Monday, September 17, 2012

Internet Marketing Impacts B2B

One of the most important and misunderstood areas of interactive marketing is the broad area of business-to-business Internet Marketing.  For example, Oracle estimates B2B ecommerce revenue is about one and a half times as large as business-to-consumer (B2C) revenue.  Yet the submissions to the journal I edit, The Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing are primarily studies involving business-to-consumer (B2C) issues.  It appears from what is being published in other journals that the situation is the same.  Practitioner sources are of ten the same, emphasizing B2C examples.

The B2B sales area is positioned to be transformed by Internet marketing in at least the following four areas, all of which would be candidates for further examination by both practitioners and academics:

      1) The search process.  Business customers, like most customers, are relying heavily on the internet when   making purchase decisions.  Business customers conduct searches, visit industry social media sites and blogs (increasingly on mobile applications), talk to their colleagues and have a lot of information at their fingertips when the salesperson arrives at the door.  I have tried to illustrate what is happening in the graphic above, which shows all the places the B2B customer can collect information before the salesperson arrives.  In fact, I have seen estimates that the salesperson might now be only involved in two percent of the sales process.  Certainly it is time to explore how we might redefine the B2B search process and to consider extending the concept of the buying center to beyond the limits of the firm.

      2) The role of the salesperson.  This trend toward collecting more and more information before the salesperson arrives diminishes the critical role of the salesperson as the provider of information but potentially increases his/her role as consultative advisor and service provider.  However, lead nurturing systems such as those provided by Marketo now make automated decisions and hand the lead off to the salesperson at the exact right moment to close the sale
The relative effectiveness of these automated and their impact on salesforce size and structure are issues that need to be discussed in industry.

3) The role of content marketing.  The role of content marketing is another under-researched area of business-to-business internet marketing.  B2B marketers tend to rely on presentation and downloading of content for nurturing relationships.  The suggestion is that effectively placed content on a web site can lead the prospect through the sales process, educating and answering questions along the way.  However, many questions need to be answered about content marketing, including what types of content are most effective in each stage of the customer lifecycle.  For example, the relative effectiveness of webinars versus whitepapers and which content is most effective in what context.

4) The role of social media.  Business-to-business marketers are successfully using social media but the role of these new media is also largely unexplored in academic research.  We know intuitively and from practitioner studies that Linkedin and Twitter are more likely to be useful in B2B contexts than Facebook but we need to understand why and in what context each type of social media marketing tool should be used.  What companies like IBM are doing with internal social networks could also be productive areas of study and replication.

I want to close by noting again that there are also a lot of opportunities for growth and research in the area of B2B internet and interactive Marketing and ecommerce beyond what we have time to mention here. 

Oracle White Paper (2012), 2012 B2B E-Commerce Survey:  Results and Trends.

By Debra Zahay-Blatz.
You can find Debra on Google+ and Twitter as well as LinkedIn.
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