B-to-b marketers reaping benefits of online investment

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W.W. Grainger offers hundreds of thousands of maintenance, repair and operations products on its website and in its big red catalog. “We have more than 900,000 products we can get people on short notice,” said Paul Miller, Grainger's VP-e-commerce. Miller, whose previous experience includes stints at Williams-Sonoma Inc. and Sears Holdings Corp., has brought retail-influenced approaches to Grainger's search and interactive marketing. The company has purchased more granular search terms that refer specifically to individual products it offers to reach potential buyers further along in the sales funnel. Once those potential buyers are on the Grainger website, the focus is on making the experience as simple as possible with, for example, the availability of click-to-chat and click-to-call options. Grainger has also optimized its website for the BlackBerry and other mobile devices. “We're doing our thinking around customer experience,” Miller said. “We're doing all we can to help our customers make the right decisions.” Grainger's interactive focus is representative of many major b-to-b marketers these days. Other b-to-b giants, such as FedEx Corp. and General Electric Co., are investing more time and money in sophisticated interactive marketing approaches that at one time were generally the province of consumer marketers. “There is much more presence in digital channels,” said Sam Sebastian, Google Inc.'s director-B2B, government and local markets. Separate research reports from Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Byers Partner Mary Meeker, Forrester Research and Google indicate the increased emphasis on interactive marketing makes perfect sense because marketers are merely following the migration of media users and b-to-b buyers online. During her annual presentation at the Web 2.0 Summit in October, Meeker said the Web accounted for 25% of total time spent on media but only garnered 19% of total marketing spending. At the same time, mobile devices accounted for 8% of time spent but only 0.5% of total marketing spending. Meeker estimated marketers would need to spend an additional $20 billion on interactive marketing to catch up to Internet media usage. Forrester Research reached a similar conclusion, projecting that interactive marketing spending will grow to $76.6 billion by 2016 from an estimated $34.4 billion this year. Search giant Google has complemented this research with an in-depth study of how b-to-b buyers are accelerating their use of the Internet. The study, “Connecting With the Customer,” examines how b-to-b buyers use search, how they interact with marketer websites and how they incorporate online display, the mobile Web and social media when researching products. To complete the study, Google conducted online surveys with more than 1,600 b-to-b buyers in May and June. It also monitored traffic to an array of b-to-b websites using Compete Inc.'s U.S. Web panel of more than 2 million people. Not surprising, the research found that 71% of b-to-b buyers used the Internet when evaluating purchases. The Internet was the most popular form of media for b-to-b buyers; it was trailed by professional associations (51%), trade shows (42%) and catalogs (37%). “The Web is the new trade show where people are researching products,” Sebastian said. Google's research showed the most popular digital sources used by b-to-b buyers were: search engines (73%), brand websites (51%), association websites (42%) and trade magazine websites (39%). The number of b-to-b searches doubled on Google's YouTube between the first quarter of 2010 and the first quarter of this year. The study pointed out the value of a company's own website, as well as continued communication with leads. Google found that about 33% of b-to-b buyers who ultimately download a white paper or view a video on a marketer's website wait at least two weeks between their initial visit and their first actual interaction with content on the site. B-to-b buyers seem to be more aware of ad messages than consumers, Google's research found. About 35% of b-to-b buyers recalled online display ads when researching purchases, but just 20% of potential car buyers did. Additionally, one in four b-to-b buyers used the mobile Web to research products compared with fewer than one in eight consumers that used the mobile Web to research shoe purchases. And about 33% of b-to-b buyers consulted with their social networks, which are increasingly accessed via mobile devices, in the buying process. Google's research seems to indicate b-to-b customers have embraced the mobile Web as a source of information even more tightly than have some consumer segments. “Mobile is important, and it's increasing by the moment,” said Jerry Wind, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. “Every day, every minute there are more tablet and smartphone users. Everything you do on the Web should be replicated in a mobile platform.” Part of GE's mobile strategy is the creation of applications for the iPad and other devices. Andy Markowitz, GE's director-global digital strategy, said the company's Mobile Center of Excellence has developed about 75 apps. For example, the company has created an app to monitor the performance of turbines. “We look at social, we look at mobile,” Markowitz said. “We look at all of those things within the context of what does our customer want? What is the right way to talk with them?” Laurie Tucker, senior VP-marketing at FedEx Corp., agreed: “Very simply, we want to be where our customers are and where they are engaged, and mobile is an excellent place to connect.” The company has developed the FedEx Mobile Shipping Label, which allows customers to ship from their mobile devices without a printer. Tucker also said the company's mobile click-through rates are more than 15 times higher than standard Web banners. In addition to mobile, FedEx is embracing social media through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. “Our experience,” Tucker said, “confirms what Google's research has found in the areas of customers using search to research products as well as broader trends with mobile, social media and more.”
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