By John Tabita

Competing against the “Big Box” SEOs

By John Tabita

This past week, I was out of town attending a four-day sales training session. One of the trainers made the point that every organization that is serious about selling its products or services has developed a standardized sales process for its reps to follow. I’ve worked for enough of them to confirm this to be true.

Years back, when it came to selling advertising, the various media competed for wallet share. Yet many companies advertised in multiple channels, so it wasn’t a zero-sum game. That meant the Yellow Page rep could still sell advertising to a business that had invested heavily in radio, television, or even another Yellow Page directory, because they complemented one another.

All that’s changed, however. Faced with declining revenue, traditional media outlets are adding digital to their offering. So instead of competing with online media for ad dollars, Television, Radio, Yellow Pages, and Newspapers are competing directly with online media by offering the very same services.

This becomes a zero-sum game-changer, because now you’re up against some formidable companies, with a strong and experienced sales force. Yellow Page reps from companies like YP Interactive and SuperMedia are some of the best-trained sales people around. And they’re hard at work cold-calling and cold-canvassing your target market: the small- to medium-sized business.

What’s more, these small- to medium-sized businesses expect companies who provide marketing services to offer the full Monty, from search to social to local. Suddenly, being a mere “web designer”—or even an “SEO”—might make you seem antiquated.

The renowned Peter Drucker once said, “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.” If you’re serious about building your business—even if that business will never employ anyone other than you—then you must get serious about creating and keeping customers. And the first part of that equation means prospecting and selling. After all, nothing happens until a sale is made.

How to Create a Customer

You may one day enjoy the luxury of obtaining all your business through word-of-mouth. But most companies do not start out that way (and those that do are the exception, not the rule). So until that day comes, you’ll have to engage in either or both methods of customer acquisition: prospecting and networking.

If nothing happens until a sale is made, then selling can’t take place without prospecting. Don’t confuse the two. Prospecting is simply finding qualified leads that may buy your product or service. Selling is everything that happens afterwards.

Networking is prospecting’s hipper, gentler younger brother. (And if you must throw social media and content marketing into the mix, that’s just networking via fiber-optic cable rather than face-to-face.)

The most serious among us will participate in both—because they know each has its strengths and weaknesses. Prospecting is fast but nerve-racking for the faint-of-heart. Networking is slow but can generate word-of-mouth gravity that pays dividends over the long haul. Prospecting is pay-per-click: instant ranking, but the leads dry up equally fast once the budget is spent. Networking is SEO: a long-term commitment that pays for itself over time. It’s no longer an either-or proposition. Your survival may hinge on doing both.

How to Keep a Customer

Keeping a customer is easy. Just make it impossible for them to leave. I don’t mean resorting to underhanded tactics like holding their domain name or source files hostage. Rather, ask yourself whether your business is designed to produce a one-time customer or a life-time client.

I said earlier that SMBs expect web companies to provide a full suite of marketing services. If you’ve pigeoned-holed yourself into the role of “web designer,” you’ve opened yourself up to your clients looking elsewhere for their other digital marketing needs. The concept of making the fourth sale first means anticipating your clients’ needs even before they know they have them.

Bear in mind that there’s a big difference between repeat business and loyalty. Despite the popular notion, providing “outstanding customer service” is not the key to retaining clients. That’s the cost of entry, one that your competition can easily match.

Loyalty, on the other hand, is a completely different commodity. Loyalty is when your clients turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you.

Competing against the “Big Box” SEOs requires you to be as good, if not better, at client acquisition and retention as they are. Their greatest strength—their size—is also their greatest weakness. Do you know how to exploit it?

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  • Very nice read you had a lot of points that I really like such as your comments on prospecting and networking I have been implementing prospecting in most of my businesses I have run so far and it really does help new businesses gain more clients and sales

  • Miss Candice Bates

    Hi there! God told me to come a to your site and wow it was so perfect for what is going on in my life. I LOVE what you said about networking. Networking is prospecting’s hipper, gentler younger brother. Just had to tell ya that! Be back to read more!
    *~InFoRmEd and InSpIrEd

  • Jim

    I kept looking for a second page to the article. It setup everything very well by describing the issue but then offered no advice or solutions.

    • Tim

      I swear that’s the second time that has happened to me on here. Lol. Awesome setup and explanation with no action. Last time it was because of it being a part of a series. Regardless, you need action, advice, to complement the great info and complete the headings.

      • Inger

        Yes, where is the follow-up article to this? I was hoping to get some practical advice.

      • Guys, I’m confused. Where did I fail to offer advice or solutions?

        1. I talked about cold-calling and cold-canvassing.
        2. I said you must prospect and network.
        3. I said you should design your business to produce a life-time client, not a one-time customer.
        4. I provided links to follow for further reading.
        5. And, finally, I challenged you to figure out how to exploit their weakness.

        I count 5 “action” steps right there.

      • Basia

        It is not cookbook, it is material for thinking. No obligation, no warranty, no ready receipt.
        Even the idea of “networking” it is only “what to do” not “how to do”.
        Thinking is essential in own business – there is no boss, who is obliged to think how to find funds for your next salary. Such is our life…
        Good luck :-)

  • Bob

    Today’s key word should be Frugal! Like everyone I have the same number of hours a day to budget time for reading, research and maybe actually getting some billable work done (let alone eat and fart a few times a day!) I groan when my time is wasted with an article that fizzles at the end. The title in the email caught my attention. The article started building the foundation and then is fizzled into nothing. I beg you to be more thoughtful to the 1000’s of people out there who are also frugal about what they read; especially when there are 1000’s of talented people competed for our time. Articles like this make me thing about what I might be missing elsewhere. :(

    • It’s a shame you don’t come here more often, Bob. You’d know that John writes for us on a weekly basis. This article is part of his ongoing exploration of web + business. For the people committed to reading his stuff each week, it’s a goldmine. I’m frugal with my time, too – that’s why I commit it to a handful of writers from whom I always get value. For me, John is right up there. And I mean that as a reader, not an editor. But hey, if you get better value elsewhere … I guess that’s up to you. Good luck with your business.

  • mark

    I think it’s good overall business and marketing advice but there was nothing specific to SEO. It’s a good article, just needed a different title.

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