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Using The Scotty Principle to Sell SEO Services

If you have never heard of The Scotty Principle, you might as well just give up now.

Go home. We’re done here.

Okay, now that all the non-geeks have left the building, we can have a frank, honest conversation about SEO (and a bit of Star Trek).

I’ve always heard of people that are so good at sales they could sell ice to an Eskimo, water to a fish or prescription glasses to the blind. I think I once bought a bridge.

Having a good salesperson is great, but the sell-at-all-costs approach can often come back to bite the companies that hire them.

What does all this have to do with The Scotty Principle? Let’s back up a bit and get some context. Lieutenant Commander Montgomery “Scotty” Scott was chief engineer on the U.S.S. Enterprise under Captain James T. Kirk. Of course, this being a TV show, Kirk had all the best people at his command, and Scotty was no exception.

Attacked by a crystal entity and the ship loses weapons systems? Scotty is the man to bring them back online. Romulans have the Enterprise caught in a time-traveling tractor beam? Scotty can deactivate it. Headed toward Uranus to wipe out the Klingons (tee hee)? Scotty will make sure the warp coil is it top performance.

But, Scotty is the habitual over-estimator. When asked, “How long till the warp coils are restored?”, Scotty estimates three hours and completes it in two. When will the transporters be back online? Scotty estimates 20 minutes and does it in 12 (and JUST in time too!). In short, this makes Scotty look like a miracle worker.

When working with the Enterprise’s Chief Engineer, Geordi LaForge, almost a century later (go with it, it’s sci-fi!) Geordi was asked by Captain Picard how long certain repairs would take. Geordi estimated two or three hours. Later, Scotty asks Geordi, “How long it will really take you?” Geordi responds, “Two or three hours.”

At this point Scotty is taken aback and says, “You told him how long it would actually take you? How do you expect to be considered a miracle worker if you tell them how long it will really take?”

While Scotty isn’t a salesman, all good salesmen can learn a lesson here. Imagine if Scotty said he could fix something in the time required, but in the end, he just wasn’t able to pull it off.

Disaster strikes. The Enterprise blows up. Roll credits. Send the cast and crew home. The series is a wrap, and they won’t be taking the action to the big screen to make three great movies (out of six)!

The salesperson has a job to do: bring in new business. But, a problem arises when the products or services are unable to deliver up to the sales rhetoric used to entice the buyer.

This happens frequently with Search Engine Optimization companies, and it’s one of the reasons that too many people feel burned by bad SEO. It’s easy to tell people what they want to hear: “19 days to #1!”, “Ranked in the top three!”, “First page placement for all your key phrases!” But, it’s much more difficult to fulfill such promises being made.

Despite the fact that no one can guarantee a #1 ranking, there are still plenty of “SEO” companies out there that insist that they can and will pull it off, “guaranteed!”* (*enter enough small print here to make any such guarantee null and void, should the client do as much as sneeze wrong.)

The truth is, the SEO may actually be able to achieve the results they are promising, but are they for the keywords that matter? And, if the SEO is unable to deliver per the client’s expectations, he or she simply points to the loopholes spelled out in the small print.

The SEO industry is aggressive; every SEO’s motive is to convince potential clients that the services he or she provides are a cut above those offered by their competitors. This is why so many oversell with the promise of spectacular results that may or may not be achievable.

Few SEOs go out of their way to provide a truthful assessment of what is possible and on what kind of timeline. New sites will take longer. Competitive industries require a bigger budget. And, poorly developed websites may require drastic and/or expensive changes in order to bring them up to par.

SEOs that are honest with potential clients find that they lose many sales from those looking for a quick fix, instant results, or some kind of ranking guarantee. But, they’ll also discover that those who do become clients have a much better grasp on what’s at stake, how long it’ll take, and what kind of results to expect. Oh, and they are much happier too!

I’ve always made it a point to let my clients know that we set benchmarks for achievement throughout the first year of their campaign. By communicating these benchmarks and expectations clearly to our clients, we’ve been able to maintain a very low turnover rate over the years, maintaining a renewal rate of over 90%.

That’s not to say that we always achieve our goals, but we do communicate with the client any problems or issues that we see may be effecting performance. By keeping them in the loop and not only succeeding, but exceeding, client expectations, we’ve earned enough trust for the times when we don’t hit our benchmarks.

SEOs that have made pie in the sky claims in order to sell you their services know they can’t deliver on the results. SEOs that go by The Scotty Principle sell their services based on historical results, while ensuring that expectations are in line with reality.

SEOs don’t need to oversell by making promises and increasing expectations beyond their ability to deliver. The SEOs that educate clients, provide a truthful assessment of expectations, then work aggressively to achieve results beyond those expectations, will find they have to worry less about getting their next client to replace the three that just left. Their focus can instead center on developing and maintaining a strong and profitable relationship with each client for years to come.


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Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. He is the founder and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a web presence optimization firm who's pit crew has been velocitizing websites since 1998. In his free time Stoney gets involved in community services and ministries with his bride enjoy and his children. Read Stoney's full bio.

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One Response to Using The Scotty Principle to Sell SEO Services

  1. Weekly Search & Social News: 05/17/2011 - SeoAlchemist - How to make gold with SEO. says:

    [...] Using The Scotty Principle to Sell SEO Services – and last but certainly not least is some deffo geek-bait from Stoney. Seriously, how can any self respecting search geek not feel the need to click on that one? And hey, it’s also some great advice (that I am kinda weak on personally…sigh). [...]