A Closer Look At Business to Business Marketing

    August 4, 2004

Are you properly managing your pipeline? Are you jumping the gun and losing valuable clients? What does search mean to B2B marketing? These are the types of questions asked in answered in Tuesday’s SES Business to Business Forum.

The B2B marketer is faced with a laundry list of challenges but among the most fundamental issues they face is the effective development and management of the pipeline of prospects. A successful B2B marketer must be able to develop their customers over a lengthy sales process or cycle. This sales cycle will vary greatly between industries, business and even among products for the same business.

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Karen Breen Vogel, CEO of B2B works and the first speaker on the forum panel observes, “Most B2B marketers are responsible for the pipelines in their companies. They are not responsible for sales; they are responsible for the vitality of the pipeline.” Pipeline management is vital in a protracted buy cycle, and B2B clients often have elaborate buy cycles for a number of reasons. First, B2B clients tend to be in the market for high-ticket items. Generally clients making large-scale purchases have substantial review and approval processes. Solid understanding where your prospect stands in their own internal process is invaluable for good pipeline management as it helps you put a value on their position in your pipeline.

A second factor determining where your prospect’s placement and progression in your pipeline falls is the relative measure of their interest when they enter. In other words, some prospects are simply going to be casually exploring solutions for conceptual projects (low end of the spectrum) whereas others may have completed their internal processes and are simply comparison shopping price points (high end of the spectrum). The space in between will probably represent the bulk of your pipeline. Karen points out “people in buying cycles aren’t ready to buy but they are ready to do something you have to provide these people with lots of options. There is a lot of middle ground to be covered in the B2B environment.” A successful B2B marketer should be able to engage a prospect and cultivate their progression through the pipeline at every level of interest, not simply the extremes.

Pipeline management is essentially the same for online and offline so what does search add to the mix? Karen lauds search as “the ultimate buyer mediated medium. This is for the first time, a medium where the seller is not initiating the process.” Search gives the B2B marketer a source for pre-qualified prospects. B2B marketer’s primary concern being the pipeline, search is an outstanding tool for giving your new prospects the ability to place themselves in your pipeline.

B2B marketers working with search shouldn’t get caught up in the B2C marketer’s domain of volume/quantity of leads. Karen has an idea about conversion vastly different from that of the B2C world and reminds our group “you are not measuring clicks, you are not measuring sales. In B2B, a conversion is probably that you have somebody opt-in to get some more information.” B2B marketers should concern themselves with maintaining the quality of the prospect and giving that prospect adequate opportunity to enter your pipeline and tools to help gauge their interest level. “You’re really trying to get them to say; I’m willing to talk to you again’.” As a matter of fact, Karen goes a bit further telling us that low volume is actually preferred. If you are spending money on keyword buys in pay per click models, the last thing you want is a flood of unqualified prospects (that you’re paying for) muddying the waters. You already have your hands full if you’re managing your qualified leads effectively. Sifting through a large volume of unqualified leads is counter-productive and once they start to roll in, it is sometimes difficult to get them to stop. As Karen put it, “you’re out there to get things to happen, but you’re also out there to get things not to happen in a B2B assignment”.

Mike is a manager at iEntry. He has been with iEntry since 2000.