Overcoming Content Budget Pushback by Addressing ROI

Amanda Milligan
By Amanda Milligan
May 26, 2020

It’s a reasonable question: “Is your strategy worth the cost?” And you know what you want to answer:




But as we know, it’s not that easy.

Taylor Jones, VP of Marketing at Soft-Tex, shares a ton of insight on how to improve your chances of getting buy-in for content and SEO initiatives and tackle the budget-side of things.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Which type of stakeholders you need to consider
  • How to communicate with people with different learning styles
  • Tips for framing the conversation around how your strategy will impact your current conversion funnels
  • How to talk about budget and expectations in a way that gets buy-in and sets the right expectations


Amanda: This week, I'm very pleased to welcome to the show Taylor Jones, the Vice President of Marketing at Soft-Tex. Welcome to the show Taylor.

Taylor: Thanks so much, Amanda. I am so excited to be here.

Amanda: I am excited to have you because we haven't talked in years. And I know that you have great perspective on getting by internally. So, I thought maybe just to get things started. Can you talk a little bit about not only your position now but your background in marketing?

Taylor: Yeah, so Amanda and I first met when I was at a company called Red Ventures which is in the kind of sales and marketing space. I was an SEO guru back in those days and led a team of SEO analysts and outreach associates so folks doing link building in house, but we also used Amanda's company Fractl for some projects. And then I moved to a larger B2B marketing role at another company. And then where I am now started at Soft-Tex, we make bedding products, so pillows, toppers, mattresses, all the comfy things in life. So, I started as the Director of Digital Marketing and e-commerce there and recently was promoted to a more global marketing role for you know, brand and digital marketing. So, I have a lot of experience, as a manager or director level seeking that buy in from my superiors, other teams that are involved. So, I'm looking forward to kind of sharing that insight.

Amanda: Yes, I think it'll be very helpful for people and I know you said you have examples you can share, like what happened to you directly. And I think that sometimes the insight people need is the actual tangible. 

Taylor: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I'll say first and foremost, in my experience, I've been told no as much as I've been told yes. So, I have a lot of experience on both sides of the coin.

Amanda: Yeah. And you said now your kind of in the best position ever, where the CEO your company is behind you and they understand how it all works. So --

Taylor: That's right. I think it's funny I saw this graphic recently, it's like digital transformation to lead that at your company and it was like A, CEO B, CTO, C, Coronavirus. A lot of us are in that C bucket, but certainly Coronavirus, has put a big emphasis on digital from a tangible product standpoint it's what's open. So, I have gotten the most buy in I've ever had, like you said, Amanda. Absolutely.

Amanda: Yeah COVID-19 has changed a lot about how all of us do our work. So, I think that's why we're recording this during Coronavirus for anybody listening in the future. So, that does add some color to this conversation too, but I think a lot of this applies across the board. I mean, this is stuff you've been dealing with for years, and most marketers deal with all the time. So-

Taylor: That's right. Absolutely.

Amanda: I'm excited to dive in. And I think you already touched on part of this. But, you know, you said, You've been in these meetings a lot of the time and you're trying to get buy in, like, who do you consider to be the primary stakeholders when you have this content strategy and you need to get approval?

Taylor: Absolutely. So, I think, in my experience, it has come down to really two buckets of folks. So, we'll call the first quote unquote, the higher ups either your manager, an executive team, ownership group, whatever that looks like, private equity firm, you know, that's trying to invest in your company. And then the second would be kind of a related functional group, that your project that you're working on impacts in some way, or support or perhaps like you're using some of their budget for this. So, they get a say, and you have to convince them So, those are kind of the two audiences that I think are most important to consider.

Amanda: And I'm glad you mentioned that budget aspect, because that's what I'd love to focus on for this episode. We've had a lot of people on the show who've talked about so many different aspects of this. But I don't think we've really had the chance to dive into the budget side. I think it's because it's the scariest part. It's hard, and it does vary so much by the type of company, what you're trying to do, obviously, but I think we're going to have a really good conversation around that. But before we jump into that, you had mentioned something earlier about how to really get a message across the different people and how they receive information differently. And I wanted to hear your thoughts on how to incorporate that when you're actually setting up a meeting.

