Why Workshops Work: The Secret to Selling Long-Lasting Retainers

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Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



You’ve been working to sell a prospective client on a retainer for months. You’ve sent them a range of articles, guides, and case studies. You created a proposal, a contract, and have followed up multiple times to move things along.

They seem genuinely excited about the idea of investing in inbound, but a few people on the client-side are hesitant. They’re not quite sure how this will work within their current structure. They're used to the current way of doing things. The idea of signing a year-long contract is making the prospect retreat.

So, what do you do? Do you go in with a hard sell? Do you lean on the one person in management who can demand adoption?

You can’t force a culture, and that's ultimately what inbound is: a culture shift for companies. It changes the way a brand operates. Inbound is about transparency, education, and listening. These are words that may not be a part of the client’s current business lexicon.

And that’s a lot to ask of someone during the sales cycle. You are asking the client to not only invest in new marketing tactics but to also change its approach to communication, sales, and services. 

This is why Marcus Sheridan, founder of The Sales Lion, believes that agencies need a new (and better) way to start retainer relationships. By giving a client workshop -- either pre- or post-sale -- agencies can guide clients through the mental and cultural transformation that needs to take place for inbound to be successful.

Why Inbound Is a Culture Shift

“The idea of inbound is that you let go of the idea that your business has a secret sauce,” Sheridan said. “You see yourselves as teachers to those in your industry, as problem solvers, and active listeners.”

Companies that adhere to this idea ask questions and want the answer. They listen. They understand the client’s pain points and problems. The company uses this to educate their prospects and customers about the solutions. By teaching, the company gains trust.

“The business that we're in, that you're in, that I'm in -- whether it's swimming pools, whether it's marketing services, whether its selling rocket fuel to airlines -- this is a business of trust,” Sheridan said. “As soon as the company realizes that this is a business of trust, they start to focus on what matters and what they have to do to engender and generate more trust than anyone else in their space.”

When a client invests in inbound marketing, they can’t just send out an all-staff email saying, "Hey, I think we should start blogging and doing this thing called inbound marketing.”

You need buy-in -- from management, marketing, sales, engineering, customer service, HR, and even legal.

“The workshop is the perfect catalyst to get everybody on the same page,” Sheridan said. “Everybody has to understand what inbound is, how to do it, and why they should be apart of it if it's going to become a culture. Unless you really go in depth on covering those things and the whole team hears it and understands it and applies it to themselves -- individually -- you're not going to establish a culture.”

By running a workshop, agencies can become the educators and therefore, the agents of trust. You can be the guide on the client’s road of discovery and transformation.

The Agency Advantage of Running a Workshop

There are two reasons why running a workshop can be beneficial from both a sales and a relationship standpoint:

Reason #1: To sell inbound retainers to the right clients.

A year-long inbound marketing retainer is a big commitment for a client. Prospects are used to committing to a three-month project at $20,000 or $30,000. It’s much different when someone is staring at a year-long contract totaling $120,000.

If the company is wavering in their decision or they are questioning how it will actually work within their organization, a workshop will provide the team with the knowledge they need to buy into the idea. It may also solidify that the company isn’t ready yet. The worst thing you can do is commit a year to a client who refuses to collaborate.

Reason #2: To avoid the slow start in a relationship.

Another way workshops can be beneficial for the start of a relationship is that it fast- forwards the initial, get-to-know-you phase. You can use the time during a workshop to identify subject matter experts, build trust with people from customer service, engineering, and marketing. It also helps to convert your most important group: sales.

“Ultimately, we need to see inbound marketing as a sales tool,” Sheridan said. “And the sales team needs to see that it’s a sales tool. Until they do, we’re not going to live up to nearly the possibilities of what a true inbound culture is within an organization.”

With a workshop, you can learn about the client’s business and begin the strategic work faster, which will lead to quicker results (more leads and sales) for the client.

How to Teach a Workshop for Clients

Hosting a workshop does require that the agency learns how best to teach. The college lecture approach doesn’t work for this. You need to understand how people learn and how to present information in a way that facilitates discovery.

“You’ve got to allow them to discover these magic truths on their own,” Sheridan said.

The most important idea workshop leaders must understand is the Columbus Principle (as in Christopher). “Everyone wants to feel like they are the one that discovered America,” Sheridan said.

Workshop leaders have to ask questions that lead the audience to state on their own what you are trying to teach them. It’s like trying to convince someone that they should eat healthier. You can spend hours listing off the benefits and consequences. But until the person realizes for herself that this is a priority and has a reason for making the change, it’s unlikely to take effect.

During the past five years, Sheridan has developed a set of more than 100 questions that he asks attendees who attend his workshops. Every question walks a person closer to the point of finding their own answer. And the added benefit for agencies is that when they master this style of questioning, they are able to apply it to situations outside of the workshop, such as sales and training.

An example of this is the below run through of questions and answers:

By a show of hands, how many of you have researched how much something costs over the last year?

Everybody in the room raises their hand.

Okay, great. So you all have done it, perfect. So, when you are on that website, and you can’t find anything about cost and price, what is the emotion you experience?

Everybody in the room immediately says 'frustration.'

Great! So tell me why do you feel frustrated in this moment?

Everybody says, ‘Well it’s my right to know these things.’

Of course, you feel like it’s your time that they’re wasting, don’t you.

They say, 'Yes, it’s my time they are wasting.'

Well, do you just keep digging on the website?

They say, 'No, I don’t keep digging. That’s absurd.'

OK, well instead of digging, do you think to yourself, 'Well that’s okay. They’re a value-based company. I’ll call them instead.'

And then everybody once again says, 'No, I don’t do that.'

So what do you do?

They say, 'Well I keep searching.'

Well, you keep searching until when?

They say ‘I keep searching until I find someone that’s willing to give me the answer that I’m looking for.’

And then generally, what happens with that person?

They say, ‘Well, then they get the business.’

Great, that’s exactly right. We all feel frustrated out there. We all act just like this, don’t we?

Everybody shakes their head and says, ‘Yes, we do.'

OK, great. Now, by a show of hands, how many of you talk a lot about cost and price on your website right now?

If you ask the right questions, people can figure out the answer on their own. And when they define the answer, they own it, and then they embrace it.

By following the Columbus Principle, agencies can teach prospects and clients what inbound marketing is, how it is done, and why all team members should support it. You do this by discussing how the buying cycle and consumer expectations have changed, how people search online and what they are looking for from a company, and why sales needs content.

It’s Comes Down to Communication

Sheridan found that companies that start their inbound campaigns off with a workshop achieve over 300% more growth in traffic, leads, and new customers than a company that does not.

“Agencies need to be world class communicators,” Sheridan said. “If they are, they can convince, and they can convert. If they’re not, they’re going to have frustrating retainers, they’re going to have constant issues and headaches, and they’re not going to enjoy what they do nearly as much.”

This post originally appeared on HubSpot's Agency Post. To read more content like this, subscribe to Agency Post.

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