The Best Content Types for Each Stage of the B2B Sales Cycle
When it comes to products or services they have never used before, people don’t just make purchases blindly.
Before committing to the purchase, they try to gather as much information about the product or service as they can to determine whether the product will fulfill their need or solve their problem.
This is especially true for B2B customers, since B2B purchases can be quite costly.
In the past, the easiest way to gather information about the product or service was by talking to a sales representative.
There was no other reliable source of information, and therefore, the customer had no other option but to listen to the sales representative. This put the sales rep in complete control over the sales process.
The rise of the internet changed all that.
Today, a prospective customer doesn’t need to talk to a sales rep to gather information about a product or service. They can do that by researching the product online. Unfortunately, this has taken sales representatives out of the loop. They are no longer in charge of the sales process.
This article on the Harvard Business Review cites a study of over 1,400 B2B customers which found that, on average, B2B customers will get through almost 60% of the typical purchase decision without getting in touch with the supplier.
This means researching possible solutions to their problems, setting their requirements, comparing prices, ranking options, and coming up with budgets, all this without a supplier’s input.
By the time they decide to have a conversation with the supplier, they know more about their problem and possible solutions than the sales representative who is supposed to be helping them.
While the internet has shifted power and control from the sales representative to the customer, this doesn’t mean that it’s game over for you as a supplier.
Your customers are searching for information online, and through content marketing, you still have a chance to get your products and services in front on your customers and influence their purchase decision without ever holding a conversation with them.
Marketers have realized this, which is why 91% of B2B marketers are using content marketing as a core part of their overall marketing strategy.
The Content Marketing Institute also reports that 75% B2B marketers who are yet to develop a content marketing strategy are planning to come up with one within 12 months.
While B2B marketers are beginning to understand the importance of content marketing, most of them are yet to figure out how to do it effectively.
According to TopRank Marketing, 65% of marketers find it a challenge determining the most effective types of content, which means that a huge number of B2B marketers are producing the wrong kind of content, or producing the right content but at the wrong time.
This challenge in determining the most effective kind of content can be attributed to B2B marketers’ lack of understanding of their audience.
To produce the right kind of content for your audience at the right time, you need to know who they are, their thought process, the answers they are looking for, and the where they in their buyer’s journey.
DEFINING THE B2B SALES CYCLE
Once a B2B buyer realizes that they have a problem, they don’t immediately reach out to a supplier and purchase the product or service they think will solve their problem. Instead, they go through several stages before they decide to make the purchase.
For instance, a customer might stumble upon your website while looking for solutions to their problem, but they won’t immediately buy from you.
Instead, they might subscribe to your email list to learn more about your company and your products.
From there, they might then get in touch with a sales representative before finally making the purchase.
This process – all the stages the buyer goes through before making the purchase – is what is referred to as the sales cycle.
Once you understand the sales cycle your customers go through before making the purchase, you can then create a content marketing funnel that will help you move leads through the sales cycle until they make the purchase.
The aim of the content marketing funnel is to provide leads with the right content at the right time in order to convert them from leads into paying customers.
It is therefore surprising and unfortunate that 68% of B2B organizations do not have a properly defined sales funnel.
The B2B sales cycle can be broken down into three main stages:
The Awareness Stage
Also known as the ‘Discovery’ stage, this is the stage where a customer has just realized that they have a problem.
At this stage, the customer doesn’t know about your brand, or your products and services.
They are simply looking for information and answers to help them know whether there is an existing solution for their problem.
In some cases, the customer might not even be aware of the nature of their problem.
Your aim at this stage is to get the customer to know that your brand exists, and that you have a solution for the problem they are struggling with.
The Evaluation Stage
Also known as the ‘Consideration’ stage, this is the stage where the customer is evaluating their options.
They have enough information about their problem, and they know that your brand is among the many that can provide them with a solution for their problem.
At this point, the customer is trying to understand which solution is best suited to their problem and their specific circumstances.
This stage involves heavy research on the part of the customer. They will look at what you have to offer and compare it against what your competitors are offering. They also want to know whether your product or service can effectively solve their problem.
At this point, since you have already captured their attention, your aim as a B2B marketer is to nurture the lead, build a relationship with the customer, and show them why your solution is the best fit for their problem.
This stage is also about getting the customer to trust your brand.
The Purchase Stage
This is the final stage of the sales cycle. The customer is ready to buy, but they have something that is keeping them from making the purchase.
