20th June 2019

Focus on the buyer: the role of content in B2B sales

Simon Wakeman
Managing Director
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Because, at the end of the day, they’re the same people, B2B buyers are increasingly adopting the purchasing behaviours of consumers. They expect to be able to access all the information they want about a particular product or service, read reviews, compare prices and sign up for the deal that best suits them within a few clicks. Which means putting the buyer’s needs at the centre of your website and content strategy is crucial.

Your website and your content have important roles to play at every stage of the buyer journey: they are the mediums through which potential buyers discover your business, they act as the source of truth about the products and services you sell, and they provide points of contact for answering queries and resolving problems. But they’re also likely to be viewed alongside the offerings of your competitors, which means the race is on to provide the most timely, relevant and action-inspiring content for the buyer at every stage.

Winning this race is about developing a deep, rounded and constantly-evolving understanding of what your buyers need at each stage of the sales process, developing content to meet those needs, and then presenting it in a way that’s discoverable, accessible and navigable.

But before we delve into the process of creating content for the B2B sales cycle, let’s get reacquainted with each stage of the journey.

Understanding the buyer journey

In 2013, ​Forrester defined the B2B buyer journey​ in two ways. The first was as a cycle, showing that B2B buyers will often go through the same stages again and again. Sometimes with the same problem, and sometimes with a new problem.

They also defined it as being made up of four stages: Discover, Explore, Buy, and Engage. They would later add Use and Ask to the cycle, accounting for the vital after-sales stages when a buyer is actually using the product or service they have purchased.

Let’s take a look at each of the six stages in more detail.

Discover

During the ​Discover​ stage, B2B buyers will be passively or actively browsing, using the web to understand the potential solutions to their problems. It may be that they’re tasked with finding a solution, or they may stumble upon a website orbrand during their general browsing that has solutions applicable to their problems.

At this stage, the job of your content is to be discoverable, drive visitors to your website, and engage potential buyers so they remember you or bookmark you.

Explore

In the ​Explore​ stage, buyers are looking for more specific information about solutions to their problems. They are actively seeking this out, using search engines, their networks, and websites they already know to find the information they need.

At this stage, it is important that your website provides more in-depth information about the products you sell, the services you provide, and the problems they solve. Buyers are actively looking to move to the “Buy” step, and need to be convinced to progress.

Buy

The ​Buy​ stage is where the hard work on your content pays off, because the B2B buyer is now looking to make a purchase. But first, you have to answer any final questions they may have and ensure them of the quality of your offerings.

To do this, your website needs to instil confidence through testimonials, reviews or other forms of social proof, it needs to offer a way to contact someone for support, and it needs to be accessible.

Use

Once a solution has been bought, it’s time to ​Use​ it. During this stage, your website becomes the source of inspiration and best-practice information for your buyers. They’re looking to get the most possible value out of the product or service they’ve bought, and they’ll be looking at you to supply that information.

At this point, your website must becomes a repository of accessible and findable knowledge, providing case studies and use guides to help people get the best return on investment.

Ask

During the ​Ask​ stage, your buyer has encountered a problem. It may be that a product is faulty, or that the service they paid for is not delivering what they were expecting.

At this point, your website may become the first port of call for frustrated or time-poor buyers looking for a solution.

Engage

The ​Engage​ stage is where you, as a business, have the potential to keep the cycle going and drive more business. Once a B2B buyer has solved one problem, they’ll have others to solve, and keeping them engaged and informed helps you sell them solutions to their future problems.

If done effectively, engaging a buyer can mean they jump to the Buy stage sooner in future cycles, driving a better return from your content, your website and the processes you’ve built around it.

Developing a B2B content strategy

Your content - whether in the form of articles, FAQs, YouTube videos, podcasts, or social media posts - are great at informing buyers, old and new, about what your business offers and the problems you solve. Your content is one of the main indicators of quality and value to both your buyers and the search engines they’re using to discover your website. During our research, we found that ​15% of a typical buyer’s time​ was spent using a seller’s website to identify conflicting data and misinformation. As the source of truth and knowledge about the products and services you offer, you are in a unique position to offer this information.

