It’s 2019 and 91% of B2B companies are using content marketing. And 75% have a content marketing strategy, documented or not (CMI: 2019).
Most of us are putting more money than ever before into B2B content marketing; 56% of B2B marketers have increased content creation spending over the last 12 months (CMI: 2018).
And there’s more organizational support for this tactic: 67% of content marketers report that their organization is “very committed” to content marketing.
Even better, over half of content marketers feel that putting budget and resources into content marketing is proving at least “moderately successful” (CMI: 2018).
Sounds really promising, right? B2B companies are investing more time and money than ever before into content marketing. And individuals and organizations seem confident that it’s working and are committed to investing more in the future.
But has anyone asked their B2B buyers if the flood of articles, whitepapers, webinars, case studies, ebooks we’ve been producing has actually helped them complete a complex purchase decision?
Just for a minute or two, I’m going to politely ask you to remove your marketing hat. And jump into the shoes of your buyer.
B2B Buying is Actually Getting More Difficult
Gartner recently published some research on the buying process and uncovered that 77% of B2B buyers state that their latest purchase was very complex or difficult.
Not to mention, almost 60% buyers say that the length of the B2B purchase cycle has increased.
And buyers are still spending more time on online research than with sales people; 27% of buyers’ time is spent on online research, to 17% meeting with potential suppliers (Gartner: 2018).
Even 78% of B2B executives, VPs, and Directors admit that they “spend more time researching purchases” (Demand Gen Report: 2017).
So, why is it, when we’re throwing more time and money than ever before into content marketing AND buyers are spending more time researching purchases, that…
3 out of 4 buyers are still telling us that the buying process is actually becoming a longer, harder slog?
Since I discovered Gartner’s research on The New B2B Buying Process a few months ago, I’ve been noodling on these very searching questions:
Is it possible that the sea of content marketing we’ve created isn’t actually helping buyers buy but rather…slowing them down?
And is it possible that — even with the stacks of content marketing ROI reports we’re generating — that we’ve failed to ask the most important questions:
Is our content simplifying complex purchase decisions?
Is our content shortening the buying process?
Is our content making it easier for our buyers to buy?
I know, I know, this isn’t the crazy talk you’d thought you’d hear from someone who makes their living writing B2B content.
But someone needs to ask these questions and I figured it may as well be someone who may inadvertently be contributing to the problem.
And as it turns out, I’m not the only one who has been wondering about this.
Too Much Information is Part of the Problem
A few smart brains over at CEB Research brought a similar point to light. In their work with global companies — more often than not — too much information actually leads to “unproductive, open-ended learning loops”.
“More information begets more questions, with the result that customers take longer and longer to make a purchase decision — if they ever do”
In other words, decision-making paralysis.
After surveying more than 600 B2B buyers, they discovered that the vast majority of sales professionals believe that giving customers information helps them make better decisions. And yet, piling on more information and options just seems to make things harder, driving an 18% decrease in purchase ease (Harvard Business Review: 2017).
So — despite our best efforts to fill our resource centres with a semi-readable whitepaper for every imaginable theme and an SEO blog post for every topic that’s remotely tangential to our value proposition — perhaps the tsunami of mediocre content we’ve unleashed isn’t necessarily making it easier for our buyers to buy.
Does this mean we should give up on content marketing as a tactic? Buyers don’t seem to be benefitting from our content, even though they’re investing a significant portion of their time in online research.
Well, not quite. When Demand Gen’s survey respondents were asked why they selected the winning vendor over others, 75% said that the winning vendor’s content had a significant impact on their choice (Demand Gen B2B Buyers Report: 2017).
And 89% said that the top supplier “provided content that made it easier to show ROI and/or build a business case for the purchase” (Demand Gen B2B Buyers Report: 2017).
So, what does this closed-won, deal-closing, business-building content look like?
B2B Content Marketing Needs to Support the Buyer Journey. Just Not How We’ve Been Doing It.
The issue for many B2B companies is that,
There is a fundamental disconnect between “creating content marketing” and “enabling buyers to buy”.
And in order to fix this, we need to bring content marketing and the buyer journey a lot closer together.
By “the buyer journey” I don’t just mean this “awareness, consideration, purchase” thing, that we call a buyer journey but actually looks quite a bit more like a marketing funnel. The CEB researchers made another good point on this:
“At CEB we call this the customer purchase-from-us journey, because of its focus on the supplier’s process and offering. In this model, if we were to ask, ‘Awareness of whom?’ the answer would be ‘Of us, the supplier.’ ‘Consideration of whom?’ ‘Of us, the supplier.’ And so on ” (Harvard Business Review: 2019).
