In my last column I explored b-to-b marketers’ changing perceptions toward search marketing and predicted a continued trend in rapidly increasing b-to-b search budgets—at the expense of traditional marketing channels.
Today I’d like to talk about why this shift is occurring. First, let’s start by looking at the top challenges identified by business marketers and explore how search marketing is particularly well suited to solve these problems.
Top B-to-B Marketing Challenges
As part of Forrester’s Marketing Effectiveness Survey, conducted in the second quarter of 2006, the research firm asked business marketers to describe their most pressing problems.
Here are the top four b-to-b marketing challenges identified:
- Difficulty reaching decision makers
- Measuring marketing results
- Generating more leads
- Improving lead quality
If you’re a b-to-b marketer, I’m sure these issues sound familiar. Now, let’s discuss how search marketing can be used to address each of these issues.
Difficulty Reaching Decision Makers
Do executives and senior managers use search engines? The answer is an unequivocal YES. Several years ago Forbes published a survey entitled A Day in the Life of CEOs Online. The survey looked at Web usage of CEOs and senior-level managers at enterprise companies with 1,000 or more employees. More than one thousand executives participated in the survey.
The survey results point to strong C-level use of the Internet and search engines.
- 49 percent consider the Internet the single most important source of information on business
- 54 percent conduct online researches
- 34 percent say they go to the Web first to find information on a product or service
- 86 percent use search engines
Similar studies by Gartner and Harris Interactive support these findings and report that C-level execs are online anywhere from 115 minutes to 137 minutes per day!
No doubt about it, search engines are a critical part of an executives’ decision making process.
Measuring Marketing Results
The fact that executives continue to demand more accountability for marketing spend bodes well for search.
Certainly there are aspects of many b-to-b search marketing programs that make them more difficult to measure than b-to-c campaigns. Namely, high consideration purchases, a high-touch sales approach, longer sales cycles, multiple decision makers and a lack of connection between online lead-generation systems and tradition CRM and sales systems.
That said, these challenges can be met with a blend of tenacity, technology and process improvements. Many b-to-b marketers are now implementing search-to-phone tracking systems, linking search campaigns with lead management systems, and passing PPC campaign parameters directly into sales management platforms such as salesforce.com
Regardless of these challenges, most marketers would agree that a well run search marketing program is at least as measurable, if not more so, than traditional business marketing channels such as print ads and trade shows.
Generating More Leads
One of the most common ways companies generate leads is asking Website visitors to register for information or events such as whitepapers, industry research, software downloads, eNewsletters and Webinars.
To improve conversion rate, and boost the volume of registrations, I recommend marketers take the following four steps.
1. Identify and understand various types of visitors who frequent your Website. Analyze their needs, challenges and pain points. Map their specific needs to the assets you can offer online. Turn your assets into downloadable actions (i.e. conversions.)
2. Offer more than one type of conversion. Not every visitor wants to take the same action at the same time. Not every visitor is ready to be contacted by a sales person. Offer choices for various types of people at different stages of the buying cycle. Use multiple conversions to proactively move prospects through the buying process.
3. Rigorously test, measure and improve landing pages. To maximize conversion rate, you must continually test factors such as page layout, images, messages, action triggers (the words you use to motivate people to take an action), and the names and descriptions associated with your downloadable assets.
4. One of the most important aspects of the landing page is the registration form. I recommend that marketers test at least three versions of registration forms: short, medium and complex. Undoubtedly you will collect more leads if you ask for less information. Test, measure and compare using multiple fields and form lengths.
Improving Lead Quality
Improving the quality of online leads typically involves a more robust qualification process. This can take be accomplished via campaign targeting, messaging, registrations forms and post-registration processes.
Targeting. You can tighten the scope of search ad campaigns in several ways, including the selection of geographic targeting, ad distribution and keywords. One way to better qualify prospects is to replace popular, generic keywords with more specific search phrases.
Messaging. Ad copy and landing pages can be used to pre-qualify prospects. More on the pros and cons of this method here.
Registration Forms. Lengthy registration forms with lots of required fields will certainly tell you more about a prospect—but registration volume may plummet. Make sure there is a reasonable relationship between the amount of information you’re requested and the value of what is being offered.
Post-Registration Processes. Instead of attempting to collect all the desired information up front on the registration form, marketers should consider implementing a follow-up process designed to further qualify registrants over time, perhaps via email or telemarketing. This “baby-step” approach allows you to learn more about prospects with each interaction as you offer additional value.
The challenge for all b-to-b marketers is to strike a balance between lead quality and quantity. Marketers must strive to find the registration process that delivers the maximum quantity of leads at an acceptable qualification level.
Search Solves B-to-B Problems
A well executed search marketing program enables b-to-b companies to reach decision makers, generate high-quality leads and better measure results. For these reasons business marketers should leave outmoded, ineffective marketing methods behind and fully embrace interactive media in general, and search marketing specifically.
Search marketing addresses b-to-b marketers’ most pressing problems.
Get on board… who knows, you just might sleep better at night!
Patricia Hursh is president and founder of SmartSearch Marketing, a Boulder, Colorado-based search engine marketing agency. You can reach Patricia at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.