Maybe they are torn between you and another competitor. Maybe they have some doubt as to whether your product will really give them the ROI they expect, or they have some other minor objection that is keeping them from going ahead with the purchase.
At this point, your aim as a B2B marketer is to give the customer a nudge to get them to buy by helping them overcome whatever objection they have or by giving them the final bit of information they need.
How you handle this stage determines whether the customer will make the purchase or abandon the entire process.
BEST CONTENT TYPES FOR EACH STAGE
The fact that the customer has different requirements at each stage of the B2B sales cycle means that you cannot use the same kind of content for each stage.
You have to match your content to where your customer is in their buyer’s journey.
Let’s take a look at the kinds of content that work for each stage.
Best Content for the Awareness Stage
At this stage, the customer is not looking to make a purchase.
All they want at this point is information about their problem and possible solutions.
Therefore, all the content you produce for this stage should be aimed at helping the customer know more about their problem, show that there are some existing solutions to this problem, and present your product or service as a possible solution to the problem.
All the content you put out at this stage should be focused on informing and educating prospective customers, rather than trying to sell, and should be freely available to everyone. Remember, you are trying to get as many prospective customers as possible to know about your product.
Since the customers at this stage have little knowledge about the problem or possible solutions, you should keep the copy in your content simple, since using excessive jargon in your content can easily turn off possible leads.
Another thing to keep in mind at this point is the need to focus on non-branded content.
This means that the content should be unbiased and not self-serving. You are not trying to present yourself as the best at this point. Instead, you are simply trying to give prospective customers answers to the questions that are troubling them.
Asking you to keep your content non-branded might sound counterintuitive, but it actually works. Remember, at this point, the customer is not even aware about your brand.
They are simply searching for any information that might help them with their problem.
Actually, a study by GroupM reports that 86% of all searchers perform non-branded queries.
This is your chance to attract all this traffic.
Even if your content at this stage is non-branded, prospects will still know about your brand.
After all, they are reading the content on a site that is has your logo and brand name.
For the awareness stage, you can use the following kinds of content:
- Blog posts and articles: These are probably the most common kind of content for this stage. Blog posts and articles work for the awareness stage because they are easy to find (all it takes to find them is a simple Google search) and they help drive organic traffic to your site (by boosting your search rankings). When writing blog posts for the awareness stage, don’t be pushy about your brand. Focus on educating your audience about the problem they are going through.
- Short videos: Some people prefer visual content over text-based content, and short videos can be a great way to let people learn about the problem and about your company in a passive and entertaining way. Videos can also be used in conjunction with other kinds of content, such as blogs and articles. They are also a good way to make your brand seem approachable by showing the people behind the brand.
Several kinds of short videos can be used for the awareness stage.
The most common are educational and how to videos, where your brand provides actionable advice and answers your prospects’ questions.
You can also use brand films, which highlight your company’s mission and values without trying to make a sale.
The aim of these is to let prospects know about your company and what you can do for them.
Alternatively, you can use short documentaries to show what your brand is doing to make the world a better place.
- Infographics: Infographics are another way to provide visual content that is easy to read and understand. They are great at a time when people are suffering from ever-dwindling attention spans, and they are quite easy to share. Infographics are great for sharing key points, ideas, and statistics.
- Social media content: The awareness stage is all about getting people to know about your brand and your products, and social media offers you a great opportunity to expand your reach. With social media, you can reach audiences you would not have reached otherwise.
Best Content for the Evaluation Stage
At this stage, the customer is already aware that there are existing solutions to their problem, and they know that your products or service are one possible solution.
Therefore, at this point, the aim of your content is to convince the customer that your products or services are the best fit for them. To do this, your evaluation stage content should be educational, persuasive, and targeted.
Unlike awareness stage content, which is put out to be consumed by everyone, evaluation stage is only targeted at people who have shown interest in your products and services.
Evaluation stage content works particularly well with the help of marketing automation technology, which ensures that this content goes not only to the right people, but also at the right time.
At this stage, you should focus on content that communicates the unique value of your product or service and positions your brand as the industry expert.
The kinds of content that work best for this stage include:
- High value blog content: While most marketers believe that blog posts are only useful in the awareness stage, you can also use them in the evaluation stage. However, unlike awareness stage blog posts, which focus on providing general information about the problem, evaluation stage blog posts should be highly focused on your products or service and their impact on customers. The aim here is not to let the prospect know that you can solve their problem, but to show them how you can solve it in the best way.
