Conventional wisdom tells us the fastest and most efficient way to research and compare products and pricing is on the web. Recently, this belief was confirmed by two research studies examining the role of search in B2B marketing.

First, Enquiro and Marketing Sherpa demonstrated the dominance of search in B2B transactions. Now, a Google-Millward Brown study corroborates the importance of search in the B2B sales cycle.

B2B Transactions Are Unique

As you know, B2B transactions differ from consumer transactions because the decision requires coordination among several personnel before the final sale is made. The time between researching the product and placing the order results in a long sales cycle.

Enquiro's "The Role of Search in Business to Business Buying Decisions" is a well-designed study of approximately 1,500 participants who responded to a 40-question survey about B2B buying habits. You can download the entire report for free. Below are a few highlights:

  • When participants were asked to indicate how they would go about making a B2B purchase, 93.2% said they would research the purchase online.
  • When asked if they would use a search engine at some point in this task, 95.5% of participants said they would.
  • When asked where they would start their search for information, 63.9% of participants chose a search engine over consumer review sites, e-commerce sites, manufacturer's sites, and industry portals.
  • When taking budget into consideration, manufacturer's sites and industry portals were the chosen starting place as budgets increased. However, 86.9% of participants said they would visit a search engine after visiting those sites.

Search Engines Dominate

The study is too rich with details to cover entirely in this article. But here are some important conclusions:

  • Search engines play a dominant role in B2B purchases.
  • Search engines are used in the early or mid research phase in the buying cycle.
  • Google is favored over other search engines.
  • • Search engine research takes place at least one to two months before the buying decision.
  • Good balance between organic and paid search is necessary. Organic links get over 70% of the clicks.
  • Position is a factor, with over 60% clicking on the top three listings.
  • Most users decide which listing to click on within seconds of scanning the page.

B2B Buyers Prefer Search to Traditional Media

The Google-Millward Brown study examined technology purchases to identify sources of information used during a three-stage buying cycle defined as “research/engagement,” “consideration/comparison” and “ final purchase.”

The study found that B2B buyers used search engines more often than traditional media throughout the entire buying cycle. Google concluded that search advertising is more effective than trade magazine ads and other traditional B2B media.

  • Research phase: Search used 30% more often than trade publications.
  • Consideration phase: Search used 21% more often than B2B publications.
  • Final purchase phase: Search used 62% more often than traditional media.

The study also found that benefits and strong call-to-action are crucial components of a sponsored link (duh!). This has implications for the title and description of your web pages as these elements are used to create organic links on the search result pages.

Are B2B Sites Optimized for Search Engines?

They all have websites, but according to research, most aren’t optimized to maximize search engine traffic. Research indicates that 80 to 90 percent of corporate websites are not well optimized. Most recently, Fathom reported manufacturing sites ignore this marketing opportunity. Yet, this same research shows that properly optimized websites enjoy fantastic gains in unique visitors and conversions.

With all the qualified traffic originating from search engines, it is more important than ever for B2B marketers, wholesalers and B2B exchanges to ensure that their web sites are correctly optimized for good positioning in search results. There is also great value in search engine optimization as a marketing tool.

It’s a User-Friendly Tool

Search engine traffic is highly targeted. That's because potential buyers who find your B2B offerings through search engines are looking for your products and services on their own; as a result, they are predisposed to hear your marketing message. You can't find a more qualified prospect than that.

Here's what distinguishes search engine marketing from other types of advertising:

  1. It is non-intrusive. Search marketing is a non-intrusive marketing tool. Most advertising, both online and offline, interrupts consumer behavior. If a user goes to a web site for info, up pops an intrusive ad. Reading a newspaper? Ads dominate and force articles to be continued on another page. With search engine marketing, the user is actively seeking your products, services, and information. They are delighted to be driven to your site.
  2. It is voluntary. Search marketing is the result of user-originated behavior. Your visitors from search engines and directories have voluntarily clicked on your listing rather than any competitor's; thus, they are motivated to explore your offerings.

What Else Do B2B Marketers Need to Know?

How good is the ROI? How effective is search engine marketing for B2B firms? What are the key-points to consider for your B2B search engine-marketing plan? Please join me next week for the answers in Part 2.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
June 21, 2005

Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As Director of Search Marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for strategizing and implementing search engine marketing activities within Red Door's Internet Presence Management (IPM) services.

Search Engine Guide > Paul Bruemmer > Search Plays Key Role in B2B Sales – Part 1 of 2