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SEO Website Audit

Measuring B2B Conversions

January 23, 2008

Hi Jill,


I just listened to your podcast with E-Marketing Talk Show. Good stuff! You have such a sweet little voice, too.


At any rate, in the fourth segment, you briefly hit on ROI and basically described perfectly a dilemma I have. We are a B2B manufacturer of machinery that costs anywhere from the 10's of thousands to the 100's of thousands each. We sell a handful of these machines each year. Consequently, the buying cycle can take up to a year or more. How would you suggest we figure ROI and conversions for this kind of business?


Thanks much. As always, your advice is greatly appreciated.


Lauren S.


++Jill's Response++


Hi Lauren,


Good question! But first, a big LOL at the voice part. People do still occasionally ask to speak to my mother when I answer the phone!


Okay, back to business.


Measuring ROI and conversions can certainly be a challenge to B2B marketers, especially those with a very high price point and long sales cycle. With an ecommerce site, it's simple -- you know exactly what people bought, when they bought it, where they came from, what keywords they used to get there, how much they spent, and perhaps even how much it cost you to gain that visitor/sale in the first place. This all assumes you have installed a good web-analytics program.


[As an aside, the free Google Analytics program can do all that if you know how to set it up and measure things properly. If you don't, you may want to check out the awesome Google Analytics online training course that ROI Revolution provides.]


With a B2B site that isn't selling products or services directly online, it's a whole 'nother ballgame. In fact, you may not be able to trace back exactly where a given sale came from, especially if they simply pick up the phone and call you as opposed to taking action on your website.


That said, there are definitely conversion points you can and should measure. Presumably, you have a contact form on your site that people might fill out for more info or to receive a call back from your sales department. Getting visitors to click to that page could be considered a conversion. But a more important one is the "thank you" page a visitor would be taken to after they fill out the contact form. In fact, if you're finding that lots of people are viewing your contact form but are not actually filling it out, you might want to look at why that might be. It might be that they are picking up the phone and calling instead. (I know it's weird, but there are still crazy people out there who like to use the phone! ;)


If you get a lot of phone inquiries, you may want to train your answering team to ask how the caller found you. (Don't be surprised if people simply say "the Internet," however. You may have to be a bit more specific and ask if they used Google, and if so, do they remember what keywords they typed in.) Depending on your volume of calls, you may even be able to match up the times when people looked at your contact form with the time someone called, and then make some educated guesses as to whom they may be and where they came from.


You can also measure conversions of people downloading a whitepaper or a free trial of some software, subscribing to a newsletter, or basically anything else where you can get people to fill out a form. Other important measurements are open rates and clickthroughs from your email campaigns, as well as any clicks from online and offline advertising that you're doing.


The key is to be sure to use tracking links for your various marketing initiatives, so you'll be able to know exactly who came from what ad.


Once you start really looking at this stuff via your web-analytics program, you'll be amazed at the info you learn. We're doing this big-time with our own High Rankings marketing programs, and it's been very eye-opening, as well as fun! Stay tuned for future articles on tracking and what we've learned about it.


Hope this helps!



Post Comment

 Barry S Mills said:
Nice article Jill. I'd like to suggest one further step for tracking telephone responses. You can relatively cheaply obtain a seperate (toll free if you like) phone number and have it direct to your main switchboard. That way you can match the bill from the telco and see exactly how many calls originated from a paricular web page. You can use this on your main contact page just to see how many "internet" enquiries you get by phone, or on specific landing pages or mirror sites for PPC campaigns.
 Jill said:
Thanks for the tip, Barry!
 Alan said:
File this one under very cheap but it works.

For most SMEs the web site will not be a major part of their lead generation effort [particularly with low volume products, as with the one in question, I suspect] and so even Google analytics are "not worth the effort" [their words, not mine].

The tip? For all sales-related contact details on the web site use an email address that is not used anywhere else. Careful thought will provide one, you could even use a dash instead of a full stop in an existing address. Even making it a bit 'strange' won't be a great problem as it will be either clicked on or cut and pasted from the web page - eg sales1@ or sales-team@

Then all you need to do is periodically check through that account’s saved inbox and match up names with eventual customers. Even if the sale is a year or more after the initial contact their original email will still be sitting there.
 Craig Parmerlee said:
Interesting article. I think most businesses -- even the supposedly very sophisticated eCommerce pioneers -- are really just now coming to understand conversion and sourcing. In my industry, I see some crazy online advertising rates that tells me some of the largest players are not measuring their conversions accurately. If they were, they would not bid up the advertising to the levels I often see.