Taylor: Absolutely. So, if you're going to have the buying conversation, I think it's so critically that you have the conversation in the right format and the right setting. In high school I was a teacher cadet, and in that process, they teach you that everyone learns differently. There are the four different types of learners, visual, auditory, reading and writing learner which I'll explain what that is, and kinesthetic. So, many people, salespeople, like especially, like on the relentless LinkedIn sales folks, they might send a deck. Or maybe you have a phone call, not everybody, one, you know, if you're a deck sender, not everybody reads to learn information, and two if you're a call person with no visual materials, not everybody is an auditory learner. So, to me, when you have this opportunity to get Buy-in on your project, you're combining as many of these touch points to address as many different types of learners as possible, which is ideal to get you what you want, which is ultimately a yes. Ultimately also, if a project is big enough that you're seeking This Buy-in it demands that proper setting and format. 

So, I think, again, if it's a big enough project, that you should be able to say, hey boss or executive team or other stakeholder like your related project group, we really should have a formal meeting about this versus just an email or whatever, and really set that up. Because ultimately, if you show up unprepared and show something half baked, or you know in the setting that you know is wrong for your organization, it is a perfect recipe for them to just discard it and tell you no. So, I say give it what it deserves, make sure that you set the appropriate time, whether that's getting everybody in a room together, obviously hard right now Coronavirus, zoom meeting. Whatever it is, I think, at least in the business sense, you should be able to address the visual and the auditory learner very easily by having an aging slide deck and going through it verbally, not just reading your slides, but adding color, and some more information, reading and writing learners. So, those people learn basically from taking notes. 

So, if it's providing sticky notes or pads for people to take notes on, you’re addressing that type of learner and then in kinesthetic that one's hard in a business setting, people interacting and getting up and having some sort of activity to kind of process the information. I can't speak for your industry individually. But for us, sometimes that's getting up if it's a product idea and engaging with the product, as we're talking about it to help it set in, right, so they can remember it.

Amanda: Yeah, that's interesting. I've actually mentioned the show before on the show, but I was obsessed with the Imagineering. Have you seen this a Imagineering show on Disney plus, and they're always talking about how Walt Disney, or I think any of the Imagineers would have to build models for anything they were talking about? So, it's part of visual, but I think it's also part of the Masonic aspect where you can actually tangibly see what somebody is trying to do rather than just hear about it or see a picture or something of it. 

Taylor: That's right. Actually, I was on a presentation recently in kind of the link building context at the executive level, some people are very savvy and know what it is and how it works. But I think mocking up examples of a prospects like website on a very authoritative publication in some sort of context, it goes a long way to that same type of point, you're not just talking about link building, you're showing them what it looks like.

Amanda: And that ties into speaking a little bit about what kind of return you're expecting, right? So, not just going into these meetings and saying like, this is what I want to do, and this is what I think it could do, but actually painting a picture of, this is my hypothesis of what this is going to achieve and what that could actually look like.

Taylor: Yeah, exactly. So, you go into one of these types of buying meetings, typically, you've got some sort of budget set aside for marketing efforts. And you're likely getting pushback, right, in some way. And to address that you have to be able to speak in terms of ROI. You need to have done the work in whatever aspect this project is to understand your business and understand how you're proposing would turn into future returns. So, for example, I think the easiest thing to get down to is like how does your sales revenue flow down to net margin? So, net margin is just your net income. So, your cost of goods sold, minus all of the expenses that you can you factor in over the revenue as a percentage of your revenue like. So, if you know that your business runs a 30%. net margin. Obviously, if you have a campaign that you know, cost $30,000, it needs to generate at least $100,000 of sales in order to be profitable. 

Obviously, that's break even for this initiative. Most organizations are going to challenge you to go well above that, because most organizations are not nonprofits, you're trying to make money. So, I think as much as you can get down, obviously, speaking, in terms of return on investment, it's hard for a lot of different projects because you're not necessarily selling a tangible thing, or it's just not right there. You have to be able to build opportunity models and make some assumptions in order to get to that kind of return on investment figure.

Amanda: So, it's an example of when you may have done something like this related to either content or link building or something similar where you were getting pushed back on budget. How are you able to illustrate this?

