B2B Content Strategies: Navigating the Buyer’s Journey from Awareness to Conversion
I’ve run across a number of posts recently that purport to identify how to market to buyers at different stages of the enterprise B2B sales cycle. Unfortunately, almost invariably these missives highlight the communication mediums, not the focus of the content. Less abstrusely, these posts suggest things like webinars for Top-of-the-Funnel (TOFU) and instructional videos for Middle-of-the-Funnel (MOFU). While all well and good, I’ve not seen anyone identify the research or metrics that suggest why these proposed delivery mechanisms are best. After all, wouldn’t the content type (e.g. – audio/video vs text) and the distribution mechanism (e.g. – webinar vs YouTube vs owned media) be dictated by the customer profiles and the associated preferences for how, when, and where they digest content and not some global, golden rule?
It’s the message, not the messenger
While being a critic is fun, it is not “matriculating the ball down the field”. Hank Stram aside, maybe marketing folk should think more like football coaches!? Football coaches create plays (content) for specific facets of the game like 1st Quarter vs 4th Quarter (top of funnel vs bottom of funnel) and game situations that factor in the score, the clock, and more (risk, cost, ROI). These concepts remind me of some research on the Customer Journey I was exposed to a decade or so ago. The Hulthwaite Group studied B2B enterprise buyers and identified 4 main themes for buyer concerns and how they changed at different funnel stages (TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU).
With some slight adjustments based on my 20+ years of marketing enterprise B2B software products, those categories are:
- Long-term Needs – the buyer’s perception of what the vendor can offer in the long-term; is the vendor’s vision and strategy aligned with the buyer’s
- Goodness of Fit – does the vendor’s product fit will into buyer’s environment, including things like compatibility with existing tooling and skills, platforms, and processes
- Risk – what could go wrong if an investment is made
- Price – does the vendor’s solution fit my budget
What can Brown do for you?
As the old UPS commercial indicates, big picture content is what will engage buyers at the top of the funnel (TOFU), where buyer’s are focused on answering questions like:
- What are the overall capabilities of a vendor?
- Are the scope of products, services, and partnerships sufficient for planned growth?
- Are the vendor’s vision and strategy aligned with the buyer’s organization?
In their 2022 Content Preferences Survey Report, the Demand Gen Report found that more product specific content such case studies, user reviews, and ROI calculators were all rated as more useful in later stages of the sales funnels. Consequently, at the TOFU marketers should focus on content that emphasizes:
- Thought leadership
- Brand perception
Buyers may be attracted by the thought leadership and long-term synchronicity, but they also want to know that they are not wasting their time considering solutions that they can’t afford. Vendors who hide pricing information run a very real risk of being down-selected early in the customer journey. At the same, buyers aren’t ready yet to digest detailed options list and services contracts. The TOFU is an opportunity for marketing to highlight:
- Cost of ownership benefits
- Flexible pricing schemes
- Time to value
Square peg in a round hole
In the MOFU the buyers are trying to determine if the vendor is proposing that their square peg really does fit in a round hole. As products grow more expensive, buyers will spend more and more time evaluating solutions to make sure the vendor is a good match. If you think about it, it makes sense – buyers have winnowed down their list based on their long-term needs analysis and have identified vendors who fit more or less comfortably into their budget. So, the next step is to make sure the devilish details don’t come back to bite the organization.
While it’s not just marketing that plays a pivotal role in this stage of the process, (for example, often the structure of freemium or trial programs is under the product team), Marketing should focus on things to make the customer experience better and address the specifics of each buyer’s environment. That means a lot of content narrowly focused on a specific issue, such as:
- Describe how the solution works in specific situations
- Show competitive advantage on specific topics
- Foster engagement with other parts of the organization and partners
Notice that we haven’t mentioned risk yet? In the MOFU, risk starts to take on more importance. While buyer’s aren’t yet doing a detailed analysis of a vendor’s financial position, they are starting to assess “am I going to get fired if I recommend this product”. For example, Forrester in the blog Best Practices for SVM Software Selection recommended “Don’t skimp on the TCO analysis – but don’t do it too early either”. Similarly, Gartner Magic Quadrant documents feature critical capabilities that are highly correlated with buyer risks and often mention:
- Integration with existing systems
- Deployment challenges
Marketing can address the early risk concerns with a variety of content, such as:
- Segment-specific customer success stories
- Customer programs for 3rd party review sites
- Quality of engagement on social platforms
The rubber meets the road
At the BOFU, this is where the rubber meets the road and buyers are doing their cross-examination of the decision making process. For the vendors that have successfully navigated the MOFU and moved to the BOFU, the buyer will move their focus to risk and price.
With risk, the specific concerns and solutions will obviously vary greatly from vendor to vendor and buyer to buyer. When addressing those specifics (such as, will your start-up be here next year), marketers can increases the buyer’s sense of security with content that:
- Emphasizes stability and reliability
- Highlights business investments in technology and services
- Shows leadership and/or participation in industry consortiums
- Demonstrates customer successes
At the TOFU buyer’s analyzed whether or not pricing was in that ballpark. At the BOFU, buyer’s must make sure the detailed solution fits within the budget or how much of an overreach they are looking at. While negotiating prices and packages typically falls into the jurisdiction of sales teams, marketing can help buyer’s more easily negotiate this treacherous territory with content like:
- Detailed pricing information and/or configuration tools
- ROI analysis
- Time-to-value case studies
This is the beginning, not the end
Of course, this is a huge topic at the heart of marketing. There’s no way that in one blog you could identify every type of content or all the subtexts for messages. Hopefully, though, there’s some food for thought when you are planning your marketing content that will help you and your company be more successful.
Here at Aventi Group, we’re driven by the insights and expertise of industry professionals like you, and we’d love to hear what you think about the framework presented. Are there specific types of content that, in your experience, resonate particularly well at a given stage? Let’s keep the conversation going. Contact us to share your thoughts or to dive deeper into optimizing your B2B marketing strategies with our expert team!