Tips for Using B2B Internet Marketing to Influence the Business Customer

B2B internet marketing has lagged behind B2C marketing online, mostly because in the large business space a purchase often has a longer and more complex sales cycle: it is less likely to be spontaneous and may involve multiple buyers in the decision process.

However, a number of studies have shown that B2B technical buyers' primary influence is from online information rather than offline. So it's important for your B2B marketing strategies to include the internet as a primary point of influence for customers throughout the purchase cycle. This is particularly true for technology products such as software and services.

The B2B Purchase Process

B2B purchase decisions typically involve 3 or 4 types of buyers, and your B2B internet marketing strategy must consider how to reach out to each type:

  • economic buyer (controls the budget),
  • technical buyer (responsible for identifying the right technical solution, evaluating products from a technical perspective),
  • user buyer (the actual end user of the product, or their manager - evaluates the usage of the product for the desired business purpose).
  • internal coach or champion - someone within the customer account who has a vested interest in the purchase of the product. Could be the same as one of the previous 3 buyers.

Also, because more and more of the purchase decision process occurs online, your B2B internet marketing strategy must include providing relevant information to help your prospective customer through each of the four stages of the purchase cycle:

  • Awareness - first learn about needs/opportunities, learn about pain that needs solving,
  • Research - data gathering on possible solutions, creating short list,
  • Negotiation - reviewing details of vendor short list, negotiating specific proposals to decide on the best option,
  • Purchase - approval of purchase & completion of paperwork for procurement of solution

Top Influencers of the B2B Technical Buyer

Here are some key data points from studies of business buyer decision making, and the top tips to keep in mind as you develop your B2B internet marketing strategy:

  • Over 80% of prospective customers initiate the first contact with the vendor (only after doing some online research) versus the vendor initiating the first contact (via a brochure, direct mail, tradeshow, etc). This has a couple of key implications for your B2B internet marketing approach: you have much less control over their first encounter with your company or product name (they may not even come into your website through your homepage);these leads are already quite informed about your product and will be quickly turned off by "generic" sales pitches.... they are looking for specifics.
  • Top online influencers for technical buyers are the search engines, with Google preferred, followed by vendor websites, and distributor websites a close third. Less important were offline influencers like tradeshows and even colleague or consultant recommendations.
  • Largest offline influencers are peer opinions and trade shows/publications.

My Top 7 Tips for B2B Internet Marketing

Tip #1: Focus on Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing is critical for your website success... the is the #1 source of data for B2B technical buyers today.

Tip #2: Have detailed company and product information easily available on your website

  • Research shows to keep a B2B homepage simple. Multi-column layouts are too busy for many potential customers who are looking for easy-to-find information about your company and product. Graphics are fine, but only that which relates directly to your product and business.
  • Technical buyers are looking for meat (product specs, vendor comparisons, whitepaper downloads, pricing, case studies, testimonials) and not sales information. Buyers now are gathering this information from the web and making vendor short lists before even connecting with vendor sales people. If you don't have it on your website, you might not even make the first cut.
  • A good way to think of the data you need to influence a technical buyer: consider the information typically requested in a RFP. 80% of those questions are the same regardless of the specific customer and need. You should have the data to answer those common 80% already on your website. This helps your customer get the information they need before they even go to RFP... and it will help you when it comes time to respond to an RFP.

Tip #3: Testimonials are an important influencer on your website

But don't "hide" them on a Testimonials page only. In addition, weave customer stories throughout your site on the pages where each particular testimonial is the most relevant. For example, if you have a testimonial on how great your customer service is, put it on your customer service page. If you have product-specific testimonials, put them on the relevant product page, etc.

Best of all are testimonials that address a particular area of concern that prospective customers may have. For example, for a SaaS product that might be security of their hosted data. Put that testimonial on the page where the prospective customer's concern may be raised.

Tip #4: Stay on top of the online reputation of your company

Use the Google Alert tool to monitor your company name & variations, your product/service name, names of key employees, and names of your competitors: www.google.com/alerts .

Tip #5: Piggyback your distributor websites

Since distributor websites are a close third to your website and the search engines, pay attention to ways you can take advantage of distributor websites in your marketing strategy. This is especially important if your distributor has a larger brandname or presence than you do.

  • ensure a consistent message about your brand and products;
  • incorporate branding tied into any existing branding campaigns;
  • provide distributors with marketing materials such as press releases, testimonials etc to use on their website;
  • consider co-hosting a webinar with your distributor.

Tip #6: Use social media... where it makes sense

Consider how your B2B technical buyers utilize social media in your segment. For most B2B companies, this will be LinkedIn, but don't rule out other social media also if it is important for your buyers. I do believe all software companies should have a social media marketing strategy, even if it's not a heavy focus. Here is what your B2B internet marketing using social media should include:

  • company blog,
  • online forums,
  • wikis,
  • Webcasts and podcasts,
  • social networking portals (ITtoolbox, LinkedIn, Mzinga),
  • social news aggregators (Digg, Mixx, Del.icio.us, Newsvine, Yahoo Buzz, Reddit),
  • video sharing (YouTube).

Tip #7: Sponsor or encourage reviews and testimonials in 3rd party publications or sites

As the technical buyer is short-listing vendors in the Research phase, secondary influencers also become important: online trade publications, business publications, etc. They are looking for independent validation of the information they have found on your website, and third party reviews or testimonials on your product or service.

Focus on these 7 tips, and you can develop a comprehensive B2B internet marketing strategy that will provide the key information to the technical buyer at each of the four stages in the purchase cycle, hopefully allowing you to influence their decision in your favor.

RETURN FROM B2B INTERNET MARKETING TO MARKETING PLAN PAGE

RETURN FROM B2B INTERNET MARKETING TO SOFTWARE MARKETING HOMEPAGE

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