Study: B2B Tech Buyers Search First

When enterprise technology buyers research new products and services, they turn to search 30 percent more frequently than the next most-used paid media resource. That’s according to a new study released today by Google and Millward Brown.

In the study, search is considered a discrete information source; researchers don’t look at whether search engines are used as jumping-off points to other Web sites.

Earlier this year, the companies questioned 900 people involved in buying enterprise application software, security software, or storage for servers. The hope was to gain insight into what information sources buyers use in the purchase process and determine what keywords and creative would be most effective for paid search listings.

“There’s really been a need to understand how search fits into the complex purchase process of B2B technology products,” said John Topping, director of Google’s technology B2B vertical.

The study finds 22 percent of respondents would turn to search as their first source of information during the purchase process’s first stage (research and engagement). Another 16 percent would turn first to manufacturers’ Web sites, 15 percent would go to colleagues, 12 percent would talk with IT consultants, and 10 percent would go to content Web sites.

Manufacturers’ Web sites came in first overall, however, when buyers were asked about all the places they’d go for information, , not just the first. Search came in second.

During this first stage, buyers most often use broad category search terms, such as “antivirus intrusion detection,” “server storage,” and “enterprise application software.”

During the purchase process’s second stage, consideration and comparison, 40 percent of respondents would use a search engine as they conducted their research. Among paid media, magazines and trade publications are used second most often, content Web sites third, and trade shows and email newsletters fourth.

During this second stage, respondents search for reviews or articles about products and utilize pricing terms, brand names, and broad category terms. Examples of review or article search terms include “software security reviews” and “storage server comparison article.”

All paid media, including search, have a diminishing effect as the purchase process wears on, the study finds. “During the second and third phases of the process, we see the direct channels come up a bit, which is no surprise to marketers in this space,” said Topping, referring to non-media channels such as manufacturer’s sales representatives, online retailers, IT consultants, and colleagues.

In phase three, purchase, search still outperforms other media channels. Around 20 percent continue to turn to search engines, though non-media channels, such as the manufacturer’s Web site, the sales representative, and the online retailer, are cited even more frequently.

During this last stage, users most frequently search for specific brand or product names or terms, the researchers discovered. Examples include “Dell,” “SAP,” and “Norton Anti-Virus.”

In testing the effectiveness of paid search creative, the companies focused exclusively on the second stage in the purchase cycle. They found having a strong call to action and clearly spelling out the benefit are crucial components. Of 300 respondents, 35 percent responded positively to a call to action, while 34 percent cited the benefit statement. Meanwhile, the listing’s title influenced 17 percent of respondents and having a brand in the URL influenced 14 percent.

Among calls to action, those surveyed found an invitation to compare prices the most attractive, while calls to download a demo or learn more came in next. Among benefits, promises of easy integration rank most favorably, with solving business problems or having multiplatform support come in second and third, respectively.