Taylor: Yeah. So, I'll go back to like my time as kind of an SEO lead, were really weird delivering revenue through just people getting to our website and calling into a call center to create a sale. So, we kind of understood what our business was doing at the time, it had several months of very consistent sales figures, and we were like, hey, we are ranking in all of these positions. And it's generating this, right, this traffic and we understood how our website flowed down the funnel to convert a sale. So, I think really begin with the end in mind. Like you have to kind of go through that process and understand all of the ingredients. So, the project that you're working on is affecting your link building. The goal is we're going to increase rankings of the site and I'll get to the second piece of link building like if you're selling a tangible thing, you might have some direct sales like if you're selling a weighted blanket, And it gets reviewed by a Kardashian, and they talk about it on BuzzFeed or somewhere, you could go crazy directly from that link, right? But generally, let's start with, hey, I'm just doing link building to increase my rankings and obviously very thoughtful about quality link building, right? 

So ultimately, you can log into your Google webmaster tools and kind of see where you're ranking today. And then you got future state, where do you think is achievable? Are there people that you just know, you cannot pass like, in the example that I was working on, like, there were queries out there that government sites owned the number one, they had a resource page, or maybe they own the one and two, we're not going to outrank them. They are the most authoritative site for that query. So, our opportunity models were based on the click through rate being at the number three position and currently, maybe say we're at number six. So, there are some assumptions that you have to understand about that, like, what does it mean to go from number six to number three. And that's very different by space, potentially even by the day, right? Like Google's adding different snippets to the search result, other things. But you know, this best like you know, your own business, so you can dive in and make those educated assumptions. 

And then at some point, you're able to quantify that lift that you're getting from the lever that you're pulling, in this case for an example sitelink building. And then once you apply that lift, you should be able to say okay, the economics of my site takeover, and the rest kind of flows through your funnel, this many people reach my site, this many people ultimately respond. So, in my case, it was called in at the time or now in my current role that many people add a product to the cart, and then not many people then convert ultimately, and then some we would convert through remarketing etc. So, at some point, you really just want to focus in on the aspects of the project that you're proposing and how those impact the lever that they're impacting. And then you get to a point where you're taking what you're doing today and plugging additional people into that, or whatever you're changing, right.

If your project is to redesign your website to improve your conversion, you hold traffic, all right, it's not going to affect our traffic, but it's going to improve our yield on that traffic. So, then you say, okay, we feel we can improve the conversion rate by this percentage by going through a whole website redesign. Certainly, like it's great if you can do some sort of testing to say, okay, well, where did that 10% come from? All right, we did some focus group testing, or we did a split test on this thing, but we're going to scale it out to more pages, etc. But ultimately testing and assumptions, you have to take some gap. And then you'll be able to get to a number where you can speak in terms of return on investment.

Amanda: It makes total sense what you're saying that you need to relate it back to just like the way that the site and the funnels are working. Have you ever encountered being in these Buy-in meetings where the people you're talking to didn't understand those mechanics, because they don't work in marketing and you have to start there?

Taylor: Yeah. So, how I've encountered it, is I'll speak on both sides. So, on one side, if you don't understand kind of the mechanics and mechanisms, people will roll in there, and they'll say, oh, we can improve. I'll go back to my design piece because I think that's a very common project across anybody's organization like a website redesign. We can improve our conversion rate by 10%, by redesigning a site. I feel like every new CMO kind of starts there, right. Well, 10% is a lot in some cases, how are you going to do that? And then everybody says, okay, this makes total sense, and they do the Buy-in, if it doesn't come to fruition, they're like, well, how did this happen? Like the people at the top didn't really understand the metrics to start with. So, like, the data in the proposal was kind of overinflated, right. On the other side, if people are uncomfortable with something, and I think this may be where you're going, Amanda, they're going to question it to the nth degree. They're like, well, these are assumptions, you don't know, you can't say anything with a degree of, I think that that's certainly some of the responses that I've had in my professional experience, particularly in SEO projects, like there are no definitive answers. You can get things to a higher likelihood of confidence by doing X, Y and Z, and knowing that you're doing everything right.

