Recently, Enquiro, in conjunction with MarketingSherpa and Survey Sampling International, released a report entitled Marketing to a B2B Technical Buyer (requires registration). Comprised of roughly equal parts research report and Enquiro marketing perspectives, the document seeks to analyze the behaviors of B2B technical buyers and convey their priorities.
While there are a few interesting takeaways, there isn’t much in the research data that would surprise any seasoned B2B marketing professional. And despite the sheer volume of the document that portends the importance of the B2B technical buyer, the report fails to mention a key characteristic of the technical buyer:
The technical buyer can’t say yes.
The technical buyer is one of the parties involved in and influencing most B2B purchasing decisions. Her primary role is to vet potential suppliers, making sure suppliers’ offerings meet specifications established by the purchasing company. Sure, in addition to supplier research, the technical buyer often gets involved in identifying purchase alternatives and in making supplier recommendations, but her primary role is to say no, to separate wheat from chaff, to whittle the list of potential suppliers to a select few.
In the end, however, it is usually not the technical buyer making the ultimate purchase decision. This distinction is especially important in offline selling strategy, where most complex B2B sales are completed. As the selling process moves offline, remember to accurately identify the people and their respective roles. You can keep selling to the technical buyer until the cows come home, and she may become your biggest advocate, but if you fail employ a successful strategy for the economic buyer, you won’t get the sale.
Still an important influencer
Despite the technical buyer’s inability to ultimately pull the trigger on a purchase decision, she still plays a vital role, one you can’t ignore. In fact, if you don’t garner the recommendation of the technical buyer, or at least get on her short list, your chances of successfully influencing the economic buyer are slim.
The survey data confirms what many B2B marketing professionals already know. That is, technical buyers have a strong preference for white papers, product literature, case studies, and articles from industry journalists and analysts. That type of information helps technical buyers support their decisions and educate others involved in the purchase process.
Interestingly though, from our firm’s perspective, when B2B companies put this information online, they typically do a lousy job of optimizing such information for search engines. Often the optimization focus is on promotional pages of the website, with case studies and white papers taking a back seat, often relegated to non-optimized PDFs. If you’re going to place white papers, case studies, and articles on your site, be sure they’re optimized well. If this information resides in PDF form, make sure you optimize the pdf, not just for size, but, more importantly, for search engines. (For help with this, see 11 Tips for Optimizing PDFs for Search Engines.)
Sure, you could recommend paid search to compensate for poor optimization of these vehicles, but, rightly or wrongly, B2B companies are typically hesitant to spend money on paid search for something that isn’t going to create an immediate sale. Even if you did employ paid search to promote white papers, case studies, and articles, it is likely to have far less effect on the technical buyer than organic search. An earlier study by Enquiro indicates B2B buyers’ overwhelming preference for organic search results, citing 74% of people doing B2B purchase research click on an organic search result first.
Our professional experience also confirms this. During the purchase cycle, B2B buyers are looking for information to support a purchase decision, and they are far less likely to turn to paid search results for this information. They often view paid search results and someone trying to sell them something. Instead, they’re looking for more “objective” information, and tend to believe organic results have a greater likelihood of rendering such information. Indeed, Enquiro’s recent research indicates technical buyers are 10 percent less likely to click on sponsored links than the average B2B purchaser.
Other B2B search differences
Having a successful search marketing strategy for the different types of people influencing B2B purchases is just one of the key differences in B2B search marketing. For more information on other aspects, see our article comparing B2C and B2B SEO.