B-to-B: Search for Business
Insight is often obscured by averages. Statisticians know that one has to start with an intelligent theory and then see if the data support a given premise. Agencies and marketers should have their customer personas at the heart of their engagement strategies, with clear segmentation in B-to-B around stages in the buying cycle and influence on purchase. Search and social are part of this engagement mix.
Looking just at the buying cycle, we immediately can see the role and power of search that is distinct within each cycle stage, but almost uniquely present in all. Comprehensive research data from Google Labs in 2011 in the B-to-B IT market shows that only personal contact from an individual sales rep can rival the use of search for the conduct of product research at all decision phases in the buying cycle.
Comparing models and prices, requesting budget estimates, defining company needs, learning about maintenance and warranties, reviewing product information and researching what products are available—all are common research activities across purchase cycle stages.
"Search was rated around as highly as the vendor's own websites for usefulness of content," in that same study. Given the pervasiveness of search in buying decisions and the complexity of considered B-to-B purchases, marketers should recognize the practical role of search and tailor search strategies to address these facets of buyer behavior and need.
Context Is King
According to Forrester Research's "Best and Worst of Search" series, business services vendors must first "master the basics" and avoid making common mistakes that their B-to-C brethren have learned to avoid. Failing to deep link to content, not referencing keywords and search terms in ad copy or landing pages, and engaging in cannibalistic bidding are all mistakes B-to-B marketers were shown to be still making.
As with any marketing channel, search strategy should be considered in context, should start with the customer need and should be built on an evolutionary road map of sophistication that the organization can support for the long term.