I wrote about the topic over on the digital body language blog here: http://digitalbodylanguage.blogspot.com/2009/02/scoring-stages-of-buying-process.html
This discussion though quickly leads to the question of what to look for to give an indication that a prospect is at a certain phase of their buying process. One place to look is in search queries - the full search term used, not just individual key words.
I pulled some examples from the raw data in Eloqua's own marketing to give you a sense of this. In the first list, you can see general, pain-related and category-related terms, "lead management", "demand generation", terms that are only related to the general space in which Eloqua operates such as "marketing service provider", and terms that are clearly education-oriented, such as "digital body language".
Individuals with these search queries are, more likely than not, in an early education phase of their buying process. They are trying to learn about possible opportunities, or looking into solutions for pains that are somewhat related to what we solve.
At this phase in the buying process, high level thought leadership, ideas, and market research are often most of interest.
The next set of terms seems to be one step further down the buying funnel. By looking for more specific details such as "lead generation software", or detailed use cases like "marketing automation case study", we can see the buyer is progressing to the phase where he or she is looking to discover specific solutions to a more well formed view of a problem or an opportunity.
Being clearly visible (SEM and SEO) to searchers on terms at this phase in the buying process is key, as they are often looking to put together a list of possible vendors.
As buyers move further through the process, and begin to validate their chosen solution, or finalize their decision among two or three short list vendors, their search terms begin to get much more specific.
Often at this phase, you will see your own company name, and a very tactical query. Pricing, objections, issues, and specifications will often show up. From a marketing perspective, ensuring that information on key decision points and objections is readily available is key.
Also, as you work with your sales organizations, ensuring that they have insight into this aspect of their buyer's digital body language is critical as they can understand how the decision is progressing, and what top-of-mind issues are happening. Presenting that digital body language in their CRM system, or through Prospect Profiler can be a great way to keep sales armed with developments at the buyer's organization