Today’s business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57 percent of the purchase process is complete, states a study by the CEB Marketing Leadership Council.

That’s a reality that I think most B2B marketing leaders know by gut intuition but have not acted upon in a decisive and integrated way.

So just what are potential B2B clients doing during that crucial first big part of the sales cycle, before they even speak with a sales rep? They are doing self-directed learning and fact-finding on the Internet.

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This up-front process may include: determining the range of possible solutions (who are the contenders?), learning specifications, building requirements lists, checking credibility, reputation, “feel” and fit, and seeing how well you practice what you preach by judging your website. After all of that, business buyers determine the select few who will get the opportunity to demo, present and quote.

It’s the job of search marketing to keep your firm in the lead during this “salesmen-free” portion of the buying process to bring your business to the demo stage and beyond.

Each business and strategy is unique, but a plan for an integrated digital B2B campaign could include:

  • Pay-per-click  (PPC) search marketing and organic search engine optimization (SEO) – making sure your brand and strongest messages appear when prospective clients Google for information.
  • Remarketing (showing display ads only to those who have already visited your site) to continue the digital conversation and to reinforce your brand and unique selling propositions.
  • Display advertising keyed to targeted audiences.
  • Deep information in the form of promoted whitepapers, online videos, or ROI calculators, for example, depending on your message and audience.
  • Thought leadership blogs for SEO, and to feed traffic to your main website.
  • A complete social media content development and implementation plan (but that’s a big topic in itself – for another day).

Shortcuts usually don’t work

We’d all very much like to take potential clients straight from first finding you on the Internet via paid or organic search, to completing a lead form for follow-up. And we can make that happen with surprising frequency. However, over time we’ve learned that integrated campaigns that span “all of the above” digital tactics, and sustain a longer view of the discovery and sales cycle produce the highest-quality leads, and ultimately the highest ROI. This requires patience, sticking with a plan and investment of resources.

A company embarking on an integrated digital campaign may start with a heavy dose of PPC on Google, LinkedIn and Bing, but may mature into a program heavy on industry-leading SEO content and remarketing, while landing a steady stream of highly qualified, significant leads. That’s exactly the path taken by one of Altitude’s major retainer clients, who now benefits from a first-page organic presence for its most important industry term.

Technology is on your side

Nothing stands still in the world of digital marketing, and that’s a good thing. Google consistently invests very significant resources in improving the PPC, remarketing, and display ad platforms we use every day. Other players such as Bing, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are providing ever-more compelling ways to reach audiences. Potential B2B clients, like everyone else, are using mobile platforms more and more to research and communicate.

The trend is for even more of the B2B awareness, branding and vetting process to front-load on the digital side, as companies offer ever-richer and more meaningful experiences and more precisely targeted messages.