B2B sales cycle – using content to improve your process

The B2B sales cycle differs from the B2C sales cycles in many ways. One of the biggest differences is the length of the sales cycle. This isn’t a new phenomenon. A 2013 survey from Crain’s BtoB Magazine revealed “43 percent of respondents report a slowing of the sales cycle” which puts “more pressure on the online marketing mix to nurture leads through a prolonged purchase process.” The B2B sales cycle is usually many months and can often stretch to a year or more. The B2B sales cycle isn’t showing signs of getting any shorter. If anything, it’s getting longer.

For any company, the longer it takes to move a prospect to purchaser, the more resources are consumed in making the sale. Because of the length of the B2B sales cycle, this can be an incredibly resource intensive effort. Shortening the sales cycle reduces this drain on resources and benefits the business as a whole.

Content marketing is a powerful tool businesses can use to shorten the B2B sales cycle. According to the Harvard Business review, on average, B2B customers complete nearly 60% of a typical purchasing decision before speaking with a supplier. This suggests B2b customers are researching options, setting requirements, developing budgets, and ranking opinions internally before ever speaking with a sales team. Creating quality content for your products or services is a great way to get in front of these potential customers before ever speaking with them. However, content isn’t just useful in the early stages. According to the 2015 B2B Technology Survey Report conducted by Eccolo Media, various types of content is useful at all stages of the sales cycle.

content at each B2B sales stage

Let’s take a look at some ways to incorporate content into your B2B sales cycle and close more deals.

Getting the first click

Setting our product or service apart from competitors is something we are always striving to do as marketers. Getting the first click is the most difficult click to get. Creating great content that suits your target audience and answers their questions is a great way to get the first click. Highly targeted and relevant content is a great way to add value and and create an avenue for continued brand engagement. Once you get the first click, you can use tools like retargeting to stay in front of that prospect while your sales team attempts to engage.

Getting valuable feedback

Another reason engaging content is a great resource is that it opens the door for feedback. Ultimately, our goal as marketers is to create content that benefits prospects and customers alike. Soliciting feedback as part of this content is a valuable way to build relationships with both prospects and customers. This feedback can be used to create new content topics or be incorporated in future content. It will also help you gauge your prospects and better understand their concerns. Facilitating and engaging these types of conversations is a valuable resource for your sales team to use when working with prospects.

Feedback from prospects and customers is very valuable, but it’s not the only useful feedback for content. It’s important for sales and marketing teams to be communicating closely. Sales teams are constantly communicating with prospects. These conversations are vital for understanding prospects needs and concerns. The insights surfaced by the sales team are very useful for the marketing team. Effectively communicating them to the marketing team is very helpful for creating content that will engage your target audience.

Create a variety of different content

Great content is a valuable asset to the B2B sales cycle. However, different content is useful at different stages of the cycle. Having a variety of different content to utilize at different stages ensures you’ll be engaging your prospects throughout the whole journey through the funnel.

Let’s take a look at at what content is useful at each stage.

content marketing B2B sales funnel

Website visitors

This is where every prospect starts. At this point of the funnel, you should be concentrated on generating interest in your product or service. Catching a prospect’s eye is important, but it’s just the first step in the process. Most website traffic will remain at this stage. Our job is to create progressively more engaging content to keep prospects progressing down the funnel. These are the types of content that are most useful to initially capture the attention of your target audience

  • Product pages – pages that lay out general information about your product or service offering are great for capturing initial interest. Be sure that these pages are clear and concise and present information in an easily consumable manner. Incorporating pictures, charts, and graphs are great tools to accomplish this.
  • Blog posts – your company’s blog is a great resource for garnering initial interest. Quality content that addresses the needs of your target audience adds value to your brand and help immensely with your search engine rankings. This is also a great tool to solicit feedback and create new content to address this feedback with new content. Check our tips for SEO writing in 2018.
  • Social media – for B2B marketers, social media is particularly useful for expanding your reach and distributing content. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are the most popular platforms for B2B marketers to utilize. These platforms enable you to reach audiences you may not otherwise reach. Getting your your brand and content in front of a larger audience will drive more traffic to your website.

