First published October 12, 2006 in Mediapost’s Search Insider
Last week, I presented the first five rules for making B2B search more successful. To recap, here they are:
1. Know who’s the buyer and who’s the influencer
2. Realize what the intent of the researcher is
3. Understand complex buying cycles and the possible touch points with search
4. Be prepared to build relationships with search leads
5. Don’t ask for too much too soon.
This week, I wrap up with the last five rules:
6. Understand the Complexity of the Keyword Universe. B2B marketplaces provide a significant challenge in determining the keywords used to find a product or service. These are often complex, non-commoditized solutions. In many cases, they’re new technology. This means that a common vocabulary hasn’t evolved around them. When you’re selling shoes, you know that everyone calls them shoes. But when you’re selling software that enables real time inventory tracking and just in time product delivery, the name tag you pin on that isn’t as easy.
First of all, there’s often a difference between what the vendor might call the product and what the potential customer might call it. And when it comes to intercepting search traffic, the customer is ALWAYS right. I don’t care what your internal rules are for referring to your product. I don’t care how you position yourself against the competitors and what your unique competitive advantage is, even if your marketing team has cleverly baked it right into your product name. It really doesn’t matter–if no one is searching for it. First match the vocabulary of your customer, and then worry about differentiating yourself.
The second challenge is that if you have a new solution, potential customers might not even know they’re looking for it. Often you have to position yourself at the pain point, or that of a more commonly known solution, and then try to divert them to your site. Just remember, the closer you can align to the customer’s thinking in your search listing messaging, the more successful you’ll be in capturing the click.
7. Know the roles of general and vertical search portals. The more complex the solution, the more likely it is that your potential customers will be researching their options online. This means that two distinct types of search portals will come into play. Early in the process, everyone will turn to his favorite search engine. And from past research, we know that the overwhelming winner in the B2B category is Google.
But complex purchases mean that prospects will want to check features and compare their alternatives. They’ll also want to see how others feel about your product and service. They’ll be looking for functionality and a depth of information that a general search property just can’t provide, and that is when they’ll go vertical.
The next step in the research process is to find the sites that list the alternatives and provide the opportunity to compare them head to head. And if you’re looking to intercept them, you should really be in both places.
To identify these all-important vertical properties, you can do three things. First of all, once you identify the right key phrases, do searches for them on the major engines, particularly Google. See which vertical reference sites come to the top of the listings. These are the ones your potential customers will be clicking through to. Secondly, ask your existing customers how they found you, and what sites they tend to refer to. Thirdly, use a service like Hitwise or comScore’s qSearch to find out what the heavily trafficked sites in your vertical are. Identify the most likely places to intercept your prospects.
8. Realize that education is a necessary evil. Much as we’d like the prospect to buy immediately, it just isn’t that likely in a complex buying situation. They’re going to be spending a lot of time researching and educating themselves on the ins and outs of your product and on what you can provide as a vendor. If you accept this as a given, then you can start tailoring your search campaign to facilitate it.
Remember that the intent of search visitors will usually be education, not purchase. Make sure you’re giving them this option. Make the education path a rich relationship development pipeline, not an obstacle path that has to be navigated. Encourage further education opportunities through your landing pages.
But–and this is vitally important–don’t offer so many possible paths that the visitor gives up and abandons the site. Use effective branching and messaging to allow users to get to what they’re looking for without having to interpret a lot of corporate doublespeak and marketing jargon.
9. Be prepared to lose control. This one is a tough one for the sales department. Accept the fact that you’re not at the wheel, your prospect is. The fact that this is a complex sale, the fact that they’re looking for more information, and the fact that they’re going to be spending a long time in making their decision all indicate they’ll be setting their own pace and contacting you when they’re ready.
Embrace and facilitate this. Understand where a search-generated lead will be entering your pipeline. Know what they’ll be looking for. Be comfortable letting them guide the relationship and give them every opportunity to build that relationship. This is much more like farming than hunting. Plant the seeds, nurture them and let nature take its course. If you try to force the prospect’s hand, you could push them right into the arms of your competitors.
10. Understand the buying process of your prospect, but don’t surrender to it. The bigger and more complex the sale, the more cumbersome the buying process. The better you understand this process, the more likely you will be to make the process work in your favor.
If what you sell typically goes to RFP, help facilitate the process, but stack the odds in your favor. Help the prospect define the core set of criteria, ensuring that your unique competitive advantage is on the list. If they’re coming to you after they already have their preferred vendor, redefine the pain in a way that puts you at an advantage. This means maintaining a tricky balance between being helpful and not being too obvious in pushing your sales message. The best way to maintain this balance is to step through the paths you’re presenting to your prospects in their mindset. Be mindful of the process they’re going through, and see if you’re presenting a path that’s helpful and believable.
Using search as a B2B lead-gen channel provides some unique challenges, but it can be very powerful. These are purchases that require a significant amount of online research. We know that’s a perfect fit for search, but just be prepared to be patient for the payoff.