Entrepreneur - - By John Tabita

Competing against the “Big Box” SEOs

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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