Top of the funnel (TOFU)

Once you’ve captured the attention of your audience, it’s important to keep them engaged so they continue to move through the funnel. Progressively more detailed content will keep your audience engaged. Below are some examples of good top of the funnel content.

  • How-to articles – how-to articles are a great way to add value to your brand. Your prospects will appreciate insightful content that they learn something from. This is another type of content where feedback from your audience can be especially useful for generating topics to create content around.
  • White papers – developing white papers are a great way to produce content that is more detailed. Focusing them on industry pain points and how to solve them is a great place to start for topics. These white papers are a great way to add no-cost value for your prospects. It’s also a great way for your company to demonstrate expertise and understanding of your industry.
  • Short videos – Video is a useful tool for diversifying your content. Sometimes people would rather watch something than read. You can also incorporate videos into other content like blog posts and how-to guides.

Middle of the funnel (MOFU)

Once a prospect reaches the middle of the funnel, they are aware of your brand and want to know more about it. This is a great place to start utilizing more in-depth content. A prospect in the middle of the funnel will be more willing to invest the time necessary to consume more detailed content.

  • eBooks – some topics can’t be adequately covered in a blog post or white paper. eBooks are an excellent format to utilize for longer form content. You can also use your blog posts and white papers as guides for topics and create eBooks that go into deeper details.
  • Data sheets – these are pieces of written content that usually utilize pictures, charts, and graphs. You can use data sheets to help prospects understand more about your products and services. They should have a clean layout and clearly communicate how your brand can help meet the needs of your prospects.
  • Longer videos – by the time a prospect reaches the middle of the funnel, they will be ready to invest more time into learning about your brand. Sometimes prospects would rather see what your brand has to offer than read about it. Longer videos allow you to demonstrate the worth of your product or service and how you can solve issues they are facing. Be sure they are well scripted, tell a clear story, and have great production quality.

Bottom of the funnel (BOFU)

At this point in the funnel, your objective is to turn leads into customers. After all, the work leading up to this point is wasted if you can’t convert leads into customers. The content at the bottom of the funnel should be designed to give leads solid reasons to buy your product or service. It will generally be more highly targeted and personalized than content further up the funnel.

  • Case studies – being able to demonstrate why a prospect should chose you over a competitor is an essential part of the sales process. Case studies are a great way to do this. They are a great way for you to demonstrate your expertise in your industry. They are also a great way to provide specific examples of how you have provided solutions to customers in the past.
  • Live demos – Before a sales-qualified lead makes a purchase, they will likely want to see your product or service in action. Live demos are the perfect venue to show off what you have to offer. Leads are able to ask questions in real time and have these questions answered. After the demo is finished, you can provide other content to them for additional information based on what was covered.

Demonstrate knowledge of the solution

Prospects need to trust that you can provide a solution to their problem in order to close a deal. Content is a great way to prove that you can. You can use various types of content to demonstrate how your solution meets their needs. More general content should be used to demonstrate expertise in your field. You can use more specific and detailed content to demonstrate specific knowledge as they move through the funnel. When combined, great content will help build trust with prospects and help build the confidence needed to close a deal.

Help your potential customers make a case for your solution

With every prospect, you’re ultimately trying to convince them that your product or service “is worth it.” This needs to be demonstrated before any deal is signed. In B2B environments, there are often multiple stakeholders. Each of them will have to be able to make a business case for your offering before agreeing to a deal. The bigger the deal is, the more important making the business case becomes.

Content is a very valuable tool to use when making the business case for your product or service. Data sheets, case studies, and customer testimonials are great assets to provide your prospects to help them make the business case. This type of content will help all stakeholders make the case internally.

Closing the deal

There are numerous ways to incorporate content at all stages of the B2B sales cycle. Great content will help capture a prospect’s attention and help them move through the sales funnel. It is also a powerful tool for closing the deal and making the sale. Well thought out content will also help shorten each stage of the sales cycle and help your business conserve resources.