There is an interesting article at eMarketer by Dave Hallerman published last summer called "Finding the B2B Marketer." There are a lot of great charts (such as the one to the left) showing where business decision makers (BDMs) look online to search, find information, compare and potentially buy. Not surprisingly, Search and particularly Google come up at the top of the list. It also points that (at least as of last summer) businesses were not optimizing for search.
There is another article recently posted at marketingpower.com that claims that online advertising is much more effective on branded original content sites than on portal sites or search sites. I guess my reaction to that article is--yeah, no kidding. But search sites are still incredible important because most of the time people are clicking on the search results, not the ads on the side. However, there are instances where the paid ads are powerful, such as when a BDM types "marketing analytics optimization" into Google and gets five vendors on the right side. I bet some of those make his short list.
This is all interesting information, and there's a lot more of it out there online, but I think it points out the need for longitudinal tracking of B2B searching and buying behavior online. My hunch is that the influencer communities, both formal and informal, are becoming more and more important in searching for solutions. I'd define formal influencer communities as those like LinkedIn or more specific industry-specific communities such as the CMO Council; I'd define informal communities as largely those loose affiliations of sites in the blogosphere (such as the B2B marketing community of which this site is a part.)
My other hunch is that the relationship between third party communities and manufacturer sites is critically important. If it's true that BDMs start by searching, hit 10-20 relevant third party sites, and then develop a short list of candidates, what are they using manufacturer sites for? I'd argue that the main purposes at this point are likely:
- Establishing credibility
- Anticipating and answering technical and business solution questions clearly
- Providing a clear path forward (e.g. demo, live chat, 1-800 number, etc.) to avoid the stale lead syndrome
Clearly, it's important to get a high site ranking in search--but I'd argue it's just as important to make sure that all paths lead to the manufacturer site. This means, once again, mastery of the influencer communities first and providing a credible path forward on the manufacturing site second.
So I guess the point I'd like to make is this--if anyone knows of a solid longitudinal tracking study focused on BDMs' online behavior I'd love a comment on it. It could be a really powerful piece of analysis that would have a big impact on how online marketers spend their energy in the B2B space. If not, I think there needs to be a good study done on how BDMs are changing in how they search, evaluate and buy using the Internet... it's changing every day.