I talk frequently, some would say endlessly, about the need for B2B advertisers to understand that a clickthrough that brings someone to a company Web site represents the beginning of the sales process. In all the hype and excitement surrounding pay for performance pricing, it is all too easy to forget that what search engines are selling is a very brief opportunity to engage a presumably qualified prospect. Just as the search engines have to perform in order to get paid, advertisers, too, need to perform in order to generate sales. Unfortunately, this is anything but commonly accepted wisdom right now.

That's why it is refreshing to see one of the leading B2B online marketing agencies say pretty much the same thing -- and say it in writing.

In the latest issue of B2B Magazine, Karen Breen Vogel, CEO of B2B marketing agency ClearGauge, kicks off an article entitled "Analytics Alone Will Not Get the Job Done" by stating, "Businesses with long sales cycles are sometimes mystified by the contribution their Web site can make to the company's financial results." Bingo! Traffic to a B2B Web site, whether organic or purchased, is no different than the advertising impressions generated by a print magazine. Frankly, patting oneself on the back for generating lots of Web site traffic is about the same as patting oneself on the back for running a magazine ad. Great, you did something. But it's what one does after one attracts attention that really matters, because that's what determines how many of these fleeting eyeballs will start the path down the long pipeline to becoming sales. It's as true online as it always was in print.

Breen Vogal elegantly describes the B2B Web site as "...a relationship development or improvement platform." She also contends that, "ROI is only one data point. Contextual understanding is also needed to make adjustments and create Web pages that spur action, combat buyer resistance and lead to improved ROI." She also notes that "Many businesses that invest in analytics software either drown in a sea of traffic and page view stats or measure campaign-specific initial responses and final conversion events. This level of data and insight does not reveal what site visitors really want or show their relative financial value to the pipeline. Businesses need to develop a framework to gain both deep customer insight and pipeline visibility."

This translates to me as a very positive shift on the part of B2B advertisers from an obsession with traffic generation and maximization (an obsession unfortunately shared by many publishers), to a new focus on working that traffic to generate concrete results. After all, it's only a short leap from there to eliminating garbage traffic to better focus limited resources, and that's nothing but code for quality over quantity. More subtle, but equally important, this will represent tacit acknowledgement by advertisers that publishers can only do so much to help generate sales. Ultimately, it's up to the advertiser.

If this shift comes to pass, publishers will be in a better place along with advertisers since each party will be returning to their natural role of doing what they do best. Interestingly, it will also confirm that the rules that drove the pre-Internet world are replicating themselves online. Tools and terminology have changed, but roles, functions and objectives have not.

We're pleased to announce a Model of Excellence award for 2005 has been awarded to Carroll Publishing for GovSearch Suite.

For a handy reference to Models of Excellence winners for 2005 and years past, please visit our awards page for the complete lists and full details.