Content influences B2B buyers. A lot. And it’s influencing them 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. 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 B2B buyers view and interact with content. So we’ve reviewed several recent studies in order to show you what B2B buyers say they want from content, and what they’re currently getting from it. We’ll also take a look at how content influences both the B2B buying purchase process 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.
This was the #1 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 too 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 statistically valid surveys. Interviews with experts. Experience-backed opinions and insights from people their teammates and bosses will know and recognize.
In other words, just like B2B marketers use data and stats to make our case to potential buyers, B2B buyers want data and stats to make their case to their peers and senior reports.
Fortunately, this isn’t all that hard to do. Just start collecting industry reports. Trade publications can be good sources of new studies, but they’re not the only source. Look to your competitors’ newsletters as well, and to any 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, get familiar with them. Then ask a graphic designer to convert them into useable visual assets, and start sprinkling them throughout your content, but only where they are directly related to what you’re talking about.
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, never forget that we’re all human. While B2B buyers and marketers appreciate data and statistics, nothing compels or converts 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.
This is not new advice, and it’s not the first time a study of B2B buyers has shown they don’t like a strong sell. 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’s content 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 might also want to help you make a decision or to report on the state of a certain part 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 was 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 would 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.
And yet… there’s the data, 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. But in the face of layoffs and slashed budgets, there’s no way to tell you this is easy. Just do the best you can.
3. Add more 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. Basically, with this point, we’re adding data and research on the person-to-person level.
We’re bringing in some old school journalism tactics to our brand-driven content.
DemandGen’s survey showed that 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:
And here’s the good news: This isn’t hard to do. It will require you to build some extra time into 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 these same people is also one of the best content promotion tactics available right now. Every person you get a quote from is highly likely to share your new content with their audience. This is actually just the 2020 version of a “round-up post,” done with a little more finesse.
It’s a free tactic, too. All you have to do is ask.
- 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 piece of content is about, and that you need to hear from them within the next five days.
- Send them 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 may get 10x the reach for your content. And you’ll have a much more valuable piece of content. And you’ll have made friends with all those experts. It is more work, but it’s worth it.
4. “Ungate” some or all of 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. They’d like us to stop making them fill out so many forms.
So what to do? At the very least, shorten the lead generation forms you use. Don’t ask for more than 3-5 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 which have shown, sometimes, longer forms can convert better).
If you still really need the information longer forms were providing, consider “progressive profiling.” This will require setting up a lead management system sophisticated enough to recognize returning leads, and will then 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 doesn’t waste as much 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, an internationally recognized website usability firm.
Fortunately, this is also not hard to fix. If you haven’t gotten comfortable with making videos by now, it’s past 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, or that Google’s image search gets a tremendous amount of traffic. 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 will readers appreciate the different formats (thus making them more likely to actually consume the content you’ve invested so much in), but they’ll also be more likely to share your content, giving it far more reach than it otherwise would have gotten.
How Would You Like to Be Marketed To?
Is it overly trite to suggest we create the type of content for our audiences that we might want to read, watch, or listen to? 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? Content that’s relevant to our situation, including which phase of the buyer’s journey we’re in, and which industry we serve?
That’s the kind of content all of us want. Ends up, B2B buyers want that kind of content, too.