When it comes to creating a profitable SMMA , sales is your most important asset.
Sure, that can be said about any business.
However, as I watch hundreds of people come and go in the SMMA industry, I’m noticing the biggest pattern for failed agencies: the lack of sales.
More specifically, the lack of going out and getting them.
It’s Really About The Sales
If you search for a term like “online business” in Youtube or Facebook, you’re likely to get an ad for SMMA. Visitors are sold all the hype about how they can make endless profits from owning an SMMA.
Like any online business, it’s just not that easy.
Many people don’t understand how to get more clients, let alone their first.
Don’t get me wrong, with most SMMA courses the sales training is provided. You can even go online and watch free videos on how to do all of that.
But the unseen truth about starting an SMMA is for the first part of it, it’s mostly just sales. Before you plop down a few hundred (or thousand) dollars on a course about SMMA, let me show the sales process.
If you can get sales, you have a chance at making great money with an SMMA . If you think you’ll struggle with sales, you’re doomed from the beginning. It’s something that can be learned, but real salespeople are a special breed as well.
Under The Hood Of SMMA
Before we get into the sales part, let me unpack the SMMA operating model.
Like any marketing agency, an SMMA is composed of specialists. You need at least one person who is an expert at creating effective social media ads and content. In many cases, Instagram and Facebook is the focus because of the potential reach and ROI.
It’s not rocket science to navigate the Facebook dashboard or to create a good ad. However, since policies, rules, and strategies constantly change an expert on the subject is often needed. Campaigns and accounts get shut down all the time, so working with someone very familiar with the landscape is imperative. In my agency, I never hire anyone with less than $150,000 in ad spend experience.
And that’s the kicker.
A lot outside the SMMA think that the business owner is the ad expert: they’re not. Most of what I see are owners who understand social media well, but hire experts (on Upwork or a similar website) as subcontractors to do the technical work. It’s like a restaurant. The owner is not always the chef. In many cases, SMMA owners also act as the social media expert to cut costs. However, running an SMMA and deploying multiple campaigns for clients can get complicated.
So what’s an owner to do?
Job #1 For SMMA Owners
If they hire a subcontractor to place and optimize ads, an owner’s role is simple: get sales. That’s it. Technically, onboarding clients would be another major task but that can be automated with a video and an online form.
I came to this conclusion early in my journey with SMMA. I had it all wrong. I focused on the mechanical aspects of mastering Facebook ads, but none of that really mattered if I had no one to create ads for. And to be honest, no one is good at getting fantastic results when they’re just starting out.
That’s when it hit me.
I felt like a poser. How could I go on about getting awesome results for potential clients when all I had was a couple of weak case studies I created with my friends? Business owners would be forking over $2,000 a month, and for what? An amateur cutting his teeth on paid ads? That did not hold a lot integrity for me, but unfortunately it’s a pretty common situation in this industry.
That wasn’t for me.
I decided to stop learning Facebook Ads and hire a real expert. I interviewed a lot of top-notch social media experts for paid ads and found a couple real pros with enterprise-level experience. I paid them nearly half of the retainer (minus client ad spend costs). It was more like a business partnership until I learned how the finances really worked in an SMMA. (It’s about a 70/30 split plus performance bonuses now.)
After the first few clients, I thought things were going pretty well. Clients would get at least 1,000% ROAS and plenty of new business. But what they don’t tell you is that clients don’t always stay for the retainer you prescribed (usually 3–6 months with an incentive/discount to stay on).
If you lose a couple clients, it’s a huge hit on your revenue. Therefore, the agency owner’s job is to keep new clients coming in. You can always hire more ad specialists if need be.
Why SMMA Owners Give Up
That brings us to the hardest part of running an SMMA. It’s where I see dozens of would-be owners lose interest and give up the business entirely. This happens daily. Here are the three patterns of SMMA failure:
1. FEAR OF FAILURE AND REJECTION — No one likes to hear no’s all day. You must build thick skin to compete in sales and some people just don’t have it. In the beginning, you’re calling on 50–100 people a day to get a presentation appointment. The best strategy is to never sell your service on the phone, but talk up potential sales results for the client based on your custom research. All the selling, data, and proof-of-concept happens in a lengthier face-to-face meeting. Because of this, prospecting calls only last a minute or two. Even so, every rejection adds up and it’s defeating.
2. LACK OF PROPER SALES TRAINING — Resources on how to sell are a dime a dozen. A lot of them are pure regurgitated hype. However, there are some sales training gems out there that are worth paying for. The truth is that sales are in the realm of psychology and communication. Both of those topics are not exactly scientific, though they try to be. In reality, it’s messy and speculative at best. However, refining scripts, body language, and responses have proven to be valuable to increase sales.
