Content marketing plays a vital role in business-to-business (B2B) sales. B2B sales are generally more complex, drawn-out and higher value than most consumer sales. Content marketing helps to create and sustain interest, build confidence and consolidate the business relationship throughout the sales cycle.
The internet is undoubtedly a big driver for content marketing today. From company web sites, blogs, YouTube channels, Twitter feeds, Pinterest boards, LinkedIn profiles, Facebook posts, news feeds, Apps and more, there have never been so many ways to communicate directly with customers. It is vital for every company now to have a planned and sustained approach to creating content to ensure their presence wherever and however potential customers choose to access information.
Ten Things You Should Do
- Start with People – create content they want to share. B2B sales happen when there is an overlap between the needs of the buying organisation and the capabilities of the supplier. Marketing segmentation tells you the sort of businesses that you want to deal with, but content marketing focuses on people. Textbook content marketing calls these key individuals ‘personas’ and focuses on their identification and definition. This is a potentially dangerous approach, because it can lead to a stereotype, a false description of the buyer. To avoid this, gather some sales people together and identify some real individuals in your customer group. That way you can develop copy that talks to real people – the kind of copy that they will want to share with their colleagues.
- Make it relevant. What is your customer’s biggest headache? What is their most pressing issue? What is the problem that they want you to solve for them? Answering these questions is the key to making content relevant. Often in B2B there will be a complex decision making unit (DMU), someone who has the problem, someone who can influence the decision and someone who sanctions the expenditure. It is rare to have access to everyone in the DMU so content must address the needs of each of these people. Make it relevant to each, but easily sharable so that the person to whom you have access becomes your internal advocate.
- Use appropriate platforms and information formats. Each person has different information needs. They have different modes of accessing information and require different forms of presentation. Increasingly the web is core to most B2B information search and communication, but print, video and other publications still have a role to play in introducing your message. Have no doubt, a serious purchaser is going to delve into every corner of your web site and consume every word of your proposal documentation – both before and after the sale.
- Make the message visual. Make the message visual. Sound copy is a vital element, but this needs to be supported by good quality visuals such as pictures, charts, infographics and video. These all help tell the story to the client more effectively by making the product experience more tangible. They can also shortcut the sales process. A video will often be just as effective as arranging a site visit. Suitably created charts and infographics can convey a message more convincingly than complex text.
- Look at what you have already. Every company will have some content that will feed into a content marketing programme. This may include articles produced for trade journals, conference papers, demonstration videos, manuals, data sheets, white papers, business case documents, case studies and many other resources. This needs to be reviewed and curated so that it is accessible by subject and can be updated and re-purposed. Identify the thought leaders within the company. Their knowledge, experience and ideas need to be at the core of the content communication plan. Bring them into the discussion, encourage their contribution and assist them in expressing their ideas where communication may not be their core skill.
- Plan the content marketing programme. Now you have the beginnings of a plan. You know the people, you know their information needs at each phase of the sales cycle and you know the material that you already have and also where there are gaps. Existing materials can be repurposed to present information in the most appropriate format. New materials will be required to complete the programme. With a vision of the content you can plan to roll out new material regularly so that it supports your leading position in your industry. Branding is a key element in this. This is your content, based on your expertise and unique capabilities – not just generic advice and information. Build the brand into everything you do.
- Select appropriate media. Content marketing programmes are multi-media, but you don’t have to use all of them. Some techniques to consider are: articles, white papers, data sheets, e-shots and e-newsletters, how-to guides, videos, infographics, photographs, on-line presentations, webinars, blogs, e-books, apps and social media. Make this available on the main platforms that your clients use, but be aware that this is constantly changing. Tablets and smart phones are mainstream. Smart TVs get bigger and wearable devices will get smaller. Content will need to be adapted to read/view clearly on these devices. Bring in outside help where you need it. Ainsworth Maguire can help you with every aspect of content – written, graphic visualisation, photography, video and presentation.
- Develop consistent messages. The programme will have core themes that are built up and reinforced. It helps to build a fact file. This should cover key stages in company development, products, innovations, advances, milestones, performance data, a reference list of users, development activity, accreditations and approvals – everything that the sales person needs to create a convincing case.
- Proof and proof again. Mistakes happen. However, ensure you have a procedure to ensure all material is thoroughly checked, rechecked and checked again before sign-off for use. It is a boring task but needs to be done. Even after all this checking, mistakes may persist so ensure you have a procedure to allow people to notify you of errors and to make corrections.
- Aim to be the best. Your content marketing should aim to make you leaders in the field. The experts. The people who are pioneering the next step forward. The portfolio of content needs to constantly change and adapt. Regular additions to content, review and deletion of obsolete material, and adaptation to new media platforms will help the programme remain on track. Have a programme to keep issuing new content regularly and do this on time.
Five Things You Should Not Do
- Don’t forget to include calls to action where appropriate. Punctuate content with regular calls to action. At some stage your customer needs to see an expert from your company. Good marketing materials will draw the customer closer, but person-to-person engagement is required to seal a deal.
- Don’t make your potential customers jump through hoops. If you wish to gather customer information before releasing content, don’t ask too many questions. Name, company, e-mail and area of interest is about as much as you can ask for. Ask more and you will frighten people away. If you need more information later in the sales cycle you can do primary research or ask for this when you have built confidence and trust.
- Don’t be afraid to be experimental and radical. Your message needs to stand out against the noise made by everyone else. If competitors start to emulate you – move on – give your customer something better.
- Don’t put content marketing in a silo. Content marketing isn’t a specialism. Integrate the CM programme with other elements of the marketing mix for maximum impact. It’s all about engagement. Provide something of relevance and value for free, gather information about your customer needs, start a dialogue, build trust and that leads on to the deal.
- Don’t follow the competition. Your customer wants to deal with someone who is an expert and understands their needs. It is important to be distinctive and to ensure all content is a relevant as possible to the customer’s particular needs and expectations.