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Making It Work: 6 Factors to Integrate Search with Other Best of Breed Partners

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Last month, I wrote about three options to integrate search into your overall marketing in order to maximize your returns across all channels. Specifically, it covered the pros and cons of partnering with various types of firms that offer search – everything from traditional, full-service agencies to pure search-only firms.

Since then, I've received several inquiries regarding these options and their inherit challenges. In particular, option 3 – the search engine marketing firm offering – sparked the most queries. Primarily, the folks I heard from indicated that they believe in hiring best of breed experts for each discipline; yet, they also believe that integration is key.

Not surprisingly, most indicated that they have found the two to be at odds. What they want to know is how an organization can integrate search with their other best of breed experts for optimal results.

Integrating search with your best of breed experts is not without its challenges. But while it isn't easy, it isn't impossible either. Following are six factors that should help you pull it all together:

1. Foundation

Aside from having different goals and expertise, each vendor has their own culture, attitudes, and personalities – elements far beyond your control. Given that, you'd be wise to select partners who share some core traits. For example, try to partner with organizations that have a thirst for knowledge and innovation, and a management team that is excited about your plan and the opportunity to work with others.

Conversely, you should avoid partnering with firms that tend to be rigid and exhibit a general unwillingness to explore new ideas. In addition, keep in mind that talk is cheap; be sure to speak with some of their existing accounts to understand if they are representing themselves accurately. These measures will help set a solid foundation for integrating search with your team of providers.

2. Expectations

Everybody has expectations, and more often than not, they require adjustments. The first thing you need to do in order to facilitate integration is to get everyone to understand that search engine marketing is a marathon, not a 100-meter sprint. Your team needs to understand and accept that it requires a long-term strategy that will produce results over time – not immediately.

Moreover, be mindful that it will take time for each organization involved to understand how the other organizations work, to address personality conflicts, and to sort out the logistics of working with each other. Lastly, there will be bumps along the road to successful integration – expect it, and don't give up.

3. Alignment

Obviously, successful integration requires that each partner fully understands their own specific goals. However, it is paramount that each also understands that the ultimate goal is the collective goal. This requires alignment. Even though each channel will have a target, the goal that each should be shooting for is your organization's overall goal.

Sure, each will care about the results they produce, but ideally, you want them to care more about the overall success of your company, even if it's at the expensive of their own metrics. Given that, your partners need to understand and accept that a channel's results may actually decrease because it has a bigger impact on another channel.

For example, you may sacrifice direct orders from a TV spot knowing that your intent is to drive them to your Web site, because you get a greater raw number of conversions that way. More often than not, however, creating such an alignment can be difficult, as many fear their contribution is adversely affected by the integration.

It is critical to dismiss this attitude, and instead foster an understanding that the focus should be on how each channel interacts and affects the other. Gaining this alignment will do much to facilitate successful integration.

4. Motivation

It's a given that each of your partners will have their own cost structure and fees. However, if they are really willing to go down the integration path with you – and truly have your best interests at heart – then they should be willing to have some type of incentive tied to your overall goals (the combined goal that each organization is tied into).

Perhaps you could have a discretionary incentive for key contributors to the overall integration. Of course, it can be difficult to reward individuals in other companies without crossing the corporate policies line, but a reward or a "thank you" can come in many ways. Perhaps you could take key contributors and their significant others to a special resort, rather than just providing a financial reward. Doing so could also help build even greater commitment to your organization. Think about it – a group of individuals that work for different companies that become your right hand.

In addition, case studies, referrals, or press coverage offer additional ways to reward your best of breed experts. Providing such exposure to the organizations that helped you achieve your goal gives you the opportunity to speak to the value that they provided, and also motivates them to continue their good work.

5. Communication

While communication seems simple and straightforward enough, it's probably the most challenging element in the integration process. The key is to be honest. If something is not working, say so. However, if partners aren't willing to receive criticism without getting defensive, successful integration will never happen.

With that said however, keep in mind that not all communication is created equal. For example, I can tell you first-hand that spending five hours on a joint call between several vendors is not always the most productive use of time. However, having monthly marketing summits focused on collaboration might be.

Such a forum would provide a great learning opportunity for everyone involved – especially if folks went into these meetings playing devil's advocate. Doing so would only make everyone smarter and produce better results. Ultimately, successful integration of search with your other best of breed partners hinges on honest and open communication.

6. Sharing Successes

Successfully integrating search with your other partners takes considerable work on everyone's part, so be sure to share your success stories with the entire group. Doing so will not only create learning opportunities for all those involved, it will also provide the team with encouragement, and demonstrate that integration really works.

There are numerous benefits to working with best of breed experts for your marketing initiatives, but integrating your partners can be a challenge. Smart marketers will follow the above six steps to pull it all together, and reap the benefits full integration offers.


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