B2B buyers have emphatically joined a revolution. They’re researching more, involving more colleagues, and even buying big-ticket packages online or via self-service.
And that revolution elevates the role of content in the sales process. Consider these research findings:
Since 2019, the average number of interactions required to make a buying decision jumped from 17 to 27 – a 59% increase, according to Forrester. The same study also found that more B2B stakeholders have joined the decision-making process: In 2017, 47% of purchases involved at least four people, while in 2021, 60% of purchases did.
As buying groups have gotten bigger, they’ve also become more self-reliant. Gartner research indicates sales teams have only about 5% of a B2B customer’s time in the buyer’s journey. Much of the rest is spent researching independently and working with their internal colleagues.
And if you think because your brand sells big-ticket items, this doesn’t apply to you, think again. McKinsey finds 70% of B2B decision-makers are open to making a fully self-serve or remote purchase over $50,000, and 27% would spend more than $500,000.
What do buyers need to make those self-serve or remote purchases? Information. That means content plays a much more significant role in the sales process and has the opportunity to create an even bigger impact on the bottom line.
How should that revolution affect your content plans? You’ll need to invest in updating your understanding of your brand’s customers. How? Let’s explore some options.
Talk to your sales team
In too many companies, sales and marketing operate like oil and water. They stay separate until someone shakes things up.
Get that process started by reaching out to the sales team. Have someone on the content team (a manager or strategist, for example) meet to talk about the Forrester, Gartner, and McKinsey findings). As if the research reflects their experiences with prospects. Asking questions shows that you recognize their expertise and will help you gain insights to apply to your content strategy.
Build on that conversation with follow-up questions about their experiences with prospects (even if you think you know the answers), such as:
- How do prospects enter your pipeline? If they land there in multiple ways, which is the most popular and which is the most effective?
- What roles do prospects have in their buying group?
- With whom do you directly interact?
- What information do they need to report back to the buying group?
- When is the prospect likely to show up? Have they just learned about the company or started their buying research? Or do they have a few questions that need answering to finalize their decision?
Shadow the sales process
Take your research one step further by asking to shadow a sales colleague through the sales process with a prospect. Ask to sit in on in-person meetings, email interactions, and virtual calls as an observer. Listen to what the prospect says (and what they don’t) and what information the sales team member provides (including how they respond to questions).
TIP: Resist the temptation to speak when shadowing the prospect-sales interactions. While you may have valuable information or can ask a “better” question, it’s not your job to make in-the-moment recommendations.
Revisit your buyer personas or targeted audiences
Now that you’re equipped with information about your current buyers and their engagement with the sales team, you’re ready to explore how the audiences for your brand’s content interact with your company.
B2B content teams often define their audience personas by their roles. But the expansion of buying groups has brought new roles into the process. Should you add personas, given the increase in members of buying groups? Does the growth in buyers conducting unassisted research online mean you should rethink the content you serve buyers?
To help figure out the answers, look at the data. Have you seen fluctuations in your website visitors, social media interactions, subscribers, YouTube viewers, etc.? If so, look further into those changes.
Do top-of-the-funnel topics attract more interest than they once did? That could indicate that more people are involved in researching solutions.
What about bottom-of-the-funnel content? An increase there could indicate more people have direct input into the decision-making. If closed deals are the ultimate goal, invest more content resources in developing bottom-of-the-funnel content.
If your data is tied into a system to follow a prospect through the journey, explore that information. Do you see patterns of engagement that are more likely to lead to conversions? Where do a significant number of people drop off? What content behavior commonalities do you see among those who ultimately bought?
Write a case study
Yes, you should always talk to customers to understand their motivations. But customers don’t always have the time or desire to do something just to help your brand. A case study means content for your brand and additional exposure for your client.
In the interview process, ask questions about the purchase process, even if those answers don’t go into the case study. Spend a few minutes to learn who’s involved, who isn’t involved, and how that’s changed over recent years.
Use your sign-up forms
Most marketers want to keep registration forms for gated content or webinars as brief as possible. The thinking is that the more information the person must enter, the less likely they are to complete the process. But if you want to understand your audience (and generate quality leads), prioritize these two questions:
- What is your title?
- What is your role in the buying process?
Include a drop-down menu of options to make the analysis easier, but make sure to include an “other” option with a required fill-in field.
TIP: If you can’t add questions to the registration form, incorporate them into your feedback requests or post-event surveys.
Expanding the B2B buying horizon
Any worthwhile content marketing strategy revolves around the audience. So it only makes sense to understand how the B2B buying revolution in the post-pandemic world has changed your audience’s information needs.
Through real-life research and first-party data, you can better position content marketing for its starring role in the buying process.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute