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Liza Perstneva

Why Digital Marketing Businesses Fail #semrushchat

Liza Perstneva
Why Digital Marketing Businesses Fail #semrushchat

Even if you’re a seasoned professional in the digital marketing game, this business can be quite tricky. Even some of the most successful digital marketing agencies have experienced not only success, but also failure. And there can be any number of reasons for this.

We wanted to figure out the most common problems that digital marketing businesses might encounter. In our latest SEMrush Chat, we discussed how to win new customers today, how to build strong, long-term relationships with your clients, and many other things with our special guest John Doherty, founder of Credo, talented growth marketer and speaker.


What Does the Perfect Digital Marketing Agency Look Like and Why Doesn't It Exist In Reality?

It’s not a secret that today digital marketing agencies abound. The image of the perfect agency depends on several aspects – whether it’s a large or small business and whether or not it specializes in certain industries and geographies.

At the very beginning of our discussion, we asked our chat participants to share their views on what the perfect digital marketing agency looks like. Our special guest assumes that there’s no such thing as a perfect agency and that the right company for a particular client depends on the client.

John Doherty’s idea is that the perfect agency, in the eyes of a client, is one that communicates, sets expectations, and delivers high-quality work on time. And the reason why many agencies lose clients is a lack of effective communication. He continues: “When I have to break it down, the perfect agency is a great communicator with a variety of skill sets not tied to just one channel.”

Some other chat participants have the same vision of the perfect firm, claiming that their goals should be client centered:

Some experts assume that the same is fair for your clients – the perfect ones are made through effective communication with them:

Indeed, good clients are not always born, but they can be made out of the clients you have now. How? Get to know their industry and company, respond to their emails as quickly as you can, and treat each of your clients like they’re your most precious one. And remember that strong, long-term relationships can’t be built overnight, so you have to be patient.

Andrew Dennis ‏@AndrewDennis33 also reminds us what in particular clients expect from their agency: “The perfect agency, in the eyes of clients, is one that helps them make more money. I think this can exist with proper expectations.”

As Bill Slawski continues, the perfect agency must be able to spot and seize opportunities for improvement and accomplishment and make the necessary changes for success. Let your clients speak and apply the problem-solving principle to your marketing campaigns.

Finally, many chat participants pointed out that a successful digital marketing agency always progresses and tries to become even better.

Lucas Miller ‏@lucasmillerwsu thinks that there’s no such thing as the perfect digital marketing agency, because a good firm is always evolving, optimizing and improving: “The perfect agency doesn't exist because if you're truly committed to doing great work, you're always optimizing and improving.”


On the way towards become the perfect digital marketing agency, do your best, build long-term relationships with your clients and try to solve their problems.  


Sometimes finding new customers seems like a real challenge. For many up-and-coming companies this is a continuing struggle. So, we asked our chat participants to share their tips and tricks on how digital marketing agencies can win new clients.

Our special guest says that, today, many agencies face the same problem – the rise of freelance and solo consultants. He also believes that the future belongs to agencies that specialize in certain types of websites, e.g., e-commerce and “software as a service” sites.

The advantage of such companies is that they go deep instead of broad. They are real experts and have considerable experience and a lot of expertise. John Doherty has also noticed that another mistake that some agencies make is not spelling out precisely what their clients will get for their money.

A digital marketing company must establish itself as an agency that does real, hard work, as John Doherty suggests: “The agencies that elevate themselves above the "gurus" and show how they work and get an ROI for clients win.” As he points out, an agency’s main goal isn’t beating the gurus, but building a brand to which these gurus can’t be compared.

You won’t be able build trust with your clients unless you’re honest with them. Don’t make promises that you can’t deliver. Listen carefully to your customers, get to know their problems and needs, and offer them creative and effective solutions. ThinkTank @Think_Tank_Mktg made a really good point, stressing the importance of white hat strategies: “If your agency can execute white hat link building and content marketing you're on the competitive curve!” Being transparent and honest with your customers and prospects will help you build retention and loyalty.

Many people assume that social proof is a modern form of marketing. Experts define five main types of it: expert, celebrity, user, “wisdom of the crowds,” and “wisdom of your friends,” according to Ed Hallen. Another source of new customers is referrals from satisfied clients, as Obed M. ‏@MrClics suggests: “With referrals, usually the companies are inclined to work with someone who comes recommended.”

As we said during the first question, you should treat each of your clients as if they’re your most important one, because happy customers are more likely to make referrals. Also, be helpful and deliver value to your potential clients, as Konstantin Kanin ‏@KonstantinKanin recommends: “Be helpful, be patient, and bring value to your potential clients. That's how we’ve acquired new clients for the last three years. You should “give” before you ‘ask.’ Your future clients will be grateful, and you’ll get a new contract.”

Simon Penson points out the problem with sales that some agencies have today when they use obsolete tactics that don’t correlate with the modern world.

Karlosb ‏@Karlosb advises limiting the use of specific industry terms that can puzzle and perplex your clients: “Don't bamboozle clients with tech terms, explain your services in business terms and explain how you can integrate with the client.”

I would like to sum up with the following formula for getting new clients that Kevin Mullett provided:

We received many more answers, which you can read in our recap!


We hope these tactics will help you on the way towards winning new clients. If you have any other tips, let us know in the comments!


There’re various reasons why digital marketing agencies fail to achieve their goals: their strategy has flaws, lack of a clear plan, focusing on the wrong things or even a lack of a tangible goal. Some companies simply don’t understand the main reason for their failure.