- E-books: Sometimes, it might not be possible to adequately cover in-depth topics on blog posts. In such situations, eBooks are a great alternative for content that covers a lot of details. Once again, the aim of the eBook should be to help the customer in their evaluation of the best solution for their problem.
- Data and fact sheets: These are pieces of content containing graphs, charts, and images. They provide a concise way of helping the client understand their problem, and how your products and services can help them solve this problem in the best way possible.
- Longer videos: At the awareness stage, it is advisable to use short videos, since longer videos can be off-putting to someone who doesn’t know much about your brand or what you are offering. In the evaluation stage, however, the customer is already interested in what you have to offer, and therefore, you can use longer videos to demonstrate the worth of your products and services.
- Lead magnets: At the awareness stage, the customer is simply looking for all information about their problem, and therefore, you cannot expect them to share their personal information with everyone that mentions the problem. In the evaluation stage, however, the customer has already identified you as one of the companies they are considering, and therefore, they are more likely to be willing to give you their personal information in order to learn more about how you can help them solve their problem. You can use any kind of downloadable digital content – such as videos, whitepapers, reports, eBooks, checklists, etc. – as lead magnets.
- Newsletters: Once you have obtained your prospects’ contact information using lead magnets, you can then enter these prospects into a newsletter list. Newsletters are a great way to keep providing your prospects with more content showing why you are the best fit for their problem. Newsletters also work well for prospects who are not looking to buy immediately. By sending them regular newsletters, you remain at the top of their minds, and they are more likely to consider you once they are ready to move to the next step.
- Comparisons: At the evaluation stage, the customer is trying to determine the best solution for their problem. Therefore, they will obviously be comparing your products with products from your competitors. Offering comparisons is a great way to make this evaluation process easier for them. You can pick four or five brands (including yours) and compare them side by side to help determine the costs and benefits of each. Comparisons are a great way to show your brand’s unique value proposition and show why you are the best fit. However, they will only work if you are actually better than the other brands.
Best Content for the Purchase Stage
Finally, the client is ready to make the purchase, but they have some final objection before making the purchase.
What you need to do at this point is to give the prospect a small push to overcome the objection and get them to buy.
In most cases, the content at the purchase stage works in tandem with your sales representatives, because the chances are high that the customer will have initiated a conversation at this point.
The following kinds of content work best for the purchase stage:
- Case studies: Case studies are a great way of overcoming customers’ objections because they don’t just tell about your expertise and what your products or services can do for the customer. They prove it. Once they see that your product worked for someone else, they are more likely to believe that it will work for them too. For best results, you should use case studies that are as similar as you can get to the client. For instance, if your client is in the tech industry, use case studies of other previous customers in the tech industry. Your case studies should also include impact numbers so that the customer can see the value and ROI of purchasing from you.
- Live demos: There are several cases where customers buy a product hoping and believing it will solve their problem, only to realize it doesn’t work as they expected. Such doubts can keep a customer from making a purchase. Live demos and free trials are the perfect way to overcome such doubts. With live demos, you give the client a chance to experience what it is like to use your product or service. With a live demo or a free trial, the customer knows exactly what they are going to get, and therefore, they are unlikely to have any doubts about committing and making the purchase.
- Product pages: Now that your customer is past the evaluation stage, is really interested in your products and is ready to make the purchase, product pages can provide the customer will all the information they need to know before committing. Purchase stage product pages should be highly detailed, incorporating graphs, charts, and pictures, and providing detailed pricing information.
- Customer reviews: Customer reviews overcome a customer’s doubt by showing that other previous customers who purchased your products and services did not end up regretting their decision. If other customers were satisfied with your product or service, this gives the customer confidence that they will also be satisfied after purchasing from you.
Today, the availability of information on the internet has shifted power from sales representatives to buyers.
Fortunately, the internet also gives you a chance to influence the purchase decision by providing the information the customers are looking for – through content marketing.
For your content marketing efforts to work, however, you need to match your content to your where your customers are on the sales cycle.
For customers in the awareness stage, the best kinds of content are blog posts and articles, short videos, infographics, and social media content.
For customers in the evaluation stage, use high value blog posts, eBooks, data sheets and fact sheets, longer videos, lead magnets, newsletters, and comparisons.
In the purchase stage, go for case studies, live demos and free trials, product pages and customer reviews.
It’s good to note, however, that these rules are not set in stone.
Ultimately, it’s all about knowing your audience, understanding their buyer’s journey, and then creating content that is relevant to them depending on where they are on their buyer’s journey.
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