Make no mistake: Online, your success in converting interest into acquisition depends on your ability to connect with prospects precisely where they are in the buying process. B2B and B2C buyers go through similar stages in that process as they consider their purchasing decision: needs assessment, requirements analysis, evaluation, purchasing.

Using this model, there are four distinct methods you can use to successfully transition prospects from first click to conversion.

1. Optimization offers industry dominance

Recently, 93.4% of those surveyed by MarketingSherpa and Enquiro said they would use the Internet to research a major business decision. Research shows that your next customer likely started his/her needs analysis using generic search terms, and then refined it with increasingly narrower searches. This spiral search process underscores why creating dominance across a broad range of keywords is critical: You need to make sure that your next customer finds you on the first pass.

In fact, referring to the results of a 2006 GlobalSpec survey, ClickZ trend reporter Enid Burns writes that "traditional means of sourcing new suppliers, trade shows, sales calls and catalogs are being replaced by Web searches." When it comes to industrial equipment buyers, 73% look for new sources on search engines and online directories. Search engines are the first place to query for new vendors, and online industrial directories account for 21% of first searches. Burns goes on to write, "Online sources exceed initial searches through traditional channels like recommendations from colleagues, manufacturer sales calls, trade magazines, and direct mail."

Also of interest, the size of the purchase influences the length of time spent searching (and thus, the number of searches), according to a study from Enquiro. For purchases valued at $1,000 or less, 79% took place within just one month of the initial search. For purchases valued at over $50,000, 73% were made from two months up to a year after the initial search.

One of the indicators of how critical search marketing is the growing amount of money spent on online ad targeting. In a May 2006 report, eMarketer estimates that businesses will spend about $1.2 billion on behavioral targeted online advertising in 2006. By 2008, online ad spending will surpass the $2 billion mark.

In short, the more dominant your search engine presence, the more potential qualified clients you attract during the needs assessment phase of their purchasing decision—and, in fact, search engines are clearly the dominant means by which B2B customers find their vendors.

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Brian Dempsey is vice-president of client strategy with Red Clay Interactive. Find out more at