Articles > Overcoming the Challenges of B2B Search Engine Marketing

When I first joined the Closed Loop Marketing team in February 2007, I came with 3 years of online marketing experience. I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to start fine-tuning our clients’ pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns to maximize ROI.

However, with all this helpful prior knowledge and experience, I was faced with one hurdle to jump. The agency I had worked for previously dealt mostly with B2C clients. Closed Loop Marketing on the other hand has a much greater mix of B2B clients – and highly technical ones at that.

The good news is that the core principles of managing PPC to strategic ROI goals remain the same, regardless of B2B or B2C – develop a highly targeted keyword list, write clear and compelling ad descriptions, design a landing page experience that is optimized for conversion and track, track, track (just to name a few).

With that being said, there definitely are some unique challenges to B2B search engine marketing when compared to its consumer counterpart. However, if you can redefine your expectations and approach to better meet the B2B audience, then you will find like I did that it is not nearly as intimidating as it may seem at first glance.

Challenge #1:

More complex services and products to market

With B2B, gone are the days of marketing familiar, comfortable products and services like Las Vegas hotel rooms or North Face jackets (speaking from past PPC experience with former clients). I have personally bought clothing online. I have also researched and booked hotels online more times than I can count; therefore I have the mindset of that B2C searcher and this makes setting up and managing a B2C PPC campaign that much easier.

B2B marketers are instead faced with marketing complex concepts such as WAN optimization services, corporate data loss prevention, and software build solutions to name a few (this time speaking from current client experience). Getting into the mind of this potential customer requires extra effort and brain power – BUT it can be done.

How? Read, read, read! Read the company website for starters. If the company website doesn’t convey the topic well enough for a person outside or new to the industry to fully understand, do more reading elsewhere. Read competitors’ websites – perhaps they have more information that you can latch on to for clarity. Read industry articles. And even though Wikipedia has become somewhat of a bad word in the search engine marketing industry (SEOs are tired of Wikipedia showing up #1 for anything and everything in Google organic results), I know for sure that I understood ‘Wide Area Network’ concepts much better after reading a more common-speak explanation of the topic here.

As you read, take notes jotting down important phrases that spring up in the copy – these phrases will be the springboard for your future PPC keyword list.

Also, ask for every piece of marketing collateral that you can get your hands on to read – be it direct mail, email, print, you name it. It is helpful to read how the company speaks to their customers in other mediums.

And of course, if you’re an agency meet with the client for a kick-off meeting and be sure that THEY are prepared with their own information to present in order to get you off on the right foot to understanding their offerings and key business objectives.

Challenge #2:

Higher costs per conversion than B2C.

Profitable costs per conversion (costs per lead) for B2B campaigns are often $50 to $100 to $200 or more depending on the product… whereas B2C advertisers are used to acquisition costs that are MUCH, much lower (not as a rule, but typically).

If you think about it, it is quite logical to expect higher costs per acquisition for a B2B campaign. This isn’t a $100 hotel room that you’re trying to sell online – it is often times an enterprise solution that costs tens of thousands of dollars in many cases. If a lead that you spend $50-$100 to capture online turns into a $10,000 closed deal, that’s a pretty phenomenal ROI!

Find out what the typical cost per lead is from the company’s current marketing channels – online and offline. This will at least give you a baseline goal to aim for initially. More often than not, you’re going to find that you will far surpass this initial goal, given a well set-up PPC campaign that is tracked religiously and refined over time for optimal ROI. Why? Because it’s just plain hard to beat a marketing channel where the customer is actively searching for you and you’re just putting yourself out there for the taking. Doesn’t get much better than that… which is why B2B PPC often produces a lower cost per conversion than other B2B online and offline channels.

Challenge #3:

Landing pages that service, rather than sell.

Many B2B advertisers are not out to push an immediate sales transaction online, because their products and services are not of that nature. The initial goal is to capture a lead, not an on-the-spot sale. You want to expose your brand and product/service to this potential customer who is searching explicitly for your offerings, with the goal of becoming part of their initial consideration set.

For this reason, many B2B companies build landing pages around lead generation forms. The offer received upon form completion (lead capture) can be an industry whitepaper, a free trial, a free evaluation or some other type of informational resource.

What good does this do? The answer is well summed up in a Search Engine Watch blog post by Eric Enge, Selling or Servicing?. Granted this article is more geared toward SEO and your website as a whole, but the principles certainly apply when you’re thinking about your approach to B2B landing pages:

Provide the best, and most accessible, information. Teach them what they need to know to become a smart buyer. Provide useful tools. Do a good job with this, and you will begin to build a relationship with that person, and trust.

If they learn everything they need to know on your site, your chances of moving to the next step with them is greatly increased.Whether you are selling leads, providing services, selling products, or whatever, it doesn’t matter. The big winners will focus on servicing their users, not selling to them.

In line with this ‘servicing’ approach, it’s important to note that in the B2B world, the people viewing and clicking through on your PPC ads are often the company influencers – NOT the CEO and decision makers. These influencers are tasked with researching possible solutions with the goal of bringing back their top recommendations for the decision makers.

For this reason, it is quite important to make sure that your landing pages and the offer itself do a good job of servicing the influencer. The landing page and resources you are giving them should provide the key, persuasive information needed to make a ‘yes’ decision about your product – or at least a strong ‘maybe’ that will then be compared and contrasted to other solutions in the decision making process. Include industry information and research that the searcher may not find elsewhere, main features and benefits of your products/services, free trials if possible, comparisons to competitors if relevant and even pricing when you can (even if it is just a range).

Challenge #4:

Longer sales cycles leading to harder to measure ROI.

Quite simply a $10K enterprise-level solution doesn’t sell overnight. The days of instant gratification are gone.

Well not entirely… With B2B, you do at least get the instant gratification of having a form completion for a whitepaper download or demo view show up in your PPC interface as a conversion. But when it comes to getting true revenue numbers that can be translated to concrete ROI calculations, it can take several months or more for this to happen depending on the company’s typical sales cycle.

Therefore, back-end closed-loop tracking is necessary. Make sure that all leads are properly tagged in the lead management system your company or client is using – be it Salesforce or a home-grown proprietary lead tracking system. By doing so, not only will you know which campaigns are converting to a form completion on the front end given your PPC tracking codes, but you will also be able to track that lead all the way through to close in the lead management system. This is so very important, given the fact that true ROI only comes about when that person who completed your lead generation form months ago, finally bites the bullet and signs the dotted line for a sale.

In closing, I am happy to say that I now find B2B search marketing to be just as engaging as my old B2C comfort zone. And most importantly it proves consistently to be a highly profitable marketing channel for each of our B2B clients! My trepidation went away when I redefined my expectations and tackled the new challenges head-on with new strategies in-hand.

Along the way I’ve read some insightful articles that have helped shape and guide my thinking about B2B search marketing. Here is a compilation of resources that are definitely worth the read, all courtesy of Search Engine Land:

Driving Online Registrations: Think Beyond the White Paper
Four Steps to Better Business Leads from Search
Leveraging Existing Assets for B2B SEO
Better B2B Landing Pages: A Case Study
Marketing Sherpa’s Business Technology Marketing Benchmark Guide

Lastly, I’ll be in San Francisco October 29-30 for a great opportunity to catch up on the latest in B2B at MarketingSherpa’s B-to-B Demand Generation Summit 2007. If MarketingSherpa’s quality of products, handbooks and guides are any indication of the quality of their conferences, the Summit should be well worth the while.

Stay tuned early November, as I will be sure to provide a recap from the event with the key takeaways…