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hyperactiveresearcherIn my last post, I summarized key findings of the newest research from TechTarget: A Profile of TechTarget’s Hyper-active IT Researchers. Here Marilou Barsam, Senior Vice President of Client and Corporate Marketing for TechTarget, shares further insights from TechTarget’s interviews with the participants in the survey. (Note: 70% of survey respondents are in technical roles; 30% are business decision makers).

Q. TechTarget has identified hyperactive IT researchers as ones who store content until they’re ready to consume it. Yet you also found that these prospects are varying their search terms based on where they are in the buying cycle. Does that mean they are collecting content as they find it, yet will continue gathering information throughout the process?

A. Yes, the hyperactive researchers we talked to are attracted to and storing away content that is aimed at the early to mid-stage of the buying cycle. When they’re ready to look at a specific vendor, they’ll download more content.

These researchers are looking for the best solution from the best vendor for the best price with the best fit for their company. And they search for and gather information that reflects their interests and needs despite where they are in the buy cycle. However, they also conduct search in a methodical manner that aligns with the buying stage. During the early stage, they will search around more generalized terms focused on issues versus those centered on product or solution names. Once they’ve created a short list, they’ll search on brand names.

At the same time, the more curious they are, the more likely they are to expand and proactively search for information outside of that defined box. In addition to downloading content, strategic-level thinkers need to be receptive to stay on top of the swiftly evolving marketplace and technologies. As a result, they will also respond to inbound emails or solicitations from forums and blogs that may introduce them to discussions or content that wasn’t necessarily on the agenda when they first began their search.

The duration of the buying process depends on the company and the technology being considered. Where some companies have a compressed window for purchase, others will have a longer buying cycle. Generally, if the product is highly commoditized and at a low price point, the time frame for research and purchase is short. Complex purchases require team buy-in and selling up within the company.

Q. If these hyperactive researchers are collecting information up-front for later reference, how can marketers accurately score them?

A. It all comes down to nurturing and closed-loop marketing. For example, based on the stream of assets that the researcher has downloaded, the marketer can tell whether that person is a serious prospect or not. Marketers know that prospects download more generalized, high-level information in the early stages and vendor comparisons, demos, and specs during the later stages. These activities become triggers to marketers and telemarketers.

During our Online ROI Summit, marketers from D-Link presented a case study about lead nurturing. D-Link follows best practices by including explicit and implicit information about prospects in its lead scoring formula. How someone answers registration questions plus the type of content downloaded depends on where they are in the buying cycle, and D-Link analyzes this and reflects it in its nurturing score.

Q. In your survey of the hyperactive IT researcher, you found few dramatic differences based on company sizes, but did find that higher level executives in an enterprise rely more on their team for information and content. How can marketers respond to this?

A. One of the panelists at our Online ROI Summit is a CIO for a SMB. He said if someone below him in the organization sends him content, he’s receptive but he doesn’t want to talk to the vendor. When he’s ready to talk to the vendor, he’ll reach out. Marketers need to be aware that this pass-along/referral pattern happens quite often.

This leads to the importance of diversified content. Marketers can capitalize on pass-alongs by nurturing the person who responded with mid- and end-stage content. Such engagement increases the chances that the person will keep sharing content with his or her team.

The more end-stage the content is that they’re sharing, the higher the likelihood that the company is having team discussions and considering your company as a potential vendor. If you talk about the issues in terms of how they are relevant to each role, there will eventually will be a convergence of team members recognizing one vendor may be the right fit, or one contact will emerge as your main lead because you’ve created enough traction to pull him or her into a conversation. Marketers will miss this opportunity to engage if they don’t have a solid nurturing plan in place.

As one of our panelists from D-Link said, you need generalized content, as well as content tailored by title and vertical in order to pull interested parties along the purchase path over time.

Our best customers do this well. They create a 3-part white paper series, or webinars, or podcasts, for example, with different parts of the series appealing to different team members. This increases the odds of getting interested prospects to register for end-stream content.

That’s what effective nurturing is all about. If a vendor publishes early-stage content and someone reads and passes that along to a decision maker, TechTarget can inform the vendor about the pass-along.

Having said that, most companies care about account penetration, not just about selling to an individual. With our new Activity Intelligence platform, TechTarget can look across its network to determine everyone within a company that has touched an advertiser’s content. The more the publishing industry provides visibility into a sponsor’s ability to successfully penetrate accounts, the better companies can close the gap between demand gen vehicles, marketing automation, and CRM.

Q. Many companies are averse to publishing competitive comparisons. Yet your research found that IT buyers look for these to quickly narrow down their list of potential vendors. What is your advice to marketers?

A. In the past year and a half, there’s been a big uptick in the number of assets of this type published by large global enterprises. The big players aren’t afraid to put out comparisons. That said, they do it strategically by talking about the ideal framework/blueprint for the technology being considered and then comparing theirs to the competition. Or they’ll hire a third-party analyst to compare their ability to deliver vs the competition’s. Larger companies are fortunate to have enough proof points and teeth to take this on.

Competitive comparisons are obviously more challenging for and must be handled differently by SMBs. Small and medium companies are not typically redefining an architecture or technology as much as talking about how they’ve evolved it or customized a solution for it. So their discussion is more granular and tactical, typically focused on features and price points. That said, even small and medium companies are addressing the need for competitive comparisons. We are seeing more requests from customers for custom content to help facilitate these discussions with our audiences across the TechTarget network.

Q. You found that hyperactive researchers are most receptive to completing a registration form in the consideration and decision stages. How can marketers reconcile the need to nurture leads with this preference?

A. Marketers can reconcile this through trial and error. While the general principles behind nurturing are relevant to every marketer, each marketer needs to figure out his or her own formula.

One of the panelists at the Online ROI Summit talked about being forced to register for content but not being ready to talk to a vendor. But he said it’s okay for the vendor to email additional content. In fact, he encouraged vendors to be persistent, and that they’ll know when he’s ready because he’ll download late-stage content. And then he’ll contact the vendor.

The technology industry doesn’t talk much about the human side of the lead-nurturing equation – it all comes down to patience. Impatient marketers or those who answer to impatient managers will lose out on the benefit of nurturing over time.

Q. What are the dangers of overly focusing on late-stage researchers?

A. It’s expensive to focus only on those downloading end-stage content. More importantly, you’re turning your back on all the leads with potential. One idiosyncrasy that emerged from our research into our most active researchers is that these people would be scored highly in any marketer’s nurturing program.

It’s true that the people who are most active now are most likely going to convert more quickly than other researchers. But those who don’t appear active have the potential to become active at any time. The reality of long buying cycles means these researchers can appear dormant and then suddenly surface as being active and engaged. If you only focus on end-stage registration leads, you miss out.

Q. What is the key takeaway for marketers?

A. Marketers must brand appropriately to attract prospects. That means drawing attention to the brand early in the nurture stream. Lasting and persistent brand impressions go a long way to teeing up future prospects.

Once marketers have accomplished this, they need to engage prospects with the content relevant to their roles, then lead them downstream with the right assets until they’re ready for contact the vendor. It’s an arduous process, but one that will pay the greatest ROI over time.