Just putting content on the web now and again won’t cut it anymore. You need a strategy, and two of the best tools for developing one are buyer personas and a content matrix.

Buyer personas

Personas are an increasingly popular tool used right across the customer-facing functions of businesses, from user experience design to sales and marketing. Personas are descriptions of fictional people which briefly encapsulate in just a few brief notes the key attributes of your different types of buyer, so that you can more easily create content that meets their needs and that suits the way they want to consume it.

The first step in creating personas is to segment your buyers into different archetypes. For B2B businesses this is often done by looking at job role, function or industry. The content needs of the C-Suite executive who has to sign off on the purchase of a product or service will often be very different from the needs of the front-line staff who will work with it every day, and the segmentation of your buyers should reflect these differences.

Bring together your best sales and marketing heads to create your personas, based on your existing customers and those you’d like to land in future. A good approach is to come up with as many different types of buyer as you can collectively think of, and then start grouping them together into archetypes. Ideally, you’ll end up with a handful of one-page personas, each of which represents a different kind of buyer and outlines their aspirations, goals, behaviours and needs.

Now, whenever you’re producing content for a particular buyer type, you have a quick visual reference to remind you who you’re talking to and what they need from you.

Content matrix

Now that you’ve developed a shared understanding of who your buyers are, you can start turning their needs, concerns, goals and aspirations into content ideas. The quickest way to to this is to work up a grid with each row representing a different stage of the sales process and each column representing a different buyer.

Then, in each grid square you enumerate the key concerns and questions of that particular buyer at that particular stage of the buying cycle. Your content strategy is now producing sufficient content to answer those questions and concerns via the appropriate channels. Okay, ‘appropriate channels’ is rather vague, because whether you need to produce a YouTube video or FAQ entry largely depends on the behaviours exhibited by your particular buyer type. But the content types applicable to each stage of the buyer journey break down roughly as follows:

Buyer stage Content types
Discover Social media posts; podcasts; blog posts; hero videos; whitepapers/reports; infographics.
Explore Case studies; landing pages; testimonials; reviews; pricing; features; FAQs.
Buy Landing pages; pricing; FAQs.
Use FAQs; tutorials; help & support.
Ask Help & support; contact.
Engage Email newsletters/updates; social media posts; tutorials; podcasts.

 

Making your website content buyer-focused

As you can see, much of the content you’ll be producing for your prospective and existing buyers will be published via your website, which has to be discoverable, accessible and navigable.

A discoverable website is one that your buyers will be able to find when they’re milling around the internet looking for a solution. It involves the creation and structuring of content to make sure search engines, like Google and DuckDuckGo, know where your site is and when they should show it as a result.

An accessible website means that any buyer can access your site, whoever or wherever they are. This means having a website that is responsive so that it can be viewed on a desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile phone. And one that follows the rules when it comes to accessibility so that it can be used by people with disabilities - such as those who need a screen reader.

A navigable website makes it easy to get around on the site. The navigation is clear, task-focused, and leaves no ambiguity. There are no dead ends, broken links, or unnecessary pages.

Last but not least, you should use buyer focussed language across your business. Talk about the buyer, the problems they’re facing, and how you understand what they’re up against. It’s not about “us” and “we”, it’s about “you”.

Engaging the buyer beyond the sale

As we saw in the B2B buyer lifecycle, there are three distinct stages after a buyer buys from you: Use, Ask and Engage. In the race to fill the top of your sales funnel with as many new prospects as possible, it’s all too easy to neglect content aimed at buyers who have already become customers. But to do so is to leave an easily accessible source of potential new revenue on the table.

After all, these customers have already bought from you, thereby displaying a level of trust in your brand. They’re also, presumably, on your email marketing lists, making it easy to put new offers, products services, feature updates and content in front of them, preparing the ground for solving their next problem.

Producing a regular stream of content to keep these buyers engaged can produce a virtuous and self-sustaining cycle of sales. Your interactions with these buyers, and analysis of their behaviours throughout those interactions, will provide the insight you need to continuously refine the assumptions made in your buyer personas and tailor your content to the needs of future buyers.

To learn more about our B2B research, and for more insights on how to use content to transform your sales process, download “The modern B2B buyer” now.