Updated March 2022
Content marketing influences the B2B buyer journey. A lot. Now more than ever: “67% of respondents said they rely even more on content than they did last year to research and inform purchase decisions” according to a recent survey of B2B buyers from DemandGen.
Of course, content has been influencing B2B buyers for a while now. Vendor content, for better or for worse, is one of the primary sources of information buyers use to evaluate products and services. Per a survey from PathFactor, “92% of marketing leaders report that content plays an important part in their decision-making process.”
While it’s great to hear from B2B marketers about which content marketing strategies and tactics are working best right now, sometimes it’s also a good idea to view things from the other side of the equation: How do B2B buyers view and interact with content?
So we’ve reviewed several recent studies to show you what B2B buyers say they want from content, and what they’re currently getting from it. We’ll also look at how content influences both the B2B buyer journey and customer retention after the first sale.
By the time you’re through reading this post, you’ll have a deeper understanding of what B2B buyers say they want from content, and how to deliver what they want.
1. Add More Data and Research to Your Content
This is the top request B2B buyers made when asked how they’d like their vendors to improve their content. 66% of B2B buyers want vendors to “use more data and research to support content,” according to DemandGen’s 2019 Content Preferences Study.
It’s not hard to see why: B2B buyers need to back up their decisions.
They may be held accountable by several other members of their team. So it’s not enough to just say, “Well, this random blog post said so and so.” They need stats, expert interviews, and experience-backed insights from people their teammates and bosses know and recognize.
In other words, just like B2B marketers use data and stats to make our case to potential buyers, B2B buyers need data and stats to make their case to stakeholders.
Fortunately, this isn’t all that hard to do. Start collecting industry reports. Look to your competitors’ newsletters and data tools in your industry. Data analysis tools often have the raw data needed for large studies. Or, of course, just use Google. A search for “[Your industry] [topic you’re interested in] survey” can turn up enough to get you started.
Once you’ve found these surveys and studies, ask a graphic designer to convert them into useable visual assets, and start adding them to content where they’re relevant.
Of course, adding study and survey data like this is also an ideal way to update existing content. It’s a great way to give a refresh to content that’s already working.
One caveat: While data and statistics are important, especially at the beginning of the B2B buyer journey, never forget that we’re all human. While B2B buyers and marketers appreciate data and statistics, nothing compels as well as emotion. If you can woo with emotion, then back up everything with data, then you’ve won both fronts.
2. Curb The Sales Messages in Content
This is not new advice, but we usually don’t see this many people saying the same thing. 96% of respondents in DemandGen’s 2019 Content Preferences Study said, “B2B vendors could improve the quality of content by curbing the sales messages.”
It isn’t too hard to see why. As soon as a company begins a sales pitch, everything they’ve said up until then becomes suspect. Their motives are revealed: they’re in this to sell you something. Maybe they also want to help you make a decision or to report on the state of the market, but all that is shaped by their motivation to sell.
Honestly, most of us hate being sold to and the whole point of content marketing is to educate and entertain. So if you’re going to do a hard sell or a direct sell, just go direct and do advertising.
All this said it is okay to let buyers be aware of what your company offers. They’ll probably know already – B2B buyers, in particular, are extremely savvy. They can smell a sales pitch from a mile off. So be transparent and don’t conceal what you offer. But don’t shout it to the rafters, either.
Your fellow B2B marketers echo this advice. In fact, one of the most prominent differences between the “most successful” and “least successful” B2B content marketers in the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Prof’s 2020 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, North America report was whether or not marketers prioritized their audience’s informational needs over their organization’s sales/promotional message.
88% of successful B2B content marketers said they put their audiences’ needs first. Only 50% of the least successful B2B content marketers said the same thing.
Of course, following this advice is both simple, and hard. It’s simple because removing the sales pitches or sales references in your content is fairly straightforward. You just stop selling, or at least hard selling.
It’s hard because… it’s scary. Especially now, as we get more and more reports every day of how bad the economy is right now, and may be for some time. “We need money! Sell!” is a crude way to put it, but that is the emotion behind lacing content with sales pitches.
This has always been the problem with reduced budgets: In a time of stress, it’s much harder to be generous. It’s harder to give, even if you’re “just” giving good information.
But the data tells us over and over again: Content with heavy sales pitches doesn’t work as well as content with a lighter touch.
People don’t share sales pitches. They don’t engage with sales collateral.
