How to Optimize B-to-B Online Marketing Strategies

Apr 16, 2012 1:46 AM  By

In today’s b-to-b space, online marketing activities continue to play secondary or support roles to catalog mailings and telemarketing. So it’s not surprising that many b-to-b marketers acknowledge some confusion about how best to manage their multichannel environments, particularly when it comes to allocating marketing spending between offline and online activities.


Optimizing offline/online marketing synergies and spending allocations is best tackled in two parts: Putting best-practices metrics in place, and using those metrics to hone your online strategies for supporting core marketing channels, acquiring new customers and maximizing repeat orders/lifetime value.

Sorting out metrics
More effective online strategies begin with defining, measuring and analyzing the ROI of each multichannel marketing activity. B-to-b merchants are well positioned to master these complex analyses, given their close monitoring of sales pipelines and strong traditional direct marketing and metrics skills.

Here are three critical points to keep in mind:

1. Distinguish between order taking and order generating. While many b-to-b merchants take more than 50% of their orders online, few generate even 10% of their orders and new customers through online channels. The key is to closely analyze where orders originate and assign them to their appropriate categories.

Generally, online orders and new customers that result from visitors who come to your site via direct-entry of the brand’s URL or through a branded search (mostly the company name or some derivative) should be defined as having been generated by offline activities. Reason: In most cases, some offline marketing expenditure drove those searches. Conversely, orders/customers coming from non-branded searches, pay-per-click/PPC ads or other online advertising sources or links should be considered the result of those online marketing activities/spending. While there are always exceptions, these basic guidelines serve most b-to-b’s well.

2.Quantify share-of-search (SOS). Each month, “X” number of searches take place on the web using search terms that are relevant to your business. That search universe of qualified prospects needs to be quantified and related to the number of unique, non-branded search visitors who visit your site, to determine your “share-of-search” or “SOS” percentage. This represents your current total, non-branded traffic opportunity. For most b-to-b marketers, it’s an eye-opener to see how low that percentage is. However, improving SOS performance is also one of today’s biggest b-to-b opportunities.

3. Quantify customer values. Analyze at least one to two years of customer data to determine the average order values (AOVs) and projected lifetime values (LTVs) for new customers acquired from all online and offline sources. Generally, both the AOVs and LTVs of those acquired from online sources (non-branded search, PPC) are substantially lower—by as much as 30% to 80%—than those for customers acquired from offline sources (catalog mailings, direct URL entry, branded search, phone response, etc.). As you would expect, these differences in customer quality or value have significant impacts on the ROI analysis.

Developing the online strategy
Once you’ve employed the right metrics to understand your true current position in the online world, you can begin to formulate your strategy.

Any plan is likely to have three elements:

1. Providing online support for core marketing channels: Knowing that most online orders originate from offline sources, are you properly serving all customers who elect to use the web as their order channel? Ask yourself:

  • Is your site as user-friendly and intuitive as it can be?
  • Can offline-driven customers find all the services/information they need, including catalog quick order, account history and contract pricing?
  • Is your site’s functionality current with leading-edge sites and best practices? Ideally, it should offer the following:

* Sophisticated site search
* Dynamic imaging
* Smart carts
* Multiple payment options
* Upsell and cross-sell abilities
* Customer ratings and reviews
* Purchase order planner (“wish list” in b-to-c)
* Triggered emails based on site activity

Frequently, ecommerce platforms fall behind because companies are struggling to keep up with reprogramming their sites’ functionalities. In that case, rather than continuing to “reinvent the wheel,” it might be time to consider using one of the leading-edge ecommerce packages available in the market.

Once you’re sure that your site’s functionality is in order, focus on whether your search-engine optimization/SEO and PPC keywords and campaign strategies align appropriately with your offline initiatives.

It’s critical to be very aware that, across all searches, more than 50% of clickthroughs go to the top-three positions on page one of search results.

If you’re dedicating premium catalog space to specific, high-value products, are your online campaigns designed so that those products appear in those critical top search-results positions? Just as important, are you driving searchers to relevant, actionable product or landing pages, or just hoping that they’ll navigate their way through your site to find what they’re looking for?

3. Finding new customers. Again, the big online opportunity for most b-to-b merchants lies in acquiring customers through non-branded search sources by increasing share-of-search. SOS is a function of many variables, including offer, page indexing, page ranking, search position achieved, meta-data presented and others.

There are two fronts to address:

Honing SEO: Achieving and holding onto those top first-page search positions is difficult. The keys are leveraging relevant content and getting it SEO-optimized.

Content needs to be converted into readily-digestible online formats that encourage clickthroughs and sharing (press releases, product information summaries, slide presentations, videos, etc.). Then it needs to be presented not only on the website, but through blogs and social networks. This increases reach to the prospecting universe, enabling the content—and ultimately the full site—to be discovered through non-branded searches.

