Beyond the buyer´s journey: the evolution of B2B tech content marketing.
The road to content marketing maturity: from more content to smarter content.
Technology vendors have been among the first B2Bs to adopt content marketing at massive scale. The strive to explore all digital channels and all type of formats brought to the creation of more and more content, sometimes without being supported by a documented content strategy.
This trend is still fostered by models like the "Content Pyramid", that promote a strategy based on “creating more with less”.
A much more solid ground for strategizing content has been the B2B buyer journey: in its simplest form, it is a funnel, in its more sophisticated versions a longer journey: a linear, predictable path driven by the offline sales.
If you are a b2b buyer or a stakeholder involved in buying decisions, you might have seen by yourself that things are changing fast: you receive remarketing advertising when you connect to your Facebook feed, you find more and more information when you search online, personalized around your needs, you can subscribe to topical newsletter way more interesting than pure commercials…
It is true: the B2B content marketing is getting smarter. The report Technology Content Marketing 2018: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends-North America, by the Content Marketing Institute, albeit limited in scope to the North American market, confirms this.
More emphasis on targeted, relevant, well-timed content
“Thirty-one percent of technology marketers report that their organization’s overall content marketing approach is extremely or very successful. In addition, another 50% of technology marketers this year report “moderate” success.” (Content Marketing Institute, B2B Tech Marketing Report in North-America, 2018)
According to this report, more technology marketers say they’re focused on creating the right content for the right person at the right time – but fewer report they’re crafting content for specific points on the buyer’s journey (41% in the 2018 report against the 53% in 2017).
The fact is marketing automation, real-time analytics and personalization can deliver the best targeted, relevant, timely content with less need for “journey-driven” content planning. It is way more important to understand audiences and to enrich this understanding with all additional data collected from digital interactions when they happen.
The buyer journey in the age of the connected buyer: a model to rethink.
One of the most popular Linkedin´s marketing collaterals is called "Rethinking the B2B Buyer's Journey”.
What do you have in mind, when you think of the buyer journey? In some cases, it is an evolved version of the sales funnel, i.e. the linear progression that goes through the known stages “Awareness-Consideration-Decision” and then opens the customer lifecycle model.
Maybe you are considering more stages, maybe you are adding a post-sales funnel, but fundamentally this is the thing: a simplistic model suggesting that B2B buyers operate in a vacuum and are only going through one buying process at a time.
The real journey: digital, non-linear, populated by informed buyers, long, influenced by multiple sources and combining many decision makers.
The real journey is digital and your buyers are better informed than ever.
B2B buyers are better informed and more capable than ever before. Thanks to digital, they are no longer dependent on vendors to provide information or to help them evaluate products.
Forrester estimates that nearly 74% of B2B buyers carry out at least half of their research online before making an offline purchase. Think with Google, the search giant’s marketing research arm finds that B2B prospects perform a dozen online searches before visiting a vendor’s website.
The numbers are clear. Today’s B2B customers have access to more information, and they’re leveraging it to their advantage: half of their journey is completed before they even reach out to a salesperson.
The real journey is not predetermined.
The real journey has been evolving toward more digital touchpoints.
The number of touchpoints increased and the stages at which buyers use online channels and sources vary more than before. Some years ago, Forrester tried to capture this variety and came up with a new, more complex model to fit the reality. The result is illustrated like this:
"The traditional model is we build awareness, and then, we drive interest, and then that creates desire, and finally, that leads to action. That’s been the traditional model of marketing and sales approaches in technology for a long, long time. That’s really not what’s going on on the buyer’s side – and it’s particularly not what’s going on given how the availability of information via the web and social networks has changed. What we see is a buying process that’s much more fluid, and there’s a lot of complexity…We don’t compartmentalize. While I’m exploring, I’m also evaluating. In many cases in technology, earlier in the buying process, I may be engaging with providers to learn about new ways to do things. We see these as streams that ebb and flow throughout the buying process.” Hank Barne, Gartner
The real journey involves more people in the buying decision.
A 2017 HBR article puts the B2B buyer’s evolution into context: There are now more people involved in making B2B buying decisions, growing from an average of 5.4 stakeholders in 2015 to 6.8 decision-makers in 2017.
The traditional B2B Buyer’s Journey implied that a salesperson could work solely with one B2B buyer to complete the transaction. In reality, a buying team is usually involved in the process, and it’s not an easy one.
A decision typically requires multiple stakeholders to have all of their questions answered and for purchases to be approved on different levels.
..and these people are ROI-driven.
Your solution delivers value for your buyers depending on how they use, implement of consumer your product or service. Before committing to investing in your solution, buyers need to evaluate the value they are going to realize and consider carefully the effort needed to manage adoption and change within their organizations. As a result, the buying process is becoming longer.
The more heads needed to give a nod of approval, the harder it will be to arrive at a decision. That´s because, as the number of stakeholders in the buying process increases, the more risk averse B2B buyers become.
Buyers are immersed in a web of influence.
