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Link Building With Your Sales Force

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B2B is known as the more difficult commerce sector.  Undoubtedly you have a sales force, high expectations, and a history of failed marketing campaigns.  In this space, the success rate is lower compared B2C. However, despite whether in B2B or B2C, your sales force can be your ally. If your company has any kind of inside sales team catching incoming leads or placing their own outbound calls and add-on offers, you may have the opportunity to tap into a huge link negotiating fleet.

There’s commonly a pretty thin wall between sales and marketing.  That line can be, well, strained.The sales team wants you to bring more leads, and you want the sales team to close more to validate that your leads are qualified.  You have a love/hate relationship.

Ben (a coworker in the marketing department) and I were in this same position.  When your marketing department works lean, you need to get creative with scalability.  Here are a few things we’ve recently come up with, while enjoying some reasonable success.  

  1. Help sales understand SEO.  Put together a class or lesson plan.  Use this opportunity to make some new friends.  Everyone likes beer and cake (so bring some!), but sales people really want money. Take a cue from their skillset – sell them on SEO.  Show them there’s gold in the SERPs.  Help them understand why a link they help place can bring more ranking opportunity.  Maybe turn acquired links into a bonus?  Help them make your SEO successful by making it easy for them.

    When sales people are talking to the current roster of customers, they can point the customer to a value proposition or some kind of company promotion.  You just need to support the creation of this. Some examples may be a portal of pages that show what your company does for the community (maybe you’re a local company), the earth (maybe there’s green values), or a particular cause. Promote the hell out of why you’re special.  Help the customer craft a custom press release.  Offer to release it.  Get creative.

    Next, help your sales team “empower” the customer.  In most cases the sales team is dealing with an office manager, a facilities manager, a sustainability manager, or someone who could use a little bit of help impressing their employees and management.  Just like as a consultant, where our job is to make the client look good, a salesperson could use this content to make the customer look good. Help them say, “hey employees, did you know that the widgets that we use in our company are made with 80% plastic?  That’s the equivalent to planting 5,000 trees in one year!  That’s right, we care about the environment here at ACME Widgets!”

    The content you need to produce will live on your site.  Your sales team can ask the business to link to it for their employees and their own prospects.  You’re simply asking them to help spread the word. Of course you would provide the linking code to make it easier.  And (just putting this out there) if you’re a little gray, maybe offer a discount to any customer/site that “helps you get the word out.”  Be careful not to dictate how to do this, or you’ll end up like Overstock a few years back.  

    How successful can it be?  It’s totally dependent on the message you can come up with, the interest and tolerance of your customers, and the buy-in from your sales team  I would shoot for a 4% success rate from this program.  In our experience some of the smaller customers were more inclined to promote this.  Usually one’s with an easily updated blog. Unfortunately many times it wound up on an intranet or in internal email communications. Not a big help for SEO, but I’m certainly OK with the mindshare.  We didn’t try to control the anchor text – we considered this to be too much regulation, and more of a burden on the customer.  Let it grow how it wants to grow.

  2. Once the sales force understands SEO, they’ll be more inclined to use their precious hours to mine through Linkedin questions, Quora, Yahoo Answers, social media, and forum boards. This is a great benefit to you since they’re probably the most knowledgeable about your company and products.  Plus it’s easy for you to keep tabs on what they’re doing (if you can’t get this into the CRM system, you always have Google Alerts).   Again, you’ll have to show them the ropes, and teach them to be mindful of the community.  You don’t want your sales force to become spammers (which they could easily, and innocently, become if not set straight from the beginning).  Now with providing answers online, you’re building your brand, referring some new traffic, and hopefully dropping a few links in the process.  

    How successful can this be?  Quite, especially for referring traffic.  Again dependent on the same as #1, this can actually turn up some huge clients.  Many of them are here (especially in Linkedin). We have a couple savvy sales people who became quite adept with Followerwonk and nurturing relationships through Twitter.  If you’re working on a CPL or targeting bigger clients, this can be a huge success by getting you in through the side door.  

  3. Now that the sales team has some practical experience with SEO marketing, they’re ready to feed you some ideas.  You’ve taught them, now extract everything they can teach you. What are the questions they’ve been answering?  What are the roadblocks they’ve encountered?  What are the perceptions that need to be enforced or changed?  After all of this work, you should find it pretty difficult to find something to write about for your inbound content marketing strategy.  With some content inspired by, and developed out through your sales team, your chance is much greater that the questions that were taking place in Quora and Linkedin start to get answered right on your own site… right next to the shiny form that helps the customer engage directly with you.  Write this content to be link-worthy so it can earn you continued natural backlinks.  Despite how good your content is, some sites will only link to you if they don’t feel it’s overly promotional.  These content pages don’t have to be a sales pitch. They’re altruistic search pages designed to help.  The fact that this is hosted on your domain with a simple call to action may be enough to save you from pushing the funnel too hard.

Realign, Aim, Fire

Easier said than done?  It can be.  Take a few days to draft out a plan, get the proper buy-in, and give it a spin.  Alter this with your own ideas.  B2B marketing is different, but for those who like a challenge, there’s a huge reward in beating it up.  Hopefully this post gave you some ideas to consider.

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    The comments are do-follow. However, any comments that use keyword anchor text as the name will be removed.

    1. Jason
      December 19, 2012

      Good work on this post Bill. Getting SEO buy in from a sales force focused on their own numbers would seem to be a tough proposition. Without paying extra incentives, its crucial to reshape the mindset and demonstrate the ways the salesperson can benefit from online marketing.

      In addition to setting up alerts and answering questions, using email to help with outreach and drip, utilizing the company’s web content for their social networks and email, and as a resource for prospective clients can also be a good way to get more support for online marketing efforts and build more links.


    2. Don Rhoades (@TheGonzoSEO)
      December 20, 2012

      Bill, this type of educating of sales/accounts people makes perfect sense. They are ALL stakeholders of success, so should be treated as such. A couple of articles from last year compliment this pretty well. by Reid Bandremer
      and by Conrad Saam

      Thanks for this!


    3. Sean
      December 20, 2012

      Nice post Bill.

      I’ve worked with quite a few sales people but unfortunately have never had the opportunity to get them to do any SEO or marketing.

      A couple of skills that I have noticed would help:

      Silver tongued and extroverted (in the main) – Their day job revolves around selling a product or service. Give them a target (as you mentioned) in terms of outreach and watch them go (probably worth doing a little training first…)

      Decent contact list (usually) – So they know every company within a your niche? Sounds like a foot in the door to me :)

      Tenacity – Struggling to hit numbers? Want to quit and do something else? Good sales people will have both the tenacity and the problem solving ability to work around why things aren’t working properly.

      Might be time to hire some sales people for our outreach department!


    4. Ted Gregory
      February 18, 2013

      Good point, Bill! I’ve carried this idea, but still it’s an issue to make the sales team understand the benefits.

      I’m going to make a presentation and try to deliver the idea. I’m also convinced that the idea of adding personal unique tracking tales will work good. If you want, we can try to discuss this.