Optimize for B2B Search Marketing – Part 3

futurelab default header

by: Jon Miller

AKA, “How to date your prospects”.

In Part 1 and Part 2, I argued that B2B search marketing presents unique challenges compared to B2C search, including the need to market to multiple decision makers at different points in the sales cycle. In this post, I discuss how you can create landing pages that meet the needs of each type of decision maker as they move through their buying process.

In B2C search marketing, the person doing the search is the same person who will make the purchase, and the time between search and purchase is very short. This means the goal of B2C landing pages should be to convert the searcher into a customer by generating a purchase transaction.

In B2B, however, most searches come from influencers and users, not economic buyers. The actual purchase will happen weeks or months after the initial search. This means the most common search intent in B2B is to perform research, not to make a purchase or request a sales contact. This fact has significant implications for how you build landing pages, define conversions, and use any information you capture from the customer.

Provide Useful Content to Build Trust

The Internet has changed how people research complex B2B purchases. Search has killed the trade show as the first place most people learn about a solution. Buyers want to be (and are) much more educated about your solution before they engage with a sales person. And online channels have greatly increased marketing’s ability to connect with prospects at multiple points in the buying cycle.

Over 2/3 of B2B buying cycles begin with a search engine. If your landing pages provide useful content that gives the searcher the information she is looking for, you can help frame the discussion and become a trusted advisor – which will greatly increase your chance of success later in the buying process. (Relevant content will also help your rankings, even for paid search.)

Just be sure you are not too self-serving – that will be transparent to the buyer. Here’s a good rule of thumb, courtesy of Ardath Albee’s Marketing Interactions blog: If your goal is to change someone’s behavior, you are probably pushing too hard at this stage.  If your goal is to deliver value by offering a solution to the searcher’s problem, you are one the right track to build trust.

Ask For Information In Exchange, But At the Right Time

Many B2B searchers do not have a problem sharing information about their project or professional contact data in exchange for useful information such as a whitepaper, demo, or case study. By capturing this information you can continue to provide information to the prospect as they move through the buying process, which improves the likelihood your company will be seen as a trusted partner.

However, requiring registration reduces the number of people who will see your content – MarketingSherpa found that it can reduce downloads by 75%-85%! (Worse, some customers may submit bogus data to get the content, creating a data quality headache.) If your goal is to reach people as early in their buying process as possible (since that’s where your influence is the biggest), your may want to provide some content without requiring any contact information.

The optimal strategy is to think of the process as a series of trust-building steps. I like to this of this as “dating” the prospect: the relationship begins with an introduction or casual meeting, develops over a series of guarded interactions, and ultimately blossoms into an open, trusted exchange of information.  Of course, just like in the dating world, this approach requires giving up some control of the process – but the outcome is worth it.

What It Means

In practical terms, this means you should provide content without registration to searchers early in the buying process. Design your content to help the searcher understand the space and your role in it. Once the information has been shared, if the prospect finds it valuable he will be more willing to share some basic contact information (or sign up for an RSS feed) to get more. Even he doesn’t register at this point, if the content is useful he is likely to return to your site when he is further down the buying cycle.

Searchers like this are later in the buying cycle and want more detailed information about your solution. You can often identify these searchers because they use more specific keywords, such as product names or technical terms. For these searchers, you should capture some basic contact information before sharing the content.

Once you have basic contact information, you can begin a dialog with the prospect where you continue to build trust, perhaps building out the profile by asking for additional information over time. Finally, watch for signs the prospect may be ready to speak with a sales representative – either because he asks for one explicitly or he exhibits behaviors consistent with being ready (such as multiple visits to your site). When this happens, it is time to pass the “ripe” lead to sales.

Original Post: http://blog.marketo.com/blog/2006/09/optimize_for_b2_2.html