3. Add Insights From Industry Thought Leaders and Analysts
This is perilously close to the first point we covered: Add more data and research to your content. But with this point, we’re adding data and research on a person-to-person level.
We’re bringing in some old-school journalism tactics to our brand-driven content.
DemandGen’s survey showed buyers want more expert insights in content. But they may not be the only ones craving this. Here’s how one Director of Marketing put it:
Here’s the good news: This isn’t hard to do. It will require some extra time in your content development cycle, but only a week or so. That’s enough time to reach out to five to seven subject experts, hear back from them, and incorporate their insights into your content.
That’s not the only good news about this, either: Getting quotes and insights from experts is also one of the best content promotion tactics available right now. The experts you quote are highly likely to share your new content with their audience.
It’s a free tactic, too. All you have to do is ask. Here’s how:
- About 10-14 days before the piece of content is due, reach out to about 5-7 thought leaders and analysts who might be able to give you a great quote about the topic your content is covering.
- Tell them what the content is about and that you need to hear from them within the next five days.
- Send a follow-up email (or two) if they don’t respond immediately, and be super-clear about what the deadline is for when you need to hear from them.
- When you get the quotes from them, say thank you and incorporate those quotes into your new piece of content.
- Once the content is published, notify everyone whose quote you used, and give them a few pre-written social media posts they can share.
If even a few of them share your content, you can increase your content reach by 10x. And you’ll have made friends with all those experts. It is more work, but it’s worth it.
4. Ungate Your Content
Newsflash: People don’t like filling out forms. B2B buyers don’t like filling out forms, either. And yet, B2B marketers need to generate leads, and forms are the most common way we do this. Even if we already have a prospect’s basic contact information, we need to learn more about them so we can do our ever-valuable lead nurturing, so we can deliver MQLs to Sales.
And yet… prospects still hate filling out forms.
So what to do? At the very least, shorten the lead generation forms you use. Don’t ask for more than three to five pieces of information (and one or two is better). Conversion rate optimization studies consistently show that longer forms suppress conversion rates (though yes, there are outlier studies that have shown, sometimes, longer forms can convert better).
If you still really need the information longer forms were providing, consider “progressive profiling.” This requires setting up a lead management system sophisticated enough to recognize returning leads, and will ask them different questions on different opt-in forms.
Also consider making forms optional. It might sound crazy, but sometimes making forms optional still generates quite a lot of leads. More importantly, the leads that are generated tend to be of a much higher value.
This makes sense: instead of forcing people into your sales funnel, an optional form lets the people who actually want to hear from you opt in. As a result, your Sales team wastes less time chasing after people who don’t want to talk to them.
5. Offer Content in Multiple Formats
Here’s another newsflash: Not everyone likes to read. Especially if they have to read super-long, super-dense, poorly-written content.
The stats on how much content gets read are actually pretty awful. “On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely” according to the Neilsen Norman Group.
Fortunately, this is an easy fix. If you haven’t gotten comfortable making videos by now, it’s time to change that. Tools like Lumen5 make converting text-based content into videos really easy.
It does require more time, though. Expect to spend about an hour or so distilling your new content into a casual, clear video that’s no more than 5 minutes long. Use PowerPoint slides if you must, but people tend to prefer “talking head” videos. While most of us may not like to read, we do like to see other people.
Another option is audio. It is surprisingly easy to make text content into audio files. Services like Blogcast and Voices can convert an entire blog into a podcast or a standalone audio file pretty easily. I converted one long-form blog post of my own into an audio file for about $2 on Blogcast. It took less than 20 minutes to do, and while it was done with a synthesized voice, it actually sounds pretty good.
Finally, let us not forget images. Images help visual learners understand and remember text-based content better. Images are also essential elements for social media shares.
Of course, you can also go all-in and convert text-based content into an infographic. A professional, agency-level infographic can be up to $2,000. If you’re on a leaner budget there are many great tools to make an infographic yourself, or you may be able to get an agency to reduce costs a little if you can work from a template or simplify the infographic a bit.
Not only do readers appreciate the different formats (thus making them more likely to actually consume the content you’ve invested so much in), but they’re also more likely to share your content, increasing your reach.
Write the Type of B2B Content You Want To Read
As B2B marketers, we tend to like content that’s easy to find, understand, and share with our colleagues. We like content that’s authoritative and useful. Content that (even if it is published by a vendor), is balanced enough to trust.
That’s the kind of content all of us want. The good news is B2B buyers want that kind of content, too.