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Technical professionals most commonly turn to general search engines, supplier websites and online catalogs when searching for products and services to specify, recommend or purchase, per results from an IEEE GlobalSpec Media Solutions study [pdf]. But the popularity of these sources differs according to the stage of the buy cycle, the report found.

The following highlights the top information sources used during each stage of the cycle.

Research & Needs Analysis

In its survey of 2,239 technical professionals, IEEE GlobalSpec discovered that during the research process, they prioritize:

  • General search engines (58%);
  • Online catalogs (43%);
  • Colleagues (43%);
  • Supplier websites (42%); and
  • White papers (40%).

Meanwhile, information sources such as printed directories/buyer’s guides (26%) and social media (28%) are sparsely used during the research phase.

Comparison & Evaluation

When comparing products and services, technical professionals have a similar portfolio of top information sources, though the rankings change somewhat:

  • General search engines (74%);
  • Online catalogs (63%);
  • Supplier websites (61%);
  • Colleagues (53%); and
  • Printed catalogs (47%).

Purchase

Finally, when it comes to the time to purchase:

  • Supplier websites (53%) are easily the top source; followed by
  • Online catalogs (40%);
  • General search engines (37%);
  • Printed catalogs (27%); and
  • Colleagues (21%).

Some Content Types Are More Popular Earlier in the Buying Process

The results indicates that popular content marketing types are used primarily for research and needs analyses and are far less commonly relied on during other stages.

These top-of-the-funnel content types include webinars, white papers, blogs, email newsletters and social media.

With respect to social media, some 37% of respondents indicated that they don’t perform any work-related activities on social.

The most common professional activities conducted on social media include reading work-related content (36%), searching for contacts (33%) and researching suppliers (32%).

Desktops Still the Top Devices

Technical professionals estimated that they spend 79% of their work-related online time on desktops and laptops, with 16% spent on smartphones and 5% on tablets.

Desktop and laptop primary crossed all work-related activities:

  • 93% use desktops to view supplier websites, compared to 32% using smartphones;
  • 91% use them to conduct product searches, versus 38% using smartphones;
  • 90% use them to search for datasheets, compared to 23% using smartphones; and
  • 90% use them to read work-related email, versus 44% using smartphones.

Webinars and Trade Show Attendance Frequency

The report also investigated the use – and anticipated use – of webinars and trade shows.

Regarding webinars, the results indicate that 67% attended at least one last year, and 71% anticipate doing so this year. This year, 38% anticipate attending more than 3 webinars, up from 31% who report having done so last year.

As for trade shows, 55% attended at least one last year and 63% aim to do so this year. As with webinars, planned attendance is going up this year: 38% plan to attend multiple trade shows this year, up from 31% who did so last year.

About the Data: IEEE GlobalSpec Media Solutions describes the survey’s methodology as follows:

“The 2,239 technical professionals who responded to this worldwide survey represent a cross-section of industries. The top four represented industries are Engineering/Tech Design Services (11 percent); Building and Construction (seven percent); Aerospace and Defense (six percent); and Industrial Machinery/Tools & Equipment (six percent). The top three job positions are Design Engineer (17 percent); Maintenance/Facilities Management (11 percent); and Technical Support/Services (10 percent).

Fifty-one percent of respondents are over 49 years old, which underscores other research that suggests the engineer population is aging. The average respondent works on five projects at a time, and 90 percent are involved in the purchasing of components and services. Thirty-three percent influence $100K or more in annual spending; 52 percent influence $50K or more.”

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