Selling SEO to My Skeptical Boss: How I Did It in 6 Steps

Bonjour bonjour! Who are you, and what brought you to marketing?

Hey. I’m Lucy and I head up marketing for Careercake, a video careers platform offering content to people looking to beat the challenges they’ll face in the first decade of work.

I was the first employee to join Careercake – a startup operating in the tech/video content space. When I started, it was immediately apparent that we needed to rip up everything we knew and change things up to scale and look to achieve product-market fit. Over the next 12 months, with the CEO I led a number of projects including changing the business model, the proposition and a rebrand. Startup life is interesting, volatile, fun and bloody hard work but it’s where I feel the most valuable and able to make a change.

Rewind a good eight years and after graduating, I couldn’t get into marketing as I had no experience and/or a qualification and/or my degree discipline wasn’t relevant, so I got a job as a copywriter during the day and, whilst at home in the evenings, I studied for my CIM qualifications.

My first marketing role was working for a recruitment advertising agency with an applicant tracking product that had recently been invested in by a high profile entrepreneur. He was on TV at that time, so in a very small amount of time, it got very busy. I was thrown in the deep end, but it was a great way to learn on the job quickly with my friends.

What’s the biggest marketing challenge you’ve ever faced? How did you overcome it?

Selling the benefits of SEO to my boss at a previous company. Seriously. The business I worked for was online and it was clear we needed a strong strategy to feed inbound leads. I knew what SEO was, but back then I couldn’t tell the difference between my title tags and canonical tags; let alone work out how to create a full-on strategy that was going to need resources. Added to this, I could not verbalise why it was important in the way that my boss understood.

I worked with an agency who helped me to understand what SEO meant and how, as a business, we could use it as part of our marketing. The guy there (Gareth) worked with me to translate the benefits SEO would bring in wording my Board understood.

I needed to show them why we needed to optimise for keywords using the audience’s language, not the internal jargon plaguing our sales literature. Because – oddly enough – no one was searching for ‘innovative cheap recruitment agency’ or ‘the UK’s number one digital recruiter’.

I knew what SEO was, but back then I couldn’t tell the difference between my title tags and canonical tags; let alone work out how to create a full-on strategy

Then to back this up, I arranged a few customer interviews and asked them what words they would use to describe us. It was a good way to show how our business was positioned in the eyes of the customer, too.

Getting started was tough. The first issue I had was telling the boss that it wasn’t a smart move to optimise for a term that had less than 100 searches a month. Then came batting off questions like “Why aren’t we number one on Google for (insert highly competitive) keyword?”

To overcome the latter, it required a few meetings whereby I would show them the tests we were running. I would also show them the performance of competitors in our space who had much larger resources at their disposal, using tools such as Moz. This was important to show them what levels of resources and expertise were needed to occupy the top spot. In essence, it was an exercise in how to be realistic.

Moz was one of the most important tools we used.

Next, I had to show them it was not a case of getting as many visitors as we could, it was about the quality of visitors. I put downloadable resources on indexing pages to drive sign-ups. This helped to indicate the quality coming through – I’d pass all leads to sales who would feed back to me I was wasting their time by asking them to follow up daft leads. It was a waste of time, but we made our point.

After some time, we started making progress and formalised many processes – we had an editorial calendar, understood which pages were driving the ‘good’ traffic and could show how the blog was responsible for some of the best leads coming into sales.

Then one day we landed our biggest ever contract – from a lead that had come in via the blogging work we had been doing.

As soon as we realised how to pitch SEO to the different audiences (sales, the CEO) and the leads started coming in that’s when we knew we’d overcome it.

What’s the one marketing tactic that has worked for you over and over (aka your ‘secret’ weapon)?

Talking to customers face-to-face and using this as the basis of a content strategy.

Nothing beats it. They’ll tell you what they like and what they don’t; how they see you and what parts of the product are most valuable. When they speak this language is your most valuable marketing copy.

Let me tell you why it is my secret weapon. I’ve worked in businesses where I have asked who the target customer is and been told immediately: “oh it’s everyone! Everyone needs to recruit. Everyone needs access to facilities!”

Nope.

It is hard work trying to market to everyone and even harder when you’re tired and sees nothing’s landing because you are spreading yourself too thinly – whilst hemorrhaging marketing budget.

You have to find the RIGHT customers among the crowd.

After talking to the customer to learn what challenges they are experiencing I would then look to map this against their buying cycle, creating content appropriately.