So, to be crystal clear, in order to bring content marketing closer to the buyer journey, we’re not talking about YOUR sales process or marketing funnel anymore…but rather THEIR buying process.
We need to develop a better understanding of our buying processes, anticipating the needs of B2B prospects as they progress through buying a product or service. And, in order to be more valuable, our B2B content marketing must support buyer needs and answer buyer questions.
But do we know what that buying process looks like today? Or what those questions or needs are?
Many of us don’t, and here’s why.
Too few content marketers are actually talking to their buyers.
And too few organizations are serious about buyer journey mapping.
And these trends echo what I’m seeing with many of the B2B marketing teams I work with.
Marketing leaders are investing more time and money into content creation and distribution and yet, many are struggling to see the impact of this content on the progression of leads through their pipeline.
Sometimes it’s a content quality problem. Sometimes it’s a distribution problem. But more often than not, it’s that content doesn’t support the needs of buyers as they progress through the complex decision process. And it doesn’t anticipate or answer key buyer questions.
So, where do we go from here?
We need to stop adding to the informational noise our buyers are experiencing. And we need to stop filling our resource centres with scads of search-optimized fluff that’s build for search engines, rather than people.
We need to stop creating content that doesn’t help our buyers buy. And start asking:
How do we create content that actually helps accelerate the B2B buying process?
Hey Marketing, I’m Giving You a New Job
Imagine that tomorrow you wake up and go into the office, same as usual.
But instead of calling yourself a CMO, a demand generation manager or a content strategist, I’m going to give you a new job:
Make it easier for your buyers to buy.
How would that change what you choose to do with your time and money?
Instead of throwing a hefty monthly sum at PPC search terms that seem to be in the right ballpark (but, 75K later, haven’t delivered any results), would you get on a phone with a few of your customers?
Wouldn’t you be desperate to find out how they began diagnosing their business challenges before they started Googling a solution?
Instead of starting with the target “We need to get 15,000 blog impressions this month”, would you consider heading down the hall to have a good long chat with the sales team about the most common questions they’ve been fielding from early prospect conversations?
If your new job was making it easier for your buyers to buy, I think you’d find yourself very, very interested in answering the following questions:
- How are your prospects detecting, verbalizing and quantifying the business need/challenge in their organization, before you’re even on the scene?
- What questions do they have as they progress through diagnosing their business need?
- What other solutions are they considering (Hint: They may not all be competitors)?
- Whom do they need to involve in the buying decision? And at what point?
- And what questions can we anticipate from these influencers?
- What are the most common ways in which this buying process can be derailed? Who derails it? Why?
- And how is your buyer planning to measure the ROI of this investment?
Can you answer these questions about your buying process today? Or are you — like the 47% B2B marketers who flat out know that content marketing ROI is NOT being measured at their organization — not entirely sure that your content is having any impact on the progression of leads through your pipeline (CMI, 2019)?
Despite your best efforts to garner impressions, content downloads, email opens, clicks and conversions, you actually could be making it harder for your buyers to buy.
B2B Content that Accelerates Complex Purchase Decisions…What Does that Look Like?
Remember, the buying process is rarely a clean “awareness-consideration-purchase” sequence.
For your buyers, it feels like a big mucky mess of online, offline research, meetings with peers, trolling around LinkedIn groups, downloading buyer’s guides, doing demos, talking to the salesperson again, getting input from end users, getting buy-in from their boss, and then going back and doing another demo with everyone. Sounds exhausting right?
That said, the kind of content that will actually be useful throughout this process tends to help buyers do the following:
- Diagnose their needs
- Self-qualify whether or not our product/service is a good candidate to solve their problems
- Analyze the potential ROI of implementing our product/service
- Develop consensus around the problem and solution
- Build a business case and get budget
- Evaluate the pros/cons of alternatives
- Benchmark their current state against their peers
- Consider important questions and potential pitfalls
- Access clear recommendations and a credible course of action
And how do we do this? Soon to be tackled in Part 2 :)
Let Me Leave You with Some Final Questions
- Do you measure content ROI by looking at whether it has decreased the length of the buying process?
- Do you ever ask your buyers if there was any single piece of content from you (or a competitor) that had a significant impact on their purchase decision? If so, what was it?
- Or have you ever asked your buyers, looking back, if there was a piece of information or insight they wish they’d had at a certain point in the buying process?
If you can’t find a single buyer who will tell you that your content helped them buy from you, it may be time to start rethinking your B2B content strategy. And this time, you may want to start by mapping your buyer journey.