feeling you have given the vertigo. Rather, they will feel that all you will do is confuse them, and as a business, they won’t want to invest in something they are not certain about, and can’t see the benefits of.

Slow down.

Take things one step at a time, and go into the finer details at an appropriate later stage. The first of these steps is to dig deep into the initial reason why they agreed to talk to you in the first place. If they contacted you, or if they were interested in meeting after you contacted them, that is a promising starting point, because you know they have a good reason for doing so. You need to examine thoroughly what that reason is, and keep it front and centre in your mind. You may be tempted to want to show off all the bells and whistles your agency can boast of, but at the initial stage, that will only dazzle them, and not in a good way.

Of course, you need to beware the inbound marketing shopper, those businesses, or other agencies, trying to get an idea of what you can offer, and at what price, but a proper examination of their website and online content should weed these critters out and it should be obvious when a potential client is indeed in need of your agency’s skills.

Get the lay of the land

assess_client_challenges_to_build_pain_mountain_agency_advice.jpegAn audit of their website will allow you to ask yourself what challenges or problems a potential client has. It could be attracting visitors, converting them into leads, closing them as customers, or retaining those customers. It could be all of these.

Establishing what their problem or pain points are means you can build a pain mountain for them, presenting the list of challenges that lie ahead and the first steps towards scaling it. That last bit is important - the first steps they need to take.

Getting to base camp

Just as overloading a prospect with too much information about what you can do is likely to overwhelm them, so too is throwing all sorts of solutions at them. Firstly, you have to tell them how they can solve their first set of problems. Once they are satisfied with that, you can then go into the other pain points they need to address, and explain how much they need to do, what you have to offer as an agency, and how you can provide the solutions. Using the mountain analogy, think of it like this:

build_the_pain_mountain_for_cleints_successful_digital_marketing_agency_way.gifIf someone needs to climb Mount Everest, the best approach is not to start describing the sheer size of the task ahead of them, or the type of mountaineering equipment you advise using, or indeed to go full pelt at the mountain, but to help bring them to Base Camp. Once they are there, they only have to look up to see the challenge that lies ahead, but having been brought there successfully by you, they are likely to retain your services to go all the way to the peak.  

Highlighting the dangers

As well as showing the path towards success, you should also be able to explain clearly what the financial consequences of their not fixing their problems will be. When it comes down to it, any business will look at the bottom line, so if you can show how much it will cost them to continue as they are without your assistance, they are more likely to take it on board than they will stats about online consumer engagement or click-through rates. Get that financial number top of mind as soon as possible.

If (and hopefully when) the client agrees to hear what you have to offer, and gives you the ‘ok kid, show me what you got’ line, then it’s time to craft your proposal and start scaling the mountain. This should be made up of several stages.

Stage 1: Retracing the steps

Mention the client’s challenges first with a ‘you told us’ approach. Going back to the friend scenario, we all probably also have that friend who, when you are describing a problem, jump in with their solutions before you even finish. (If you don’t know who that person is in your social circle, it’s you. Similarly, if you can’t say for sure that your agency doesn’t do the same thing in its retainer model, it probably does do it). It’s human nature to try to help people as quickly as possible, but more often than not, waiting to hear more usually leads to a better solution.

Instead of jumping in with a solution, listen with empathy to their problems, qualify them properly, ask more questions to delve deeper into more problems. This is the moment in time when the prospective client is vulnerable and willing to open up. When they share one problem with a stranger then there are usually many more that come out, so listen to them before offering solutions.

Showing how smart you are, or how great your agency is by offering a full-blown Inbound Marketing Campaign and HubSpot license is the wrong thing to do here, and in fact shows a lack of smarts.

Stage 2: Getting the wider picture

At this point, if they come to you with one problem like SEO or PPC, it is your job to uncover many more problems, get them all out, then explain where these problems sit inside the whole Inbound Marketing methodology and how their website needs to become an ROI-based asset, and then get back to addressing, say, the first three, most urgent problems.


These should be linked to a sales number – ie, by fixing these issues there should be an increase in visitors, leads, customers or conversion rates to improve sales. It all comes down to the three Rs: revenue, revenue, revenue. You are not committing to an exact sales number, but showing the prospect that your work will contribute to an increase in sales or profit for them.

List their problems as you see them from what they have told you, and give a proposed solution, explaining why even the savviest company needs a dedicated digital marketing agency, but keep it simple – try to make each a one-line problem and solution.

After the prospect sees the problems and solutions outlines as above, then it is time to go into each in more detail – what it is, the steps you can take to improve their performance, the expected results based on benchmarks and an approximate improvement in revenue (estimates or approximates only – never give guarantees).

Stage 3: Stressing the value of the endeavour

Next up comes the summary of investment. Rule number 1: never mention the word ‘cost’. The first question a business will ask is ‘what will this cost me?’ but you want to outline or focus on the lifetime value of the new customers they can gain from your input and assistance, and how many of these new customers they can attract.

Stage 4: The final push to the top

Finally, it’s time to outline why they should choose your agency as the best option to undertake their digital marketing strategy. Give case studies or the results you saw from a similar business with similar challenges: Business X saw a growth of Y number of customers/revenue, for example. Leave them in no doubt that not only will an inbound digital marketing strategy increase their profits, but that you are the best agency to provide that success and reach the top of the mountain together. That way, you will be sure to get those retainers and be ahead of your own competition.


You should also put in place a pre-sales model that offers enough value to potential clients to warrant receiving payments before you even get down to the nitty gritty of creating a digital marketing strategy for them, and we will come to this at a later date.

Look out for the second part of this piece in which I outline the steps to take when putting together your proposal and successful digital marketing strategy for your clients.

Learn more about how Get Focused, the agency for agencies, can help you convert potential customers into clients by booking time with me.

Talk to Clodagh

Clodagh is currently based in Dublin and is the a co-Director of Get Focused Ltd, the first Irish Platinum HubSpot Partner Agency. She's an accomplished inbound agency sales and marketing coach who has helped hundreds of agencies in the HubSpot Agency Partner Program since 2013, both in APAC and EMEA.


Clodagh Higgins - Founder & Agency Growth Expert

Clodagh Higgins - Founder & Agency Growth Expert

Clodagh is the Get Focused founder and agency growth expert, having spent decades delivering for her own and other agencies across the globe.

Related posts

Search by Topic

see all

Popular Articles

Build a High-Conversion Website

Make Your Website Work For You