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How content impacts business decision-making

In any purchase situation, knowledge is power. And in recent years, the balance of power has shifted dramatically away from sales reps and into the hands of the customer.

The B2B buyer is changing – and your marketing strategy must change with them.

As more B2B brands transition to a ‘solution selling’ model, customers are buying with greater care and reluctance than ever before. The average business decision now involves 6.8 internal stakeholders, and half of buyers read 3 – 5 pieces of content before contacting a supplier.

All this means that time-tested sales techniques no longer work the way they used to. In this new sales environment, sales reps that aren’t equipped with the right tools will struggle to complete.

CEB experts Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon explain: “Core-performing reps struggle mightily in all but the most straightforward of sales, leaving an alarming number of half-completed deals in their wake as they attempt to adapt to changing customer demands.”

The upshot of all this is that content has become an essential part of the modern B2B sales process.

It’s the best way to get your brand onto a client’s radar early on in their decision-making process. It fills gaps in their knowledge. And it helps them secure buy-in for your solution from other stakeholders in their organisation.

But despite all this, most marketers are still struggling to align the content they produce with how their customers make business decisions. So, today we’ll outline the role content plays in business decision-making – and how senior marketers can ensure their teams are creating the right kinds of content.

Lack of information equals lack of action

Decision-making paralysis is common in the world of B2B sales.

Ordinary consumers may often buy stuff on impulse when something they want catches their attention. But because of the large amounts of money involved, business decisions invariably follow a much more rational path.

Company decision-makers are interested in questions like: Does this truly solve our problem? Is it the best value option available? Do we need it now? What will it mean for me if I make a bad call?

Even if a prospect identifies a real problem and accepts it needs solving ASAP, one of two things will happen if they lack the information they need to identify the best solution for them.

No purchase decision

The issue may get pencilled in to discuss at the next board meeting. Hopefully, by then someone will have worked it out. But they won’t, of course. The problem will then get swept under the rug until people are so bored of talking about it that it drops off the agenda completely.

Slow purchase decision

If it’s a particularly pressing problem, your prospect may begin a cycle of Googling, slightly more advanced Googling, reading online articles, magazines, brochures and websites and asking for recommendations. At best, it will be weeks before they are ready to speak to a supplier. But it could just as easily be several months.

Great content fills knowledge gaps

So where is all the world-class content to support these decision-makers in their time of need? The stuff that educates them, challenges them, inspires them and truly enables their decision-making?

We know the typical B2B buyer is 57 per cent of the way through their purchase decision before they contact a vendor directly. So, it makes sense for 50 – 60 per cent of your content to be targeted at people in the research phase of their decision-making process. But that’s not how content works for most companies.

Instead, the overwhelming majority of content brands produce is designed to generate leads or close business.

Of course, it’s easy to see why. Sales directors and CEOs want more sales, for which they need leads. You want to prove your worth through numbers and avoid swimming against the tide. But relate it back to decision-making and this doesn’t make sense.

“Ask yourself, ‘Why don’t my customers value these benefits already?’” 
Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon

You are going to have to be brave with this. One of the worst things you can do in content marketing is open by talking about the benefits associated with your offering.

Now, that might seem a little counterintuitive. But the simple fact is, these prospects are just not ready to engage with you on that level yet.

In the research phase, a potential customer probably doesn’t see your offering as being all that different from those of your competitors. What they really need is information about why they should care about the unique problems only you can solve for them.

After all, if your prospects understood how much better off they could be using your services, they’d hand over their cash in a heartbeat!

“Ask yourself, ‘Why don’t my customers value these benefits already?’” recommend Adamson and Dixon. “’What’s currently costing our customers more than they realise, that only we can help them fix?’”

Answering these questions for your clients is what makes content marketing work. It transforms your organisation from one of several suppliers into a valuable partner that provides them with the kinds of insight they would happily pay for.

You’ll be considered an authoritative voice on the subject, meaning you’ll be front-of-mind when these prospects do start looking for solutions. Your competitors won’t even get a look in.

This contrasts starkly with more traditional sales techniques, which can often frustrate clients by wasting their time. That’s what makes content marketing so different from many other strategies marketers will turn to in the search for new business.

To succeed in B2B you have to add value

In the quest for fresh, qualified leads for your business, it can be tempting to adopt aggressive outbound marketing tactics, such as lead generation agencies or telesales.

But while these approaches may have a place in the marketing mix for some companies, they’re no substitute for the insights you can share with potential clients through content marketing.

For example, a lead gen agency may yield short-term results for a company selling transactional goods or services. But if you want to move up the value chain and sell your wares as the solution to a particular set of client needs, they’re not going to cut it.

These companies are essentially a cheap extension of your own telesales team – and in the complex world of B2B sales, they’re going to run into the same core challenges.

If a company’s head of PR isn’t convinced she needs to be providing her CMO with the same level of analytics insights as her colleagues in paid and owned media, you’re going to have a hard time selling her PR measurement software.

That’s true whether she receives the call from one of your in-house sales reps or an external lead gen agency.

What you need to do is change the way she thinks about her industry and show her why she should care more about measurement. If you can prove she’ll secure a larger share of her company’s marketing budget by showing the impact her work has on clear business objectives, you’ll be in a much better position to close the deal.

As we argue in The power of emotion in B2B content marketing, customers place a huge premium on receiving insights like these during the sales process.

The article considers a survey of over 5,000 B2B buyers which revealed that brand, products and services account for only 38 per cent of customer loyalty. Just 9 per cent is down to your ability to compete on price – and the remaining 53 per cent can be attributed to your ability to provide clients with useful insights about their business.

That means, focusing on traditional, product-centric marketing tactics is a poor strategy for businesses that want to compete in today’s competitive business landscape.

The most successful brands reach clients early on in their decision-making process. They provide unique insights that change the way those clients think about their business. And they position themselves as the best solution to a problem (or opportunity) their customers often didn’t even know they had.

In short, the best B2B brands invest in content marketing.

Key takeaways

  • In the modern B2B landscape, you need to reach customers early – during the research phase of their purchase decision. The best way to do this is with content.
  • Providing your customers with useful insights during the sales process helps them secure buy-in from other company stakeholders and encourages long-term loyalty.
  • Don’t lead with your services, lead to them. The best content shows customers how to overcome a challenge (or opportunity) they didn’t even know exists.

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