The Challenge of Selling SEO & Forgetting the 'Human Ranking Factor' |

The Challenge of Selling SEO & Forgetting the 'Human Ranking Factor'

By Shaad Hamid / February 7, 2012

As with selling any service, selling SEO services is an extremely challenging task. Here are my observations of two opposite ends of the spectrum of what SEO consultants often experience with selling SEO services.

Give me a two day optimisation strategy

We’ll often get contacted with the following, “We want a two day web optimisation strategy implemented.” Many neophyte consultants lick their lips and pounce on the ‘opportunity’ with alacrity. They start shooting off proposals, buffing up their hallowed methodology, and more.

A more sane, measured and customer-serving response to the request for a two day optimisation precess is, “Why?”

That always stops people in their tracks. “Why do you want a two day strategy implementation for your website and how do you know that’s the right thing for you?”

In the act of asking that question, you start actually consulting. And if you engage in a real dialogue on the basis of those questions you will gain bracing insight into the real issues, challenges and aspirations of the potential client. You may also get a bracing introduction to the assumptions they’re making — many of which are potentially untested.

It may well be that a two day implementation process is like a relatively empty vessel, into which (after suitable diagnostics and appropriate design) you can pour content that will actually serve their needs and best interests. But it may also be that a half day audit would suffice, and the real action needs to take place at their organisational levels, or with a different group of people, or may require preliminary contact with customers or other stakeholders. It could be that a six month process is needed.

My recommendation to companies who put out a request like the one above, and get a proposal back in response, is to disqualify the person or agency from further consideration, as the request has no meaning without further exploration.

And if you are an agency or a freelance consultant and receive a request like the above, differentiate yourself meaningfully by helping to get to the core of what’s driving the request, rather than getting infatuated by the format proposed.

Avoiding the panacea of empty process

Here’s another common challenge. An organisation decides they need to create a SEO strategy or a digital marketing strategy and manage its roll-out. They get an agency with a strategy implementation process, anchored in the balanced scorecard or some other framework. As they proceed, courtesy of this framework, they are deluged with meetings, with process charts, with communiques, and eventually they arrive at what they perceive to be ‘The Holy Grail’. Namely, they have a clear map. All inconsistencies are removed (at least on the charts anyway), and the path forward glitters like a mythical ‘Yellow Brick Road’.

The problem in the map is not the territory, and it never has been. The problem is that underlying the process clarity are dysfunctional relationships, misguided leadership behaviours, poorly aligned teams, social networks that don’t operate well, departmental practices that may be out of kilter with strategic aspirations, information hoarded rather than shared, a culture that is ossified with past practices rather than vitalised by future aspirations. And eventually the ‘knowing/doing gap’ will become that much more profound.

My humble advice is that once you have process clarity, you have to convert that into a more human map: of behaviours-in-action, team composition and alignment, presence of vibrant or nullifying relationships, communication and network effectiveness, leadership role-modeling and relevant efforts at culture-shifting in order to make the processes actually manifest. Until these adaptive elements are infused into the process steps, to humanise and actualise the processes, we run the risk of trying to run the world from an operating manual.

It doesn’t work. In fact, most of us don’t even run our computers from a manual. We get some hands-on experience while drawing on some guidance, then tinkering and adapting based on results. Alas, in an organisation there are many more moving parts, and my ‘tinkering’ can have expensive consequences if not synergised with the learnings and efforts of others.

Process clarity and human engagement must march together. You can see an organisation as a collection of processes and plans. Fair enough. But you can even more meaningfully see it pulsating with human performance. In other words, the subtotal of all the actions, interactions, behaviours, collaboration and communication between all the people who make a difference to the success or failure of the organisation. You can see the organisation as a patchwork quilt of teams, conversations and acted upon commitments. These are human dimensions, or as I’d like to call it, the ‘human ranking factor’ and if not addressed, all the gewgaws and trinkets of process clarity will be fallow and leave your strategic marketing vision unfulfilled.

Image credit: mootown

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