Developing Content for Various Stages in the B2B Sales Funnel

Posted on April 23, 2015 by Erin M

466317764Are your agency’s clients struggling to close B2B deals? They’re not alone. In the last five years, the average sales cycle has grown 22 percent longer, typically with three or more decision makers participating in the buying process, according to Sirius Decisions. Only three out of every 10 leads are ready to convert; the other seven require careful cultivation prior to conversion. Anyone involved in securing sign off from the different corporate powers that be know that satisfying every decision maker can be a long and frustrating process. Even identifying and engaging the right decision makers in the first place is difficult. Forrester Research reports that two out of three B2B marketers say that engaging key decision makers is their top challenge

By default, it may seem like all B2B buyers focus on finding the proverbially popular solutions that help them “do more with less”. There’s a good chance, however, that your client’s solution may not be the least expensive option in the marketplace (after all, only one business can claim that space). With an effective content marketing program, your client doesn’t need to have the most affordable solution. By engaging leads from day one, you control the message and define the buying process on your client’s terms. Your agency must establish your client as the industry thought leader and authoritative solution provider.

Successfully developing content for the B2B sales funnel starts with a clear understanding of where your client’s target is in this funnel. The typical B2B buying process includes three main phases: Awareness, Evaluation and Decision. The content your client will need for leads in the Awareness phase of the sales funnel is very different from Evaluation and Decision. For example, a case study highlighting the cost-savings difference your client made for collaborative project management is perfect for leads in the Decision phase of the sales cycle, but unlikely to resonate with leads that are still in the Awareness phase.

The typical B2B buyer is bombarded marketing and sales messages each day. SiriusDecisions estimates that B2B buyers receive at least 20 unsolicited email marketing messages each week; that’s a 32 percent increase over the past four years, as reported by the blog Inbound Sales. Sending messages without a clear communication strategy built around the sales funnel leads to the worst possible outcome: your client’s targets are overwhelmed with information that’s not directly applicable to their current needs. Unsure where to invest energy, time and money, they make the safest possible choice: no change from the status quo. The following best practices will help your agency shape an effective content marketing program for clients by delivering the right message at the right time to the right lead.

Awareness: Defining the Buying Vision

Stages: Status Quo, Priority Shift
Sales goal: Lead generation
B2B pain point: Experiencing a problem, limitation or difficulty but have not yet actively begun searching for a solution.
Content goal: Provide valuable information that addresses pain points and defines the buying vision

The first two stages of the sales funnel fall into the “Awareness” phase. During the Awareness phase, your client’s prospects are experiencing a problem they have not yet decided to proactively address. They may be aware that a problem exists, but not realize that affordable or resource-smart solutions are available. Conversely, they may not even realize how serious this problem is. The right content must educate prospects about these problems and move them to take action (a priority shift from the status quo) while also defining the buying vision in favor of your client.

Awareness content establishes your client as an industry thought leader through webinars and white papers. This content expands on industry trends with hard facts and statistical information while contextualizing this data within the current problem. Content must clearly focus on problem-to-solution. Don’t wait for prospects to find your client’s website; proactively get the word out about your clients via content marketing on industry websites (e.g., guest blog posts) and LinkedIn. This is absolutely critical for future lead nurturing success. Sixty-five percent of vendors who create the buying vision also get the deal, reports Forrester Research. Position your client for success as the preferred vendor from day one!

Evaluation: Strengthening Engagement

Stages: Research, Options
Sales goal: Lead Nurturing
B2B pain point: Overwhelmed by too many solution providers and different options
Content goal: Ongoing engagement, standing out as the preferred solution provider

Once a prospect recognizes a problem and decides to take action to solve this problem, the lead moves into the “Evaluation” stage of the sales funnel. Prospects are gathering information about possible solutions. They’re researching solution providers and industry experts to learn more about solution providers. During this stage, it’s easy for prospects to be overwhelmed by a deluge of marketing messages.

If you have successfully defined the problem in favor of your client in the Awareness stage, you’ve already got a leg up on the competition. Now is not the time to sit back and rest on laurels while prospects are out researching the competition. Your agency needs to create content that takes engagement to the next level in order to (1) stay top of mind and (2) differentiate your client’s business from the competition. In addition to white papers and webinars, develop a robust email marketing campaign that moves prospects through the sales funnel.

Proactive lead nurturing delivers better results than passive lead nurturing. Reach out to leads via responsive email marketing campaigns that deliver relevant, personalized information in response to different actions a lead may take. For example, if they visit your client’s website and download a thought leadership paper, a responsive email marketing campaign would automatically send them an invite to participate in a relevant, upcoming webinar. Triggered email messages have a 119% higher click-through rate than “business as usual messages” according to Epsilon. Personalized emails improve click-through rates by 14%, and conversion rates by 10%, reports Aberdeen Group. Have a plan in place for leads that actively engage with your client’s content and the leads that do not. An active lead nurturing program will move all prospects through the sales funnel, not just those who download the most whitepapers!

In addition to email marketing, regular blog posts will keep prospects returning time and time again to your client’s website – continually exposing them to your client’s services so your client always stays top of mind. Marketers who have prioritized blogging are 13 times more likely to enjoy positive ROI, according to HubSpot State of Inbound Marketing Report.

Whether it’s email marketing or blogging, remember that consistency counts. Don’t flood your client’s leads with 10 blogs in one week and then go radio silent for a month. Be strategic in your client’s content rollout plan. Daily blogging delivers higher customer acquisition than weekly content, according to HubSpot’s State of Inbound Marketing Report. Eighty-two percent of marketers who blog daily acquired a customer using their blog, as opposed to 57% of marketers who blog monthly. However, even monthly blogging can make an impact on conversion rates. Make every piece of content count! However, never sacrifice quality for quantity. It’s better to have one fantastic, highly engaging weekly blog post and infographic than a handful of mediocre daily posts.

Decision: Eliminating Friction

Stages: Validation, Choice
Sales goal: Customer Acquisition
B2B pain point: Reaching consensus with all stakeholders
Content goal: Drive consensus with client success case studies

By the time your client’s sales prospect reaches the “Decision” phase of the sales funnel, the vendor selection decision may already be made or narrowed down to a few finalists. Educating prospects about the problem and solutions is no longer important. The real problem is reaching consensus and getting all stakeholders onboard. A failure to overcome internal objections can stall the decision making process. Even if the final outcome is the same – selecting your client’s company – the ability to speed this decision making process up from five months to five weeks would be hugely beneficial for your client, right?

The content you develop for this stage in the sales funnel must focus on customer success stories. A combination of case studies and client testimonials should emphasize how your client solves a lead’s pain points. For example, let’s say the lead is especially cost-sensitive and your client may not be the most affordable option. Use case studies to emphasize both the cost-saving benefits of promptly addressing and solving the problem as well as the unique benefits from choosing your client as the solution provider (e.g., industry expertise that won’t be available from a competitor), which ensures the job is done right the first time.

Bottom line:
An effective content marketing program will shorten the B2B sales cycle by establishing your client as an industry thought leader, defining the problem (and solution) on your client’s terms, consistently engaging leads as they move through the sales funnel, and driving stakeholder consensus.

Keep in mind that the sales cycle does not end once your client closes the deal. Your content should actively cultivate relationships with your client’s existing customer base, not just potential leads. For example, integrate content marketing into upselling campaigns to encourage customers to try different product or services or to reward loyal customers. Never stop selling!

Erin M is a freelance writer available for projects at WriterAccess.


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