A complex sales process is one reason content marketing makes sense, one might conclude from the new Mediative white paper, “Simplifying the Path to Purchase in a Complex Sale.” In some ways, the seven steps in a B2B buying process outlined in the paper correspond to the functional processes one typically sees outlined in a typical business-to-business sales funnel.
Mediative does not specify whether curated or original content makes more sense, and how to use each type of content, but that probably is not the key insight. More important is the mapping of content processes and products to the B2B sales process.
The new Business Innovation from SAP site, for example, uses both curated and orginal content for business leaders who have not yet “uncovered” a business problem they need to “solve.”
Among other key conclusions, the paper reiterates the need to recognize the key roles different buyer personas will assume at various steps of the buying process. Content marketing clearly has a key role at the very beginning of the process, when “buyers have not started actively looking for a solution, and they may not even be aware of their need.”
That would remain true even if the new content environment changes the old sales funnel.
Content marketing at this early stage is an opportunity for a business-to-business firm to create awareness that a problem exists, and is ideally suited to “educating” potential buyers who are in a “discovery” stage. As information presents itself, the buyer will be digesting the information and forming opinions on solution, Mediative said.
Open Forum, part of a content site operated by American Express, and aimed at small business organizations and firms, provides that sort of information, in part.
Once awareness is triggered, buyers have to determine if the suggested problem is relevant to them. That second stage requires a determination that a particular type of solution is relevant in their context.
Buyers at this stage are not looking for the benefits of one solution over another. In fact, prospects have not even decided that they need a particular solution. Content marketing at this stage has the job of educating prospects on why they need a solution, not why
they need “your” solution.
The content channels typically relevant in this stage include web content sites, search and presence on relevant social networks.
The third stage, “finding candidates,” obviously suggests how content marketing requirements change. This typically is the point in the content process when conversations with industry peers occur. This is the stage when prospects read industry publications in a focused way and typically conduct online searches for informati
Industry directories and portals often are key resources at this stage.
In the fourth, “defining buying criteria” stage, buyers already have concluded that a problem exists and that potential solutions also exist. So the the task is to define the buying criteria.
Content marketing at this stage must help potential buyers determine which features are critical, which benefits are important and what risks must be considered. Content marketing also can help potential buyers “self select” themselves. Any supplier knows that some accounts are too small, too big or unsuitable for other reasons. Content marketing can help potential buyers sort themselves at this stage.
At the next “short list” stage, the buying influences change. “Users” of solutions have made their needs known, and the process now passes into the hands of technical buyers, accounting, upper management and other people who may not be directly involved in actually using the solution, but must approve its purchase.
At this stage, the content marketing emphasis will shift to the needs of these “approvers.” The approvers will be looking for different kinds of information than end users. Reassurance about the wisdom of choosing a specific supplier are important, so content marketing typically will include testimonials, references, case studies, guarantees, awards and client list information.
For technical or operational personnel, the nuts and bolts of how a product or service will work, and how it will integrate with their work flow, might suggest content marketing using videos, brochures, technical specifications and flow charts.
At the “negotiation” stage, financial personas typically become important. Their mission is to make sure their company gets the best deal possible. That suggests content marketing must shift to supplying answers related to value and price that provide assurance that the buyer is getting the best deal.
At the final “purchase” stage, content might play a role in reassuring buyers that they have “made the right choice,” and avoiding “buyers’ remorse.”
The point, Mediative argues, is that every person and role you interact with in the company will put his or her own value on different aspects of a purchase decision process. Content must respond to those differing values.
Also, content should be adapted to the three types of customers: existing customers; new to market customers or competitor’s customers. Each type of potential buyer will have different questions that content marketing can help answer.
In particular, users, buyers and decision makers will have different ideas about the risk
associated with making or not making the purchase, and different needs in terms of the kind of information they need to help them decide.
Content marketing can help at each stage, Mediative white paper suggests. The principle would be true even if one assumes traditional sales funnels now are “inverted.”