Over the past two months, we have been talking with sales reps in a variety of local media outlets who are selling search engine marketing. While we feel like some sales organizations are making headway in selling a significant volume of SEM products to their customers, we find that the technical aspects of SEM often work against salespeople who want to propose online marketing as an extension of an advertiser’s media plan.
With the inherently technical nature of SEM, sales organizations often get too caught up in how SEM works rather than focusing on drawing parallels to the value delivered by known media offerings (Yellow Pages, newspapers, direct mail, etc.) so small and medium-sized businesses can clearly understand what they are getting. More often than not, SMBs could care less about how SEM works and more about what it can do for them and how much of a commitment of time it will require.
Mike Moran, on his Search Engine Guide blog, makes a good point on this topic when he theorizes why more SMBs don’t use SEM:
- The Internet is still too hard. Most small business owners are not comfortable with technology, because it still requires too much expertise to operate, sucking up time and money they don’t have. Time will solve this, because younger owners have more technology experience and because technology does get easier each year (I swear). We should expect that business owners that don’t use computers will be suspicious of Internet marketing. But most small business owners have at least made their peace with computers, so what else is holding them back?
- Internet marketing is scary. No matter what you try, there’s too much to know to avoid looking like a fool or even breaking the law. Yellow Pages ads, trade show brochures, weekly circulars, and other tried and true small business marketing programs are at least understood. Sure, you could screw something up, but it’s hard. But with search marketing, you can blow money on paid search and get no sales. You can send out e-mails the wrong way and run afoul of the CAN-SPAM act. You can breach some Internet etiquette and be a laughing stock. No, for some, it’s just too dangerous.
- Inertia. I honestly think this is the big one. Small business owners are the busiest people I know. They spend so much time just executing what they already know how to do that they are ill-equipped to spend any time thinking about something new.
The local media industry cannot take the approach that only a limited number of SMBs will “get it” and buy SEM. With the large SMB audience still not using online marketing, the greater question is how can the message be simplified, what are the value drives that help SMBs make the decision to buy SEM, and what do they need after the sale to be sure they are anxious to renew their advertising?
We continue to delve into this topic and would be interested in hearing from our blog community what core messages are resonating with SMBs and how SEM can be simplified to draw in a much larger advertiser base.