Content & the New Sales Cycle: Creating Authority with Content
56% of B2B buyers consume more content than last year. Make content the engine of your new sales cycle and engage today’s motivated buyers
April 4, 2016
The traditional sales cycle is dead.
B2B buyers no longer filter through multiple layers of discovery, awareness, research, and evaluation on the smooth path to conversion.
Nope, today’s buyers are arming themselves with mountains of data, peer reviews, industry opinions, and competitor prices via dozens of sources before ever coming in contact with a sales rep.
In fact, SeriusDecisions reports that “67 percent of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.” Translation: without a sales rep.
Don’t panic—it’s actually a good thing.
Engage with Motivated Buyers
Prospects are entering the sales funnel with more information, which simply means they have higher buyer intent from their first sales interaction. That’s amazing.
The only question is: How can you get into the conversation early enough to influence buyer behavior and steer buyer intent before a “sales meeting” becomes a string of RFP negotiations in a race to the bottom?
Education is the Key
Today’s buyers don’t have time for cold calls, sales pitches, and formulaic routines, especially now that they’re entering the sales funnel at later stages, like evaluation. Buyers want answers to their questions—so educate them. Content that provides solutions to problems that they haven’t solved yet is a massive value add, and will instantly differentiate you from other sales reps.
Just because buyers have access to more information than ever before doesn’t mean they can process all of it, especially once that search for answers skews into specialized fields—like your area of expertise.
Buyers Want Industry Experts
Buyers are starving for real, actionable intelligence—not just filler content—and if you can provide value through creating or even curating that content, you will differentiate yourself as more than just another generic sales rep.
Thoughtful, helpful content can give you and your sales team that intangible edge that so many influencers and industry experts crave—authority.
“The highest level of reported buyer/seller interaction for all buying scenarios occurred during the education phase of the buyer’s journey.”
—SiriusDecisions’ Buying Interactions Model
Targeting Buyers with the Right Content
The problem is bandwidth. Not every C-level executive has two hours in the afternoon to peruse long-form articles about management software. Find which type of content buyers in your field engage with, and provide it. Track your campaigns, and reiterate for optimal ROI on your future content.
Four great content formats to start with are:
Blog posts, listicles, and longform content. Interviews with experts are a great way to efficiently promote your content, while building authority. Consistent content is the staple to a successful SEO strategy and the ever-important search result rankings. Make written content a cornerstone of your sales and marketing strategies.
Pros: SEO bump, social proof, exponential long-tail growth with high ROI
Cons: Time constraints, competition from established blogs
Studies and Research
Formal studies by SiriusDecisions, CEB, and other industry leaders are highly respected and equally sought after information. However one of the reasons these companies become “industry leaders” in the first place is they have the reach and capability to conduct research on a large scale and they present it in a digestible format.
Generating that kind of scope—and the value that comes along with—bestows instant authority on anyone involved; even curators. If you can’t create that level of value, at least you can mine it for salient information that you can then curate to motivated prospects.
Pros: High value add
Cons: Difficult and slow to create
Charts, infographics, and slides are a great way to instantly communicate data and highlight your position amongst the competition. A good ground strategy of helpful written content can always benefit from visual aids. A picture is worth a thousand words.
Slideshares remain a staple of visual representation of dense visual data.
Pro: Instantly digestible, great for social
Cons: Can lack depth, difficult to create high quality
High-quality video content, while the crown jewel of content, is difficult to produce. The expectations for video content keep rising, and once you establish an audience, like Moz Whiteboard Fridays, keeping a timely production schedule can become an expensive content marketing headache if you lack the resources.
The most efficient video content strategy is curation.
Follow influencers in your field on social media, and share what they create with prospects, occasionally linking back to relevant content on your site. Remember, content curation is not a substitute for a cold call. It’s an early value add to create further engagement as the buyer reaches the evaluation stage.
Authority, not conversion is the goal.
Content Distribution: Where To Share?
Now that you’ve created or compiled content targeted at B2B buyers, how do you share it? Here are three simple distribution channels for your content fueled sales strategy:
According to SmartInsights, it only takes 3 seconds to get someone’s attention.” Welcome to the age of social media.
Sharing images and links to valuable video content are the strongest ways to cultivate engagement via social media, as opposed to longform written content. Don’t tweet a link to an entire study or 3,000 word article. Instead, highlight and screenshot a great quote from the post to generate a conversation around the topic.
Social media content should be surgical, not spam.
The Importance of Social Proof
Social proof is also a major factor in how buyers evaluate your social media posts. According to IDC, “44% of buyers find vendors by looking at shared LinkedIn connections.” Growing your social network will exponentially expand the reach of every post, but it also provides more and more social validation and authority in an ever-increasing feedback loop that buyers can’t resist.
Every content campaign is different, but regardless of your sales objectives your website should always be at the forefront of your content strategy. Curating posts from guest bloggers and thought leaders in your industry is a great way to drive traffic, as well as creating steady, reliable content for your sales team to draw from during lead generation and early prospect engagement.
It’s an enormous help to send a link to your own content during email campaigns and sales pushes to keep buyers consistently engaged with your brand, and nothing provides your sales team with more authority than instantly providing the precise answer to buyers’ questions from your extensive, helpful, content library.
Make sure your content functions well with the overall build and flow of your site. Design landing pages for standalone content campaigns aimed at single objectives (email signups, product trials, ebook downloads, etc.) so buyers can engage with the right content for their needs and buyer intent.
Crafted landing pages also helps track the effectiveness of each piece of content and campaign so you can tweak and improve ROI on content in the future.
Email is Still King
Email is the often neglected content distribution channel, but a study conducted from MarketingCharts shows that “emails are a key way by which stakeholders in the buying process share knowledge.” The study goes on to say that, “25% of buyers act in response to emails from trusted sources and peers.”
One in four might not sound impressive, but that’s millions of buyers. The important part of that statistic however isn’t the number—it’s what follows after—namely, “trusted” and “peers.”
Built In Trust
A strong email campaign consists solely of valuable content from trusted sources. People like to share information that makes them seem smart. If you provide prospects with timely valuable content in their inbox each week, you transform them into brand reps each and every time they forward your email or mention where they got that information.
The tricky part is getting the emails in the first place, and navigating through the briar patch of spam filters and chaos that comprises most buyers’ inboxes. Once again, social proof and a strong social media following are your best weapons to win back the inbox of highly motivated buyers.
Buyers crave sales solutions driven by relevant information. They want to talk to sales reps that have something helpful to say.