3. SMMA IS A POOR BUSINESS-FOUNDER FIT — Some people are natural introverts. While some introverts do quite well in this industry, a lot don’t because there are constant interactions with complete strangers. You have to serve your client, reach out to hundreds of people every week, and give talks on building businesses with social media ads. This is the job. If you’re an introvert that can’t “turn it on” when you need to, this is not the right business for you. Furthermore, some people just find that running an agency isn’t what they thought it was. The business-owner fit is completely off and perhaps another field would be a win-win.
So how do you get over all of these obstacles to getting sales?
What Great SMMA Owners Do
There are a few solutions that have helped SMMA owners handle sales. Here are three actions great salespersons do to get more SMMA clients:
First, they commit to reaching out every day (preferably by phone). If you called at least 50 people every day for a month purely for the experience with talking to strangers, you’d guaranteed to be better at your people skills. That is assuming you adjust your conversations based on feedback.
I’m talking about using a little bit of The Scientific Method here.
- What worked and what didn’t?
- What did customers respond positively to?
- What things should you avoid saying?
- What tone works best?
- What time works best?
There are lots of things to recalibrate when you do sales and seeing the whole process more scientifically will definitely improve it.
Second, let others do some heavy lifting for you. I wrote about this in another article , but it’s a common tactic for the most advanced salespeople. They use their existing network to send them pre-qualified prospects.
Here is a short list of networks most people have at their disposal: Friends and Family, Former Co-Workers, Email Lists, Former Classmates (alumni), LinkedIn Contacts, Facebook Contacts, etc.
If your lists are full of mostly weak connections, leverage the network lists of close friends and family.
It’s easy to spruce up your lists.
You simply meet up with people you know, like, and trust. You learn what they’re up to lately, and you get a good handle on what their ideal client looks like. Then you do the same for your business. Lastly, you send each other potential clients. Over-deliver on your quid pro quo. (A good book about all of this is by professor Adam Grant: Give And Take: Why Driving Others Drives Our Success ).
The key here is to have your contact call the potential client before you call. This is called a “favorable introduction” . They can briefly talk you up and let others know you’ve done business with them. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but it’s worth a try.
Me, I don’t like to get emails or calls — even from my friends or family — that are unsolicited. I’ve seen the failed business hook-up scheme far too many times to count, and this is what goes through my head each time:
Gee Bob, thank you for connecting me to this complete stranger in an awkward way that clearly points to a form of cross-promotional marketing. You’re disinvited to next week’s BBQ!
However, if someone I trust really understands my business and deep down they truly believe some stranger can add value to it, I’m happy to give them a minute or five on the phone.
This is the way empires, past and present, have been built.
We only buy from whom we know, like, or trust — unless we desperately need something. A favorable introduction tactic is like standing outside in the long sinuous line at Club Business. You’re at the very end of it. After waiting, you bump into someone who knows and likes you. You get to talking and they realize you should meet the club owner because of your shared interests. From there, your friend walks you right up to the front of the line, tells the bouncer “he’s with me”, and suddenly the red velvet rope is unlatched for you to walk through. Next thing you know, you’re being introduced to the club owner.
It works, so work your network!
Third, get a sales coach or mentor. Learn from the best and someone who has done what you want to do.
Model success: it’s that simple.
If they’ve been where you’re at, it’s likely they know all the common ways to fail at selling in your field. They also know a lot of ways to succeed. Why waste your time and money trying to figure it out for yourself? If SMMA sales training is not a big part of your current program, get more training elsewhere. Remember, at the end of the day sales is a vital activity. No sales, no profit.
The catch is, a lot of sales advice is misguided and unethical.
So-Called Sales Gurus
I have a strong and unpopular opinion on a few sales gurus that seem to get all the attention. It’s not that I don’t think their tactics work. Again, we’re talking psychology and communication here, the weakest sciences of all. Something is bound to work.
What I look for in sales training are the three E’s. Training needs to be Effective, Efficient, and Ethical . Bottom line, the sales system must actually get sales (effective). Parts of this sales system and training must be scalable and automated to free up my time and energy (efficient). It’s the last “E” that is usually questionable. A lot of sales advice is too slick for me (ethics).
So where should you go to get sales training for your SMMA?
Learn from whomever you are comfortable with. If that’s Belfort or Cardone, go for it. My picks are the less flamboyant types like Zig Zigler, Jeffrey Gitomer, and Oren Klaff. But to each their own.
As you learn more about sales, focus on the general principles and verify that it aligns with your company values and goals. All the details will be ironed out by putting in the long hours practicing it in the field.
That can take a long time to master, but the good news is that the pains of SMMA sales are quickly being addressed. One key to SMMA sales is to hone in on specific platforms and niche strategists with proven results for what they do.
For example, to get to decision-makers it makes sense to utilize LinkedIn. Recently, I came across a company that passes my 3 E’s test called [ SurgeFlowDigital (no affiliation). This company has done-for-you lead generation services and training on how to systematically acquire SMMA clients from LinkedIn. Since getting clients is difficult, this is a great solution.
