The B2B buying process has changed. You need to adapt.
The other day a client called to express his frustration with content marketing. Not only was he disappointed with the number of leads that his company had obtained to date, he was also disappointed with the number of sales. He was ready to call it quits and pull the plug on all content marketing efforts.
This client was not the first to call and express frustration, nor will he be the last. Unfortunately, there is a misconception that as soon as a company incorporates a content marketing into their strategy, they will be flooded with leads — leads served on a silver platter and leads all boxed up and tied with a bow. I wish content marketing could do this — it can’t. That being said, walking away from content marketing is a big mistake — content marketing is an effective strategy that companies should employ.
The buying process for B2B buyers has become more complex and longer. The 2015 B2B Buyer’s Survey Report found that 53% of respondents reported their purchase cycle was longer than it was the previous year. The buying process has gotten longer because the majority of buyers (82%) are using more sources to research and evaluate products and services, and they are spending more time in the research phase itself. A full 80% of respondents reported they spend more time on research alone — this is up from 58% in the previous survey.
Social media and vendor-focused content are two key places where buyers turn to conduct research. More than half (53%) of survey respondents reported that social media plays in their research process, and 86% of respondents reported that content such as case studies and product data sheets influence purchase decisions.
The increased focus on research has changed when the buyers engage with a sales rep. Today, the average buyer progresses nearly 60% of the way through the purchase decision-making process before engaging with a sales rep.
Back to my client. I walked my client through these facts, and then we walked through the metrics we track on the monthly basis. Since my client had started using content marketing, traffic to his company’s website had increased significantly, visitors to the website were spending longer on it than they had before, and they were looking at more pages. Additionally the company’s social reach had grown and engagement — with customers, prospects, and others within the industry — had increased considerably. All of these things, I pointed out, were positive. I then reminded my client that the typical sales cycle for his company and industry was 12-18 months — far longer than the few short months that he had been using content marketing.
I spent the next few minutes going over the company’s content marketing strategy. We decided to make a few tweaks, and then discussed both goals and expectations going forward.
It is important for companies to recognize that content marketing should be a part of their strategy — more than ever, B2B buyers are looking for information and are using that information to make buying decisions. Companies need to be using social media. Companies need to be creating and curating quality content. It is equally important, however, for companies to realize that content marketing is not magic. Content marketing doesn’t shorten the buying process; rather it changes it. Moreover, content marketing doesn’t deliver sales — sales people still play a large role in lead nurturing and closing deals.
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