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SEM Model: How to Get Management Buy-In

November 27th, 2010

sem modelIf you are reading this blog, then you likely already know the benefits that SEO marketing-software will bring to your business or organization. But that does not mean that the higher-ups believe in the benefits — or are even aware of search-engine marketing at all.

As Duane Forrester notes:

I recently sat in a meeting attended by folks from many levels – managers on through a couple of VPs. When I wrapped up a sidebar conversation with an SEO Manager about 301 redirects, the VP sitting next to me turned to me and said, “I know you were speaking English, but I have no idea what you just said.”  We all had a bit of a chuckle and I explained that what was needed from them was sign off on time & dollars to manage work. That they understood clearly.

The idea that underpins the strategy of how to sell SEO to upper-management rests on one principle: search-engine optimization is the best — and cheapest — form of market research that currently exists.

Here is why. Traditional market-research generally has variables that affect its objectivity as a result of various forms of the Observer Effect (sometimes conflated with the Uncertainty Principle and Actor-Observer Bias).

A Good SEM Model for Your Boss

Back when I was in high school, the students were often handed surveys on our drug use for research purposes — and overall studies like these often found their way into the headlines (“Drug Use is Increasing” or “Drug Use is Decreasing”). But my peers and I just viewed them as a joke. Students would check boxes saying the opposite of the truth merely because we thought it would be amusing (“Sure, I smoke pot all the time! Ha!”) or we did not truly believe that they would be kept anonymous (“My parents will find out!”). The medium (and the presence of observers) affects the message — even if the medium is something as cold as a focus group or as anonymous as a survey.

However, the study of search-engine queries is the closest thing to objective data that exists because most people do not realize that Google tracks each individual’s searching-habits and marketers track overall queries within given populations. In short, studying which keywords are popular is more accurate because people enter search terms into search-engines like Google thinking that no one will ever know. The influence of the Observer Effect is vastly lessened.

And this is why SEO insights are relevant to all levels of a business.

VP of Sales. This should be self-evident, but it is not always the case. Marketing and Sales have always competed and distrusted each other even though both departments depend on each other. Marketers view salespeople has cold-calling, robotic functionaries with little background in business theory and application. Salespeople think that marketers are Powerpoint-producing, MBA-having suits who focus only on intangibles and never have any direct contact with customers, the real world, and what they really want. Both attitudes hurt the entire sales process.

Even though I am a marketer, I have a secret for people in my trade: Marketing should be subservient to Sales. The latter department knows what customers truly want and think. Sales knows how to make, well, sales. The entire point of Marketing is to drive as many relevant, potential leads to Sales so that they can “close the deal.”

Imagine that Sales knows that customers want “widgets” rather than “thingamabobs.” Marketing, then, should research everything about the former and ignore the latter — and SEO can help in that capacity. Marketing should research all keywords relating to widgets to determine what keywords relating to widgets are entered into search engines. If “green widgets” are searched more often than “red widgets,” then that reveals that green is more popular — and Sales can use that information. Moreover, Marketing can optimize a page of the website specifically for “green widgets” — specific, niche keywords are always better than generic ones — in order to direct more leads to Sales.

In sum, tell the Vice President of Sales that SEO can help Sales by directing more leads to the department based on what the salespeople know that customers already want. Say that the point of all marketing-efforts — not only online marketing — is to help Sales. In essence, “Help me to help you!”

VP of Product Development. The R&D department is sometimes the “absent-minded professor” of the corporate world. Scientists and theorists are often so enamored of their potential creations and innovations that they forget to ensure that they will create real-world value and profits for the company — and every hour spent on a product that no one wants and that no one will buy is wasted time and lost money.

As I noted above, SEO provides invaluable market-research. Marketers should inform Product Development of what the company’s customers really want (e.g., for what they are searching). Say that your business manufactures airplanes. R&D might be fussing over the latest technological insights — the lightest exteriors, improved aerodynamics, and sleek design — when keyword research would reveal what the consumers really demand.

