Lately there have been some heated conversations among online marketing experts about the terminology used to describe what they do as online marketers. In a particularly lively discussion on Google+, Jeremy Derringer, a.k.a. @PapaSlingshot, posed the question "SEO vs Inbound Marketing vs Earned Media... What say you?" With answers from luminaries like Rand Fishkin (SEOMoz), Dharmesh Shaw (HubSpot) and our own Chad Pollitt, the discussion revolved around which term best describes and is most appropriate for the work we do for our clients and for marketing our own businesses. Jeremy and others say that "SEO", as it has evolved over the years was once and still is the best term to describe the strategy and tactics of getting found online via search engines, online ads, social media and curated blogs. Others, such as Dharmesh and Chad, maintain that "inbound marketing" has developed as a more appropriate term. I'm going to argue that they're all wrong. What we are all doing (at least in principal) is generating sales leads.
First, let's discuss why this argument is even relevant. We can argue amongst ourselves about the terminology, but this has no real impact on anything but spending time on Google+ or other discussion venues. What is important is what our customers understand about what we are doing and why. Let's take a look at the typical B2B executive who is looking to hire someone to help his/her company with online marketing. No doubt, they are familiar with the term "SEO", since it's been around for a long time. Do they know what it means and how it has evolved? Probably not. They're probably thinking SEO 5 years ago. That's where "inbound marketing" has come into its own as a more wholistic approach to online marketing encompassing blogging, SEO and social media under one umbrella. But do the C-Suite folks have a clue what that means? Incomplete at best. Maybe we're thinking about this the wrong way.
Well, we can start by asking them, "what are you trying to achieve?" Most will say something like "generate more sales leads". The ones that say "get more traffic" will need some coaching. So really what we are promising our customers is that using various tactics like SEO, content marketing, social media, paid search and even outbound tactics, such as media advertising and direct mail, we will generate more (qualified) sales leads. That's what we do - generate leads. It's an outcome, not a tactic. It's something our customers fully understand, and most of them couldn't care less how we get there as long as we produce.
I hear the groans in the back of the room. We call ourselves "SEOs" or "inbound marketers" or "content marketers" or "digital marketers", and we have invested a ton of time and money promoting ourselves with keywords and taglines highlighting those terms. We call ourselves an "inbound marketing agency" and have worked hard to generate leads based on that phrase. My question is, who cares? If your clients don't understand what it is that you are selling, aren't you shooting yourself in the foot? Shouldn't we be saying - "we will generate X new sales leads by X date, and here's how much it will cost?" Not, "we're the #1 inbound marketing agency" or "we're the premier SEO company". If they want to know the details, give them a list. Tell them we will do whatever it takes to accomplish the goal. If we fail, we get fired. It's that simple.
I thought about using the term "sales" instead of "lead generation", but decided that was too much of a leap. Sales still involves a whole different set of skills, most of them interpersonal, and few of them distinctly digital. Sales encompasses pretty much everything we do, so it's hard to nail down in terms of specific tactics. Yes, people talk about "smarketing" and other terms implying a merger of sales and marketing. Personally, I don't like the term "smarketing" because it's too cute. I agree there's much to be gained by aligning the goals and processes of sales and marketing, but I think they will forever be separated by human nature and corporate boundaries, at least to some extent.
Probably nothing, but I think it's valuable to occasionally put down our armor and think about what we really do in terms that our clients can understand. Rarely do clients fully grasp the strategy and tactics of SEO or inbound marketing or whatever you want to call it, especially in light of the constantly evolving array of tools, tactics and venues. They understand lead generation. They understand what it means when a qualified sales lead comes in the door and asks for a quote. That leads to revenues.
Photo credit: Scott McLeod
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