In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative original thinker unless you can also sell what you create. Management cannot be expected to recognize a good idea unless it is presented to them by a good salesman.
~ David M. Ogilvy
Account Managers (AM) today have varied backgrounds, possess different characteristics, and have their own philosophies regarding how to manage a base of business. Account Managers are critical to future success for any company, particularly SEO’s, because the industry is further ahead of the client’s ability to truly understand what we do and how we do it. Quality SEO AM are accountable, enthusiastic and possess a fine balance of technical knowledge, marketing savvy, passion for the client, and a positive hard working attitude.
In no particular order, the following are 10 of the most common areas for improving your SEO Account Management.
1. Ask the Right Questions: In any industry, at any level, communication is key to being a successful AM. You’ll never be able to do an effective job unless you have a clear understanding of your client’s goals, objectives or concerns. More often then not, your contact is a mid level manager who has to sell the benefits of SEO to Marketing Directors and/or VP’s that are interested in bottom line metrics. That won’t be possible if you don’t know the key organizational drivers.
2. Don't focus too much on Price. In life, you always get what you pay for and the same can be said for SEO services. Would you sell something for two dollars that cost you a dollar fifty? No? Well, unfortunately, lots of AM don’t understand ‘value costing,” and that’s what they end up doing! Too often SEO’s are willing to drop their price when they can’t effectively communicate the value of their service. Know the value of your services and how it links to your customer’s objectives. Sometimes a basic question like “aside from price, what will be your most important criteria?” helps you get around this objection.
3. Listen to your Client: AM’s make the mistake of listening but not always hearing what their clients are saying. Even worse, they interrupt clients who are trying to get a point across. I had a client who expressed concerns with the direction we were taking with their account. While I passionately attempted to get my point across as to why it was critical to maintain the tactics, I quickly realized that this is a full stop issue with them. I had to pause, listen and ensure that I understood their concern. I addressed it, and moved on. Keep your mouth shut and your ears open!
4. Accept responsibility: Great AM’s excel when the shit hits the fan, clients are getting frustrated and confused. In SEO it’s inevitable! We’re not an exact science. When this happens, don't blame the link builders, the project managers, social media experts or, gaud forbid, the receptionist! Acknowledge that you do not have all the answers. Discipline yourself to admit to your customer that you don’t know about something! It's most credible to say, “I don’t know, but I will find out for you”, than to try to sound like you know what you’re talking about. The best part is that your knowledge base and your client’s perception of your expertise will increase as a result. Honesty Works!
5. Reach Out for Help: A great AM does not make the mistake of trying to solve every problem. They seek help from individuals with expertise in specific areas. This is a sign of strength which demonstrates an understanding that their way is not the only way to do the job. Whether you’re a one man show or a large SEO agency, our community is open and giving. There are very few ‘Caramilk Secrets’ remaining. When you’re stuck, reach out to industry experts you know and trust for advice on how to handle specific situations.
6. Positive Communication: If your client’s glass is half full tell them about it!! The national best seller, The Secret, is based on the law of attraction. The “energy” that we send out into the world, positive or negative, is what we will receive in our lives. It is the principle that, “Our thoughts become things.” In SEO it’s important to maintain constant positive communications with clients. If you notice that their position has improved, if you’re examining their Analytics and begun to see a positive trend or if there is a positive blog mention because of your efforts, pick up the phone or send off a quick email to that effect. You don’t have to wait for the next meeting or quarterly review. This type of communication not only strengthens your relationship it shows the client that you’re thinking about them as partners.
7. Too much focus on technology: As my colleague Jennifer Osbourne said is her post yesterday, SEO: It’s Marketing Stupid! OK, maybe she didn’t use that exact term, but the point must be made that our industry is ill perceived to be a technical one but it’s not. This perception begins with us as a community and the AM we hire to represent us. Successful SEO AM should focus their presentations and subsequent client conversations on translating the ‘what we do to’ to the ‘what the clients marketing objectives’ are!
8. Invest in your craft: Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer of all time, invests in a swing Coach. We’ve interviewed potential AM who have limited to absolutely no clue about the basics of SEO. Whether you’re immersed in the industry or trying to break into it, it’s imperative to invest in yourself daily! Set aside time daily to read industry blogs, understand, at least at an intermediate level, the intricacies of our industry, stay on top of new and emerging trends, attend industry conferences/gatherings and build product knowledge through ongoing training.
9. Develop and maintain a sales plan: Lets be honest; one of the key responsibilities of an effective SEO AM is project management! When you're knee deep in managing the day to day minutia of a client base, it’s important to keep an eye out for new business opportunities. This can be done through telephone prospecting, referral channels, cold calling, networking and trade shows. Whatever the method, it’s important to brainstorm your sales plans for at least an hour each month.
10. Follow Through: The best advice I got when I started off in sales was “don't just follow up on a sale, follow through”! The story went that most AM’s don’t follow up on conversations and that this represented a big opportunity. Most SEO’s wear multiple hats, link ninjas, webmasters, content writing, graphic artist etc. Whatever the day to day challenges, the future of your business depends on filling the sales funnel and closing off on those opportunities. To improve your closing rate, follow up each pitch with a phone call, thank you card or email. This may seem like common sense and good business practice, but it’s not at all that common.
At the end of the day, a successful SEO Account Manager must strike a fine balance between client retention and successful business development. In a future post, I'll speak to the importance of an effective client retention strategy for SEO's. It's a very important part of the SEP philosophy. So much so that at Search Engine People, we incent our Account Managers more for retention than development!
Lastly, remember to apply the KISS principle, know your product, believe in your company and yourself and have fun!