Our guests shared their opinions on the topic, and we made a thorough checklist. Let’s take a look!


Does your agency make the same mistakes? Make sure that you avoid these pitfalls and you’ll successfully reach your goals.


Thanks to the Internet, marketing has become far more measurable. Nevertheless, many agencies still find it difficult to present the right metrics to their bosses that will help them establish credibility. John Doherty is sure that the following metrics can serve as evidence that an agency is delivering the desired results:

  • Client retention

  • Clients’ willingness to give reviews

  • Frequency of client fires

John also suggested that a good practice for digital marketing agencies is doing a Net Promoter Score survey of their clients on a regular basis. The management tool NPS measures the loyalty between you and your consumers, who could be employees, survey respondents or customers. It has already gained serious popularity among business executives.

To start with, you can set specific KPIs, expectations (e.g., volume, value or quality), and frames, as Chris Bell explains:

Monica Kartapinski ‏@monkarpi suggested that your metrics will depend on your specific goals, and went on to say that “there’s always a way you can measure something to demonstrate something.” She also added, “There’s always a story to tell!”

Make sure that your customers with the expectations you’ve set and the metrics you’re going to use. Some clients set unrealistic goals. This can be difficult, but you have to handle those clients appropriately.

To avoid unrealistic expectations, you should stand firm, never promise results that you don’t believe you can deliver, and never promise to complete a project by a specific date, if know that you can’t meet the deadline.

Also, today there’re plenty of services that can help people keep track of their results:

Trite, but very true. Revenue is still one of the most important metrics for business owners. Nevertheless, as Katherine Boufford points out, conversion and revenue aren’t always the best KPIs.

Now, let’s see what we have so far.


Use these tips from our experts to focus on the most critical metrics that an agency owner is likely want to see.


Small and large agencies, startups and even established, successful companies can make a mistake. Some mistakes can serious and bring about the most damaging results: your customers can become disenchanted with your agency, even to the point of no return.

We asked our guests how to avoid this very unpleasant situation. John Doherty assumes that if your client is starting to doubt the effectiveness of your work, you’re already losing this customer. You should always understand whether or not your clients are getting a good return on their investment. And if they aren’t, you should find out why. John advises that you begin by setting clear expectations – how soon the project will be completed, what the dependencies are and other important things.

Nevertheless, another big problem is when clients are disappointed, because they don’t see their desired results, but they don’t follow agency’s recommendations.

The thing is that you shouldn’t just recommend something to your customers, but also help them get all those things done. As John points out: “Some clients have never thought about this. It's your job to not only put together strategies, but to get them done.”

Actually, many of our chat participants recommended that agencies clearly communicate their goals and expected results.

There’re always some limitations that your customers are simply not aware of. You’re an expert who can explain the nuances of your work.

Another really good approach I would highly recommend is getting to the root of the problem. Usually, this is called root cause analysis. Complex and seemingly unsolvable problems appear much more approachable when you divide them into several distinct elements, which aim at drilling down to the root causes.

When you see that something’s going wrong and your clients are dissatisfied, think, try to figure out why they doubt your work and what you can do to fix it. As Rachel Paul points out, you must decide whether or not your and your client’s relationship works for you both.

In conclusion, I would recommend following John Doherty’s advice, which is to communicate more often with your clients, report to them consistently, and always watch your numbers closely. This will help you retain more of your clients.


Do you have any other tactics for proving to your clients that your agency’s work is effective? We’d be glad to receive your comments on the topic!


At last we’ve come to the final question of our chat. As we’ve already said multiple times, building long-term relationships with your clients is crucial. However, it’s easier said than done. Our guests discussed how to successfully build and maintain client relationships.

Even though everyone already knows these things that John mentioned, not all agencies truly focus on them. As John suggests, you must clearly demonstrate to your customers that you understand their business and are willing to work on what matters. You don’t have to be an expert in their industries, but a little knowledge will help you better understand your customers’ problems, needs and wants. “After all, if they succeed, your business will succeed,” as John explains. He also gives his own formula for building relationships: “Bare minimum, you need quarterly face-to-face meetings, weekly phone calls, and monthly reporting.”

And here’s some wisdom from our other chat participants.

Not only should you communicate with your clients and demonstrate a solid work ethic, you and your clients must share some common goals. No doubt, short-term objectives are important, but long-term goals are generally the most meaningful. Achieving them is usually difficult and time consuming, but if you succeed, you’ll earn your customers’ loyalty. Jacob McEwen made a very good point, saying that you and your clients need a shared long-term vision in order to grow together steadily.

Long-term goals are things that you want to achieve in the future. They require time and in-depth planning, while short-term objectives can be thought of as supportive goals that feed your wider strategy. Make sure you set both types of goals if you want to achieve better results.

Continuing on the topic, Hardik Oza recommended also sharing your achievements with your clients, since it’s one of the best ways to establish strong relationships with them.

You will also find some very useful information in John Doherty’s article “How to Communicate With Your Agency,” in which he explains why communication between businesses and agencies is crucially important and how to do it effectively.

Now let’s take a look at all the recipes for building solid, long-term relationships with your clients that our experts provided.


That’s it for today! We hope all of these tips will help your agency win more digital marketing battles and achieve success.

We would like to thank our special guest and our other chat participants for their invaluable tips!

Liza Perstneva is a Social Media Manager at SEMrush and a #SEMrushchat host. Follow Liza on Twitter.

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