I can imagine the following search-queries:

  • Which airplanes have the widest seats?
  • Which airplanes have the most leg-room?
  • Which airplanes have the most bathrooms?
  • Which airplanes have the most-comfortable seats?

And so on. By telling R&D where the demand truly lies, Marketing can influence the department to develop and produce products that will increase sales and profits. In this example, carriers will be more likely to purchase airplanes that have more leg-room than those that have shiny exteriors (especially after they are told of the consumer preferences themselves). Imagine applying the same principle to your business.

By telling R&D what the CEO and upper-management will like (read: greater profits), the department will be helped. As with Sales, the refrain is: “Help me to help you!”

VP of Information-Technology. This is typically the hardest sell of all. For good reason, IT professionals believe that they know more about the field than anyone else. Because they do. I remember a common scene in the hilarious BBC comedy “The IT Crowd” in which the slackers working the corporate Help Desk answer every call with an immediate, exasperated, “Have you tried turning it on and off again?”

Now, before I continue, I need to state one thing. I love and admire the IT professionals with whom I work and have worked. They have saved my digital behind more than once — especially when my hard drive mysteriously erased itself back in college, and I lost a 50-page paper one day before it was due for finals. At the risk of being struck down “with great vengeance and furious anger” by the IT gods, I must state one point: Most IT people do not understand sales and marketing. But this is where Marketing can help them.

Like R&D, IT takes great pride in their creativity and their creations. As well they should. But the ability to create a flashy, new-fangled website does not (necessarily) mean that it will be one that will help to increase sales and website traffic. Here is just one example. I once talked with a client as part of my SEO-consultant work, and the first thing I told him was that the main page of the site was a big problem because it was entirely in Flash. Search-engine robots can only read text — they cannot decipher words inside Flash images and graphics. So, even if there had been appropriate keywords in the text of the main page, Google would never have found them. IT may have liked the design, but it was useless from a marketing standpoint.

IT, of course, would push back because the quality of the website reflects directly on them. But all aspects of a business — from Administration to Sales to IT — depend on the bottom-line, and this is the leverage that Marketing can use.

Imagine that you are the CFO of a company who reviews the profit-and-loss statements of each department every quarter. At one extreme, Sales will generate much profit at little expense, and Administration will have the opposite so most of the costs are overhead. IT is one department on the latter end of the spectrum since they generate little, if any, direct revenue.

From servers to software to salaries, IT is expensive — and the department always clamors for more resources since the field is constantly changing. If Marketing can use SEO to work with IT to improve the website from a Sales standpoint, then IT has greater credibility to demand more resources since they would be contributing more to the bottom-line. Again, the refrain: “Help me to help you!”

CEO. Perhaps paradoxically, this is the person who should be the easiest to convince of the benefits of SEO. Once Marketing can gain buy-ins from the relevant department-heads, it will be a rare CEO who will overrule the advice of the experts in their respective fields.

But there is a second issue at play. CEOs — who report to the board of directors — care about one thing. Money. After all, the entire point of a business is to generate the greatest profits by maximizing revenue and minimizing costs. And as I wrote in a related post at Considerations on the value of an MBA, the primary function of a CEO is to decide between competing priorities — all departments always want something — as far as allocating scare resources in the most-efficient manner possible.

Marketing, then, should tell the CEO that SEO marketing-software will make the department more efficient by increasing sales while decreasing expenses. You can’t get much better than that. After all, the entire point of inbound marketing and optimization software is to position a website so that relevant traffic will find a company naturally through search engines and social-media software — with less effort and expense on the firm’s part.

What is better — to spend $10,000 a month on banner ads, newspaper ads, and television ads that will convert few people or $100 a month on SEO software that will target only people who are already looking for your product or service?

Samuel J. Scott, a former journalist in Boston turned Internet marketer in Israel, is the founder and publisher of My SEO Software and Director of Digital Marketing and Communications and SEO Team Leader at The Cline Group. You can follow him at Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. His views here and elsewhere do not necessarily reflect those of his company and clients.