Search often plays a critical role in the B2bB sales cycle. But while many marketers use search during the research phase of the sales cycle, a competitive advantage can be achieved by getting in front of the potential customer during the awareness phase where they aren’t sure what the solutions are.
For B2Bs, sales cycles can be long, drawn out affairs spanning weeks, if not months. Although it’s important to leverage search in every stage of the sales cycle, the early stages are often neglected, creating opportunities for B2B marketers to get out in front of their competitors.
Search strategies should always be tailored the unique demands of each industry. But in general, there are three steps marketers can take to gain awareness phase access to these customers to create brand awareness, establish your company as a thought leader and generate leads.
1. Identify the Right Keywords
During the initial stage of the sales cycle, prospects begin to identify their pain points and explore possible solutions. Since B2B prospects are increasingly using search as a primary tool during this stage, marketers can use precise SEO as a way to achieve visibility during this stage – but only to the degree that they avoid terms and tactics that are geared toward a hard conversion.
Let’s say a shipping manager is interested in cutting costs and creating a more efficient shipping process. During the earliest stage of the sales cycle, his search terms might include “shipping efficiency”, “cutting costs” and other phrases related to the problem he is trying to solve.
If your firm sells shipping and logistics software solutions, you should identify the prospect’s most common search phrases rather than limiting early stage SEO to your product (e.g. “shipping and logistics software”) or branded keywords.
2. Target Prospect Pain Points
After you have identified your prospects’ typical pain points, the next step is to connect each of those pain points to your product or service. Remember: at this point the goal isn’t to seal the deal, but to present your product as a possible solution to the prospect’s problem(s).
You can accomplish this by creating optimized content that targets the pain points you have identified and ties them directly to your product or service. By applying best SEO practices to the content you create, your achieve brand visibility during a stage of the sales cycle when prospects are confirming their pain points and forming initial impressions about the marketplace.
3. Present Soft Calls to Action
Well optimized content that connects your product or service to targeted pain points will help drive prospects to the targeted landing pages on your company website. After they have arrived, it’s time to hit them with a hard call to action, right?
Unfortunately, that’s where many marketers go wrong, particularly during this stage of the sales cycle. Keeping in mind that prospects have arrived at your site long before they are prepared to make a purchase decision or a firm commitment, therefore, hard calls to action like “Buy Now” or “Click for a Quote” are inappropriate, at least for now.
A better approach is to leverage soft calls to action that direct the visitor to download a white paper or access additional content. Lead capture mechanisms are fair game as long as they don’t overwhelm the visitor with information requests or scare away prospects who aren’t ready to take next steps.
If it’s done right, early stage SEO lays a solid foundation for the rest of the sales cycle. But more importantly, it gives your brand a competitive edge early in the process and creates feeder channels for prospects, many of whom have attached your product or service to their specific pain points.