Many of our clients face sales cycles in a six- to twelve-month duration. In a recent client interview, one of the sales directors revealed that they were on the verge of closing a multi-million dollar deal that took nearly three years of nurturing alone to finally get to the proposal process. With multiple decision makers and departments impacting complete B2B solutions, marketing plays a pivotal role.
A recent news release, which summarized a comprehensive survey of B2B marketing professionals put together by BtoB Magazine and Bizo revealed that the sales cycle is lengthening for many B2B companies. This puts further pressure on marketing professionals to improve brand awareness and lead generation. At the same time, B2B marketers need to implement programs which nurture new and existing lead prospects through a prolonged buying process.
The challenges of a lengthy B2B sales cycle are not new to marketing professionals. In 2011, a MarketingSherpa article highlighting their B2B Marketing Benchmark Report revealed that the lengthening sales cycle was the third-most-pressing challenge for B2B marketers, behind lead generation (quality and quantity).
A lengthening B2B sales cycle challenges marketers in the following ways:
- How to effectively keep the organization’s brand in front of a sales prospect bombarded with information
- How to differentiate the brand from competitive offerings and information
- How to reach multiple decision makers that might influence the buying process
- How to justify the value of marketing programs and tactics
Leveraging B2B SEO initiatives can be critical when tackling lengthy sales cycles. Here are four SEO recommendations designed to help alleviate the pressure of a lengthening sales cycle in a B2B organization.
As daunting as it may seem to get invested in another tactical marketing initiative, Google+, in coordination with Google’s Authorship program, presents clear opportunities for brands to differentiate themselves within search engine results. A successful authorship initiative:
- Shows thought leadership in search engine results through name (and face) recognition
- Provides a new method for prospects to communicate to the organization individually or through Google+ Pages
- Helps branded content rank more prominently in search engine results based on the success of authored posts and social media shares associated with them
Search Engine Land has a comprehensive article with instructions on how to implement Google Authorship Markup, and I would recommend following articles in the Google Authorship category, since updates and changes to Google+ can be rather frequent (and often difficult to follow).
For B2B organizations concerned about brand development and thought leadership in search engine results, authorship tagging is a critical first step.
Social Media Network Analysis
Search engine marketers traditionally analyze social media profiles for target users that may generate links and improve the reach of an SEO program. Social media analysis also provides SEO professionals the ability to uncover related influencers and network associations that might impact the buying process within a target organization.
- Use FollowerWonk to uncover profiles Twitter users follow that have influence and are also associated to the organization. A good place to start is with company/brand profiles and associated social media managers. Another method is through coordinated PR efforts, uncovering industry influencers based on targeted trade publications.
- Once discovered, name-specific search queries in Google or Bing can uncover related social media profiles. We primarily look for LinkedIn and Google+ associations.
- If email information is known, the Rapportive browser add-on helps identify associated social media profiles.
- Explore LinkedIn profile information to uncover industry groups and professional connections.
By uncovering related social media connections in the organization, B2B SEO professionals provide the starting point for identifying the types of content assets that support multiple touch points in the buying cycle.
Content Marketing Optimization
Incorporate SEO tactics into all content marketing initiatives. As revealed in the 2013 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks report, B2B content marketers are engaged in an average of twelve tactics for their organization. Tying these tactics together with keyword strategy and keyword optimization, and internal/external cross-linking, should significantly boost the long-term value of this material in organic search engine results.
Best practices to consider:
- Optimize key SEO page elements (HTML Titles, Meta Descriptions, Open Graph Tags, etc.
- Incorporate keyword strategy into on-page material
- Develop copy surrounding assets that search engines find more difficult to interpret, i.e., graphics, videos, PDF files, etc.
- Integrate social sharing elements and cross-links to related material
- Implement conversion opportunities or event tracking to measure performance
The concept of content marketing has become an essential component of the SEO campaign because of its importance in providing visibility for keywords and enabling link acquisition.
Utilize Reporting Data To Make More Informed Content Decisions
The impact that “not provided” keyword referrals, search personalization, and localization have on keyword monitoring has created the necessity for B2B SEO’s to better evaluate overall content performance. Web traffic and visitor reporting tools such as Google Analytics are essential in this endeavor.
Broad visibility and quality metrics help B2B marketers justify the investment in content marketing initiatives and SEO strategy.
Metrics to monitor include:
- Page views and entrance data associated with SEO landing pages and content marketing assets
- Downloads and page views traced back to sales prospects, often found in marketing automation tool reports
- Links acquired to content marketing assets, as uncovered in Google or Bing Webmaster Tools and link monitoring solutions such as Open Site Explorer
- Social mentions associated to content marketing assets — in particular, mentions from influencers, sales prospects, and link building efforts
The steps in this process can be applied across marketing channels to make more informed decisions on new content initiatives and their potential impact in lead nurturing programs.
B2B SEO professionals offer a range of tactics designed to improve lead nurturing programs and help establish brand awareness. Authorship helps differentiate the brand in search, social media analysis uncovers related personnel in prospect organizations, and the optimization of content marketing assets extends their life online, hopefully generating more leads, as well.
Traffic and visitor reporting and analysis ties everything together through the validation (hopefully) of content marketing and SEO strategy, helping B2B marketers better trace the leads created to sales and revenue.
How are SEO tactics evolving in your organization’s marketing strategy to support complex sales cycles regardless of whether they are getting longer or not? I would love to read your thoughts and perspective via comments below.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.