Having led many search marketing projects in my 13 years in the industry, I’ve witnessed a lot of communication between search marketers and clients, as well as between project leaders and their teams. Despite all this experience, I’m always fascinated to observe the differing ways that people express themselves in these interactions.
In my opinion, many search marketing experts struggle with effective communication. We tend to be admitted geeks about our work, which means communication can break down when we talk to those who are less geeky. This can lead to less than stellar results.
Here are four tips to help search marketing experts communicate more effectively with internal teams or clients.
I know it seems obvious that talking too much leads to being a poor listener, but in a technical industry like search marketing, it can be easy to overexplain yourself without achieving clarity.
For example, in client presentations, I have heard search experts talk and talk and talk, so afraid of the silence in a pause. Sometimes they provide a ton of “education,” even though the client hasn’t indicated a lack of understanding.
In fact, I’ve heard clients say this is one of their greatest frustrations with search marketers — that as an industry, we assume they don’t understand the concepts involved in search (which may or may not be true).
Silence can be a hard thing to get comfortable with, but pauses are a good thing; they allow your client time to absorb what you have said and provide them space to ask questions (you know, the part where the search marketer should be listening).
Finding balance between failing to provide enough detail and explaining something to death can be tricky. Here are a few quick ways to check yourself.
It is important to spend more time listening than talking in a dialog with a client so they feel the meeting was about them (not you).
Do you truly understand what your client is saying? Most of us assume we are on the same page, but often we haven’t reached a common understanding. This recently happened in our firm.
The client kept telling the team that they weren’t convinced our SEO efforts were directly driving their increase in organic traffic. They suspected the lift was due to marketing efforts including PR, social, blogging, writing, speaking, webinars and paid advertising.
We kept sharing SEO results detailing an increase in organic traffic and conversions. We did this because we thought the dramatic increase in traffic was so impressive, and we thought this ensured the client’s satisfaction. Our team couldn’t believe that the client couldn’t see the connection. We would have needed to really listen to what the client was asking for sooner and deliver a different kind of report.
In the end, we developed improved reporting and ways to show a direct relationship between our SEO effort and the increase in the client’s organic traffic. But it was too little, too late — and the client ended the relationship.
Understanding what the client is asking or looking for is essential to success. If it seems like the client “just isn’t getting it” maybe you aren’t “getting” what it is they don’t understand.
Interpersonal relationships are developed over time, and if you don’t take the time to really know your stakeholder/client, you may not pick up on their true needs, challenges or concerns.
As a team leader, I often spend time learning more about my clients — learning about their hobbies, their families, their vacations, and so on (and I share about mine). By establishing a personal connection with my clients, I am creating a safe space to discuss professional challenges.
For example, they may have a goal they are nervous about meeting. By being comfortable enough in the relationship to share this information with our team, we can devise a plan to utilize their search marketing programs to “fill the gap” so they are able to meet their goals.
This whole process increases trust and establishes a strong partnership. Everyone wins as the relationship evolves.
One of the best ways to ensure a common understanding is to reiterate, or play back, what you think the client is saying… before you make your own point.
Recently, a client said that she felt she only heard from us when we wanted to sell her additional services. Actually, our intention was to take their search program to the next level, as we knew she was under pressure to keep improving business results. So how does the same conversation get interpreted so differently?
This is what we learned: Before we communicate anything about a new service, we should first play back or paraphrase what the client is saying, to ensure we are on the same page. Only then should we ask if the client would like our help in further improving results (leaving them room to say “no”).
Reiterating client needs (first) and getting a green light to continue opens the way for a deeper conversation (second).
To recap, search marketing skills, expertise and knowledge are only part of your success equation. To ensure an effective relationship with internal teams or clients, I have found these four communication tactics to be very helpful:
Being an effective communicator doesn’t come easily to everyone. Often search marketers spend the time they should be listening focused on what they want to say next.
Instead, when a client is speaking, take a moment to pause before responding, and use your first words to ensure you are hearing them. Then, present your perspective on the topic. They will value your investment into getting to know them and really understanding what they are saying.
What tips do you have to improve client communication?
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