But ultimately it isn't investment and you have to kind of just wait and see how it plays out. So, I think as much as you can, you have to speak in terms of concrete ROI. But you have to be prepared to provide status updates. For one, I think, how are you tracking? So, you don't end up like the guy that's like, over promising and under delivering, and two, for the people at the front end, who are just like, oh, you're using all of these assumptions? And they question everything. I think in that scenario, you want to be as conservative as possible, right? Or at least show a range of tolerance, like, okay, here's a conservative estimate of growth from this project. Here's a moderate, maybe here's an aggressive and at least kind of show that look, if at the most conservative and remember, like you're the expert on this, you're making the recommendations. So, if you've done the work and say at the most conservative level you're proposing the project's still make sense, I think that's what people will hang their hat on, right. And understand, if you just come out there with a singular number, because really anything in an SEO that's not known, or a lot of times the customer experience, like, it's not fully known until you do it, right, what the impact will be. You need to have that window of tolerance, that range that you, okay, low end expectation is this, it could be as high as this, right.

Amanda: Yeah. Have you gone into some of these meetings sometimes with like a tiered approach like that, or, because I know, it's difficult to kind of gauge how much you should pitch in one meeting, maybe like if you're going to go all in on something or maybe test it out to start. And that might be something that evolves based on the response that you're getting, I would imagine, so if you're getting a lot of pushback, maybe it becomes oh, this is like, let's just test out a little bit of this to see if it works. Do you think that's appropriate? Or is that like pulling back too much sometimes? Because like you said, you are the expert as well. I don't know if you can get into any like personal examples of that.

Taylor: I definitely think like you being able as the expert, I think you also can propose what test makes sense before you jump in. Most people like to dip their toes in the water, right. So, I think that that definitely plays true here in terms of buying discussions, if it's something that you could get by and not do, it's not an all or nothing thing. Certainly, there are projects where it is if you're doing a website redesign, you're doing a website redesign. It's kind of hard to just--

Amanda: To change one page or something like that?

Taylor: Yeah, to say the impact across your whole site, right. I mean, you can do A/B testing, but there's certain things that it's just not, you can't just phase in through additional spin. So, I think it's so important to look at, if it scales. So, if your test works out, right, that you're proposing so many folks, they want to look at how that spend, could scale. Is it a one-time spin to attain the results that you're looking for? Or could you double that or triple that and get triple their results? I think most businesses, if you could attain that same profitable margin, whatever that is, for your company, whatever is an acceptable red line margin target, everything above that line, if the marketing spin yields that business at that level, you would want to go get, so if there are diminishing returns, then I think you have to be able to explain that upfront as part of these buying discussions, because that's definitely going to be something that people ask. 

And particularly, again, you're the expert in going into these conversations. A lot of the executives are not, so you need to have an answer for that. If I go do link building with agency one, I can achieve this result on a low end of this on a high end. And they might say, okay, well forget just using agency one. What if we got agency 1,2,3 and four to help do campaigns or with agency one, we did five X, the amount of work that we talked about originally, they want to understand, is doing that augmentative at the same level, or if there would be diminishing returns, because I think it's so important when you're looking at something that might have diminishing returns to kind of disclaim that upfront, so you don't have a good win under your belt to start with. And then they say, okay, great. This worked out exactly how we said, we're going to give you more money to do the same thing. You would then want to use that on some other project. I think to come back to like my personal experience. In most cases, obviously, most of my Buy-ins has started with a test, you notch some wins under your belt. And then you move on to bigger things and larger investments. I think for most people, like everybody has a lot of irons in the fire at one time, like there's a lot of levers that you can pull, whatever your role may be. And I just think it's always good to kind of like keep things relative. 

So, you may be having a bind discussion about a specific project. And again, you know, all the details. And I think it's important to go through the motions and give it everything it deserves to get the result from your team. But it's also important to share your perspective on the overall priority. So, if you had a matrix of opportunity, low effort, high effort on one axis, and then high opportunity and low opportunity on the other, obviously things that require the least amount of effort and the highest opportunity would be your highest priority. Then things that are high effort and low opportunity, lowest priority, or maybe you just shouldn't do those. So, I think, especially when you're talking about budgets and Buy-in, it's not just about your project in isolation. It's typically your project against every other departments project too. So, you have to be able to make that case in how your project, why it's better, or worse, why they should invest with your project, and how it delivers more ROI or why your project is needed first, before you go and do another project. So, maybe a website redesign, right if you're leading the CX department, is really critical to better success with your SEO campaigns. Because today, your website just doesn't look like an authoritative place that people would want to link to. So, you could go spend a bunch of money and build out some really great campaigns. But if somebody went to your site you just wouldn't convert. So, there's kind of an example, there is a priority, and an order of things. And how these kinds of discussions play out too.

