Since the advent of the internet, consumers have been using it to support their buying decisions. In the beginning, it wasn't the mammoth online retail store it is today, but consumers still used it to do their due diligence before making purchase decisions. In the past two decades however the importance of the web in consumer spending decisions has grown to such an extent that digital advertising in the U.S. makes up the biggest portion of the pie, having overtaken print and television.
What about B2B buyers, when the items are bigger, more complex and more expensive, involving innovation and technology? How do these buyers do their homework? The answer is clear: digital content, i.e. educational and product information available online, plays a key role in how in how B2B buyers make their purchase decisions. According to the Demand Gen 2018 Content Preferences Survey Report:
- 49% of B2B buyers said they now rely more on content to research and make purchase decisions, with 40% consuming three to five pieces of content prior to engaging with a salesperson
- 66% of B2B buyers strongly agree that companies should make it easier to access their content
Research from the Content Marketing Institute found that 70% of B2B marketers say they can demonstrate, with metrics, how content marketing has increased audience engagement and their number of leads
But what kind of content? When it comes to marketing tech products and solutions, there's any number of options, from webinars and podcasts to eBooks and whitepapers. It comes down to how best to earn a buyer's trust - especially with high-tech, innovative products - and what's becoming increasingly clear is that thought leadership content is the best way to achieve this. There's some pretty hefty research to support this, including:
A 2020 Edelman and LinkedIn survey found that:
- 88% of decision-makers and execs said that thought leadership has increased their trust in a business
- The same report also found that consumption of thought leadership has grown from 50% to 58% over the past year, and;
- 55% of decision-makers say they use thought leadership as an important way to vet business
A 2015 study by ITSMA’s Thought Leadership Maturity Model found that 75% of would-be buyers say thought leadership helps them determine which vendor to put on their shortlist
What this means is that the greater trust a buyer has in your tech business, the more likely they are to sign up for your webinars, opt-in for your demos, and subscribe to your newsletter. The Edelman and LinkedIn report found that:
- 47% of C-Suite execs say they will share their information with sellers after reading quality thought leadership from a brand.
- 58% of business decision-makers said that thought leadership material was directly responsible for their awarding business to one organisation over another
B2B buyers are in control
Quality content readily available through digital channels makes it easier for B2B buyers to do their due diligence and gather information to drive their buying decisions. They don't need to rely on third parties to provide that information; they can collect it independently, meaning tech businesses have less access and fewer opportunities to influence their decisions. Gartner research finds that when B2B buyers are considering a purchase‚ they spend only 17% of that time meeting with potential suppliers. When buyers are comparing multiple suppliers‚ the amount of time spent with any one sales rep may be only 5% or 6%.
What does this mean for your tech business and what approach should you be taking? Ask yourself this question: do you see sales as an event, or an important part of a bigger buying process? If you're putting all your effort into the sales transaction without looking at what happens before the sale takes place, then you need to consider taking a wider view. Why? Because B2B buyers can be seen as sitting on a continuum, which starts at having never heard of your brand through to being a passionately loyal supporter of it. The actual sale transaction takes place somewhere along this journey.
The journey itself can be a lengthy one, especially if what you're offering is a complex solution. In these cases, there's typically a buyer's group, each armed with four or five pieces of information they’ve gathered independently. The group will then use that information to drive their decision, which will usually mean a choice between multiple options since new technologies, products, suppliers and services are emerging all the time.
What tech businesses need to do is provide them with the kind of information that helps the decision-making process, which can often be quite complex. The Gartner research identified six B2B buying tasks that buyers complete before they make a final purchase decision:
- Problem identification - “We need to do something.”
- Solution exploration - “What’s out there to solve our problem?”
- Requirements building - “What exactly do we need the purchase to do?”
- Supplier selection - “Does this do what we want it to do?”
- Validation - “We think we know the right answer, but we need to be sure.”
- Consensus creation - “We need to get everyone on board.”
The challenge you then face, in terms of lead generation, is to not only understand the buying process, but provide them with content throughout the journey that helps with their decision-making. These are three steps you need to take to get started:
1: Identify the buyer personas for your product
A B2B buyer persona represents your ideal customer decision-maker. What you don't want to do is make assumptions about who that is. You need to be crystal clear about who you're targeting, so you need to consider demographic data, behaviour, motivations and objectives. According to Aberdeen Research, marketers who use buyer personas enjoy 73% higher conversions compared to those not pursuing this approach.
2: Understand the typical buying process
Consider each of the six 'tasks' Gartner identified. These represent the buyer's journey, which has evolved considerably over the years and especially now that we're in the Covid-19 era. It's not a linear progression; a buyer's group might revisit a task more than once, or each task is actually completed at the same time, instead of sequentially.
3: Map what content they require to help them make progress along that journey
What can you offer a buyer's group that will drive the completion of each task? The idea is to develop content that supports each one. If you base your content on thought leadership principles - i.e. content that informs and educates rather than straight-out selling - you'll increase buyer trust. Focus on targeting pain points and providing resolutions.
The B2B buying process is not only complex, but it can be difficult as well. That's why content marketing is key to that process, because it facilitates the journey and makes it smoother and easier for the buyer. If you can provide relevant information at each stage, you'll notice improved customer engagement, which leads to an increase in lead generation and, ultimately, sales.
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