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Selling search marketing: Prey or pray?

If you’ve ever wondered whether you are the client of your search marketing agency or just another victim of a marketing predator, read on. Small business owners, because they must be generalists, are especially vulnerable to fast-talking specialists who over-promise and under-deliver. If you are concerned about becoming prey and don’t know what else to do but pray, I have some advice for you.

Before I get going here I want to disclose one thing and warn about another. First, the disclosure: I am a lifelong sales professional and I am actually proud of it because I firmly believe that, when done correctly, sales is a helping profession that can serve people. Now for the warning: What you are about to read is part rant, part experience, part anger, part disgust, and all honesty. You see, I am passionate about search marketing. I am also passionate about professional and ethical sales practices. My problem is that I am not sure that these two areas have ever been formally introduced.


Traditionally, what I have seen of the marriage of the search marketing space and the level of sales professionalism has been limited at best. For the first decade of its existence search marketing sales efforts have been predatory on a good day and just disgusting on a bad day.
Even though we search marketers think that the rest of the business world understands search marketing and its many nuances, that is simply not true. Most SMB (small and medium business) owners and marketers don’t even realize that the top results of a SERP (search engine result page) is usually held by paying advertisers. Go ahead and laugh. It’s until the industry understands this, though, that sales people will continue to prey on these people who are just trying to do good business but are ignorant of how search works.
So I don’t get long winded here, just listen to these simple words of warning for SMB’s:

  • If your search marketing sales person is trying to give you some kind of time-related discount, or an ultimatum about signing up for their services, just turn and run. That’s an old-fashioned closing technique that has no room in real business at any level in our modern world.
  • If your sales person dodges your question, and uses spin and redirection to avoid answering it directly, then turn and run. Demand that your sales person knows what he or she is selling. PROTECT YOURSELF.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it absolutely is, and if the word guarantee occurs anywhere in the conversation other than the statement “We cannot guarantee anything,” then run.


As an SMB owner or marketing professional who has little or limited knowledge of the intricacies of search marketing, please consider hitting your knees in prayer before embarking on finding a partner in the space. This is not your only defense against the sales predators that are trying to close you to meet quota, but it’s a darn good place to start. Also, take a look at these few quick pointers to protect yourself as you go out into the wild world of search. Oh, and for those of you who have already been burned by my industry? My apologies and a suggestion that you look at this list and get back to basic blocking and tackling yourself. That’s how you win against this nemesis known as the search marketing sales person.

  • Do your homework. There are hundreds of free online resources that can give you a basic understanding of the good, the bad, and the ugly of search marketing. Do a Google search to find them. Read them please, I implore you! If you go out there looking for someone to “guide you through the process” then expect to be guided right to their version of the solution which might not fit your needs at all.
  • Ask questions. Then ask a few more questions. Then ask some more. Make sure your sales people know their stuff. Check them for consistency. Are they saying anything to get you to say yes? Do they occasionally say, “No we can’t do that?” If they say that, then you might want to listen more closely, because they could actually be telling you the truth!
  • Don’t “Go to bid.” What do I mean? If you think that any respectable sales person wants to hear that the opportunity is being put “out to bid,” then you are only inviting the worst of the worst to participate. By putting something out to bid, the likelihood of getting a customized service that actually meets your needs diminishes significantly. Most good sales people will pass this opportunity along because they know that it will likely end in disaster.

So there. I said some of it. Honestly, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I personally believe that in this era of change there needs to be significant reform of the sales of search marketing services. Until now, it has been sloppy at best and downright dishonest and predatory at worst. Unfortunately, with the economic times being what they are, there is a chance that it could get worse as desperation sets in. Don’t get caught! Do your homework. Oh, and if you have any questions give me a call. I’ll give you the straight shoot unless it’s the end of the month and I haven’t reached quota yet. 😉

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