Buyers need to complete specific jobs before consensus can be reached for a buying decision. They need information that helps them understand what to ask, do, understand, and evaluate. And they benefit from B2B content that shows them how to do those things.
I agree with Gartner that this is a huge opportunity for marketers to help buyers by creating content that assists them with job completion. Yet a review by Gartner of over 500 supplier content assets found that only 20% could be categorized as buyer enablement content.
However, I disagree with some of this statement:
“With so much online buying activity, there is an urgent need for most marketers to move their content marketing portfolio away from thought leadership, industry trends and infotainment, which comprise the bulk of today’s content marketing fare, and toward buyer enablement.”
There’s a lot more to B2B content marketing than thought leadership, industry trends and infotainment. What about outcomes, strategic value for different stakeholders, and future vision? And, for those of you going there, helping buyers set a future vision isn’t always thought leadership.
Gartner defines buyer enablement as, “…the provision of information and/or tools to customers that support the completion of their buying jobs.”
What they recommend is that marketers, instead focus on producing content such as calculators, simulators, recommenders, benchmarks, and diagnostics.
All these tools can be helpful…if your potential customer has already completed the jobs to be done that allow them to choose to become a buyer. In fact, I’d argue that much of the content and tools recommended by Gartner for buyer enablement is better used by salespeople in collaboration with buyers. And for buyers who have already done the work they need to do to decide they’re in market.
Aim Earlier with Your B2B Content Marketing Strategy
What about the potential customers who haven’t reached that point?
As marketers, we tend to have drunk the Kool-Aid that declares our product or solution to be the next best thing to sliced bread. We understand what it does, how it works, why it’s needed, and more. We therefore focus our marketing on helping everyone else it serves gain its value.
We don’t aim early enough to enable potential customers to become buyers with our help. We need to.
Think about what your buyers have already gone through before they engage with your sales reps. There’s a reason statistics exist that verify buyers push sellers back to the end of the buy cycle and only spend about 5% of that time engaged with your sales rep.
They’ve got work to do. Jobs to complete. Thinking to be done. Decisions to make about how to fix a problem—with or without the help of a solution like yours.
Why aren’t we helping them with that nitty part of solving problems? By assuming they’re in market, or settling for engaging only those who are, we’re giving up the potential of engaging a much larger swath of our total addressable market (TAM) by closing the gap between buying and selling.
There are some valuable benefits to gain, such as:
- Building trust before your sales reps engage
- Pre-disposed preference toward your brand based on your helpfulness
- Eliminating wasted time spent chasing potential customers who haven’t yet become buyers
- Understanding how to read buyer intent beyond keyword searches
- Qualified buyers (and buying committees) who welcome sales rep conversations
The other thing that will happen is that you’ll earn the trust and gratitude from those who don’t buy from you, but who have solved their problem by uncovering the choice that’s best for them right now.
When the right choice becomes a solution like yours, they’ll be back. But, even better, they’ll become advocates for your company and brand based on your helpfulness. With peers and networks rising in authority and influence during the buying process, this advocacy can become a big contributor via referrals and validation.
Shift from Thought Leadership to Thinking Leadership
There’s long been a debate about what constitutes thought leadership. For a level set, let’s use the definition of thought leadership as content with innovative ideas full of insight and information that can lead people in surprising and unexpected directions. Validation of expertise is an outcome of thought leadership.
Separate that concept from what I’m calling “thinking leadership.” This type of content focuses on helping potential customers think through their systemic needs as they decide whether or how to solve a problem. Thinking leadership is about helping people to understand and simplify addressing all the concerns that arise along with a problem and the decision to fix it.
- Should we solve the problem?
- What’s the cost of staying with our status quo?
- What will we get if we do solve the problem?
- In what different ways could we solve the problem?
- Can we solve it ourselves, internally? What would that look like?
- Who has a stake in solving (or not solving) the problem?
- How much disruption will solving the problem cause?
- How will we mitigate that disruption? What level of disruption is acceptable?
- Will our users accept or resist the solving of the problem?
- What compromises will we need to make to gain consensus across all stakeholders?
These types of questions are what your potential customers are working through in that majority of their buying process that doesn’t involve you.
These are not simple questions. In fact, many of your potential customers may not know how to think about addressing them. In essence, they don’t know what they don’t know. They may not have ever solved this problem before. And, even if they have, today’s problem likely is more complex than the last time they solved it.
But you have information that can help them. Thinking leadership information. Or you can.
Your customers all went through this process when they chose to solve the problem with your (your solution’s) help. If you’ve developed effective buyer personas, you will have this insight. It’s critical to talk to customers while the journey is still fresh. Memory can change over time.
Now, this isn’t to say that all buyers go through the same journey, but what it does say is that you have insights to share that your potential customers don’t have and will value. You can create content that helps them think through the process. Hence, thinking leadership.
Go back and review your buyer personas and buying journeys. What questions arise for your customers they had to answer before they could actively engage in consideration of buying your solution?
How did they answer them? Where did they struggle? What obstacles slowed them down?
Would providing them with thinking leadership that helps them work through the pre-buying process help to shorten the buying journey? Would thinking leadership content serve to solidify your brand in the minds of your potential customers?
Perhaps the resulting quality of engagement with sales reps can transform the relationship between marketing and sales teams. But what if it also solidifies the value of marketing to the organization by providing a better buyer-driven experience that you can prove contributes to revenue growth?
Thinking leadership content for B2B buyer enablement is worth considering.