Data compiled by LinkedIn Business shows that 53% of B2B buyers rely on peer recommendations, while another 76% prioritize vendors suggested by their peers. That’s why 84% of B2B purchases begin with a referral. It’s not hard to see why word-of-mouth now drives many purchase decisions.
B2B buyers want to be treated differently and expect personalized information.
It is a matter of fact, and all surveys confirm this: B2B customers want a personalized, customized, and relevant buying experience.
A 2017 survey from DemandGen Report finds that 75% of B2B buyers say it’s very important for website content to directly speak to their company’s needs. The same survey shows that 66% of B2B prospects rank industry-specific content as very important.
Forrester has also uncovered that more than 50% of B2B prospects want to receive personalized recommendations at every touch point. They expect robust customization and support across different channels, devices, and stages in the buying cycle.
Not all buyers will engage with the same channels in the same stage of the journey: some buyers prefer to engage with a sales rep who can help them create and evangelize a vision; other buyers want to educate themselves through professional contacts and peer-created content, and yet others are comfortable doing research on vendor websites. For certain common scenarios now, self-service eCommerce websites can serve B2B buyers more effectively than salespeople can.
Take action: the content and technology "to do list".
To do list #1
Adopt a customer persona view, not funnel-driven.
As we mentioned above, B2B purchase decisions are made by teams. The new B2B Buyer’s Journey should consider the customer not as an individual, but as a group of individuals with different needs and desired outcomes from the transaction. A CEO might want the product/service for a reason completely different than a Project Manager, but both people could be involved in the final decision.
Start from the roles and develop them into personas. For each persona, ask what moves them:
- what is their “job to be done”? For each different roles, what motivates them to get your solution? What does each role want to achieve? Why might they need you?
- what specific pain points have each persona?
- what will delight them?
- which personal motivations will trigger a positive response? what makes them risk-averse?
- how, where and when does each persona perform their discovery and decision-oriented steps?
- who are they influenced by? and how, in the context of a group buying decision, do they interact with each other?
Based on the above, create a map of all touch points and all the personas and develop the content portfolio: this portfolio is the “content that must be there” to answer, or to anticipate, all potential questions and concerns.
To do list #2
Help your buyers find what they need: SEO and UX go hand in hand.
The best way to help buyers move from one point in their journey to the next is to make relevant information easy to find. Your website should be a resource for information that gets prospects closer to a buying decision: case studies, industry whitepapers, how-to articles, best practices, etc.
Adopt a search strategy and implement an SEO-driven content strategy. Work on your the user experience on your digital frontline: help prospects discover and find their way to your information. Clear navigation, easy-to-follow paths, fewer barriers to getting information. Avoid hiding content behind lead generating forms before giving to them enough content to crunch.
Offsite SEO is important too… be humble and place your company in directories and peer reviews sites: even if these will not have a critical role in the decision making, they help you to appear on the google search page.
Segmented, targeted and personalized: content and automation playing together.
As we have seen above, your prospects want to be treated differently and want information relevant to them. Combining smart content with some technology you can deliver highly personalized content. You do not need to be Amazon for that…
Start using these segmentation strategies:
- industry vertical or segment or, if relevant to your business, individual account (client level, account based)
- personas based on specific buyer types and roles
- stage in the buying process (yes, the journey does not disappear..)
Use the power of hyper-targeting on channels like Linkedin to deliver the right content to the right prospects.
Start automating your marketing with dynamic landing pages for your campaigns and deliver content based on your visitors' behaviour and with better-managed email lead nurturing. Learn and iterate, based on your prospects´ response.
Develop advocacy: let others say great things about you.
Since peer reviews and recommendations shape the outcome of the B2B buying journey, it pays to build and grow your reputation as a leader in your industry. You do this, for example, by showing your expertise through participating in social media and online forums.
More then to online reviews, your prospects pay attention to what their peers are actually saying about a brand or solution. That’s why leveraging customer advocacy and referrals is a more viable route to take.
Orchestrate sales and marketing
The longer the buying process, the more people involved, the more you need to let your sales and marketing work aligned and orchestrated, starting from some basic steps:
Use marketing channels as “on air cover”: sales must be flankered by an always-on marketing presence, that nurtures your leads while you engage them with your sales reps and is there to answer whenever they turn back to their smartphones and pcs and look for additional information.
Ensure messages are consistent, language used by sales reps and marketing collaterals are common and numbers, facts and datasheets convey the same messages. This requires not only data checking, but much more brand educated sales people: they are the frontline and represent the brand, so they must be enabled to do that at best.
“Who we are” “Why we are there” “What makes us special” “What is our purpose” “How we deliver value” “Why you can trust us…”….. sales enablement is more than teaching when it is the best time to call your prospect. Treat your sales like brand ambassadors.
Establish a loop between marketing and sales and get from sales as much detailed feedback as possible to refine and improve not only your collaterals but all the ways to engage with customers: when, where, how do they want to get information and answers? What formats do they prefer? What annoys them? Combine the real-time digital feedback with ongoing review of human feedback.