In B2B content, it’s always service first, then your product
Customer experience is just as important in B2B marketing as it is when you’re talking directly to consumers, and yet many companies fail to capitalise on the opportunity by focusing on the sale, not the customer. To get it right, you will need to re-assess what helpful content actually is. Hint: it’s not about your product or service.
- In a B2B context, companies that make the purchase process easier are a massive 62% more likely than other suppliers to win a high-quality sale. (Harvard Business Review, 2017)
- Customers are doing their own online research, with many being 70 per cent through the buying process before they contact a vendor (Forbes, 2017). Arguably content as well as tools are needed for consumers to explore their options well.
- However, something is amiss. Only about 10 per cent of organisations both here in Australia and overseas excel at customer experience (Bain & Company). There is a big opportunity here.
- 94 per cent of buyers said they preferred vendors that “provided informational content” (B2B Buyer’s Survey Report). That means content that is helpful when buyers need it and when it is going to enhance their CX.
- Helpful content is not persuasive content about your product or service, but agnostic information that helps the decision-maker buy-in that sector.
- Most brands create content that is sales focused, outlining product features and benefits and not what customers are actually looking for at this point in time, at the top of the funnel.
The best B2B marketing is the art of selling without selling. Offering a great customer experience is bigger than the product itself and should encapsulate the whole experience, including the research phase, the buying process and post-purchase support.
Making a buying decision in the workplace can be daunting for many people, especially when it’s a large commercial decision, so support in the form of the facts, comparisons, case studies and testimonials can be incredibly valuable to your customers. This is especially true if it’s the first time they are undertaking this process or it’s been a while since they last did.
People worry about the decisions they make at work. “Nobody got fired for buying IBM” was a catchcry in the IT industry in the ’80s. How often do you hear something similar? “I won’t get fired for implementing this brand of CRM or that brand of CMS.” If they get the decision wrong, the implications are generally greater than say, buying the slightly under-specced laptop for their home use.
Furthermore, as businesses get larger, more and more stakeholders are involved in the decision, each with their own opinions. The future B2B customer needs information to support robust internal discussion.
B2B customers are looking for help, not to be sold to. This is an important distinction and an opportunity for brands to take the lead and differentiate themselves. Businesses need to create content that meets the needs of customers, especially first-time buyers. Content should cover:
- the significant contributing factors that need to be considered when choosing product options;
- the significant contributing factors that key stakeholders will likely also consider and discuss internally;
- the common pitfalls potential customers make when buying in this sector.
Consider helping B2B customers to become experts in the sector, not in your product. This will pleasantly surprise them, build brand credibility and create trust with your audience.
Of course, this is more easily accomplished when you have a superior product in the category – and a much better chance that once the customer gets their head around the category, the natural choice will be you. However, even if you don’t occupy that position, success is more likely if you begin the relationship by being helpful.
So where do you start? Data, of course. Search data, social listening, call-centre listening, and the sales team are all fertile sources for identifying consumer needs. It’s time to start listening first, rather than talking.
Given that significant amount of customers’ research is occurring online, do you currently address their questions in the digital environment in a useful way? First needs first, plug the gaps between the questions customers are asking and actually answer those questions. In doing this you’ll also benefit from Google natural search optimisation.
Next, develop content that is helpful or inspirational, and which appeals to people at different stages of the buying journey. Arm them with ammunition and the confidence that they are making the right decision and they’ll have a convincing argument for their different stakeholders. For example, the Financial Director has a very different set of objectives and concerns to the IT director, so you’ll need to consider everyone when creating the content.
But before your content and CX become overly rational, ensure your brand is embedded, because your content becomes the representation of your best self (or worst), whether you intend it or not. You are your content, so it should reflect well on your brand and vice versa. It becomes an extension of the service you provide and when you step in and serve, future customers notice.
Unsurprisingly, technology brands excel in this space, given the complexity of the products they are spruiking. For instance, brands such as Adobe and Sitecore have good guides on how to buy a CMS. Adobe has guides that cover some of the most important questions you should ask and issues you should investigate. It provides tips for navigating the information and targeted marketing you’ll encounter along the way to help you make informed, objective assessments of the solutions you evaluate. To the uninitiated, this is a gift. The same philosophy should apply across all sectors.
We all know customers are consuming content at an unprecedented rate and that organisations are churning it out like never before. Much of it though is self-centred, shouting out what it does and why it’s great. The outcome is that this content is largely ineffective for the modern B2B buyer. It misses the mark in helping future customers buy confidently.
Help future B2B customers navigate buying in your sector first, then sell your product.