What tends to work best for me (because of the sector I work in) is a downloadable guide, focusing on a key challenge and practical ways someone may solve this. The reason I do this is because, I want to create the opportunity for us to talk to customers and glean further info to hen feedback into the proposition.

I make sure there are good feedback loops in place: what did we find out when people requested the guide? What are they telling sales?

At every stage, you want to be collecting little bits of info to create an overall true customer profile. Here I am not talking – what is their job title and where are they based. What can I do with that?!  I am talking about the emotional and psychographic information that will let us know what’s unique to their situation that may make them a relevant target for us.

Here I am not talking – what is their job title and where are they based. What can I do with that?!

E.g. For us, we were trying to promote our services to HR Managers who were considering ditching their spreadsheets to manage candidate applications in replace of an ATS. To know their job title, business name and location was not enough. We needed more to help speed up the sales process.

So we’d ask them what system they had in place to manage CV applications, using a drop-down full of options that our customer research interviews had gleaned. Then, we’d ask them if they needed to download our template that showed them how to build a business case. This told us where they were in the DMU and also what timescales their buying cycle fit into.

What’s the best example of marketing you’ve ever come across?

Hubspot’s approach to content marketing. As a wannabe marketer when I first came across it, it appealed on so many levels. I fell in love with how it projected me in the business which meant it understood what I – the customer – needed from an emotional point too.

I had become frustrated by the boss telling me he needed more leads and had doubled my quota target. This was back before I knew what the funnel or conversion really meant and I came across their guide to creating personas. From here they just got me. They had a series of tools aimed at sales and marketing alignment, and for once I saw an actual way to connect sales and marketing and get buy-in from the business development team.

What’s your number one advice for folks who want to become marketers?

If you’re afraid to talk to customers – this is not the profession for you. Too many marketers ‘talk the talk’ but if you ask them, seriously, how many of them have spoken to a good volume of end-users on a regular basis I don’t think there’d be many.

It’s a good test when you take on a marketing hire. If they don’t suggest it (asking to talk to a customer or two) in the first few weeks, that’s a concern for me.

If you’re afraid to talk to customers – this is not the profession for you.

What do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10, 20, or even 50 years?

The basics of how to pull together a strategy and not get bogged down with fancy new technologies or spending all your time with tactical activities.

New ways to communicate or engage with your customer base will come and go but if you can’t get your head around the basics you’re stuck. If you can’t connect WHY you are doing something to the overall objectives of the business then you’re wasting your time.

If I can add another suggestion that is to have the curiosity to learn about another’s discipline. For example, I am not a coder or designer, however, I have spent time with both to understand what it is they do and how it fits into marketing – from a timescale and abilities point of view. This is valuable when you are managing different relationships and expectations and it helps you to build a level of trust when working with different functions or agencies.

What are the top three resources that helped you the most in your career?

This is simple.

learninbound
Learn Inbound Conference

I’ve been a couple of times and after the first, I could not get over the advice, calibre of speakers and just general feeling of community it fosters. I’d been to other conferences which were a bit ‘meh’ and I couldn’t get to grips with how to apply a lot of the advice.

The stand out moment was for me when Tiffany DaSilva spoke about imposter syndrome and suddenly it hit me – it’s not just me that feels overwhelmed by trying to achieve so much. I’d found my community.

I initially heard of their work via your work, Louis. They strike that balance between tangible SaaS marketing theory and application with the personal side of things, such as how to work with colleagues and get buy-in. You need both to forge good relationships and be a productive worker. It helps that they are able to get some AMAZING guests and that they are super approachable, too.

forget the funnel
Forget The Funnel Louis Grenier episode

This is a collection of articles written by founders and those working in the startup community who are all associated with the TechNation programme. It covers everything from mental health to how to muck up a product launch. Then there are things on how to work with investors. people operations etc. I love it because it acknowledges the effects scaling can, and will have on the business as it grows from 1 to ten people, then 11 to 50 people, 50 to 200. etc.

What are your plans for the future, and how can we help?

I am always going to operate in the startup world. For me, the pull is getting my hands dirty, talking with customers and building something from the ground up – influencing marketing strategy and the product along the way.

After Careercake, I will move to another startup and am always looking to connect with other marketers working in the startup and scale up phases of business growth. I am really interested in moving into mentoring if my experience can help aspiring employee number one type who want to know what’s in store for them when they join their first startup.

The next big project I am working on is launching a podcast for the business. I feel that we’ve found our niche and the format suits it perfectly so that’ll keep me busy for the next year.

Where can folks connect with you, and learn more from you?

You can get me on @lucy_heskins and if you’re partial to LinkedIn, you can get me there too.

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