Quality Lead Sourcing
To get the edge, I would look at the way you qualify your leads. A lot of time and money is spent on calling prospects that are in no position to qualify for your services. I have coached SMMAs to set up 5–10 criteria for their ideal client. Those items are put on a spreadsheet. You can hire cheap labor on Upwork or Fiverr to do this task. It’s called Lead Sourcing. Build a quality list of businesses to call by pre-qualifying them first.
For example, here are a few things I look for. A good client must be bringing in at least $20,000 a month. In my town, there are several lists and reports that make his information available to all ( The Book of Business Lists ). They must also be within 15 miles from where my business is located so only focus on a few local cities in my region. Their website must not have a Facebook pixel (use Chrome’s extension called FB Pixel Helper).
Other good signs is that they don’t have recent ads on their business Facebook Page. If they don’t have a page, but they’re a big business it’s actually a selling point for your services. Often I look at Instagram to evaluate their follower count and engagement, especially if they have visual services or products (gyms, homes, retail goods, etc). Low activity on Instagram could be a golden opportunity to discuss with them.
Every criterion takes you a step closer to finding a high-quality lead. Guesstimating the average sale is a good criterion. You want that figure to be over $100, but ideally north of $500. If they’re already advertising on traditional media, this is a great sign. In my mind, they’ve wasted a lot of money on print ads or television and that kind of marketing is hard to track. Moreover, on Facebook they’ll simply get more exposure to their ideal and highly-targeted market. I like to take a look at their Google Business page and/or Yelp page see if there are only a few reviews. That’s a good indicator they might need social media marketing help too.
There are many more things to look for when creating a good lead sourcing list. However, the list of things I look for above is a start. In addition, many SMMA owners have discovered that even though leads meet their basic criteria they still have to go one step further.
SMMA Lead Scoring
I first discovered a problem with basic online sales funnels when I had a luxury real estate client. My client’s task was to pre-lease fancy units from buildings that weren’t even finished. I learned that they spent a lot of marketing dollars to acquire new tenants (CoCA): $3,500 per sale. That seemed like a lot, but their year-long leases were worth over $80,000 a year per unit.
The client’s goal was to get enough interested parties to go through the sales funnel and come out signing contracts. That was easier said than done. That’s when I learned that even within the funnel there were pre-qualifying features and segments that would determine the best kinds of buyers from the tire-kickers.
From this point onward, I started to implement the idea of Lead Scoring into my high-end clients and my own agency. Sadly, this was a new term to me a few years ago. Lead Scoring is when you evaluate the best leads based on select criteria, urgency, and trust. For example:
- A prospect that downloaded your freebie is a better lead than someone who didn’t.
- Did the lead come from a guest post on a niche website or did they come from a general business directory?
- Is the visitor local?
- Have they attended one of your events or toured a unit?
- Which pages did they visit? Which videos did they watch?
- Was the website visitor male or female, and who controlled the family finances?
All of these things add up and become prioritized in your lead scoring system. This is why my real estate client spent so much money on acquiring customers. They didn’t want a basic list generated from placing a few targeted video ads on Facebook. They needed more commitment and engagement to land customers.
This process was like throwing a whole new dimension on to my basic funnel and lead sourcing activities. The payoff of lead scoring is that what you end up with the Glengarry leads. Leads that score the highest are truly the best and have the greatest probability of doing business with you.
If you get lots of leads that don’t go anywhere and you sell high-ticket items, you need lead scoring. It takes more time and money, but this is another task that can be outsourced and automated with lead scoring software. When you get a budget for it, implement it immediately.
The Selling Get Easier
All this heavy sales stuff might sound daunting to new SMMA owners. It does get easier and more interesting. As you build up your case studies and client base, you’ll take on different roles.
In the beginning, 80% of your time should be doing some sort of direct sales activity.
However, when your agency is cruising along practically on auto-pilot because you have more help, the percentage of time flips. Now you spend 80% of the time improving business systems and only 20% doing pure sales.
I’m lucky to have survived the pains of early SMMA growth. I have certainly learned a lot and failed a lot of times. But today, a big part of business development is simply collecting referrals from previously satisfied clients. I can’t remember the last time I did a cold call.
Arlie Peyton is a coach for personal brands and online businesses. He has served as Oregon’s state representative for vocational education and strongly believes that everyone creates their own brand of intrinsic and commercial value. Peyton is based in Portland, Oregon — a magical and mysterious city enveloped by a Douglas Fir rainforest. Learn more at arliepeyton.com .
Do you want my FREE lead scoring tool on Excel?
Also, I’m thinking about writing an SMMA FAQ book. Got an SMMA question? Want a beta copy? Click Here .
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READ NEXT ON THE STARTUP
Do you want to learn how I got into SMMA? Read the article about my journey and the random course I took by Iman Gadhzi.
The Lucrative Underground World Of SMMA