The boardroom; it’s the last place you’d think SEO happens.
But in reality, it’s the first place. Before you research a single keyword phrase and before you touch a single line of code, you’ve got to win in the boardroom. From Enterprise Level SEO down the smallest of businesses, if you can’t convince, explain, prove, and earn trust in those boardroom settings, you’re not going to get very far as an SEO.
Being better in the boardroom is a skill that I’ve had to work hard on getting better at over the years, and is a skill that I continually learn how to refine. In the boardroom setting, it’s less about what you do and all the gritty, tactical knowledge, and more about how what you do is going to benefit your client.
I’ve always a very strong tendency to want to unleash the extreme complexity of what we do; overwhelm the other side of the table with an overload information. It didn’t take long to realize all this really does is confuse and extend meetings. And, ultimately, this loses you the business more often than not.
My guess is that a lot of us out there could certainly learn to be better in the boardroom, and learn how to shake that stereotypical image of SEOs.
The Stereotypical SEO
Stereotypes exist precisely because the behavior-patterns emerge frequently and have been noted repeatedly in situation after situation. You may be a unique snowflake, but when you go to pitch for business either as a part of an agency, or for your own business, before you walk in the door the client already has an image of what you’re going to be like:
- You’re going to be heavily code-centric; they’re going to be confused by 90% of things you say.
- You can’t pitch; you’ll be so far down in the details all the time that you won’t answer their questions.
- You can’t explain the strategy; you’re so consumed by the tactics that the strategy goes unconnected. Hence you’re not explaining how you’re going to improve their business and make them more money.
- You perpetuate the “black box” of SEO; you can’t/won’t explain the importance of the methods or techniques in order to create dependency on your knowledge
What A Boardroom SEO Does
It’s the tactics, it’s the details that make us great at what we do, but when you’re trying to win business it’s our curse. Being a better Boardroom SEO means curbing these instincts. Being a better Boardroom SEO means:
- Explaining the strategy: connecting strategy to the business and areas to win through SEO.
- Explaining the methodology: unlocking the “black box” and connecting it back to the strategy.
- Explaining concepts and work: distill the tactics down to relatable things and connect back to the website, back to the business, and back to making more money.
You never lose the tactician in you, you never lose the devil-in-the-details person in you. You have to find a way to dial that person back.
As businesses become more practiced at the services we offer, they might ask questions of you that require you to unveil your inner-tactician. That’s when you let it loose and hit the afterburners. If the client opens the door, you walk through it with all the gusto you can.
Sharpen Your Boardroom Skills? Play Poker.
The easy answer, of course, is experience. There’s no substitute for it, and the more you pitch the better you’ll get, the more nuanced your skills become. If you want to accelerate your learning curve, and you can’t afford to keep gathering experience and not business, I would suggest poker. I know, it sounds completely backwards, and maybe even cliché, but it will help.
What Poker Can Give You
Playing poker can give you three key skills that don’t come naturally to a lot of people, and every one of them is essential to boardroom success:
- Reading People
- Pushing Skills
- Control of Your Emotions
- Dealing with Failure
And, a gambling debt 😉 if you get in too deep.
I might suggest playing with friends at first, to get your feet wet and become comfortable with phases of the game. But, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if that’s the only people you elect to play with. Why? They know you: your mannerisms, your humor, your idiosyncrasies, and vice versa. It’s definitely not like playing with strangers.
People you don’t know are going to try to take you for everything you’re worth: it’s business for everyone at the table. When you’re playing with people you don’t know, you have to work harder.
Everyone at the table will be masking every little thing they can to not give away position. You’ll have to become an astute observer of body language to continually assess at every step where they’re at and where you’re at.
Poker helps you harness the ability to read the subtleties; the scratch of the forehead, the raise of an eyebrow, or something as simple as a seat adjustment. In a boardroom setting people are less apt to be straightforward; therefore, being able to read the small things helps know if you’re getting through or crashing and burning.
Poker helps you build pushing skills. Meaning, how hard you can push (whether you’ve got the goods or not), when you should push, and when you shouldn’t push. In combination with reading people, this is another skill that can help you “feel out” the room and help you play to your strengths.
Controlling Your Emotions
When cards start taking the wrong turn for you at the table, and you don’t have the advantage you once did, you can’t let your opponents know it. No winces, no shake of the head, no hard exhales, nothing that shows the situation has changed. You’ve got to act as though you’ve still got the hand.
When things aren’t going your way during a presentation, or the client isn’t following the information, or the pitch suddenly takes an unexpected turn, you’ve got keep your cool.
You might be agitated, annoyed, or even pissed at what’s just happened, but on the surface it’s got to be calm. Everyone has to see you’re not shaken (as if you expected this all to happen). There’s no faster way to out-priced on a pot, and no faster way to lose business, when you fall apart at the first sign of turbulence.
Dealing with Failure
Because, hey, you simply can’t win every hand.
Even if you play it right; bet strategically, do the math, and give nothing away as to your position in the hand, there’s always the 1% probability the cards don’t go your way. And, that’s heavy blow with a good pot on the line.
What poker teaches you is to wipe the board away for the next hand: everything goes back to zero. If you let what happened just a few moments ago impact the new hand, chances are you won’t be on-point to win it. I know it’s trendy to preach the whole “fail faster” thing, but at the end of the day losing/failing sucks. There’s no way around that point.
Sometimes you can do everything right in a boardroom and still walk away empty-handed. You could have put together a mind-expanding, face-melting pitch and been told no thanks; it’s a hard pill to swallow. If you can approach failure with same mentality you play with at a poker table, then everything goes back to zero. The next pitch is the next big hand.
This is a collection of my experiences in the boardroom, and what I did to help sharpen up my “Boardroom SEO” skill set. I’m always intrigued to hear how others got better in pitch situations (what worked for them, what didn’t), or if you think I completely missed the boat on this, let me know.