By many accounts, the B2B sales cycle has grown longer and is less straightforward than before, which has led many organizations to invest more in content marketing to facilitate the journey. As 2014 draws to a close, there's a continued focus on using content to help buyers access information that will educate them on specific industry concerns as well as companies highlighting the usefulness of their products and services.
How does content marketing work in the sales funnel?
B2B marketing and sales are pretty high stakes. Compared to the consumer market, the pool of available buyers is significantly smaller, and the average cost per order is usually higher (1). There's also potentially more people involved in the decision-making process, which often requires a greater number of interactions before a sales conversion.
As a result, the funnel isn't a straight line from discovery to purchase. There are times when a prospect enters the funnel, downloads a white paper and participates in a webinar, but ultimately exits the cycle for a period of time. The benefit of content marketing is that there are multiple types of promotional and informative content that can engage buyers at multiple points of the sales process.
What content performs best and when?
First, a company has to identify the sale cycle it expects buyers to follow and then develop content around what they find valuable during each stage. For instance, a common schematic is as follows:
This is likely the bare bones version of the sales cycle that many companies encounter, and businesses in different industries often add nuanced specifics to their own version. Regardless, there's some uniformity across different verticals related to the type of content that is most effective at various points.
Before buyers are fully cognizant of the issues they may have within their organizations, e-newsletter tend to perform very well. Blogs are also effective to helping during the discovery phase. This short-form content is concise and allows businesses to highlight very specific issues.
Toward the middle of the sales cycle when buyers are seeking out more in-depth knowledge about an internal issue, they depend on white papers to provide supporting details. This type of content marketing allows for more research, which helps build trust between purchasers and a company. Ultimately, 80 percent of buyers don't want the content to stop after the transaction, meaning B2B marketers need to consider distributing engaging content to create more opportunities for referral sales.