Online migration continues

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Internet marketing was broadly used as a business-to-business tool in 2006 -- that much was clear from spending patterns.

The Internet's influence will only increase next year, according to several industry executives.

"There is much greater acceptance of the role in branding that online media can play and that will grow more," said Joan Ritter, senior vice president of direct and relationship marketing of Slack Barshinger, Chicago.

Search, in particular, became a "must-have" item instead of a "maybe," she said.

"Events, particularly online events, remain hot for lead identification, lead qualification for customer acquisition, and perhaps even more important, for cross-selling and upgrading existing customers," said Gary Skidmore, senior vice president at Harte-Hanks, Langhorne, PA.

This is because the right event with the right content initiates a dialogue that marketers can use to discuss pain points, map possible solutions and close deals, Mr. Skidmore said. "The business marketer who can master technology and content in both prospect and customer dialogues remains a step ahead of the competition," he said.

However, the Web has only complicated the age-old marketing/sales impasse, Mr. Skidmore said.

The Web is "great in generating leads, but companies are struggling to determine which of the leads are a priority," he said.

Based on the success of Webinars in 2006, more BTB marketers will use them next year, said Carolyn Goodman, managing partner of Goodman Marketing Partners, San Rafael, CA.

Webinars "help push sales through channels because you've opened up new ways to talk to existing customers," she said.

One of the more successful executions of a Webinar involves utilizing an existing customer as one of the speakers.

"This rings truer with the audience," Ms. Goodman said.

Webinars targeting existing customers is just one example of another trend Ms. Goodman expects to see next year: A shift of marketing budgets into the retention side over lead generation.

"Companies are rapidly realizing that existing customers are important," she said.

She pointed out there's going to be more of a dialog between customers who are suggesting improvements and companies that are working hard to deliver them.

There are so many new elements to the conversation with customers, that business marketing "is a much more dynamic and interesting place to be today than it was even 18 months ago," Ms. Ritter said.

With so many more influences affecting a purchase decision, the buy cycle in BTB is much more organic and fluid.

"It is no longer the linear relationship of the past because the marketer no longer controls the message," Ms. Ritter said.

Internet marketing was broadly used as a business-to-business tool in 2006 - that much was clear from spending patterns.

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