SIS Sneak Peek: Selling Search to the C-Suite

First published November 5, 2009 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

In just under one month, we’ll be gathering on the frosty ski hills of Park City, Utah for the Search Insider Summit. Between now and then, I’ll give you a sneak preview of some of the main topic areas we’ll be tackling in the meeting rooms of the Silver Lake Chateau.  Today: How do you sell search to the C-Suite?

About a year ago, Scott Brinker from Ion Interactive (who will also be at the Summit, but that’s a different column) shared with me a Search Maturity Model he’d been working on. It was a clear mapping of where companies are on the adoption curve of search marketing, with five distinct levels: Ad Hoc, Engaged, Structured, Managed and Optimized. There are a number of insights to be gained by exploring this model, but the first thing that jumped out at me was what Scott put right at the top of each stage: the level of executive buy-in. Here’s how the attitude of the C-Suite lines up with Scott’s levels of maturity:

Ad Hoc – No management structure or executive participation, with sparse, intermittent management attention.

Engaged – Executive awareness, but little formal management, with monthly to weekly attention.

Structured – Executive Sponsorship, official management responsibility, with weekly to daily attention.

Managed – Active executive participation, centralized search leadership, with daily management attention.

Optimized – Strategic executive participation, with continual management attention.

In looking at this breakdown, you realize that selling search to the C-Suite is not a one-shot deal. It’s a continual process, getting a level of buy-in, proving the worth, building the case, and then going back for another round of persuasion. At the highest level, the executives become evangelists and keep the momentum going without constant prodding from the internal (or external champions).

There’s another thing you’ll notice if you look at Scott’s model: moving beyond the first level is almost impossible if you don’t have some level of buy-in from management. The people managing search may have the best of intentions to move to higher levels of maturity through channel integration, more sophisticated testing and a robust post-click optimization strategy (which is Scott’s particular passion), but you can’t go there until you get the executives on your side. If the C-Suite is knowingly or unknowingly keeping search in an tightly restricted sandbox (typical at the Ad Hoc and Engaged levels), you’ll never realizing the benefits of an integrated campaign. And, as I guarantee we’ll be talking about in Park City, search really belongs at the center of an intent-centric online strategy.

Mike Moran: C-Level Persuader

When I added the C-Suite topic to the agenda, one name immediately sprung to mind as the ideal speaker. Mike Moran (now with Conversion) was the manager of Web Experience at IBM and daily navigated the politics inevitable in a large company. Mike was the one selling the concept of search at the highest levels of IBM. He’s also the author of two books: “Search Engine Marketing, Inc.” (together with Bill Hunt) and “Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules.”  Mike opens Day 2 of the Summit by sharing his experiences selling search up the ladder both at IBM and as an independent consultant. At the end of the session, we’ll share a few other war stories from the C-Suite. I’m sure conversations sparked by this session will spill over into the hallways, the lounges and the ski hills of Utah. Make sure you’re there to partake of them.

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