In the rapidly evolving field of B2B Internet marketing, I have worked with dozens of small- and medium-sized manufacturers and distributors on their strategies for being “found” online by the right people: buyers, engineers and users of their products. I observed a common theme: Executives would not take the time (or were too intimidated by their own knowledge gaps) to wear the hat of the customer who was searching the Internet for their product.


The Search Experience

In my experience, every CEO—not your marketer or IT manager— should be able to answer the following five questions.

• Of the information required to purchase my product, how much of it is at my customer’s fingertips starting at What aren’t they finding? Are they finding negative reviews of my product or of my company?

• When my customer’s online research is done, what do they encounter next when calling my company? Is my company’s phone number visible?

• Can my customer take multiple actions on my company’s web pages, such as comparing my products or sharing the page?

• For distributors: Are you redirecting visitors to your manufacturers’ websites? (You shouldn’t; there are smarter options.)

• How does my online experience differ when searching for my competitor’s product?

For adhesives suppliers, the customer may include a specifying engineer and a purchasing agent, both of whom clearly seek different information.

While many resources can improve Internet marketing results (such as Google Analytics and Alexa), much can be learned by doing your own homework. For example, try searching Google using the terminology your customers would use to describe your product (e.g., by product attribute, size, brand name, etc.). Google will sort its results based on its changing algorithms, as well as the quantity and quality of relevant content its spiders index during periodic web crawls. If your website content is under 50 pages, your customer’s first impression of your product may come from an industry sourcing directory, job postings website, trade association or social media reference. As you do your homework, take notes on what you observe as you search, and be certain to assign an employee to track how your customers found you.


Handling Customer Inquiries

Suppliers review their annual Internet marketing spend as a percentage of company profits. One key question to ask is: Which new customers and new sales originated from the Internet? Many manufacturers and distributors fail to closely monitor their internal procedure for handling customer inquiries on pricing, inventory, terms, and logistics.

Through a sophisticated software system, I have helped clients record inbound sales inquiries on dedicated phone lines. Not once do I recall a client not being surprised listening to the playback. Companies allocate up to hundreds of thousands of dollars on online marketing and even more on employee compensation, yet inadequately train and empower their employees whose job it is to field customer inquiries.

One story I heard is still painful to retell: A new customer called a chemical handling equipment supplier requesting information for product quantities that were jaw-dropping to the customer service representative. Handled properly, that single call represented significant new revenue. Sadly, the employee was overwhelmed and couldn’t find a coworker to help answer the customer’s questions. Subsequently, the inquiry went unanswered for weeks, despite repeated return calls by the prospective customer.

That particular situation was not typical. We usually observed more subtle mistakes on recordings made by internal staff. For these, I recommended employee training and refresher courses to improve active listening and targeted responses that would both facilitate the sale and alleviate employee stress.


Keeping House

Your online, cross-channel commerce strategy (e.g., an intuitive site for web and mobile access, with searchable product catalogs, and remarketing solutions) can be profitable for converting online visitors to sales. It is the better part of wisdom before you spend marketing dollars to drive more qualified visitors to your business to have your internal house in order. Before you give approval for a new website design, test drive it yourself, and call your own company for product information. Wearing your customer’s hat is vital.

 Any views or opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not represent those of ASI, its staff, Editorial Advisory Board or BNP Media.