If content marketing is all about providing relevant information to help your customers make a decision, then no one needs this information more than a B2B customer. B2B customers aren’t deciding between what to order for dinner or where to buy their next coffee; they’re about to invest millions of dollars in major decisions that could make (or break) their businesses.
With more stakeholders needing to weigh in about these big decisions, it’s no surprise that the average sales cycle is longer than ever. Why? For starters, everyone has an opinion, but no one wants to be responsible for saying “Yes! This is the solution worth committing $2 million to” until they are 110 percent confident it is the right choice for their business.
And thus, the sales cycle drags on as more options are considered, discarded, and re-considered. This doesn’t mean, of course, that your only options are to sit idly by throughout the sales cycle or call every day until the lead finally signs on the dotted line (or blocks your phone number). At each stage of the sales cycle, content marketing can subtly make or break your own business’s chances for closing the deal.
How to use content marketing at each step of the B2B Sales cycle
The B2B sales cycle can be broken down into three main phases:
- Awareness—When a potential client becomes aware that a problem exists and (ideally) identifies your business as a solution provider
- Evaluation—When the lead compares your business’s solutions with competitors’ solutions
- Decision—The lead finally makes a commitment, either by choosing your business and converting into a client, or by opting to go with a competitor
In conjunction with the sales cycle, your challenge as a B2B solutions provider is three-fold: 1) Define the buying vision during the awareness phase; 2) stay top of mind during the evaluation phase; and 3) close the sale during the decision phase.
Here’s how to close more deals with content marketing by matching the right type of content to where your lead is in the sales cycle.
Phase #1: Awareness
- Your challenge: defining the buying vision
- Your content marketing solution: white papers
When it comes to researching product decisions, more B2B buyers (78 percent) seek out white papers than any other piece of content, according to Eccolomedia. So, when is the right time to introduce white papers into the sales cycle? While white papers are useful at every phase of the sales process, you’ll get the biggest impact during the awareness phase.
(Image source: photodune)
During the first phase of the sales process, your future clients may be aware that they have a problem or need, but they probably do not fully understand the extent of what they need or the possible solutions. This early phase of the buying cycle is a unique window of opportunity for you to favorably define the buying vision in your terms.
White paper best practices
- Stick to what you know and shine here: Select topics where your business has deep subject-matter expertise and that naturally complement your current products and services. For example, if your business provides brand consulting for startups, a white paper on logo and tagline selection best practices is naturally within your wheelhouse. The goal of content marketing during the awareness phase is to establish your business as an industry thought leader while simultaneously positioning your company as the provider of a superior product or service.
- Make your white paper easy to read. Use bulleted and numbered lists, deliver shorter sections, and get the main points across in large, bold text. While B2B decision makers seek out white papers more than any other content, they also have short attention spans. For example, 95 percent of B2B buyers prefer shorter content formats, according to HubSpot.
- Boost content engagement. Once leads visit your website for a white paper download, keep them engaged by continually presenting them with relevant, applicable content. Services likeTrenDemon use an algorithm to identify which content on your site is best suited for a specific site visitor. By boosting content engagement during the awareness phase, you continue to establish your business as the superior solution provider and industry thought leader.
(Image source: Trendemon)
Phase #2: Evaluation
- Your challenge: staying top of mind
- Your content marketing solution: email marketing
During the evaluation phase, a lead is likely considering multiple providers. It’s not practical (nor effective) to call the lead every day; nor is it a good idea to take a wait-and-see approach. While your lead is gathering information from other companies, you need a means for keeping your brand top of mind and continue differentiating yourself form the competition, without being over-zealous in your sales pitch and risking alienating the prospect. Now is the time for a two-pronged email marketing campaign: e-newsletters and using psychological triggers in emails.
Email marketing best practices:
- E-Newsletters: Weekly e-newsletters, like a “Monday Motivators” or “Wednesday Roundups,” help build a consistent and loyal readership, which improves engagement and click-through rates, while keeping your business top of mind for leads. Your e-newsletter doesn’t need to be long or time-intensive to prepare. Re-purpose content you’ve already created (e.g., blog posts, articles, and white papers) and tailor this content to current industry news or trends. Getting important information into the body of the e-newsletter will help to get eyeballs on key pieces of content.
- Triggered emails: Triggered emails are emails sent in response to specific actions. For example, let’s say a lead downloads a new white paper on your website or registers for a webinar. Later, they return to your website and search for more information. A triggered email is scheduled to automatically be sent in response to this action. Keep the email simple: a few lines email reiterating your industry expertise and inviting the lead to schedule a brief call with your team to learn more. Triggered email messages have a higher open and click-through rates than “business as usual” messages, according to Smart Insights.
(Image source: responsewise)
Phase #3: Decision
- Your challenge: closing the deal
- Your content marketing solution: interactive case studies
Case studies are the No. 2 type of content for moving B2B purchasing decisions forward. Case studies can be beneficial at all stages of the sales process, but they have the biggest impact during the final phase. The final stage of the sales cycle can often take the longest. Your lead has narrowed down her choices. If you’ve made the cut, now is the time to seal the deal? At this point in the sales cycle, your lead needs to build company consensus around a single solution provider. Ideally, that solution provider will be you.
(Image source: photodune)
Case study best practices
- Anticipate and answer your lead’s concerns. Since you’ve been engaging with the lead throughout the sales process, you should have a good idea about what barriers are standing in your way. An engaging case study, complete with client testimonials, is an opportunity to highlight how your brand is the best option.
- Get visual. In a recent study, 86 percent of decision makers expressed some level of desire to interact with visual content. From infographics to video testimonials, use visual elements in your case study to demonstrate your business’s expertise and successful track record. Consider creating a short (2-3 minute) video case study summary. Videos ranked as the third most effective B2B marketing tactic in 2014, and 70 percent of marketers plan to increase their use of original visual assets in 2015, according to the aforementioned HubSpot source.