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Five Ways that SEO is (a Little Bit) Like Sales

SEO consultant or sales pro?

Most people probably have two very different mental images of those professions. And in all honesty, if you met one individual of each stripe at a party, you could likely figure out who worked in which role fairly quickly. Yet the two professions do share several common attributes and requirements.

1. Address the needs of multiple "buyers." B2B sales people know all about this one—they rarely have the luxury of selling to only one individual. Usually the sales person must sell at least to the actual user of a product or service plus his or her boss; and often must sell to some combination of the CFO, CIO and CEO as well.

SEO consultants have a similar challenge. They must first "sell" a website to the search engines—using onsite techniques like title tags, headings and proper keyword density in the copy plus external link building—in order to get the site ranked within the first few search results. They must then "sell" the click (using intriguing meta description tag text) and the page (using professional design and compelling copy) to attract the human visitor to the site and get him or her to take a desired action.

2. Possess a mix of "hard" and "soft" skills. Top sales pros combine some level of technical and mathematical acumen, as well as product knowledge and psychology, with an outgoing personality and professional demeanor.

SEOs need to combine creative skills like writing, design, and persuasiveness (when asking for links) with technical knowledge of HTML, Javascript and CSS coding.

3. Guide the process from initial contact through closing the deal. This is pretty obvious for sales: once a sales person has qualified a prospect, he or she strives to keep the process moving predictably from one milestone to the next, to avoid unnecessary delays or worse—losing the sale.

Similarly, SEOs seek to guide visitors through a website, from initial interest, through information gathering to conversion. Compelling copy, logical and intuitive navigation, and clear calls to action are the tools SEOs use to keep this online process on track.

4. Demonstrate mastery by achieving (the right) measurable results. Both sales people and SEOs are measured on results, but in both cases, its critical that the correct results are measured. For sales pros, measurement is obvious, right? Higher sales.

Not so fast. Consider this scenario: salesperson A focuses on maximizing sales at all costs. He defines a lead as "anyone with a checkbook" and exaggerates product capabilities in order to close more deals. Sure, his sales figures are great, but he has a lot of unhappy, unreferenceable customers. Salesperson B, on the other hand, carefully qualifies leads and sets proper expectations. Her gross sales figures are a bit lower, but here sales are profitable and produce customers who will rave about the company's products. Which one is really successful?

Similarly, SEO success is more than just achieving high rankings for a bunch of rarely-searched phrases or drawing a large degree of inappropriate, high-bounce traffic. SEO success comes from using established best practices, drawing relevant traffic to a site, and maximizing conversion through either online sales or qualified leads. This leads to the final similiarity, which is that both sales professionals and SEOs...

5. Can use ethical or unethical practices to get results. As illustrated in the example above, unethical sales practices can lead to a variety of problems, from negative word-of-mouth and high return rates to reduced profitability and even lawsuits.

Similarly, the potential short-term gain of using dubious SEO practices isn't worth the potential long-term risk of wasting time and resources, tarnishing the firm's reputation, and possibly even being banned by the search engines. Sticking with white hat SEO techniques produces the best long-term success.

With all of that said, there is (at least) one important difference between sales and SEO: sales people, generally, have no direct control over the quality of the product they are selling. Their job is to present it, shortcomings and all, in the best possible light. SEOs do, ideally anyway, have control over the quality of the website: ease of navigation, removing dead links, fixing or removing improperly functioning code, optimizing copy, adding features, incorporating techniques to reduce page load time and more.

So there are many similarities between SEO and sales. Have your mental images changed at all?


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peterson said…
I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
Sydney SEO
Tom Pick said…
Thanks for the positive feedback and glad you like the blog!
As a marketer trying to do SEO, I feel like I have to straddle both of these roles. (I happen to be from the school of thought that marketing's #1 customer is sales) I would add to your first point that when you are building or rebuilding a website you have to keep the same buyers in mind that the sales guy does. Each "buyer" will take different actions, like the CEO may want to see customer testimonials while the end user wants a demo.

Thanks for a great analogy, Tom.

Leigh Anne Wallace, ReachForce
Tom said…
Leigh Anne --

Excellent point! We see that often on technology websites, where there has to be different content to sell the technology buyer vs. the business buyer.

And of course SEO consultants who sell their own services really do have to be sales people, again often to multiple audiences.

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