An engaging B2B marketing campaign that converts is closer than you think. You don’t need a bullhorn, nor a bully pulpit, to connect with your customer base. Instead, as your friends here at Creative Cave prove to great effect, pulling up a comfy chair, getting to know your audience, and speaking their language is, by far, your most effective marketing tool.
As we’re about to show you, understanding your audience’s buying process is a critical first step in finding conversion Valhalla. Remember, you’re probably dealing with very astute people that aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and take a deep dive into vendor and product research. In other words, just assume they’ll leave no diligence stone unturned, meaning your message must be on-point at all times.
Once you understand their buying process – the sequential steps customers take towards making a purchase – and how it aligns with your sales cycle – the stages along your sales funnel – you can create content for each stage of that process, engage, convert, and repeat. Since looks can be deceiving, however, such a seemingly straightforward process requires a meticulous strategy, something that Creative Cave has distilled down to an exact science. So pull up one of those comfy chairs (or maybe just lower your standing desk) and give us a few minutes as we take you for a tour of the buying process and creating content for each of its stages. Trust us when we say both your B2B marketing efforts and bottom line will thank you.
Understand the Buying Process
Would you go on vacation without booking a flight, finding a sweet hotel, or having any sort of plan? Probably not, unless you want to end up in Death Valley come mid-August or the Upper Peninsula in January. Put another way, without a plan, you could very well find yourself at the wrong place and at the wrong time. And that’s just not good.
The same goes for your B2B marketing. You need to have a plan based on an in-depth understanding of where your customers are within the sales funnel at any given moment. That’s the only way to create content that always engages, continually leading your audience towards the sales light at the end of the funnel. Therefore, knowing your way around each stage of your customers’ buying process is a gift that will keep on giving to your revenue streams and customer segments alike.
1. Identifying the Problem or Need
At the risk of sounding obvious, your customers wouldn’t be in the market for your product or service without an underlying need. Sometimes that need stems from growth in their business, other times it’s to address an internal issue that has arisen.
No matter the cause, your B2B customers have all identified something they need, either themselves or through a salesperson, and that’s where you step in and save the day. From there, your customer moves to the next stage in the buying process – research.
2. Researching Possible Solutions
This stage really distinguishes the modern B2B customer from previous generations. Whereas a company relied on a team of fleet-footed and quick-witted salespeople to provide relevant product and market information in years past, that old stalwart is quickly fading. Now, customers feel comfortable fending for their own, mining the vast digital landscape for information all by their lonesome.
According to Forrester, 68% of B2B customers now prefer to independently perform their own research online. Likewise, 60% do not want to interact with a sales team, at least as their primary source of information. What do those stats mean for your content? The spotlight is on and it’s glaring, so it must always bring its A-game to your digital sphere.
3. Developing Buying Criteria
Once they’ve done their research and have a pretty good idea on how to address their needs, your customers then circle the wagons and bring in other stakeholders to establish buying criteria – required features, price, quantity, quality, timelines, vendor support, and other factors. By this point, the process involves HR, Finance, Accounting, and any number of individuals and departments.
Referencing that same Forrester research, 62% of B2B customers now exclusively use digital content to develop their buying criteria and, fast-forwarding to the next stage of the process, evaluate different vendors. Just in case we haven’t driven this point well into the ground yet – your content is on the frontlines, making it difficult to overstate its importance to your success.
4. Evaluating & Choosing a Vendor
This is where the rubber meets the road. From your customers’ perspective, all of their research, emails, meetings, and memos converge on this point, and it’s time to make a decision. More often than not, customers simply match their list of criteria with vendors that check off the most boxes to make their decision.
As you can see, the B2B buying process doesn’t differ a heck of a lot from B2C, with one crucial exception. In essence, your digital content – blogs, white papers, infographics, and anything else you create to inform, engage, and convert – largely replaces the role of social commentary in the B2C world. Reviews, ratings, and social media posts might wield a mighty sword for the average shopper browsing for ballet shoes or a reciprocating saw, but for the B2B crowd, your content carries some serious weight. Don’t get us wrong, reviews and testimonials have their place in B2B, but they tend to serve as additional confirmation or comfort.
