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Some of you have probably tried to sell your C-level executives on the importance of search marketing. You started out all excited about keywords and rankings and page views and bids and copy and were greeted by that fantastic blank stare that suggests what your exec is really thinking about: "When can I get back to what I care about?" You might be wondering how someone as successful as your CEO could NOT be interested in search. So I am sorry to break it to you, but that blank stare really does say it all. Your CEO couldn't care less about search. The real question is what you are going to do about it.

Why don't CEOs care about search? The basic problem is that search marketing brings together the two subjects that CEOs know and care the least about: marketing and technology. CEOs understand a lot of areas of their business. They know what happens when there is a problem in manufacturing or sales. But if you wonder why CMOs and CIOs have the shortest life spans of any C-level execs, it's because CEOs don't understand how to measure the value they bring to the company. Unless you can explain to the CEO how you affect profit, you are not speaking the right language.

And we usually don't discuss search marketing that way. (In fact, we usually don't discuss any technology or marketing investments that way.) We talk about all sorts of things when we discuss search marketing, but only e-Commerce companies discuss profit.

Companies that don't sell online usually have no idea how much money any marketing program adds to the bottom line, because they can't trace what they do online to an actual sale. Until they can, search will be a religion, rather than a business. And you might find that your CEO and your CFO have a different religion--they worship at the altar of the green.

So, how do you avoid seeing your exec's chin dropping into her iPhone as you speak? Start by knowing yourself what search is worth. Begin by tying search to sales, by connecting what happens online to that offline purchase. Use special phone numbers, track coupons--it doesn't matter how you do it--find something that works for your customers and your business. I work with many companies to make these online to offline connections. You'll find something if you try hard enough.

Once you do, you'll suddenly be able to prove the value of search marketing. That's what your CEO cares about. It might seem like a subtle distinction, but it is the whole ballgame. Your CEO cares about how search marketing creates value for the company. How it helps meet the company's goals. If you can't explain search marketing in those terms, then you are not ready to sell to the C-suite.

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December 12, 2012

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


I think another important thing you have to do when trying to sell search to the C-suite is establish reasonable expectations. If your CEO thinks that the one and only thing that matters is ranking #1 for "IT" you are never going to convince them that anything else you do has value.

Great point, Nick. Your point on expectations would seem to be a good one to make no matter what you are selling to the C-Suite, but search ranking mania is certainly a key expectation to dampen.

Interesting topic. I've noticed that my own CEO doesn't even know what SEO is, yet alone wants to take advantage of it!

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Search Engine Guide > Mike Moran > Selling Search to the C-Suite