What’s currently driving your marketing efforts? If leads and sales are top of your list, you’re not alone. According to the 2016 Content Marketing Institute (CMI) report, 85 per cent of B2Bs cite lead generation as their chief priority. But how can content deliver on these traditionally sales-driven ends?
This is a nice long read. Here’s the gist of what you’ll get:
- Take a look at the B2B content marketing landscape today.
- Gain insight into the B2B firms getting it right.
- Discover more about the complex B2B buyer journey.
- Learn why and how content can drive leads and sales.
It’s clear: B2Bs love content
B2Bs continue to embrace content marketing. The latest CMI figures tell us that 88 per cent of them use it, with 51 per cent saying they will increase spending in the next 12 months.
How are B2Bs currently allocating their content marketing budgets? Ninety-three per cent are investing in social media, 82 per cent in case studies and 81 per cent in blogs, newsletters and in-person events. Other popular mediums include webinars, videos, white papers, infographics and online presentations.
But why are B2Bs increasingly investing in content? Because when done right, it can deliver genuine breakthroughs towards the overarching goals of your organisation – something smart marketers have cottoned on to.
Knockout B2B case studies to get you going
Although B2C has typically been the frontrunner in the content race, there are many examples of B2B content done well. American Express’ OPEN Forum is considered a content marketing gold standard. Not only does it publish relevant, highly clickable and niche content for small business owners, but it also encourages advice sharing, effectively uses social media and serves as a gateway to both virtual and in-person events.
HubSpot is another prime example. In addition to a hugely successful blog and a constant stream of resources from ebooks to webinars, it also offers free software tools in a targeted bid to generate leads. Its own growth through content marketing is the perfect example of how effective its inbound marketing software product can be. Between 2008 and 2013, the company grew its revenue from US$2.2 million to US$77.6 million, and customers from 317 to 10,595. By 2015, HubSpot’s total annual revenue was $181.9 million.
Xerox is also up there when it comes to stand-out content marketing. In an attempt to connect with 30 top accounts, its ‘Get Optimistic’ campaign, in partnership with Forbes, saw the creation of a magazine that offered relevant business tips. The results were impressive. Seventy per cent of targeted companies interacted with the site, 20,000 new contacts were added and more than 1000 scheduled appointments were generated. The cherry on top? It yielded $1.3 billion in pipeline revenue.
So content marketing works for B2Bs – it certainly has for these companies. The question remains: why is it so effective?
Give the people content that helps their business thrive
Ultimately, content marketing can help B2Bs drive leads and sales because it gives the customers what they want. What do today’s B2B customers want? Information. They’re not interested in the hard sell. Instead, they are looking for companies that offer real solutions to their increasingly complex problems.
The B2B buying process has always been lengthier than B2C due to increased accountability and poor decisions being worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It has also been more complicated, with buy-in required from multiple stakeholders before a purchase decision can be made. Today, the situation is intensifying and making the job of the content marketer more difficult.
According to a 2016 report by DemandGen, almost half of B2B respondents (48 per cent) said their purchase cycle has increased since last year. The reasons? Rising pressure for more detailed ROI analysis before investment, an increase in the number of people participating in the buying process and market expansion, which has led to an increased need to carry out research prior to purchase.
Of those surveyed, 80 per cent said they now spend more time researching purchases, and 73 per cent said they use more sources to research and evaluate purchases – a process that is typically digitally focused.
The top reasons why buyers choose the winning vendor? Timeliness of a vendor’s response to enquiries (98 per cent), a demonstrated stronger knowledge of the solution (97 per cent), a stronger knowledge of their company (94 per cent) and the provision of content that made it easier to show ROI and/or build a business case for the purchase.
When asked what their top sources of information were, 68 per cent said web search, 54 per cent said vendor websites and 49 per cent said peers/colleagues.
When it comes to websites, 69 per cent stated that relevant content that spoke directly to their company was the most important inclusion. For social proof, B2Bs turn to feedback on review and social media sites.
What all this serves to demonstrate is just how important content is in today’s B2B purchasing decisions. It helps push today’s buyers along the sales funnel. From creating awareness to generating leads and driving sales, it gives customers what they’re looking for, often before they think to look for it – the basic ingredient of a customer-centric marketing approach.
Let’s see how it looks in practice.
Create content for the B2B buyer’s journey
Attraction stage: Bypassing the cold-calling sales rep, content works at this stage by giving B2Bs the chance to pop up on the customer radar. If you’re producing relevant, engaging content such as articles, blogs, infographics and videos about your industry, customers are more likely to find you in their search. Once found, you then need to keep producing it so they continue to come back.
Consideration stage: Once a customer becomes a regular visitor to a site, content works by helping B2B businesses set themselves up as valuable provider of information and an industry thought leader. By publishing regular content, you’re also satisfying the buyer’s need for quality, decision-informing information.
Content can then turn buyers from cold leads to warm leads. For example, if gated, long-form content such as white papers and ebooks can encourage visitors to become subscribers or contacts. From here you need to keep sharing valuable content and keep in touch via email – building trust and pushing buyers closer to making a decision.
Decision stage: Finally, content can help close that deal. Case studies and reviews are particularly effective at this point in the cycle by offering that all-important social proof and by helping build decision-maker consensus. Beyond a sale, content serves as a constant reminder to existing customers that you’re still here and your product/service still meets their needs.
Importantly, content must touch all decision-makers in the process, so identifying who they are is vital. Your sales team can help you do this. Many sales teams may feel their influence over the customer in the age of content waning. But it’s just a process of metamorphosis. The customer is now more informed and involved than ever before, so your sales team needs to mature to meet the challenge. Today, they’re part interviewer, identifying needs and power struggles in the business; and, part problem solver, locating ways to overcome challenges through solution delivery.
In large B2B companies in particular, your sales team are crucial. By supplying them with valuable content they can become the face a buyer trusts. It’s at this point in your strategy where a marketing automation vendor is paramount to your success. By automating content distribution based on the awareness, consideration and decision phases of the buyer’s funnel, and creating a lead-scoring algorithm that attributes the strength of leads based on a set of pre-defined rules, your sales team can approach leads in an informed and personalised way.
To work, the content needs to be good and targeted
As shown, content works because it can be applied to each stage of the buyer cycle. But while it provides the ideal strategy for today’s B2B marketers, it can’t be stressed enough that the key to effective B2B content marketing is ensuring your content is relevant, targeted and engaging. Take a look at what our knockout B2B companies – American Express, HubSpot and Xerox – are doing to see what we mean.
Now sit and wait for the metrics to rise
Ultimately, driving leads and sales with content marketing can be challenging, but if you are willing to invest – in content budget and content strategy – the rewards are worth it. When done well, it won’t be long before those all-important metrics you’ve measured – sales lead quality, sales and conversion rates – should start shooting up.
If you’re still struggling to show ROI to executives, some insights we took away from this year’s Content Conversations (on how customers demonstrate commitment and love in the B2B content market) might help.
- Content is an essential part of today’s B2B marketing landscape.
- It can help you stand out, demonstrate your expertise and build trust.
- Base content in strategy and tailor it to different stages of the sales cycle.
- High-quality, relevant and engaging content is the key to success.
Want to hear what King Content has done for other B2B clients? Drop us a message and we’ll line up a meeting to show you.