When looking at a B2B environment, there are some significant differences in decision-making compared to a typical consumer purchase of something as simple as potato chips or as complex as a PC. A B2B decision-making cycle is typically much longer, ranging from months to sometimes years. The process is usually multi-step and involves many people within an organization ranging from technical experts to procurement to the C-level, depending on the scope and size of the decision. Often, a decision is built around the development of a personal relationship with a salesperson or can be influenced greatly by the level of support provided post-sale. Generally, B2B decision-making is more complex.
With 67 percent of the buyer’s journey now happening digitally (Source: SiriusDecisions), a thoughtful approach to content marketing at every step of the complex B2B decision-making process is critical, particularly online.Using the most relevant and valuable content within the broad spectrum of paid, earned or owned media during the appropriate phase can not only help increase traffic to your site but also help secure more customers.
The importance of aligning not only the right type of content to secure initial engagement but also developing compelling content to maintain interest during the three phases of decision making is illustrated by Marketing Sherpa. These diagrams demonstrate the impact of a 1 percent click-through rate (CTR) increase on customer growth.
Let’s look closely at the three phases:
Phase 1: Awareness
Prospects fall into a few scenarios: they know something isn’t working, and they need to fix it but don’t have a solution; they didn’t know they had a problem; or they weren’t aware that a better solution existed (a change to the status quo). The focus of content in this phase is on pinpointing issues, helping solve problems and providing information that can educate others who may ultimately need to buy-in about the issues.
The function of content during this phase is outreach, driving new traffic and introducing existing customers to new information. The following marketing vehicles are effective in phase one of the buying cycle:
- Advertising/display (including native advertising)
- Blog articles
- Press releases
- Social network posts
- Search engines
- White papers that pose a particular problem
In the B2B model, it is critical that the content developed for each of these vehicles appeals to a wide range of titles within the target audience and can be delivered frequently and consistently to reach prospects throughout much longer decision-making timeframes.
Phase 2: Consideration
In the consideration phase, prospects are focused on research to help narrow down solution options. The goal is to assist with that research while educating them. Content that is more in-depth is effective here, such as:
- Technical articles
- Buyer’s guides
- Demo videos
- Case studies
- Detailed product literature
Again, with B2B, the content itself needs to be varied to address the different audiences. Some content will need to be focused on making the technical case for the solution and some advocating the business case, for example.
Phase 3: Decision
In the decision phase, prospects are close to making a decision and are often looking for the least expensive solution that provides the most value. Samples, evaluation modules and major customized demonstrations may be used to assess viability and help make that final choice. Focusing on value and post-sale support can make the difference in a prospect becoming a customer. In the B2B space, this can often mean product trial.
The following marketing tools are effective in this phase:
- One-on-one meetings
- Email with discounts and promotions
- Total cost of ownership models
Of course, many of the tools in the awareness and consideration phases also will be effective in the decision phase if the content is focused on value.
While there are three phases in the decision-making process, there is actually a fourth phase as it relates to outreach. This important phase is retention and advocacy.
In this phase, feedback, shareable content, ways to expand on complementary solutions and loyalty discounts all may be used to help keep customers and begin the prospecting process over again using referrals from satisfied colleagues and peers.
There are two key things to remember about the decision-making process. One is that the most important aspect of developing content and using the right vehicles to reach your audience in is to truly understand the audience for your specific market. Know what is important to them, what their online behavior tells you and adjust strategies accordingly. The second is to know that marketing vehicles and options are ever changing. Let your customers help guide you and address them with the options that are most valuable to them.
If you’re sold on content marketing now, let us help you refine your strategy.