B-to-b SEO experts have made great strides. Use their expertise to learn how best to leverage your content and offer and optimize the technical aspects of search.

Return on SEO investments should be compared to the return on prospect mail, taking the LTVs of newly acquired customers from each channel into account.

Honing PPC advertising: Here again, the focus should be on non-branded terms and your competitors’ branded terms. You need to deliver searchers to the landing page most relevant to their search terms, whether that’s a specially-designed page or a product-specific page.

Two overall points to keep in mind about online acquisition: First, spending on development/honing of SEO and PPC should be considered prospecting investments. They are adjuncts or partial alternatives to prospect mail or hiring more telephone sales reps, and should compete with those tactical alternatives for the marketing budget dollar.

Second, resist the temptation to simply swap offline marketing dollars for online spend. Too often, successful direct marketers opt to cut 10% to 20% of the catalog budget to divert funds to SEO or PPC, only to see their site traffic and orders fall off. Before radically altering your spending mix, be certain that you’re comfortable with online’s true percentage contributions to generating or creating orders versus facilitating or taking orders.

Improving customer retention/order frequency
Effective online strategies also include investments in keeping customers coming back to your site.

Investigate the many ways to make sites “sticky,” such as offering account summaries/analyses (think AmEx), fresh content (news, continuous training, problem-solving guides, etc.), and various continuity or auto-ship programs or benefits. Offline marketing programs that encourage return visits to the site are also good investments. One possibility: including offers in your mailings for special, limited-time deals that are available only online.

Integrating offline and online tactics
Increasingly, b-to-b merchants are employing cross-channel tactics to maximize synergies and their joint marketing-investment returns. Some examples:


1. Call first-time web buyers. Segment these customers into those originating from branded and non-branded searches, and call each group. Confirm and thank them for their orders, then sell them on the benefits of your company to help differentiate it from other web sellers of your products.

The pitch to each group should be somewhat tailored, reflecting that the branded searchers know something about your company, while the non-branded searchers know little or nothing about it.

Segmenting the calls also allows you to measure results from the two groups. (Ideally, you should also measure results down to the search-term level, to gauge the terms’ relative productivity.)

2. Incentivize second orders. New customers acquired online generally have far lower second-order conversion rates than those acquired offline. Make sure that they are offered a bigger incentive to buy a second time, and that you include your “brand sell” in their first shipments.

Also be aware that the speed of second order often has a direct influence on LTV. Measure your incentive discounts against actual second-order rates and time-to-second-order rates, and the corresponding impacts on LTV.

3. Mail web buyers. While it may seem counterintuitive to mail a catalog to a (thus-far) web-only buyer, doing so generally boosts the conversion or second-order rate, as well as the LTV. The results nearly always justify the mailing costs. This is why savvy marketers continue to mail an online buyer until the customer asks not to be mailed (which seldom happens).

4. Offer problem-solving content, a free reference catalog and free product samples to qualified online prospects. Like space ads in relevant trade publications, your website has great potential for generating qualified inquiries. And because online prospects often search based on their specific problems (how do I refill a fire extinguisher? find a replacement part for my laser printer? fix a submersible pump?), your online content offerings should target problem search terms, as well as solution or product search terms.

5. Produce videos of your informational content, and promote them in your catalog. Create your own YouTube channel and make it a reference library for your customers and prospects. (YouTube now claims to be the second-largest search engine, after Google.) Start by searching your competitors and suppliers on YouTube to scope out what’s currently being offered.

Videos will improve your communications (yes, a picture really is worth a thousand words); better leverage your catalog space (“See our video of this product online/on YouTube”); and showcase your industry expertise to differentiate you from the hordes of “online box pushers” with whom you now compete.

6. Consider using QR codes. Using QR or other 2D barcodes in your catalogs and/or print ads might well prove beneficial in driving business prospects to your videos and other online content.

What’s next?
Today, we have co-op prospecting databases in which names are enhanced with RFM and product-purchase data provided by multiple b-to-b direct marketers.

In the future, web transaction data will be added to these databases, enabling marketers to answer questions such as:

  • Are these names primarily Web buyers (and if so, what are their RFM’s online versus offline)?
  • How many times did these names visit a co-op database member’s site this month?
  • How much collective time did they spend online, how long are their typical sessions, and how many pages did they view?
  • Are they branded or non-branded searchers?
  • Are they multi- or single-channel responders?
  • How do their order-channel choices and/or online activities correlate to their ages?

The availability of shared, integrated, cross-channel segmentation data in co-ops will drive new leaps forward in segmentation capabilities, marketing strategies and results.

Terry Jukes is president of B2B Direct Marketing Intelligence LLC. Mark Zilling, Sr. is SVP and partner at MeritDirect.