Succeeding in content marketing means accounting for lots of moving parts: persona creation, development of tone and style, content production, channel distribution, performance analysis, etc.
But what about sales cycles?
Yes, you’re familiar with the general sales funnel (at least we hope), beginning with brand awareness and ending with cold, hard cash exchanging hands. But working in the B2B space often means contending with extended sales cycles that can stretch for months depending on the industry.
Anatomy of a B2B sales cycle
According to Jeff Baker, Director of Digital Marketing Strategy at Brafton, so many cooks in the kitchen means B2B buying patterns can progress at a glacial pace.
“So many more people are involved in a B2B purchase compared to B2C,” he said. “And the amount of people involved is only growing.”
You’ve got your ultimate decision-maker, but sales and marketing teams are typically involved as well. And when it comes to large, company-wide decisions that have a huge dollar value attached to them, you can bet everyone is throwing in their two cents. A single sale may require the influencer, the first person who’s in contact with a prospective vendor, to get a demo, present it to their boss and convince their boss it’s worth their time. Then the boss has to get a demo, followed by the whole team discussing how this might affect them. Next come contract points, and so on.
B2B content marketing professionals must take this often-lengthy process into account when crafting their strategies.
“You have to create content that influencers will want to bring to their bosses.”
“You have to know what your influencers want and what your decision-makers want,” Jeff said. “You have to create content that’s going to be interesting enough, and with a value proposition that’s intriguing enough, that influencers will bring you to their boss. Then you have to have content that reaffirms your value prop and builds trust with decision-makers. You have to speak to results in some way, and in a way that differentiates you from other vendors in your space.”
Planning and patience
While sales cycles certainly exist in the business-to-consumer market, the time it takes to attract a customer and record a purchase can be incredibly short.
When it comes to B2B, patience is a virtue.
That said, you should always be working toward your goal through strategic content creation that caters to B2B sales cycles. Start by working with your sales team to understand what resonates with prospects in your industry and what challenges they may need to overcome before signing on the dotted line.
When you have a solid grasp of what matters to your target audience, and what obstacles they may have to deal with internally before making a purchase, you can craft your B2B content marketing collateral accordingly.
Educational blog posts that provide influencers and decision-makers alike with valuable, relevant content that speaks to their specific pain points are an excellent place to start. Your goal is to attract prospective customers and hammer home your value by avoiding surface-level insights in favor of expertise.
Once you become part of the conversation, it’s time to turn website visitors into leads. Downloadable assets such as eBooks are ideal tools for capturing prospect information, allowing you to craft nurture campaigns tailored to your target audience and stay top of mind among potential customers regardless of the length of their buying cycle.
“Capture someone’s attention first,” Jeff said. “They’re probably not going to convert right away, but if you understand your personas and target content to them, you can capture their interest. Use blog posts and eBooks to build brand awareness and trust, then prospecting emails to share content. Get them to subscribe to your newsletter – the goal is to get a share of their mind. You want them to think of your name when they think of your specific service industry. Just being familiar and present is a big part of it.”
And once you’re on their mind?
Hit them with the middle- and bottom-of-funnel content: White papers, case studies, demos, etc.
It’s essential to have content ready to launch at every stage of the buying cycle. Gaps in your B2B content marketing strategy open the door for competitors to swoop in and whisk away your prospect.
Being familiar and present is a big part of content marketing.
Also keep in mind how seasonality plays a role in buying cycles within your industry.
“For B2B content marketers, it will completely depend on the product and service, and the types of clients they’re catering to,” Jeff said. “But in general, there are times of year when companies are operating leaner.”
Based on where your prospects are in their fiscal year, they may be more willing to invest in your products and services. It makes sense to double down on your efforts during these times.
However, people are on vacation in July or with family taking time off during the holidays. Certain times of year are just dead. It doesn’t make sense to launch a big campaign in these instances.
Slow and steady may win the race, but in B2B content marketing, it’s smart and strategic that steals the show.
Your prospects are wary. There are numerous stakeholders to please and major financial decisions to make.
Make sure you’re ready with content to serve their needs and put them at ease at every stage of their journey.