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The Business of Search: “The Question Most Online Marketers Can’t Answer”

In my experience, most brands do not set goals for natural search traffic and conversions. I’ve learned this after hearing more than 400 prospective clients candidly answer the following question with mostly negative responses: It recently dawned on me that we might need to modify our sales process to focus more on education and less…

In my experience, most brands do not set goals for natural search traffic and conversions. I’ve learned this after hearing more than 400 prospective clients candidly answer the following question with mostly negative responses:

It recently dawned on me that we might need to modify our sales process to focus more on education and less on discovery. iAcquire crafts detailed strategies that enable our customers to overcome their challenges and grow conversions through increased visibility in natural search. It is our goal to help our customers capture greater market share with incremental traffic being an intermediate milestone along the path. In spite of our emphasis on traffic and conversions, many prospects tend to focus more on individual keyword rankings and link ranges than they do on driving quality traffic.

Since I began leading the iAcquire Customer Development team in January of 2011 we’ve followed a very structured sales process that qualifies prospects and ensures we aren’t wasting their time or ours. In the last 18 months we’ve been fortunate to enjoy a strong flow of customer inquiries (even more so since adding Mike King to the team). That said we believe there is a major need for our services at large brands and within traditional advertising agencies. We want to find and work with everyone that we can help. This explains why you may have heard from us before getting the chance to reach out and learn more yourself. Whether speaking with someone who has contacted iAcquire to learn more about our company, or an opportunity created organically by a member of our team, we follow a defined sequence of steps designed to qualify potential customers and confirm the ability of our team to help theirs.

The first and most critical stage of our process is something we refer to as a “discovery call”. I implemented the “discovery call” as a core component to the iAcquire sales process after being taught its value from Eric Reisch (VP Sales at Conductor) and Steve Borsetti (best sales training ever). The purpose of the discovery call is to guide an informative yet relaxed meeting with prospective clients and begin to understand their experience, goals and teams. On these calls we seek to listen more than we speak. The objective (which we share candidly) is to mutually determine whether iAcquire can help solve our prospects’ content marketing and SEO challenges before progressing to the next stage and requesting a larger commitment in time.

It sounds obvious but I’ll bet 50 dollars to anyone reading this that the majority of sales calls they entertain do not hold true to the premise of mutual discovery/qualification. At iAcquire approximately 40% of discovery calls do not progress to the next stage because either the prospect or Customer Development manager determines that things aren’t a fit at the time of our call. This is actually a good thing. Having fielded several sales calls myself I know that few sales professionals make their process a two way street. For iAcquire the hard sell doesn’t work with the types of engagements we desire nor does it attract the type of talent we strive to build our team with.

Our value proposition is based on providing turn-key solutions that deliver incremental natural search traffic and conversions. Understanding prospect goals (from a traffic perspective) is the key lever to whether we can execute an ROI positive strategy to be quantified over time.

As an estimate I’d say roughly 25 people (of 400+ discovery meetings) over the last 18 months have answered the “non-branded traffic goals” question decisively and in the affirmative. Although every meeting makes us more knowledgeable about our prospect and the search industry overall, we’ve truly taken a ton away from those twenty five calls. Most of those meetings evolved into working with fantastic customers and together we have achieved amazing results. Some of them have even led to beta testing and production of new technologies or strategies that better fulfill our clients’ needs. The bottom line is this simple question about non-branded traffic goals can tell you a lot about how seriously an organization takes SEO.

It would be foolish to pretend that answering the “non-branded traffic goals” question is simple. Every brand has its own unique challenges and goals. For some it is flat out impossible to separate between branded and non-branded search traffic for the lion share of their online business/opportunity. Others lack the internal resources and/or access to pull this data from their web analytics platform. And of course there are those that simply don’t have buy-in at the executive level in recognizing natural search as a major revenue driver. Needless to say those companies are not strategically planning for success in search.

In spite of these challenges, “the greatest journey begins with one step”. The methods for identifying search and keyword opportunity are well chronicled and thoroughly covered in SEO 101. What’s not covered is the need for professionals in the space to call their shot. Set branded and non-branded traffic goals and implement strategies tied to traffic generation. For Search to be viewed like a channel inside brands, the professionals who practice it need to treat it as such. I realize the technical demands of managing and developing a website are immense, but if there aren’t goals attached to growth what is the point?

A mostly obvious and not so novel way to start the traffic goal setting process is by filtering annual traffic and conversions for Natural Search referrals over the past two years and benchmarking growth trends. Use this as a baseline for organic growth and set conservative along with aggressive goals for improvement. I pasted screen shots from our GA account (full disclosure it is mocked up data) and some quick steps to baseline your non-branded Organic traffic and historical growth trends (this is one of the things iAcquire does during the proposal stage of the process listed earlier). One thing to keep in mind is that if you are going to share the results of this exercise with stakeholders in your organization, under-promise so you can over-deliver. Set yourself up for success by setting conservative goals so that you can show early wins and earn more buy-in.

A cool thing about working in Search is that regardless of your company’s size, there are a lot of similarities to being at a start-up. For example, just like at a start-up, one individual can materially impact the future of their company. Yes there are challenges to getting things done but having the opportunity to directly impact the company’s success is legitimately within reach. Realizing your opportunity requires setting goals, communication and above all, the dedication to follow through. As the saying goes, “a failure to plan is a plan to fail”, so take the first step towards success and begin data-driven goal setting/planning today. That way, when a member of our team gives you a call, you’ll have an answer ready for when we ask about your 2013 non-branded traffic and conversion goals.