Since I’ve been a columnist here at Search Engine Land, I’ve written about a wide range of B2B search marketing topics, including Flickr, Landing Pages, Trade Shows, Content, High Costs of PPC, Leveraging Organic Keywords, Universal Search, and other B2B topics.
As this column came around, I was having difficulty coming up with a compelling topic. Not only have I written about a wide range of B2B topics, the Web is also flooded with B2B marketing content (just try searching Twitter for “#B2B“!). Because I monitor social communities, feeds, and Google for fresh B2B stories and articles, I see many of the same topics written about over and over.
Put succinctly – “hasn’t it all been said before? What the heck should I write about?!?”
It occurred me that if someone was out there looking for good B2B marketing content to read, that person would likely be one of four audiences: 1) a consultant in the B2B space seeking stories to share socially and looking to make connections; 2) an in-house marketer at a B2B company looking for case studies, research, new tactics, etc.; 3) a journalist/researcher looking for stats or a story; or 4) possibly a job-seeker looking to keep current on topics related to business-to-business Internet marketing.
Something tells me that a potential hiring manager would not be one of those looking for “B2B” content.
The consultant and the in-house marketer both know what it takes to be successful as someone responsible for generating relevant website traffic and Web buzz. The journalist/researcher hopefully would find this article interesting!
The job-seeker and the hiring manager should both seek to understand what it takes to put someone in charge of a B2B Internet Marketing program.
I’ll put the skill requirements into two distinct buckets – 1) Foundational Skills, and 2) Tactical Skills.
Foundational skills are the building blocks of a successful career, and allow a person to move from one job/company/venture to another and remain successful. Tactical skills relate to very specific tools and techniques that work today. Tactical skills will constantly need to be refreshed and evolve.
- Editing. It’s unlikely that the person in charge of a company’s B2B Internet marketing will also be a subject-matter authority about the company’s products and services. It is more likely that this manager will be working with subject matter experts within the company (product managers, developers, engineers, executives, etc,), and possibly outsourced resources as well (research, white papers, etc.). The search manager will help set the direction for the content that is needed, and will need to be able to proof the work, add keyword elements, and often extend the thought process through examples and data points.
- Writing. The search manager will not be the primary generator of high-value content, but she/he will be called on to write pieces of content that fit into what is already being produced. In addition, the manager will need to be able to communicate very effectively with co-workers, executives, partners, and vendors in order to move the pace along and receive critical cooperation on a continuous basis.
- Data Analysis. Understanding where Web site traffic is coming from, where it should come from, and how patterns are evolving, and can be exploited, is a key strength of a B2B Search Marketing Manager. Someone who indicates that this is not their strong area may not be a fit for leading the charge. On the other hand, this skill should not dominate their interests, and hiring someone that spends too much time playing with pretty charts and tables will not get things done.
- Project Management. A search manager will need to juggle many moving parts in order to be successful – Web developers & designers, link builders, content writers, social media participants, PR people, and any outsourced areas of specialty such as PPC management, e-mail marketing, etc.
- Vendor Management. It is my general feeling that you would be hard-pressed to find a single individual who can handle all of the things a Search Marketing Manager needs to have done. Not just in terms of time-in-the-day/week, but also finding someone with all of the requisite foundational and tactical skills is a pretty tall order. Something will have to be outsourced. The most likely candidates are link building, content generation, and PPC management. An excellent Manager will know how to write RFPs, evaluate vendors, and manage vendors with realistic expectations (push them hard, but don’t be unreasonable).
- ROI Analysis. Putting together intelligent ROI models and tracking down the necessary data are critical skills for this position! In the end, Search Marketing has to be about driving profitable business. There will always be ambiguities, such as the overall brand effect of a well-orchestrated search program, but because search is inherently so measurable, a Manager needs to be able to prove it.
- Demonstrated Ability To Learn & Apply. The online marketing space moves too rapidly to expect any potential hire to know it all. Make sure that the potential manager has demonstrated an ability to pick up new skills and technologies quickly.
- The Art of “Please” & “Thank You”. A Search Marketing Manager is never a “one person show”. She/he will always be reliant on some critical piece handled by someone else in order to be successful. Picture your fondest memories of hounding a Web developer for a website change, or of trying to get blog posts written consistently!
This list will change so quickly that it will be obsolete before we know it. That said, here are some critical tactical skills that a B2B Search Marketing Manager must understand today:
- Web Analytics Technology. Google Analytics, plus at least one other Web analytics package.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Factors. Make sure that the understanding is current, and not based on things that were read months ago and/or from performing a role that did not require setting strategic direction, and attention was not paid to building a comprehensive understanding.
- Keyword Research. Have a methodology for uncovering high-value keywords, and making decisions based on potential business outcomes (not simply on traffic volumes). Understand how to work real search query behavior into company branding and “marketing speak”.
- Link Building. Understand what it takes to acquire high-quality links. Have a comfort level with multiple tactics. Ability to articulate the trade-offs between volume of links, relevance, trust, link acquisition velocity, future potential, variety of sources, and that links will not always be the dominant factor.
- Google AdWords. Have experience running at least a limited campaign. Even if the Manager will not be managing day-to-day, she/he has to understand the variables that go into Quality Scores and how to manage high-ROI campaigns. Other PPC engines may be relevant, but AdWords experience is the bare-minimum requirement.
- Customer Relationship Management Technology. Here is one of the skills that is so clearly unique to B2B. A B2B Search Marketing Manager has to understand how leads and customers are tracked throughout the Sales Cycle. The Manager has to know how the sales force handles leads within the CRM system (e.g. Salesforce.com), and how data is held in the database. An excellent Search Manager will know how to help the Web development/IT team integrate online contact forms, website referral data, and CRM data fields into one process that will allow for tracking of leads and sales down to the individual keyword level.
- Social Networking. Have a general understanding of what it takes to build a valuable social network; both at the company-profile level and for personal profiles. Understand concepts such as authenticity, consistency, engagement, and quality interactions. At the moment, any Search Manager should at least be able to utilize Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook for B2B purposes.
- eMail Marketing. While not part of the Search function, e-mail marketing does have to coordinate with overall online messaging, content, and conversion practices. A Search Manager will understand how the moving parts of e-mail can affect an organic search program, as well as PPC programs.
- Landing Page Testing. Understand how to conduct multi-variate testing (and not just A/B testing). Have a feel for key elements of a page that stimulate conversion. Understand how to engage the entire Marketing & PR function at the company to create compelling offers and landing experiences.
- Blogging.Understand the “why’s” and “how’s” of corporate blogging. Explain what the benefits of corporate blogging are, above and beyond critical SEO benefits. Know when to consider off-site blogs vs. integrated blog content. Be able to evaluate technology decisions regarding homegrown blog platforms vs. third-party platforms such as WordPress, Drupal, and others.
How About Industry Experience?
Does a B2B Search Marketing Manager need to have vertical industry experience to be successful at a company? I answered this question sometime ago, here on Search Engine Land, when it came to hiring a search marketing agency. My argument was that an agency does not need to have prior experience in an industry to be successful. The same may be true for an in-house Search Manager, at the outset.
However, one large advantage an in-house manager has over an agency (although they don’t have to be mutually exclusive) is that the in-house Manager has the tie, focus, and resources to become an industry expert (or close to it) and be that much more effective in driving the search strategy of a company.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.