One phenomenon that seems to be much bigger than I ever could have imagined is delayed purchases. We find a surprising large number of cases where a customer comes to us through some paid referral, and takes no action. In traditional analytics, this would have to be seen as a non-conversion. When we dig deeper we often find the same user returning many hours or even days later to complete the transaction.

I would certainly expect that behavior for complex products that might require some analysis or time to line up financing. But in my case, it is a simple travel reservation.

I'm not sure any of the analytics programs deal with this adequately. If we want to tie that purchase back to the original referral source, the only solution I know of is to store a cookie on the user's computer to tag them when they first visit. Any thoughts about this?
 Alan said:
Craig - your comments are well made, and furthermore how do you quantify the 'impact' of the search ad?

The ad could have started the customer on the buying-decision path, or it could have been the cherry on the cake to a whole series of touch-points with your organization over a long period.

The only answer I have - and technology 'ain't it [what if someone picked up your brochure in a hotel or had a concierge recommend you?] - is to lump all of your marketing costs together and work out a cost per customer. But I'm afraid that isn't really an answer.
 Rick Brown said:
Great topic and one that does not get enough discussion given the inherent differences we find in most B2B "transactions" vs. consumer conversion models so often described. Our firm provides SEM exclusively for industrial manufacturers and companies that sell high-consideration types of services.

As Lauren initially pointed out, capital equipment and custom service contracts may have an eventual purchase price of tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Because these products or service purchases are made infrequently, there are generally long sales cycles involved. If you are counting a relatively small number of conversions in the first place, and each potential sale is large, missing 1 or 2 conversions out of 10 is huge. This can happen if the user initially calls in and no lead source is identified.

As Alan points out, it may not be possible to define the exact tipping point for the conversion. However, because the initial lead is a critical first step (no lead -- no sale) we guide our clients to measure the relative strength of the initial lead as matched with an advertising source that drove the website visit.

Initially, we had adopted both of the suggestions from Barry and Craig. That is we would use an independent phone number on the client's website and a unique email address for request for quote forms or emails from the site.

We realized however, as you pointed out Jill, knowing that someone came "via the Internet" was not enough to determine which ads work.

By looking at EXACTLY HOW a prospective customer arrived at the site, we can help the manufacturer make intelligent buying decisions about future advertising. The trade publications - both online and print, industrial buying directories like ThomasNet, EEM Electronic Engineers Master, etc. and E-sourcing tools (Industrial QuickSearch or GlobalSpec for example) all come with substantial price tags. As do the search optimization and pay-per-click components of clients' marketing programs.

One of our jobs is to help our clients identify which of those sources of visits actually deliver visits that turn into leads.

One critical factor we uncovered was the relatively strong importance of phone inquiries. After analyzing thousands of initial inquiries received by a cross-section of manufacturers, we could see that a phone call as initial point of contact was not an anomaly. It was the norm!

Even today in a digital world, and with access to electronic communication choices, for complex purchases the telephone still represents a whopping 38% to 54% of initial inquiries to our manufacturing client base.

So, with that in mind, we developed a "trip-wire system" to install on client's websites. The system literally changes the published phone number site-wide, based on how a visitor enters the website. So, a visitor arriving from a Google organic listing sees a different phone number than another visitor arriving after clicking a PPC ad on Google. A third telephone number is displayed to a visitor linking into the site from IndustrialQuickSearch. And so on.

Now, at the end of the month a single phone call log actually attributes specific calls from specific individuals to specific advertising sources.

For the other half of the inquiries - those coming in electronic form - we wrote scripting to append the source point to each visitor's cookie session. This information on referring source follows a visitor around until (if) s/he sends an electronic communication. If a site visitor does submit a RFQ, catalog or sample request, the 'driving source ID' is appended to the incoming email as an additional (hidden) field.

Electronic lead conversion tracking by ad source is accomplished by sorting a month's (or a year's) worth of emails together by 'driving source.' The two methods provide a sum-total of known points of entry into the site gives a similar picture of advertising health.

Many manufacturers and B2B oriented firms don't always immediately see the need for the tracking mechanisms described above. A common refrain we've heard: "We are not or Lands' End. This is overkill." These individuals are correct to recognize their traffic levels will never rival the volume seen by Amazon and the like. At the same time, because their total number of inquiries is smaller, the inability to accurately count each and every conversion has far greater potential ramifications.

As mentioned earlier, missing one conversion in ten may not sound like much, but it means your advertising success metrics numbers are off by ten percent. When you then consider that each sale might be $100,000 or more, and the need for accountability is even greater. For these reasons, we always recommend keeping track of both online and offline conversions. This is the only way to have an accurate picture of your true return on ad spend or ROAS.