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illustration of person seated at desk with voice search tool

Leveraging Voice in the B2B Buyer Journey

Rich Dettmer

illustration of person seated at desk with voice search tool

Voice search is rapidly on the rise—here’s how B2B organizations can best exploit it.

By 2020, nearly one-third of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen.

That may seem optimistic, but just consider the incredible growth that voice search applications have experienced in the past year. According to a 2018 study by BrightLocal:

  • 58% of consumers have used voice search to find business information within the past year
  • 46% of voice search users look for a local business daily
  • 27% visit the website of a business after conducting a voice search
  • 76% of smart-home speaker users conduct business searches at least once a week—with 53% performing daily searches

These are largely consumer metrics, but they underscore the reality that consumers are quickly catching on to “doing business” through their voice devices. In fact, voice search is growing so rapidly that Gartner predicts that by 2020, 30% of all searches will be conducted by voice search.

That’s great news for B2B because there are all kinds of creative and effective ways to use voice search across every part of the buyer journey—from beginning to end.

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Start at the Top

To take advantage of the disruption created by voice search, savvy B2B marketers need to understand one very important fact: achieving the top ranking is important in SEO, but it matters even more for voice search.

When a user asks their voice assistant a question, they are provided with just one answer—not a top-10 list. This top spot is referred to by Google as the “featured snippet” and it’s the only result they’ll receive.

From a branding standpoint, ranking for the featured snippet means that not only will the voice assistant speak your name, but users are more likely to trust featured-snippet brands as experts in their industries. Whether or not users pursue your webpage further, being featured as a key voice search result increases brand awareness and authority.

In this way, your demand-generation efforts dovetail perfectly into the benefits to your brand of capturing the featured snippet. Owning key “how-to” searches related to your brand or industry will put your voice content in front of users who are seeking to solve challenges. Providing the solutions to those challenges—along with strategically included contact information—allows you to add yet another channel to your demand-generation programs.

So, if a typical search works like an all-you-can-eat buffet, then a voice search operates like a prix fixe menu at a fancy restaurant—what you see is what you get. That’s why voice search can be so effective for the top of the buyer journey, so long as you’re number one. 

Meet Them in the Middle

To make voice search work effectively for mid-funnel buyer journey activities, complement your voice search results with supporting voice app content.

Voice applications are specific bits of voice content that are activated through an “invocation” word that you reserve for your application on the Google and Amazon voice platforms. With a voice application, you can engage your target audience by providing content that connects your products and services with trends and solutions that answer prospect challenges.

This can take the form of a simple, information-focused application that provides robust details on your business. My own agency’s voice application is a good example of this—just say “OK Google, talk to Slack and Company,” or “Alexa, launch Slack and Company” to see what I mean.

But you can also use voice mid-funnel for more than just informational content support. Take direct marketing & sales support, for instance. Entry-level voice devices are inexpensive and provide an interesting “door opener” opportunity to help your sales team set meetings or stimulate follow-up—and that’s just one of many possible examples.

Finish Strong

Just as we built our own agency’s voice app to inform and inspire further engagement, you can also write responses that appeal to buyers who are near the end of their journeys with bottom-of-funnel activities and content.

For example, currently one of the most-used apps on the Alexa platform is an app from NPR called “Make Me Smarter,” which gives users a daily update of little-known facts. This would be an excellent approach to confirmational content—statistics, customer experience data and more—for a B2B brand that wants to be an expert in a given field.

The Futures Right Around the Corner

These are just a few examples of how B2B marketers might use voice search and voice applications at different points in the buyer journey. But we’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible.

Voice apps may still be thought of by most people as little more than the latest shiny, new objects. But if there’s one thing we are most confident of, it’s this: Voice is evolving, and fast. And as the market continues to change rapidly, so too will voice—along with all the ways it can be used.

Rich Dettmer is EVP, chief digital officer and partner of Slack and Company, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications agency.