B-to-B marketers have unique challenges to overcome—everything from the lengthy sales cycle, to tracking gaps from leads to sales, to heavy competition on top terms. But the good news is that search engine marketing helps marketers meet these challenges head-on. The bad news is that this list of challenges is far from comprehensive.
In fact, research by the Institute for the Study of Business Markets identifies five key challenges for B-to-B marketers in the next few years. I was particularly struck by the two below:
- B-to-B marketers need to better learn about customer needs and match them with their offerings
- B-to-B marketers need to discover new growth areas for their businesses
Clearly, these challenges are considerable and warrant priority. Fortunately, search engine marketing can help organizations address these issues too. Let’s take a look at how.
Search engine marketing is not only a performance-driven marketing tool, it is also a valuable research device as it provides marketers with a wealth of information. In fact, it offers precisely the kind of information you need to learn about your customers and their needs. Yet, few marketers actually leverage this invaluable data (which is a fact that continues to baffle me to no end). The bottom line is that your search data can tell you a lot. But keep in mind that data without action is, well…just data. To fully capitalize on it, you need to apply your learnings. Below are a few ways to do just that.
Most folks know that you can use analytics data to see what types of keywords people query to find your website. But the question is: what do you do with this information? One way to leverage it is to subsequently monitor the seasonality of your keywords. Doing so will help you understand when people begin to look for things online. My experience is that most marketers greatly underestimate the overall range of time that customers search. Once you understand the "search cycle" for each of your products, you can organize your marketing calendars accordingly.
Messaging is another area full of invaluable information about your customers. To capitalize on it, test different creative messages in your PPC and SEO campaigns. Once you have learned which messages resonate with your audience, leverage this information to inform other initiatives, such as email campaigns, print ads, and your public relations strategy. Sharing these findings with other channels—particularly offline channels—is especially important given the synergy that exists between them and search. In fact, research has shown that offline channels are a powerful driver of search. Ultimately, you want to foster regular cross-channel communication so you can not only share your learnings, but also gain insight into other initiatives to capture the demand they create.
Your search data can also tell you how to maximize your content medium. Do your consumers prefer text content or videos? How many subscribe to your RSS feed? Other than within your website, does your audience have a strong place where they talk about you? These are just a few of the many questions that can be answered by examining your search data. But once you understand the different media that your customers and prospects choose to consume, as well as the where and how they go about doing so, you need to act on it and speak to them in their preferred "listening" method. For example, if the data reveals that your audience regularly consumes your video-based content, you might want to consider issuing video press releases. Overall, you will be significantly more successful if you engage with your audience in a format familiar to them.
Growth & innovation
Everyone is always looking for an edge to sharpen their offerings and to leave everyone else scrambling to catch up. But doing so is far from easy. How do you continue to innovate and distinguish yourself from your competitors? Well, if your organization’s approach to innovation is to lock your smartest people in a room until they come up with the latest and greatest new thing, then you wouldn’t be alone on that one. Fortunately, though, there’s a better way. Search engine marketing can help organizations discover new growth areas for their businesses.
I have found that actually speaking to customers and gathering data about them is a great source of feedback. It not only provides you with insight into how you could better meet their existing needs or solve an existing problem, it can also help you learn about emerging needs for which you could develop a solution. But while this approach may sound good in theory, how do you make it actionable?
To solicit such feedback, you must invite your audience to experience a diverse array of content from you. This means your search marketing efforts must be set up to capture all the segments of your audience. In addition, make certain that your content remains fresh. Then, give your audience a chance to engage in a dialog with you. This conversation can take many forms, anything from an official company blog, to customer forums, to popular industry blogs, or any growing number of social networks. Next, monitor what people are saying about you. You might not always like what is being said, but if you are committed to growing and improving, you need to take their opinions to heart. Lastly, act on your findings— it’s as simple as that. There’s not much point in going through this exercise if you don’t plan on applying your learnings. Ultimately, the more you are able to learn about your customer and their challenges, the better prepared you will be to not only help them, but also grow your own business at the same time.
Search engine marketing is a powerful tool for driving business results, but smart marketers know it offers even more. Specifically, search data provides invaluable information. When leveraged properly, it can help organizations to better learn about their customers’ needs, and to discover new growth areas for their businesses.
Brian Kaminski is managing director of search engine marketing firm iProspect in San Francisco, and can be reached at email@example.com. The Strictly Business column appears Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.