Tuesday, May 6, 2008

B2B SEARCH ENGINE Marketers Should Embrace "Tire Kickers"

Strictly Business - A Column From Search Engine Land

Should marketers avoid paying for prospects who are early in the buying process and not ready to submit personal information or be contacted by a sales person? Should these "tire kickers" be avoided so that marketers can focus their attention on generating more valuable, sales-ready leads? While this approach may seem logical at first, I believe it is short-sighted and ultimately leaves a lot of money on the table.

Early-buying-phase searchers

One of the biggest challenges I've experienced working with B2B marketers is overcoming their belief that if a searcher doesn't immediately register, sign-up, download, or complete a Contact Us form, then the prospect is not valuable and not worth the effort or the price of the click.

Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. I believe there is huge value in utilizing search marketing to reach prospects early and frequently throughout the entire buying cycle - including the very first stages. Getting in front of prospects early allows you to cost-effectively support your brand, generate a larger volume of high-quality leads, and improve overall marketing ROI.

Understand how business buyers use search engines

According to recent research from Forrester and Enquiro's 2007 B2B Survey, business buyers use search engines most frequently at the beginning of the buying process, during the awareness and research phases. Buyers actually use search engines less frequently when they are ready to negotiate and purchase a high-consideration product or service.

My colleague Jon Miller also supports this premise and recently wrote about buyers using search engines early in the process and long before they are ready to engage with a sales person.

Align your search programs with buyer behavior

Instead of being frustrated by this fact or ignoring the realities of buyer behavior, B2B marketers should embrace this process and proactively align their marketing programs with the various phases of the buying cycle.

For example, let's look at a search advertising campaign for a company selling database software.

Early-Phase Campaign
A successful pay-per-click (PPC) search ad campaign designed to reach early-phase
prospects would have the following attributes:

  • Keywords include general, broad search phrases such as database application software and database software information.
  • Ad copy appeals to researchers and fact finders and might include statements such as database market trends or database application tips and advice.
  • Landing pages provide general market information and calls-to-action such as download market trend report or review database application options.

Late-Phase Campaign
In contrast, a late-phase search campaign would look like this.

  • Keywords are much more specific and include many long-tail phrases, such as web based medical databases.
  • Ad copy may focus on specific features, product comparisons, and buying tips. For example, Compare database application features or Find the right application for you.
  • Landing pages offer information and downloadable assets that address specific buying needs, such as Download product and pricing options. View software comparison chart. Request a custom quote, or, yes... Contact Us.

Manage multiple types of programs

To reach the largest number of qualified prospects, marketers must manage multiple
types of programs designed to proactively reach prospects at various phases of the buying process.

Understanding this requirement is critical to search marketing success, because the brutal reality is that not everyone who finds your site is a sales-ready lead. Remember, not all conversions are qualified inquiries and not all inquires are qualified leads. A lead scoring and nurturing program is required to fully capitalize on search-generated inquires and to convert web inquiries into bonafide sales leads.

Track prospects' behavior over time

How can you determine if first time clickers later become inquiries, leads, and customers? Marketers should track first-time visitors, and their subsequent visits, and their online actions over time. Segment your web analytics data as needed, but at least identify and separate all visitors, search visitors, and paid search visitors. The idea is to understand prospects' behavior before they become a conversion or a lead.

You will see that over time, a percentage of first time clickers who do not take any desired action (i.e., tire kickers) return to your website and sign-up for email information, download a white paper, or register for a webinar. And eventually, some will request to be contacted by a sales representative, becoming leads and ultimately customers.

Embrace the buying process

Remember, business buyers go through a process that involves search engines, especially at the beginning. Very few searchers become qualified sales leads on their first visit. More often, the process takes time and requires multiple searches and visits before a meaningful sales interaction can take place.

Embrace the fact that prospects use search engines early and frequently, and are in control of their own buying process. Get your brand in front of these prospects. Proactively penetrate the market segments you want to pursue. Differentiate yourself from the competition.

Strive to track prospects after the first click and before the conversion event. Measure repeat visits and website actions over time. I think you'll find that tire kickers are a lot more valuable than you originally thought!

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