Amanda: What I'm hearing is there's so much legwork you kind of have to go through before you even step into this meeting, because you have to anticipate that all these questions will be asked of you, like you said, in the greater context of across the company. Why should the spending be here right now?

Taylor: That's right. And I think like, again, you are the expert, you're going to know all of these little dimensions. And I think just as much as you can anticipate the questions as possible, it comes back to knowing that audience and kind of where their mindset is, and why are they interested in hearing about your project now, or why are they driving this? I think you will know those things and in your presentation, be as strategic as possible, and then dive into the details as they're requested. You'll know everything, because you'll be prepared. But I do think, especially in those meetings, try not to go down the rabbit hole if you can avoid it. Because certainly, if you get bogged down on one-minute detail it can derail the whole presentation. So like, going back earlier to some of the assumptions, things if you can't prove why you came up with an assumption, based on some somewhat validated data, or reasonable expectation, that's a problem, that one thing could derail your entire meeting. So, kind of being able to just anticipate where the linchpins are, and things that could just mess you up if you don't have that information.

Amanda: I think some of these were mentioned throughout our conversation, but could your rapid fire off the top of your head the types of questions you've been asked in these meetings? I want people to be able to almost create like a checklist of things they should consider and make sure that they've contemplated fully.

Amanda: Yeah. So, some that I've personally gotten, we need results now. Why should we be spending money on something that takes months or years to come to fruition? Or maybe phrase in other way? Why invest in something that you can't tell me when I'll make my money back? And exactly that I had, we don't have the budget, or why should we spend budget on this? I think is one that I've gotten. So, to dive into that one, a lot of companies set a budget for certain activities at a specific time of the year, right. Well, things change. Obviously, if it comes up and it's a hot topic of discussion that someone is pushing for. If you can build the business case, someone can find the budget. Again, it comes back to if you can deliver business at your organization's desired level of profitability, the organization should be willing to spend and invest to get that business, period. 

Some other questions or comments that I've gotten is someone personally like doesn't like a type of advertising or content or initiative, maybe because they don't know a lot about it, maybe they just don't like it personally. So, they shouldn't do it. So, you've got a personal opinion blocking you instead of something that's data driven. So, for that, one, they don't want to spend budget on it, because it's just someone's personal opinion. I think as much as you can bring it back to being data driven as possible, and just let the data speak for itself, you take the human emotion out of it. I think that's critical for that one, other budgetary topics or pieces of feedback that I've gotten. I can't believe that it cost that much to do X, Y, and Z. We should hire a person to do that. So, I think that that's a good one to talk about, when do you decide to take something in house versus doing it externally? I think a lot of the different marketing functions like an SEO, link building piece with content, asset creation, promotion, etc. 

There is a lot of value in having an external partner for that, because in most cases, they built those relationships, you have a side of the house that creates the content, and then can leverage the relationships with the publishers. Whereas, I'm not saying it's not possible, but like, if you're trying to hire one person, are you going to get one person who can do all of the assets, creation, all of the promotion, for the same price that you're paying to basically access the services at an external firm? Probably not, but for something like maybe social media creation, right. Like, I'm just going to speak to the organic social, you might want someone in house because they're going to know your organization the best and know your brand voice versus outsourcing it to someone external, just for sake of keeping current, right. You don't want someone who's not in your organization all the time managing your brand, per se, just as an example.

Amanda: Yeah, that makes total sense. You already touched on this, but then what about just like, the initial investment and not getting the results sooner, you know.

