This is the fifth in a series of five blog posts about how to grow your agency. Jeff Allen and I are hosting Agency Growth workshops in Portland and London. Learn all about how we’ve grown Hanapin from a $2000 investment to an Inc 5000 company and an Indiana Best Places to Work honoree. For more info, read the About page and our FAQ.

Image of audit button

Make sure to check out the previous posts in the series.

Hat tip to Joe Martinez for the idea for this blog post.

The idea of not charging for an audit is to convince a prospective client to sign an agreement with you by demonstrating your expertise and providing value to them. This blog post will go through the ins and outs of this and how to think about whether or not it’s right for your agency.

An audit, generally speaking, is a review of the account to determine which areas are being improperly managed, or if the account is being managed well, it points out the areas not positioned well for growth. While they mainly point out things that are “wrong” with the account, they sometimes include areas of opportunity. Saying “areas of opportunity” is not a diplomatic way of saying things that are wrong, these are truly areas of opportunity for the account – areas where the account could be grown more through new channels, different tactics, etc. – but they haven’t been implemented yet.

An audit that a client pays for versus one that you offer for free during the sales process is different. Both in terms of how much value the prospect receives and also in terms of how much time and effort your team spends. The reason for this is the motivation of the prospect or client and why they want an audit in the first place.

If the audit is for a client, meaning it’s paid, they want the absolute most value from the audit as possible – either to implement your recommendations themselves or to hire you to implement those recommendations. You should go in-depth, giving the client as much value and recommendations as possible. They’ve already hired you as a vendor so the purpose of the audit is not necessarily to get them to do ongoing work, though that’s a nice side benefit, it’s to deliver on the work you promised them. Period.

The audit during the sales process is different because the motivations of the prospect are different. In this case, the purpose of the audit is free and it’s to demonstrate the value you can bring to an engagement. It demonstrates and proves that what they’ve found about you online matches your actual skill set. It also helps the client to understand how you would actually work on their account, whether personalities match up (hopefully, the eventual account manager also works on the audit), and especially if they have a current agency they’re not happy with, the audit helps to validate some of the concerns they have. Often times, prospects will have a feeling that something is not right in the account but because they’re not PPC experts they either can’t articulate the feeling or they can’t prove something in the account is deficient. This audit acts as that proof for them and validates those feelings they have.

The main difference between an audit that somebody pays for and a free audit during the sales process is that the former goes into significant details and recommends the how of what needs to be done. The latter does not go into as much detail, though it probably covers as many different areas so the breadth is likely the same. But it does not recommend the how of what needs to be done. It simply states what needs to be done and offers some evidence, statistics, or proof to support those opinions.

You should only offer an audit if you truly need to validate the prospect’s feelings or prove out your value. While it is perfectly okay to offer an audit as a matter of course to prospects (and in some cases it is now expected – see more on this below) there will be some instances where this is simply not necessary so you shouldn’t do the extra work if you don’t have it. So if you don’t need to validate the prospect’s feelings or prove out your value, don’t do the audit.

It also only makes sense to offer the audit to certain types of prospects and only during certain parts of the sales cycle. You should only offer it to your prospects where you feel like you’re going to generate enough revenue to make the audit worth it. That is, some times prospects are just looking for free consulting. And they know that agencies offer audits during the sales process, and while they’re not as in-depth as full-blown audits you pay for, they’re good enough to validate what the current agency is doing and maybe steer them in a different direction in terms of performance.

Be careful of these prospects by confirming and double confirming why they actually need an audit. “So, Mr. Prospect. What you’re saying is that you need X.” “Yes.” “So if we do X, is there any reason why we can’t do business?” Folks will typically come clean after that. Hopefully you’ll be able to avoid some of the situations but sometimes they are simply unavoidable and you have to be comfortable knowing that some people have ulterior motives and that you’ll end up on the short end of the stick.

You don’t need to offer the audit to folks at the very beginning of the sales cycle. Folks at the beginning of the sales cycle are looking for general fit and information from you. They’re not looking for validation of what their current agency is doing or for you to provide value to them. Better said, they *shouldn’t* be looking for validation of what their current agency is doing and they *shouldn’t* be looking for you to provide value to them, yet. Once you get a little deeper into the sales cycle, meaning you determine whether you could help the prospect based upon what they tell you their pains are, at that point I would offer them an audit. If they want an audit before that, they’re likely looking for free consulting. (Or, they aren’t listening and just want you to bend to them, which is a sign they’ll be a bad client.)

Audits during the sales process are becoming more and more commonplace. Prospects, at least very large prospects and those going through the RFP process, generally expect you to review their account. So if you don’t offer this as a matter of course or if you don’t have a standard process for handling these types of audits, it may come across to the prospect and they’ll make parallel assumptions about your ability to service the account.

Should you offer a free audit or should you offer a paid audit during the sales process? I think that while the very best of the very best could ask a prospect to pay, for competing agencies (i.e. you’re competing against multiple agencies regularly) it’s best not to. The reason is that most people don’t make prospects pay for an audit during the sales process, so if you do, you’ll be one of the outliers. In order to compensate for being an outlier, you really have to be one of the best in the world at what you’re doing. Even if you give the client a credit towards your on-going management for having paid for the audit, you’re stacking the deck against yourself.

On the flip side, I could also see this be a good sales tool in that it weeds out folks that just want free consulting. While you’ll weed out some good prospects you could otherwise land, for sure, you’ll get rid of all tire kickers too. My advice would be that unless you’re a solo shop who is already making more than enough revenue to cover your own living expenses or you’re attracting a ton of tire kickers, that you do not charge for audits during the sales process and you offer them free like most agencies do.