We hear “I don’t know how to sell SEO” frequently from agencies and developers. This post is the first in a series of insights into how to sell SEO.
Our company, Gravity Search Marketing, is a kick-ass boutique SEO firm. We’re very small, we’re very smart, and many people will attest to the fact that we do what we do very well.
Being “boutique” means we don’t have a sales staff – that’s a role I typically fill by myself. We’re not flying completely blind: I’ve observed sales teams in action at other companies, and I’ve even watched Glengarry Glenross, but I’ve never been trained in the art of selling. Nonetheless, you may be surprised to learn that we do pretty well for ourselves when it comes to selling.
I don’t know how the big guys do it (honestly, I don’t – could someone please tell me in the comments?) but I thought it would be helpful to share what seems to work consistently for me. Today I’ll focus on the first conversation with a new prospect.
Plan for at least a half hour of listening before you start talking
My favorite sales conversations start off like therapy sessions. People are calling with a problem they want me to solve, and I need to know what that problem is. This problem cannot be expressed in a hurry, and it often has many facets. Here are some of the open-ended questions I like to ask:
- “So, what’s going on with your site?”
- “How do you know this is a problem? (i.e., “How do you gauge the performance of your website?”)
- “What have you tried before?”
- “What is working well right now?”
- “What does your team look like?”
Even if it turns out that you don’t land the sale, by really listening, you’ll have added one more “business like this” to your mental database, and that can be helpful in your ongoing selling and consulting work. I find it indescribably satisfying to learn about the cogs and wheels of other peoples’ marketing campaigns. I’m fascinated to hear what their research has told them about their audience segments and their customers’ perceptions and biases. This knowledge adds up, and is quite valuable in informing my consulting work.
Only after you’ve gotten a thorough understanding of your prospect’s needs should you begin to launch into your “About Us” spiel.
Answer the unspoken questions
You might think your job now is to describe your company, your experience, process, and prices. But don’t miss your prospect’s unspoken questions: What it will be like to work with you? Are you honest and trustworthy? Will I understand this confusing subject of SEO any better if you’re the one explaining it to me?
One common unspoken question is, “Will we be able to phase you out as an SEO consultant and do this ourselves eventually?” Many prospects won’t say it directly, but they hope to reach a point of in-house competency when they won’t need you anymore. This is a reasonable goal. Will your SEO capability transfer to in-house staff? Can you develop “cheat sheets” for your client, to keep them optimizing according to plan? Do you provide SEO training? Is there a provision in your service for on-call SEO Q&A? You may find that talking about these services early on will increase your desirability.
You also need to prove beyond a doubt that you know your stuff. I’ll focus on tips for proving your SEO skills in a future post.
Gently Redirect Common SEO Misconceptions
Selling SEO involves listening encouragingly as someone struggles to state their goals in your language. This can be challenging for some prospects, and that’s why many goals come out sounding simplistic, like, “We need to rank #1 for [generic phrase]” or “We need to get [audience X] to find us.” Since you want to have a successful business relationship with this prospect, you must be able to identify unreasonable expectations and gently educate until you can rephrase these goals into something more specific and achievable.
When a prospect is unfamiliar with the basic touchpoints of current SEO best practices, you may need to explain things like:
- “Building links” is not a standalone task. Link building these days requires – at a minimum – a serious effort in improving your website’s content offerings.
- What you want from your organic ranks may be easier and cheaper to achieve in the short run with paid search.
- I value your thoughts on keywords, but with your best interests in mind, we always perform our own objective keyword research.
- Even the best social media strategies will not get off the ground without your input and participation.
If you don’t think SEO is the best way for this prospect to spend their money, do not try to sell them SEO
Believe me, I understand it’s difficult to walk away from a budget earmarked for SEO, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do. SEO cannot fix a product that nobody wants, and even the best SEO likely can’t save a business that already has one foot in the grave. Search marketing, by and large, cannot create demand where demand does not exist. And organic SEO may not be the best choice in a competitive space where a prospect doesn’t have unique value to offer. Nobody will be happy in the end if the money going into SEO is wasted because it’s not the right service to fill the need.
If you’d like me to focus on a specific aspect of selling SEO, let me know in the comments, or track me down on Twitter.