Taylor: Right. Yeah, I think that's a question that I often get, or have gotten is like, how can we go faster? It's actually one that I got last week. So, amid Coronavirus in my organization, like our store partners are shut down currently. So, the e-commerce business is what's open. So, everybody's just like, how can we go faster, and accelerating the growth of e-commerce, obviously is not a content marketing thing. But ultimately, it still takes time. Like any organization, you have what you have on hand today, it takes some time to build some of this stuff. In our case, like, we have to build new product from scratch, right? And get it here and get it ready for sale. In a content marketing example, just paying more money doesn't mean you can go faster necessarily. And it's important to paint that picture visually, especially in meetings like, so many people forget, like as part of the buying process, like what does the time look like? If you lay that out visually, you can really drill into it with the executives or whatever team you're working with on. Maybe there are parts of the process, like again, we'll come back to a website redesign project. You may be part of that, you need to add a bunch of content, right, in addition to just the design.

So, you're altering your structure a bit, you can absolutely make that go faster. Potentially, if you outsource some of the content creation or hire someone to help you create more content faster. But the fact of having to come up with a new design, graphic looks, reviews in some of that it takes some time. And again, it comes back to also, you're the expert, if you're laying out against chart or smart cheat or whatever it is that however you manage projects, project in project planning, you know, where the critical dependencies lie, and where you can accelerate and where you can cannot. Obviously, for those types of presentations, I typically like to be again, pretty conservative, and say, present one thing and say we might can do a little bit better. But this is where we feel comfortable as a team, and again, I think that that's valuable to come in with that because you're the expert, you know what it will take. And so, they need to understand and respect your expertise.

Amanda: The question I asked at the end of every show, is what is the biggest mistake you think people make when they go into these pitch meetings?

Taylor: I'll say this myself, it's, I think diving too deep in some details, versus staying strategic, and kind of in line with at that executive level, you want to be speaking their language, you're trying to zoom out to their perspective and come where they are. I think it's so easy for folks as managers or directors that put together these types of plans and ultimately carry them out to get so bogged down in the details that they let that carry over into executive conversations. I certainly been a victim of that. I don't want to say like I mentioned at the top of the meeting that I've been told no, as many times, yes. And I'll say that often, it's not been a permanent now, right. Like the conversation didn't happen in the right capacity, or we got bogged down in a detail, and you go back work on that piece of data that was missing, or that was objectionable. We have another meeting, and then we get to go forward, right. And I think that just because you get a no, and maybe that's the biggest mistake, is giving up, right. You shouldn't necessarily give up, if it's something you truly believe in, you should keep fighting for it. 

And eventually, if it doesn't look like things are changing, maybe it's a question of, are you a fit at that organization? 

Amanda: Right. 

Taylor: At some point, greater minds will prevail, if you're right on something and you get told no from a very emotive reaction or for one or the other. reasons that we've kind of been over, eventually, things will come around in your favor. You just have to stay the course, a perfect example from my experience, an initiative that I've been saying that we need to do for probably a year and a half to two years. And my company is finally coming to fruition in a big way. It's most recently happening because of Coronavirus and basically developing products that are e-commerce focused first versus store retail first, and every organization there's some level of inertia, that the way that you've been doing things for a long time, kind of can get in the way. And certainly Soft-text is a great company, and we're making those steps now, right. All of the executive team has always been supportive of e-commerce and behind it. I think it's just changing perspective and adapting to the environment, right.

Amanda: Yeah, absolutely. So, I just realized we're pretty over. 

Taylor: Well, I'm sorry. 

Amanda: No, that's fine. The final question I ask all the guests is, knowing the objective of the show, which is to help people with not just the Buy-in but even just determining for themselves the ROI of content. Do you have any recommendations for who should be future guests?

Taylor: Oh my gosh, have you spoken to Ian House or again there is some Charlotte based folks that I know.

Amanda: I talked to Matthew Howells-Barby for the last episode, but I have not spoken to Ian, because they run your Traffic Think Tank, right?

Taylor: That's right. So, Ian's a cool guy. Also, Jared McKiernan is a pretty good guy in the Charlotte marketing community and has a lot of good insights. He is a really great SEO growth marketer. 

Amanda: Awesome. 

Taylor: Yeah. So, I think both of those guys have some valuable insights for sure.

Amanda: Cool. Yeah. I always asked because it makes sense to broaden the community and people I haven't met who can contribute. So, I appreciate the suggestions. And thank you so much for being on the show and sharing your personal experience with all this, I really appreciate it.

Taylor: Yeah. Thank you so much, Amanda. It's been a pleasure.

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