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The Power of Search Within a Complex Sales Cycle

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Now that we know that 85% of B2B customers use the Internet at some point during the buying process, why is it that so many business executives still contend that online marketing "doesn't work" for businesses with enterprise solutions or complex sales cycles?

Are Businesses Too Slow to Adapt?

When the Internet first started taking hold in the late '90s, the sites that were best known were retail sites. Could it be that's still influencing our perception of who should advertise online? Or is it simply that it's easier to continue down a path that's well-known and comfortable (traditional advertising and marketing), versus taking a chance on something that's less familiar but may ultimately be yield better results?

Whatever the reason, we now know that online marketing, and specifically search engine marketing, is highly effective in driving sales for businesses with complex sales cycles.

The Facts About B2B Search Engine Marketing


According to a 2004 StatMarket report, 64% of B2B users make search their first stop when researching a new product or service for their company. That's more than manufacturer sites, industry portals, consumer review sites or even e-commerce sites directly selling the product.

Only search engine marketing has the remarkable ability to put your product, services and offerings in front of people at that crucial time when they are interested in what you offer and are open to listening to what you have to say.

Taking Advantage at Every Stage

Every sales cycle—whether it's days, weeks, or months—goes through various stages, from inception to close. Understanding how to market your business online positions you to take advantage of these stages and create leads every step of the way.

Stage 1. Creating awareness

Let's assume that your sales rep has made contact with a potential customer. Ask yourself, is he/she educating this potential customer about your specific brand or the value of your industry as a whole? Either way, if the information is new to that potential customer, and the rep is creating an awareness that didn't exist prior to the sales call.

This is your rep's first opportunity to place your business squarely in front of potential customers, since they'll likely search for both your company as well as your industry online.

Stage 2. Internal discussions and due diligence

At this point, potential customers are going to determine whether your product or service is something that they may actually need. To answer that question, they'll likely need to do a cursory amount of research, which will take place online.

So, your sales rep has either initiated a sales cycle that you may ultimately close... or lose. If your competitors are marketing online and you aren't, or aren't doing it effectively, you may have just driven business to your competitor's site as your potential client researches your industry.

That was your first opportunity to...

  • Impress a potential client by appearing online during their search
  • Lose a potential client to a competitor, even though your sales rep created the awareness of your product or service
  • Be the company that markets effectively online, and position yourself to take potential business from your competitors

Stage 3. Serious interest is generated, and research and information gathering begins

Once a company has determined that services or products like yours may be suitable, it's during this stage of the sales cycle that you have the greatest opportunity to positively impact the decision-making process.

Online marketing positions you to attract qualified leads to your site from the following:

  • Those researching your competition
  • Those researching your offerings
  • Those ready to buy

This also has the added benefit of shortening your sales cycle, since in many cases your sales reps will be speaking with knowledgeable qualified leads who are closer to making a purchase.

Stage 4. Shortlist is created and decision is made

When potential customers are creating a shortlist, online marketing greatly increases your odds of being included on that list. If you don't appear during their search, it makes it very difficult for them to know you're out there. And that's your last chance to make an impression before they decide on a supplier.


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Roxanne Lott helps clients of online marketing firm Imerex, Inc. (www.imerex.com) with their Web sites' usability and effectiveness as a sales tool.

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