On the 4th day of Christmas, my CMO said to me: What do our buyers really want?

The information B2B buyers get from marketers isn’t necessarily the information they want

December 4, 2015

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Buying, selling and marketing journeys have been transformed in recent times. The internet and social media have empowered buyers to educate themselves. And they’ve increased marketers’ and sales teams’ ability to target those buyers intelligently whilst they do. But amid all these fast-advancing capabilities there are two questions every CMO should still be asking: What do our buyers really want from sales and marketing? And are we giving it to them?

Over the last few months, LinkedIn interviewed more than 3,000 B2B buyers and a similar number of salespeople and marketers, in order to answer these two questions. We’ll be releasing the full results of our research in January. However, it’s already clear that the reality of what buyers want is a challenging one for B2B marketers.

Buyers want a knowledge exchange

Buyers are interested primarily in a meaningful exchange of knowledge. And the knowledge they want to trade with you is very specific to their needs. When we asked buyers to name the top factors that influence whether they want to do business with a vendor, evidence that the vendor deeply understands the company’s business model topped the list, with knowledge of that company’s specific products and services a close second. Subject matter expertise is important too, coming in at number three, but it counts for a lot more when your marketing and sales teams apply it specifically to a prospect’s issues and objectives.

The benefits of an account-based approach

For marketers this supports the argument to take an account-based approach to nurturing prospects wherever possible. It might require more intensive use of your resources to customise content for each potential customer. It will certainly require closer cooperation with sales in pooling knowledge. However, demonstrating customer-specific thinking is a powerful differentiator – and it can produce some excellent creative results. Just look at the Factory of the Future campaign for systems integration consultancy ATOS, which won Best use of Direct Mail at the recent B2B Marketing Awards: beautifully designed and entirely individual illustrations showing what each targeted business’s factory could look like, if optimised by ATOS.

Perfecting content for the close

As marketers, we’ve come a long way in using content and thought-leadership strategies to demonstrate that we have the subject matter expertise and credibility that buyers want. But our research shows there’s more to be done when it comes to the content we use to close a deal and move potential buyers through the final stages of the funnel. This came out clearly when we asked buyers about the types of content that they most wanted to see during the sales process – and compared this to marketers’ and sales teams’ perceptions of which content was most effective. Here we found some significant disconnects – and the most significant were between buyers and marketers.

The three groups were most aligned on the value of thought-leadership content. There was little difference in their view of the importance of expert opinions (ranked as fifth most important by buyers) and white papers (also in the top ten). However, when it comes to content for the later stages of the purchase journey, the information that buyers want isn’t necessarily the information they are getting.

Straight facts or case studies?

Customer case studies, peer experiences and testimonials have long been mainstays of B2B marketing, with case studies seen as the single most effective form of content by marketers. Buyers though, are more inclined to take case studies with a pinch of salt – after all, they’ve been selected because they show the vendor in the best possible light. They still have an influence, but it’s not as great as both sales and marketing believe, dropping case studies outside of the top three most effective forms of content from a buyer’s perspective.

In their place are three forms of content that marketers, in particular, seriously undervalue: Product information, features and functions, Demos and Best practices. Sales teams have a far more accurate perception of buyers’ appetite for these forms of collateral – but even they underestimate their value to some extent.

What’s particularly noticeable is that these buyer-friendly forms of content are focused almost entirely around facts and information, which can easily be applied to the buyer’s own business. They are free of interpretation and spin, and they leave the process of judging whether to trust the vendor entirely up to the buyers themselves. Given the empowered nature of buyer journeys today, it’s not surprising that there’s a demand for this type of content – but it still takes courage for marketers to provide it, without attempting to package it in the form of a relentlessly positive case study.

What buyers really want for Christmas – a happy marriage between sales and marketing

To my mind, the solution to this dilemma comes in two parts: firstly, a clear distinction between the roles that different types of content play at different points in the funnel. There’s a time for bringing out the value of your proposition and the benefits to customers, a time too for establishing your deep subject matter expertise and thought-leadership. However, there’s also a point in the journey when buyers want “just the facts” (as Joe Friday would have put it in an episode of Dragnet) – and straight-served information that enables decision-making is the most valuable type of content that you can deliver.

The second part of the solution involves how you deliver that straight-served content. This is where closer collaboration between marketing and sales teams is becoming increasingly important. A good marketer will always ensure that product sheets, demos and best practices align with their branding and proposition – but you still want them delivered to leads by an aligned sales team that understands how this technical information fits with customer benefits. The more aligned sales and marketing are, the more you’re capable of delivering the information that buyers crave whilst still getting your point of view across. And the more you can tailor your marketing approach using sales insight about specific customer needs.

Ask your buyers what they want for Christmas, and they’ll tell you they want more information from you – and more understanding on your part. Look a little deeper though, and what they’re really asking for is better communication between your sales and marketing departments. That’s the key to the giving and receiving of knowledge that really matters.