B2B marketing teams are juggling a million balls, with responsibilities that include driving demand gen and awareness through outbound marketing, creating compelling messaging for their company’s unique audience (not to mention defining that audience), and—above all else—producing sales qualified opportunities that close.
The driving force behind many of these marketing initiatives is content, with one survey of nearly 700 B2B marketers listing the top 3 content marketing priorities as:
Source: Marketing Charts
All content is not equal, particularly when it comes to lead nurturing and the B2B buying funnel.
Certain content types are more conducive to generating actual deals versus generating leads (even qualified leads).
Content that’s developed with the bottom of the funnel in mind works better at the decision level for buying teams. Tying content to specific stages of the buying cycle has been shown to increase B2B buyer engagement and lead to more deals.
Isabelle Papoulias, CMO at Mediafly, a sales enablement platform, writes, “Generally, B2B content should first create a positive predisposition and consideration for your brand, and later help accelerate the prospect along the path to purchase when they choose to buy. However, the buyer’s journey has become a self-guided journey, meaning by the time a prospect seeks to engage with a sales rep, they’ve already conducted a large majority of their research, narrowing down options before having conversations with sales.”
Let’s unpack that a bit.
B2B buying is dominated by buying groups whose time is divided across five main buying activities, according to Gartner. The following chart shows how buyers’ time is spent:
Roughly 45% of the buying group’s time is spent researching solutions independently, either offline or online. Another 38% of time is spent meeting internally and doing…other stuff, while only 17% of time is spent meeting with potential suppliers.
What this means is that the buying group is researching your solution on their own and reviewing their research internally before they ever reach out to you.
However, it may be a misnomer to say that the B2B buying process is self-guided if you’re producing the right content. Remember, the content you produce has the potential to guide buyers (or not). It all hinges on the type of content you produce and how it’s tied to the overall B2B buying funnel.
Let’s look at that funnel then, shall we?
Gartner has deconstructed the traditional B2B buying journey, turning it into a list of jobs that a buying team must complete prior to purchasing a new product or solution.
Marketers who understand these jobs, are in a better position to create content that helps buyers complete them.
It’s easy to visualize the above buying jobs as a buying funnel. I’ll even do it for you:
While it’s simple to put the buying jobs into a funnel, the reality is that the B2B buying process itself is not linear.
The journey may always start with identifying a problem (or a need) and end with consensus, meaning everyone on the team agrees about what to purchase.
But the reality, according to Gartner, looks more like this:
This buying journey, when laid out end to end, looks like a maze, rather than a funnel, with buying jobs circling back on each other as more information is collected and team members move from problem identification to supplier selection.
The thing that’s tying it all together is content.
So, what kind of content helps convert “good” marketing leads to sales qualified opportunities that close?
I’m glad you asked.
For their 2020 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks Report, The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) asked B2B marketers which content types were the highest performing for their organization based on where buyers are in the buying journey.
Top-of-funnel content including lead generation content types included things like blog posts and short articles, social media posts, in-person events (remember those?) and e-books.
Mid-funnel content included many of the same types of content, with Email newsletters thrown in there for good measure, perhaps because emails are more product/solution specific rather than focused on identifying a problem and/or branding (e.g., “our product exists to help solve your problem.”)
Content that was best for converting leads to deals was not the easy stuff–you won’t see blog posts in this list. Conversion-focused content includes in-person events (sigh), case studies, and webinars/online events (whew).
Here’s what the CMI’s results look like in their version of the buying cycle:
And here’s what it looks like mapped to Gartner’s “buying jobs” funnel:
The CMI survey revealed that half of the content created by B2B marketers in the past 12 months was “top-of-funnel” content and another 22% was mid-funnel content (which is very similar to top-of-funnel content).
Only 14% of content produced by B2B marketers was late-stage or end-of-funnel content. That is, case studies, webinars, and online or offline events.
There are a couple of lessons to be learned here.
First, you can stand out from your competitors simply by producing content for every stage of the funnel. Also, you will gain a competitive advantage if you produce more mid-to-late stage content, the kind of content that creates deals.
An added bonus? Your sales team will love you.
Mediafly’s Papoulias concurs. She writes, “Companies need to think through what types of content are needed for various stages of the buyer journey and target accordingly. Content like infographics, white papers, or e-books educate on the issues the solution solves and provides buyers the answers to the questions they are likely typing into search engines like “how-to” or “what is.”
“On the other hand, case studies provide buyers with the third-party validation necessary to get deals across the finish line. With proper lead nurturing supported by the right content every step of the way, companies will strengthen the relationship with the prospect ultimately closing deals and driving revenue.”
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