So on that note, let’s take what we know about the different stages of the B2B buying process, align it with your sales cycle, and start creating spectacular content that moves the needle for you, shall we?
Creating Content For Each Stage of the B2B Buying Process
You probably noticed some similarities between your customers’ buying process and your own sales funnel, and that’s for a very good reason. They’re basically looking at the same process from two perspectives, different sides of the same conversion coin. And thanks to those similarities, you already have a very handy roadmap for creating content for each stage of the buying process, whether you knew it or not.
After some trial and error, we’ve determined that a bit of back engineering along your sales funnel, using each stage of the buying process as a destination point, is the most efficient and effective way of guiding your content creation. Yes, we understand that might sound a wee bit confusing, but bear with us for a moment while we explain.
Content for the Problem/Need Stage
The first stage of the buying process presents the entry point to your cavalcade of informative content. You know the reader has arrived upon your digital shores with a particular problem or need they want to resolve, so craft your content for this critical stage by taking a good, long look at your product and service line, only through the lens of your customer base. Once you identify the buying criteria most important to them – the features, benefits, and solutions that meet their needs best – then you’re off to the races.
As you’re creating content that speaks to that criteria, remember that you’re not only providing your customers with potential solutions to their problem or need, but a map on how to get there as well. Exude confidence and expertise, using industry shorthand wherever appropriate, while also building an indirect pathway leading further down the sales funnel. You want their progression to be intuitive but not especially salesy as your primary concern with this phase is establishing your organization as a thought leader in your field.
To make the conversion path as seamless as possible, create an interlocking web of content for this initial stage, covering a spectrum of topics that effectively blankets all of your customers’ criteria points. Link to different topics within your content library to make it a comprehensive experience for the reader, where you answer all of their questions within the neat and tidy confines of your digital domain.
In doing so, you’re creating content around a wide range of problems that’s intuitive to navigate and seamlessly leads to the next stage of the funnel with well-worded CTAs. Those CTAs should be, once again, compelling enough for the customer to progress down the funnel but not overt in salesmanship.
Using our own content as an example for this stage of content creation, a Creative Cave blog post called 5 Problems You’re Running Into When Creating B2B Content could present solutions to a variety of content creation issues, linking to additional Creative Cave content that further informs the reader on specific topics. Once the reader is satisfied with our information and potential solutions, we’ve established ourselves as reliable experts on the subject, significantly improving the chances of working with that reader at some point down the road. Which is pretty awesome sauce.
Content for the Perform Research Stage
The next stage segues directly from the previous one, but instead of targeting buying criteria as the focal point for your content, you’re taking a more solution-oriented approach. Begin by establishing a list of potential solutions for a problem, but tread lightly, our friends, because it’s still not time to hit your customers over the head with the sales hammer.
Rather than calling out the competition or sounding like you’re selling a gently used Toyota, remain informative and insightful. Your objective is to make sure you’re sufficiently addressing the customer’s needs and solving their problem with your content. Remember, depending on your level of brand recognition, readers were likely searching for general solutions rather than your specific business. Getting prematurely salesy – no, that’s not a medical condition – will immediately send them back to their Google search results and leave you high and dry.
Ideally, you want the reader to conclude that you’re the best fit for their need entirely on their own. Granted, your company won’t be the perfect solution for everyone that reads your content, but that’s okay. Under those circumstances, while you should always be logical while explaining why your solution should fits, never fail to inform them of other potential options as well.
Likewise, for customers not yet ready to progress along the funnel, your content at this stage provides you with credibility and establishes you as a thought leader. In the future, once those customers are lower in the funnel and closer to conversion, they’ll remember you and your content.
Along the way, they might subscribe to your blog thanks to your content and the value it provides them, allowing you to further educate and communicate with them. That process lets you introduce more intricate strategies over time, perhaps comparing your solution to the competition or delving into details on your product or service itself.
Again using Creative Cave as an example, another content offer, How to Create Inbound B2B Content That Engages & Converts, builds on the foundation created by the previous blog, 5 Problems You’re Running Into When Creating B2B Content. This newest offer directly speaks to overcoming the problems discussed in that first blog, providing specific answers to the issues the reader is researching in the first place.
