The business to business marketplace is infinitely more complex, and therefore, more challenging, than most of the business to consumer verticals. This reality extends into search marketing as well. Take the fact that B2B usually means complex sales (especially when it involves search as a potential lead generation channel) and then layer on the realities that sales that are driven by organizations rather than individuals, one sale can involve multiple roles, including stakeholders with different needs, and most B2B sales can take months, or even years. It can be a daunting task, which is why there are not many search marketing providers that have hung their shingles in the B2B marketplace.

We've learned first hand some of the realities of marketing in the B2B arena through research and working with clients, and in the interest of making the path a little less bloody, I'll share the Top 10 things we've learned. The first 5 are this week, and I'll follow up with the final 5 next week.

1. Know Who is the Buyer and Who's the Influencer

The biggest challenge with B2B transactions is that you're not talking to one buyer. You're usually talking to a committee, and to complicate matters, they have different levels of influence, they take part at different times, and they all have different perspectives and needs. Research (Matbuy, 1981) has shown that there are as many as 6 different roles, including the User, Initiator, Influencer, Gatekeeper, Decider and Buyer, in most B2B purchase decisions. To make matters worse, these roles may not be filled by a single person, but a group of individuals, or, heaven forbid, a committee (tangential comment: how do you calculate the average IQ of a committee? Take the lowest IQ in the group and divide it by the number of people in the committee!)

Usually, the buyer and decider are pretty far removed in the organization from the user, and the larger the organization, the bigger the gap. That means that the people making contact with the vendor have at least 3 degrees of separation (user:initiator:influencer:gatekeeper:decider) from the person who will actually be using the product or service. In search, it becomes vital to know who the person is who will be using the search engine.

2. Realize What the Intent of the Researcher Is

In our original study into the use of search in B2B buying decisions (a follow up is being planned as we speak) we found that those most apt to use a search engine are the influencers, followed by the initiator, the user and then the decider. An actual buyer is very unlikely to turn to a search engine. Search is most often used to research the purchase alternatives, set the criteria and possibly dig up facts on potential vendors. The sweet spot is the person who's assigned the task of researching and short listing the potential alternatives. Remember, they're going to be looking for column A, B and C vendors to give the selection committee the alternatives they need to match their buying process. This means that even if there is a pre-existing vendor relationship, this diligent individual will be using a search engine to dig up "column fodder", another name for those other candidates that can be used to grind the preferred vendor (the column fodder tag is courtesy Michael Bosworth, Solution Selling). More about how to combat this next week.

The important point here is to realize the intent of the person most likely to be using a search engine. It's not to make vendor contact. Remember, the actual decision of which vendor the organization will be going with will rest with someone else. It's the influencer's job to gather the data, compile it and pass it on. That's their intent, and it's the path you have to provide them when they land on your site.

3. Understand Complex Buying Cycles and the Possible Touch points with Search

Complex buying cycles that are common in B2B means there's a lot of back and forth between a prospect and a vendor with multiple touch points as the cycle progresses. That has a host of implications for the vendor, but there are some that are specific to search. We already talked about the likelihood of the influencer/designated researcher turning to a search engine. But there are other touch points where search could be used. At the user level, when awareness of the need first dawns, there might be use of a search engine to see if a solution exists. If this is the case, the terminology might be significantly different than the common industry terms (more about this next week). Another place search might be used is at the decision level, where the decider is double checking on details on a particular criteria, i.e. terms of service agreements, other clients, payment terms, etc. These searchers will be very specific and navigational in nature.

4. Be Prepared to Build Relationships with Search Leads

In the case of a complex B2B sale, a lead generated through a search referral is just the beginning. The ideal scenario is to qualify the lead as quickly as possible and transition it seamlessly into a rich relationship development pipeline. Depending on the nature of the sale, it might be appropriate to get it in the hands of a customer representative for follow up, or you might want to continue to build the lead through less resource intensive means (i.e. targeted email follow ups and communication) and nurture it before the initial point of contact. Whatever your follow up process, make sure it matches the needs of the individual at the prospect end, their own role in the buying process and their goals and needs.

5. Don't Ask for Too Much Too Soon

One of the biggest mistakes made by marketers is too push for too much information too soon. Remember the nature of those that will be coming to your site to research. They're browsing online because they're not ready to initiate contact with a vendor. In many cases, they haven't even assembled their short list, so they are still several steps away from wanting to talk to a sales rep, even if they were the right person (which they usually aren't).

Don't force them to pick up the phone to learn more about your solution and don't force them to fill out a 25 field form. Give them the path of least resistance to accomplish their objective, which is to gather information to help them qualify their buying decision in a clear and easily transferable format. As tempting as it is to capture the lead and turn your sales people loose, in most cases if you jump too soon you'll be spinning your wheels with the wrong contact and possibly scaring them off.

Coming Next Week, Rules 6 through 10

6. Understand the Complexity of the Keyword Universe
7. Know the Roles of General and Vertical Search Portals
8. Realize that Education is a Necessary Evil
9. Be Prepared to Lose Control
10. Understand the Buying Process of Your Prospect, but Don't Surrender to It

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

October 9, 2006

Gord Hotchkiss is President and CEO of Enquiro, Canada's leading search engine marketing firm and one of the top firms in North America. His articles are regularly published in both on and off line newsletters, including Marketing Monitor, SEOToday, Marketing and many other trade journals. Enquiro's own information portal is

With an extensive 20 year background in the marketing and advertising business, Gord has been working to increase client's search engine visibility since 1996 and has specialized in search engine marketing since 1999.

Search Engine Guide > Gord Hotchkiss > 10 Rules for Making B2B Search Marketing more Successful