B2B marketers have gotten a bit ahead of themselves. We start too late in the buying process to become the mentors and guides we need to be thought of to play an influential role. An example of this can be found in recent research conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) that sought to understand executive perceptions of content.
- 75% of executives seek out content to help them research a business idea
- 16% of executives seek out content to support a purchasing decision
Which of those goals is your content designed to reach and engage?
The EIU also set out to learn what qualities executives labeled as the most useful content and which elements left a negative impression.
Useful Qualities in order of preference:
- Gives me a sense of the general or widely help outlook of my peers (34%)
- Presents two sides of a controversial issue (25%)
- Sheds light on an area of my business I wasn’t aware of or had an inaccurate perception of (24%)
- Confirms an idea that I have about the marketplace (17%)
Elements that leave a Negative Impression in order of impact:
- Seemed more like a sales pitch than useful information (71%)
- Told me something I already knew (45%)
- Low quality (43%)
- Not trustworthy (35%)
Nothing Happens without an IDEA
An idea is the catalyst for change. Without an idea, there is nothing to pursue. Sounds simple, right? But marketers seem to overlook this basic premise, jumping forward to selling as can be seen by the number one negative impact element in content shown above—the focus on selling. The other things that become very evident are that—in buyers’ eyes—we don’t know them well enough to bring them new and relevant information, our content isn’t the “thought leadership” marketers seem to think it is, and we haven’t put our buyers at the core of what we’re doing consistently so they lack trust in the content we share with them.
Let’s face it: our buyers don’t wake up one day and think, “I need to buy X” and then go to the office and call sales to put in a purchase order. At least not at the idea stage in a complex sale. There are many things that must happen to get an idea from concept to purchase intent. And what we fail to understand is that many of them are internal—within your buyers’ organization. This doesn’t mean we can’t reach them and become useful to them at this point. More so, it’s that we don’t even think about what this means.
IDEA and the Pre-Sales Process
I talk a lot about status quo as the first stage of the buying process I use in projects with my clients. Lately, I’ve had some wonderfully insightful conversations with Sharon Drew Morgen about the Pre-Sales process. I’ve been a fan of her work for years. She has been a leader in codifying the methodology for understanding Buying Decision Path in B2B sales for more than 30 years and I find the way she thinks in systems fascinating. [Note that I will probably muddle the way she uses some of her terms, but my intentions are good!]
Sharon Drew has codified what she terms the Buying Decision Path into 13 steps. She says, and I agree, that marketers typically are lucky if they address steps 10 – 13. Take a minute and go review them.
Notice that Step 9 is about consensus. Not the type of consensus we in marketing think about which is the consensus to buy a certain solution, but the consensus of the Buying Decision Team to pursue the possibility of solving the problem or goal introduced by the IDEA by potentially making a purchase.
In a down and dirty summarization of what goes on, Sharon Drew’s Buying Decision Path begins with the idea – the catalyst. Then there’s brainstorming amongst colleagues, decisions about who needs to be included on the Buying Decision Team, possible fixes and fallouts and what research needs to be conducted.
Then the Buying Decision Team reconvenes and discusses if there are ways to solve the problem internally, or whether an external solution is needed in light of the knowledge they’ve uncovered. The disruption that could be caused by both options is evaluated. And, with more knowledge in hand, the initial group determines who else will need to buy in for them to move forward.
Thus far, we’ve reached Step 4 in the Buying Decision Path. Steps 5 – 9 are all about change management, coordinating with the input of new people who’ve been added to the process, research into potential options and reaching consensus to actually move forward in addressing the IDEA.
Now is when most marketing starts. Do you see how much of the process is left unaddressed by the way marketers are approaching the buying process? We need to get back to the IDEA and determine how we can become more useful and relevant with B2B marketing in the Pre-Sales process.
Reconsidering the Vendor Engagement Metric
We’ve all heard that buyers are doing their own research and putting off engaging with salespeople until anywhere from 50% to 67% of their buying process is complete. We’ve assumed that it’s because there’s so much content available now that it’s difficult to get their attention. So we keep trying to interrupt our audience with messaging to draw them in without realizing how irrelevant it is during the pre-sales process. It’s not necessarily the content, but the timing and placement of it in relation to what buyers are trying to achieve at the earlier stages.
The content that we’re producing today is simply not relevant until your buyers get far enough into their process that they know what they want to pursue. This is because we don’t start at the idea; we start at the product or solution. We haven’t gotten to know our buyer’s situations and status quo well enough to be of any help until they’ve done all the work to “get their ducks in a row to manage all of the factors involved prior to, and including, making a purchase.”
Getting Back to the IDEA
To become an anchor and trusted advisor, marketers need to create content that supports information their buyers’ need to help them research a business idea. Do you know what ideas your buyers have that are the catalyst for entering the buying decision path? You need to find out. Only with this insight will you be able to create content that gets you in from the start.
Then, if you want to build a relationship from the start, you need to help them facilitate the pre-sales process once they’ve expressed interest in your IDEA content.
Consider doing the work to learn how to develop content that can be used to make the IDEA content a jumping board to this type of content.
For example – what if you knew your buyers well enough to write content that speaks to:
- Who they should consider to include on the Buying Decision Team and why
- What types of internal workarounds and external solutions exist to address the idea and the types of disruption each may cause (without bias in favor of your solution)
- Specific disruptions or concerns each person or department involved in the decision may have and how to address them in conversations with each other
There are many types and topics for content that can be created to address the pre-sales process. The point is that we need to learn what we don’t know about our buyers’ situations in order to address them. Gaining these insights should be part of your overall buyer persona development effort.