Content for the Establish Buying Criteria Stage
By now, you’ve provided potential solutions to the issues that your customers were researching, giving them valuable information on what’s available to address their needs. In other words, you’ve piqued their interest and, with a bit of luck and a whole lot of effort, hopefully compelled them to do more research on your specific solution.
Rather than focusing on higher-level, solution-oriented content, this stage lets you take a deeper dive and place a magnifying glass over your product/service or, at the very least, solutions like yours. This also includes discussing implementation strategies and more granular details that explain a particular solution through additional content like infographics, white papers, webinars, or best practice case studies on how to best utilize a solution like yours.
Continuing our Creative Cave example, we build from the How to Create Inbound B2B Content That Engages & Converts content offer to crank up the microscope further, introducing another blog titled 3 Ways to Execute B2B Content Marketing: In-House, Freelancer, or Agency. In this piece, we discuss the pros and cons of hiring a junior staffer that will learn on the job, a more senior employee that’s more expensive but has experience, a trustworthy freelancer, or hiring an outside agency.
To advance the stage even further, knowing the 3 Ways blog concluded that an agency is often the best choice, we could then follow it with another piece, Why Should I Trust and Agency to Write Content About the Industry I Know Better? Using these two blogs in conjunction with each other, we’ve identified a list of possible solutions and targeted one that is most often the best choice – an agency.
This approach lets us explain why using an agency like Creative Cave allows the customer to leverage a full team of dedicated specialists that provide expertise on the content marketing process and strategy. It’s compelling but not too aggressive, allowing the reader to come to their own conclusion which, not coincidentally, usually involves using an agency like Creative Cave to meet their buying criteria and solve their B2B content marketing problem.
Content for the Vendor Evaluation Stage
By the time a customer reaches the vendor evaluation stage, they’ve developed criteria to help guide their decision, researched different solutions, and must now choose the one that best addresses their original problem. In a perfect world, they reach out to you and let your team of fantastic salespeople seal the deal.
However, many of your customers, perhaps even most, are not yet ready to talk to you at this point and would prefer additional content to cross them over into the conversion promised land. This is where product demos, vendor comparisons, feature checklists, or a straightforward blog stating why you’re the right solution for their problem comes in handy.
Put another way, there’s no longer an overwhelming need to tiptoe around an honest and forthright sales pitch that explicitly discusses the strengths and weaknesses of both you and your competitors. B2B customers value honesty and ethical standards just as much as price and function, so don’t frame your product or service as the perfect solution for everyone. Instead, be upfront, state your case well, and rely on the informative and precise content you provided thus far.
This approach also helps you weed out the customers that likely would’ve chosen a competitor, saving both you and the customer time and effort. Your B2B audience is always going to directly compare you with competing companies, so if you beat them to the punch and provide them with an honest comparison, you at least get to control the narrative and have a say as they form their opinions.
To round out our Creative Cave analogy, the reader has determined that using an agency is the best route to take for their company’s content. We now have to convince them that Creative Cave is the right agency amongst the many they are probably evaluating at this stage. Yes, we could offer a free recommendation or consultation to help move everything forward, but many potential customers prefer a content-driven approach, even this late in the game.
Therefore, we can create a case study around the results of a specific campaign along with content that shows how we are different from other agencies – including our content strategy, execution processes, and the ever-important client/agency relationship. Ultimately, we’re demonstrating why working with us is more enjoyable and ultimately successful, also taking the opportunity to pat ourselves on the back and wave our awesome flag around a bit.
What exactly does that entail? Well, we can say how working with Creative Cave is a collaborative, transparent experience, highlighting our agility, accountability, and incredibly innovative perspective that expertly blends technology with skill and effective strategy. At this point, the reader – like you, for instance – will appreciate learning that we’re a HubSpot partner, perpetually on the forefront of new trends, and leaders in the space.
Pretty convincing stuff, huh? And the best part is, it’s all completely accurate and truthful. As we’ve done with the very piece you’re reading, we let our expertise do the talking, every so often letting our guard down to brag a bit but, for the most part, we let our insights speak for us. Simply put, when it comes time for you, our reader and audience, to choose an agency partner that makes your content and message sing, we absolutely like our chances.