The process that describes how firms buy goods and services from other firms has changed dramatically in the past decade.
The ubiquity of information about anything from industrial tunnelling machines to accounting services, and customers’ expectation that it should all be there on the web waiting for them, has changed how they go about finding products and deciding whether to buy them.
Today’s B2B customers engage suppliers much later in the process; CEB research shows that, on average, it is when the purchase is nearly 60% complete. At this 60% mark, buyers look to extract the best price among a group of supplier “semi-finalists” whose solutions the customer considers “good enough” on their buying criteria.
Left unchecked, this will essentially turn a firm’s sales department into a fulfilment department. A scenario such as this will be all too common: a sales rep receives an unprompted call from a customer asking for the best price they could be quoted for widget x, and doesn’t allow the sales rep to explain why widget x is distinct from the competitors’ offers or what extra services and solutions are available to get the most from widget x. Sales reps will end up competing purely on price and so selling commoditized products.
The Need for Content Marketing
It is this shift in the B2B purchase process that has fuelled the explosion of content marketing in the past decade. Firms that can control and dictate what information potential customers read, and where it comes from, will have significant influence on the 60% of customers’ decision making that their competitors won’t.
But, given everyone else is doing this, the content needs to do more than simply breakthrough to win the customer’s attention and generate a lead.
Instead, content needs to change the customer’s decision about what they need from their B2B purchase. The content should show customers that what they thought they needed – that widget x would operate with system y – is insufficient. For example, a supplier’s content might explain why widget x must also be able to also operate with system z, because system z is much better for the businesses who need to sell their goods in high-growth markets outside the US.
Content that Changes the Customer’s Buying Criteria
The question becomes, then, “What kind of content does it take to change a customers buying criteria?” CEB Marketing asked thousands of customers about a recent B2B purchase, and analyzed the data (see chart 1).
For the portion of customers who report that content caused them to make a significant change to their buying criteria during the purchase process, that content was most likely to have two characteristics. The number by each bar in chart 1 is the regression co-efficient for each characteristic, which essentially shows the impact of each characteristic on the likelihood to change the customer’s decisions.
Chart 1: What changes a customer’s mind n=545 Source: CEB analysis
The Qualities Content Marketing Needs
The dark blue bars are statistically significant (i.e., they matter), and the light blue ones are not, which shows the two major conclusions to be drawn from the data:
What matters for content marketing: To change a customer’s decision-making during the purchase process, content must “teach” and “motivate.” The “teach” quality in particular is hard to get right: content can’t just teach the customer about the product or solution that a supplier provides, the technology that underpins it, or important business trends that are over the horizon. Instead, the content must teach the customer something new about their own business.
The “motivation” quality is a simpler concept but still hard to accomplish: the content must provide compelling reason why action is necessary.
What doesn’t matter for content marketing: As the light blue bars in chart 1 show, content that looks intelligent, contains interesting facts, is accessible, or is quick to find will not cut it. Statistically speaking, these characteristics have no effect on changing a customer’s decisions.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of content marketing stops with these qualities. Most “thought leadership” content, for example, amounts to no more than an intelligent point of view on an interesting topic or trend.
Read the companion post for more on the three stages that any content marketing campaign should follow.
Read research by CEB Marketing and Google on the digital evolution in B2B marketing.
A version of this post originally appeared on Forbes.