Sales and Your Search Marketing Agency - Part 1

Now that you know how to win the right search marketing clients, it's time to look at probably the most important business area -- how to make sales.

We're closely involved with marketing, so marketing our own search marketing agencies should be natural to us. If we're successful, then we should have a full pipeline of sales leads. The next challenge: turn these leads into customers.

The Challenge of Selling Search

Unless you've hired an employee specifically to handle sales, then chances are you, as the business owner, will be left to handle the task. You're the default. The advantage? You have the passion and knowledge to handle prospects. One negative: you may not be a sales professional!

That's how I feel about myself. I've handled the sales for my business since we formed the company. At that time there were just two of us working out of my home. Five years later we've evolved and grown, but guess what? I still handle sales!

During these five years, I've gone through the lengthy process of hiring an employee dedicated to sales on two occasions. Both times it didn't work out. The staff I hired couldn't sell professional services and had a particularly hard time selling SEO (define). That's because organic SEO is a long-term strategy that can revolutionize online efforts over time. Many sales people -- used to saying whatever it takes to close a deal -- can't sell a six-month wait!

Some Prospects Just Don't "Get" Search

The best prospects are those who "get it." They understand why they need search. They're knowledgeable about what's involved. They've researched how much it costs and how long it will take.

Prospects who don't "get it" are very hard to sell to and, if converted, don't make great clients. These prospects may have been instructed by others to find a search marketing agency, or told search is something they really must be doing. They don't know what they're really looking for, how much it costs, and what it would take to achieve results. They lack commitment.

Do you want to take the time to educate these people? In the majority of cases, it's plain not worth it. They really aren't motivated to buy. They're just going through the process.

Motivated Prospects Will Buy

I've found that motivated prospects (those who understand search) are far easier to sell to and make the best customers. These are the type of leads I want filling up my pipeline.

Selling in a Competitive Marketplace

The search marketing marketplace is competitive -- and getting more competitive all the time. How do you compete with other agencies offering a variety of different qualities of service or price structures?

Differentiation is the key. Position yourself so you aren't lumped as just another agency. You must offer something different or have your own angle. Give some thought to what makes your agency different from your competitors and get it down in writing. You should add this to the messaging on your Web site, too.

Hiring a Sales Person

Hiring search marketing professionals can be challenging. This is true for staff working in the trenches and also those involved in selling our services. They need to understand search marketing.

I've hired people through classified ads, direct contact with us, and agencies. Natural born salespeople are scarce.

What should you look for when hiring in our industry? Ethics is a major issue. A hungry salesperson bidding against a competitor using low prices and big promises may be tempted to deviate from your company values to close the deal. Look for honesty and trustworthiness when hiring.

A good networker is a must. A major part of sales is the ability to build relationships and trust in our services. Popular perception? Trust is missing from our industry.

In the second part of this column I'll look at the anatomy of a sale, as well as what's involved in converting a sale. I'll also explore perfecting the sales process and whether performance-based relationships will benefit your business.

Join us for SES New York March 17-20 and for training classes March 21.

About the author

Fionn Downhill is the CEO of Elixir Interactive, a digital marketing agency that helps companies build and grow their customer relationships online. After building up a specialist agency in search engine optimization and paid search, Elixir Interactive expanded its digital marketing services in May 2008 to include social media optimization, reputation management, e-mail marketing, mobile marketing and user-experience design..

Elixir Interactive strives to leverage its experience in search to help clients create, optimize and distribute targeted content that reaches the right audience in the right place at the right time. By combining the intelligence gathered from search with the power of the social community, Elixir Interactive can help its clients better understand their customers, extend the reach of their brand, manage their online reputation and create compelling user experiences that truly connect with the target audience..

Fionn previously worked with organizations such as British Airways and Price Waterhouse. Fionn is involved in the advancement of search marketing and is a strong advocate for best business practices in the industry.

She is the Chair and a founding member of the SEMPO Institute, which was launched to provide first class training for the search engine marketing industry worldwide. Fionn is an established author and frequent speaker on search marketing. In March 2007, Fionn was elected to the SEMPO board of directors.