We all know the inaccurate clichés about sales people: sleazy, over-friendly, constantly on the phone, constantly talking, possibly too confident for their own good?
Being in the SEO industry, we also know the clichés about link-builders: black-hat, dodgy, not qualified for the job, would do anything to get a link, no matter how bad it is.
If all of this was true for every sales person and every SEO, would they sell any products/services and get any and every link? That may be, however it wouldn’t be enough to actually become successful in their profession. In actual fact, in order to be successful in either of these professions you have to be able to perform quite similar and highly skilled tasks. The typical characteristics of a sales person and those of an outreach specialist for SEO are somewhat related. This is nothing new for most SEOs and everyone has probably heard that getting a link is a bit like closing a deal.
What are the similarities?
Comparing the 2 professions can not only provide us with valuable information about how to do outreach, but also about what kind of candidates we need to do the job and how we need to train them. Lets have a look at my overview first to give you an idea of how the 2 professions relate to each other. I conducted an interview with our new business director, John, (who for the record is obviously not the sleazy sales type) to find out whats essential to be a good salesperson. I then added my own knowledge about outreach to compare the two professions:
So from the summary above we can see that the whole process from finding a link target/potential client to the actual pitch and the follow up are quite similar. The way an outreach specialist would implement the process would probably be different, however, the intention and the way a sales person and outreach specialist would approach a target/client are pretty much the same.
The aim for both is to close the deal by approaching the target in a personalised, genuine, trustworthy way. In order to increase the chances of closing the deal, the pitch has to be tailored to the target and detailed research about the target market and position has to be carried out beforehand. The typical characteristics of a good outreach specialist and a good sales person are tenaciousness, pro activity authenticity, and the ability to be persuasive by not appearing intrusive. In order to improve, both sales person and outreach specialist need to monitor their success rate and address areas of improvement.
What does this mean for recruitment and training?
If you’re recruiting specifically for outreach then I would recommend looking for someone with sales experience or a strong academic background. Alternatively, it could be a candidate who has been involved in any kind of outreach, cold calling, polling, recruitment or any other type of outreach with set targets. If no such experience is given this doesn’t mean that they cant do the job. Outreach can be learned and its all about doing it. Picking up the phone can be scary so here are some tips:
- Role play: Two colleagues can stage a phone call and practice a call with a potential link target.
- Answer the phone: Motivate everyone to answer the phone when external calls are coming in.
- Internal calls: Ask people to call each other internally to get used to the phone.
- Phone day: Organise a phone day for the whole team and set people a minimum number of calls to make.
- Sales training: Let your sales team hold a training session about cold calling.
In your initial training for SEOs, include sales elements such as:
- How to research people: How to find out everything about your link target.
- How to be persuasive: Case studies, examples blog posts, social media profiles, clients you worked with, your knowledge about the industry etc.
- How to be professional and trustworthy: asking the right questions, listening, not offering too much but asking what they need etc.
- How to create long-term relationships: keeping in touch, sending industry updates to webmaster, engagement on social media, dont take no for an answer etc.
Recognising the link between sales and outreach is the first step to improving link results. It will help your team to consciously apply sales techniques and become more confident when approaching high quality link targets.