Understanding the Buying Process Online, Part III: Specific Interest & Search


In part II of Understanding the Buying Process Online;  we reviewed from a sales & marketing perspective, the importance of being discovered as early in the buying process as possible. In that post we covered creating overall awarness, interest and even curiosity through push marketing online.

In part III; we’ll talk about the second phase of the buying process – specific interest and search. This is the phase where your potential customer is getting more proactive in their information research. We’ll also introduce more “pull” marketing tactics in addition to maintaining the “push” initiatives.

Buy-Cycle Phase 2: Specific Interest & Search

As potential customers “get serious” about their interest in a topic; they begin to become more proactive and specific in their research online and potentially more urgent in their need for relevant information or solutions. Various research studies, surveys and opinions indicate that b2b professionals go online first anywhere from 85-95% of the time they have a specific interest or need.

In most cases, their activity begins on a search engine (either a general search engine such as Google or Yahoo!, or a B2B search engine such as Globalspec, Business.com, Knowledgestorm etc.). The exact percent of individuals who use a search engine at this phase varies greatly from study to study; with ranges from 65 – 85%; however no study pegs this number at “100%”; meaning resources like industry portals, community sites, B2B sites and vendor websites are still the first choice option for some professionals; but search engines remain the choice of the majority.

As a result, at this stage most marketers put the emphasis of their online budgets against search engines. However, too often the “last click” from a search engine gets all the credit for ultimately creating a sale, even though the conversion was the outcome of multiple influences over time. A study by the Atlas Institute titled “How Overlap Impacts Reach, Frequency and Conversions,” asserts that 90 percent of the clients that converted were reached by placements other than the last ad seen, and that far too often the proper credit for the sale is inappropriately given to search. The study found that two out of three clients who eventually took a responsive action were reached by ads across multiple portal sites before actually going on to ultimately make a purchase. To understand how the credit for the sale is “unfairly” being attributed to Google; consider this “offline” analogy:

You’re headed to the supermarket to buy some food and on your way in you see the big sign in the window advertising Hamburger for $3.99 a pound. You need some anyway and it was on your “list” so you buy it. In the online world, which measures the last ad seen, that sign alone would be given credit for your purchases in the store. But it’s quite likely that you were going shopping in the first place because you saw something in the weekend circular that you wanted to buy or maybe you heard a radio ad or your spouse asked you etc. Under the last-ad-seen model, the circular ad is worth nothing and everything else far less than the ad for hamburger hanging in the storefront window. Using this analogy; you can see the danger of relying on the last ad seen as not all advertising is intended to be immediate direct response; and the same can be said for online advertising.

Marketing Tactic Considerations:

Based on the overwhelming use of search engines by potential customers in this phase; search engine campaigns (both paid and unpaid) should be considered to ensure you are visible when individuals are searching by keywords. You should also continue to consider

e-newsletter campaigns to targeted prospects and customers and targeted banner advertising on industry portals and b2b sites to ensure your message is getting in front of individuals using these resources to find solutions to their problems and answers to their research questions. These types of tactics are more often associated with the term “pull marketing”; as you are attempting to pull and attract “web surfers” to your website when they have a need vs. “pushing” your message to them and trying to stimulate a need.

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