As learning has shifted over the years from in-person to online, the development and delivery of digital content has become a top priority for B2B marketing leaders. In fact, a recent CMO survey by Gartner revealed that every one of marketing leaders’ top-five priorities has something to do with engaging customers with online content in digital channels. When asked about the overall objective of all that online activity, a full three-quarters of marketers agreed that the primary goal is a quicker, more effective progression toward a sales interaction.
Yet most B2B marketers are uncertain about the returns on their content marketing investments. Even more concerning, when you examine content effectiveness from the customer lens, marketing’s effort isn’t necessarily paying off.
The reality is that buying large-scale, complex solutions is incredibly difficult. Gartner’s research found that 77% of B2B buyers feel that making a purchase is very complicated or difficult, calling it “time consuming” and even “painful.” But why exactly is it so hard? For starters, the typical buying group is comprised of six to 10 stakeholders, each of whom has a distinct perspective. These stakeholders twist and turn through the buying journey, with 90% of surveyed customers repeating at least one (and often more) of the buying tasks that we explored.
Second, buyers’ views of the world are very different than that of marketing. Customers don’t draw a line to divide when they want digital resources and when they’re ready to talk to sellers; in fact, they use digital and human channels interchangeably throughout their buying journeys.
So what does all of that mean for content? Gartner’s research shows that companies must take a different approach to content marketing all together. Most companies build content strategies in the name of thought leadership, brand awareness, and personalization—focusing primarily on their own features and benefits. However, as it turns out, there’s significant commercial benefit for companies that focus their content on customers and helping them through the purchase process.
Gartner calls this type of information “buyer enablement”—the provision of information or tools that support the completion of critical buying tasks, or “jobs.” In plain language, buyer enablement is prescriptive advice and practical support that enables customers to buy the same way companies enable sellers to sell. Our findings show that companies that provide this type of information to buyers see a threefold increase in their ability to convert high-quality deals.
To build this type of content, marketing leaders must:
- Understand the specific tasks that buyers need enabled.
- Provide information and tools that target these specific tasks.
- Make the information available to buyers through their preferred channels.
Hint: The top two for most B2B purchases include your website and your sales reps.
Specifically, our research identified six jobs, or tasks, that customers must complete over the course of any B2B purchase: problem identification, solution exploration, requirements building, supplier selection, validation, and consensus creation. And it turns out that these jobs provide an incredibly helpful, standardized framework within which to organize the vast array of subtasks customers must complete as part of a typical purchase. The framework also provides a better understanding of how a customer moves back and forth through those tasks, including where and why they’re most likely to get stuck or need additional help. All that, in turn, gives us a far more useful roadmap for creating content plans.
When it comes to actually building the content, we found that only about one-fifth of the information from about 500 B2B websites out there display characteristics of buyer enablement. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, as buyer enablement is a very different type of content than what most marketing teams are building today. It requires in-depth knowledge of the buying journey. It’s designed for utility rather than aesthetics or showcasing smart perspectives. And the buyer must clearly perceive its functionality.
That’s a tall order and one that can require different skills. Some leading marketing teams have brought on buying consultants to help them build this type of material, whereas those with less resources might go straight to their top-performing reps to leverage their knowledge on customers’ buying journeys and leverage the “rogue” tools, templates, and spreadsheets they’ve already built.
To get buyer enablement in front of customers, our research suggests equipping sellers with the exact same content that marketing distributes through digital information channels. We found that for any given job, the vast majority of customers used both sales reps and company websites. And given that our research also showed that buyers can spend up to 15% of their total purchase time disentangling conflicting claims from a single supplier, it isn’t in suppliers’ favor to produce different information for different channels. In fact, we found a 25% increase in the incidence of high-quality deals when customers experienced information consistency across channels.
In sum, B2B buyers’ struggles to complete complex purchases create an opportunity for marketers to ease the buying journey. With buyers rewarding suppliers that enable their buying with high-quality deals, marketing must lead the charge in developing enabling content–targeted, job-specific information, and tools–that makes it easier for customers to make a purchase.