(7 1/2-min read) Studies are showing that there is a disconnect between what B2B customers are looking for in terms of information about your business and products (and those of your competitors) and what marketing is providing. The problem is they don't always agree on what it is customers are looking for. In this two-part series, we take a look at two studies that show disconnects, ponder what reasons are underlying the figures, and suggest how to adjust your trajectory.
In Part 1 of this article, we looked at the right information for the C-suite. Part 2, drawing on a 2016 LinkedIn survey of B2B buyers, looks at the B2B buying committee that’s preparing the presentations for the C-suite, and how what they say they want differs from the opinions of selling companies' marketing and sales.
B2B buyers want product information - or do they?
According to the LinkedIn survey analysis, B2B buyers place higher value on detailed technical information than selling companies do. They chose "product info, features, functions" and "demos" as their two most preferred information types.
The people selling to them, on the other hand, according to the LinkedIn analysis, when asked to rate what type of information is effective highlighted endorsements: Marketers selected "case studies" before "product info", and sales people chose "case studies", "testimonials" and "demos" almost on par, though "product info" topped their list.
While LinkedIn has analyzed these figures as showing a marked disconnect between buyers and sellers, emphasizing for example that marketers choose demos as effective content 13% less than buyers and sales chooses demos 8% less than buyers, they're playing down the fact that all groups rate the same sort of information highly.
When you add up the ratings of product info by sales and marketing, you find that both buyers and sellers rate it top of the list. For second place, there is some divergence, with buyers choosing demos and sellers choosing case studies. Sellers then rate demos and testimonials on par, while buyers seem unsure what else is useful.
What does this mean for you?
Should you pare down your content to a datasheet and a demo, on this basis? We can't say for certain what LinkedIn meant when they listed the different content options, or what B2B buyers were thinking of when they selected each option, but we have some ideas from our own experience (content types ranked by overall popularity, buyers and sellers combined):
- product info, features, functions (86%) - This could be datasheets, but it could also be brochures or product range overviews, comparative studies of solution types, or technical whitepapers. To summarize, it's anything that helps your customer understand how your product works.
- demos (72%) - This coud be an in-person, old-school product demonstration on the prospective customer's premises or a booth demo at a show, or it could be a short explainer video or video tutorials aimed at users. This also is information that helps your customer understand how your product works.
- case studies (70%) - This could be the classic "challenge / solution / etc." one-pager showing how you solved your customer's problem, but it might also be a use case story, putting your solution into a context prospective customers can relate to. This information helps your customer understand how your product can help them.
- peer testimonials (57%) - These could be short quotes on your website or on communications you send out. They could also be case studies or product reviews. They might even be an email from a colleague or ex-colleague, i.e. content you don't develop. They help your customer trust that your product is real and works, but they also indicate whether your solution is accepted by key influencers in the industry.
- expert opinions (55%) - This is the thought leadership content we've mentioned before, that shows you know about your target industry and have insight about trends and developments. Another part of the LinkedIn survey revealed that "being a subject matter expert / thought leader," and "providing valuable consultation, education or tools" were cited as two of the most important factors influencing whether a buying company will engage with a vendor. This type of information helps your customer trust you and feel that you are providing value.
- best practices (51%) - These can come in the form of thought leadership content, case studies or peer testimonials. Again, they help your customer trust your company and your product, and feel that you are providing value.
- product ratings/reviews (43%) - These are most often thought of as anonymous and possibly easy to manipulate. If they come from trusted sources, they can help your customer trust you.
The takeaway here then is that content should really be typified according to what it helps your customer to do: understand how your product works; understand how your product can help them; trust your company and your product; feel like you are providing value. This is not an exhaustive list and is not in any order.
How to develop content for the B2B buying committee
As LinkedIn's survey itself shows, B2B buying is a process involving quite a few people (3-5 according to LinkedIn, up to 7 according to CEB) from quite a few departments. In technology-buying decisions, as we might expect, the survey tells us IT is the top department impacting the decision, followed by Finance, Engineering and Biz Dev at a much lower level. Within those departments, you may also have several interested parties. Your content needs to help each of them at each stage of the buying journey.
Be findable and shareable
When they’re becoming aware they have a problem that needs solving, information that helps hands-on users and their decision-making superiors understand what their options are, and why your type of solution is better for them, is essential.
At this “awareness” stage, LinkedIn’s survey indicates that buyers are sourcing the information they need pretty evenly through social media, information-sharing within their organization, and online search. In other words, they’re reaching out to their peers within and without the company.
During the “scoping” stage, as the customer is refining and defining their problem, they’re looking for information to help them understand whether your product meets their needs, and they're sharing what they find with their colleagues involved in the decision, who are sharing what they find with them.
Your content should therefore be easy to find through organic search and social media, and it should be easy to share and easy to digest. Information that addresses the concerns of the other departments involved will also have more of a chance of garnering your product additional advocates. Comparative-solution tables and infographics, case studies and scenarios, and problem-solving sheets can all help your product get on the long list. Including integration and onboarding pros and cons, cost information (even ballpark), and additional gains, can anticipate objections and questions from other departments.
Tell them something they don’t know
This is the key according to The Challenger Sale. What value can you bring that they might not be looking for? LinkedIn’s survey respondents confirmed the importance of this approach as we saw above. The other two most important factors influencing whether a company is likely to engage with a vendor were knowledge of the customer’s business model and products/services. When your information demonstrates that knowledge, refers to it and links their problems with every available solution, arguing for and against in an (almost) objective way, you’re building trust as well as a case for your product.
Cover every base
As the company moves into the “planning” stage, the multiple decision-makers will be trying to evaluate how good a fit your solution is with the company problem and whether it meets their own individual criteria. Explainer videos will inform newcomers to the decision, technical whitepapers and user tutorials will enable in-depth technical assessment, case studies will support recommendations, thought leadership articles will build trust. Internal information-sharing will take on a more important role as a source of input to individuals’ decision-making processes, according to LinkedIn, though they will still be searching the web and social media.
If we believe LinkedIn, the buying committee doesn’t even look at your company website till it’s made its decision, but if your SEO is good enough, some of their searching should lead to your website. The lesson though is that the more gateways to your content that exist, the more attention you will get.
Once the buying decision moves to the selection stage, they may call you in for a live demo and download your product datasheet to attach to their recommendation. At this point, they'll want to see if they like you and feel comfortable doing business with you. How good a job you've done with presenting your company to the C-suite as thought leaders with valuable knowledge, as discussed in part 1 will now be put to the test.
We hope these posts have helped you look at reports and statistics about content marketing and sales enablement a little more critically. Every company and industry is different, but knowing your customers is always the best way to find out what works for you.
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