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Selling search to the C-Suite

Some of you have probably tried to sell your C-level executives on the importance of search marketing. You started out all excited about keywords and rankings and page views and bids and copy and then…you are greeted by that fantastic blank stare that suggests what your exec is really thinking about: “When can I get back to what I care about?” You might be wondering how someone as successful as your CEO could NOT be interested in search. So I am sorry to break it to you, but that blank stare really does say it all. Your CEO couldn’t care less about search. The real question is what you are going to do about it.

 This was all brought to mind when Gord Hotchkiss asked me to present “Selling Search to the C-Suite” at the Search Insider Summit conference this month. (You can follow the link to download my slides.) Why don’t CEOs care about search and what can we do about it?

The basic problem is that search marketing brings together the two subjects that CEOs know and care the least about: marketing and technology. CEOs understand a lot of areas of their business. They know what happens when there is a problem in manufacturing or sales. But if you wonder why CMOs and CIOs have the shortest life spans of any C-level execs, it’s because CEOs don’t understand how to measure the value they bring to the company. Unless you can explain to the CEO how you affect profit, you are not speaking the right language.

And we usually don’t discuss search marketing that way. (In fact, we usually don’t discuss any technology or marketing investments that way.) We talk about all sorts of things when we discuss search marketing, but only e-Commerce companies discuss profit.

Companies that don’t sell online usually have no idea how much money any marketing program adds to the bottom line, because they can’t trace what they do online to an actual sale. Until they can, search will be a religion, rather than a business. And you might find that your CEO and your CFO have a different religion–they worship at the altar of the green.

So, how do you avoid seeing your exec’s chin dropping into her Blackberry as you speak? Start by knowing yourself what search is worth. Begin by tying search to sales, by connecting what happens online to that offline purchase. Use special phone numbers, track coupons–it doesn’t matter how you do it–find something that works for your customers and your business. I work with many companies to make these online to offline connections. You’ll find something if you try hard enough.

Once you do, you’ll suddenly be able to prove the value of search marketing. That’s what your CEO cares about. It might seem like a subtle distinction, but it is the whole ballgame. Your CEO cares about how search marketing creates value for the company. How it helps meet the company’s goals. If you can’t explain search marketing in those terms, then you are not ready to sell to the C-suite.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, a leading digital media marketing consultancy based in New York City. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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