A few decades ago, B2B marketing relied heavily on interpersonal relationships. Marketers could count the communication channels on their fingers, which made it easier to control the narrative of their product.
Today, an average buyer has access to innumerable, interconnected media channels, thereby increasing the complexity of control. According to a compiled report from SingleGrain, an average customer reads about 3-5 pieces of content before making a purchase. Therefore, today’s businesses need to preempt the multichannel journey of their customers and be prepared to respond to their customers at every step of the way.
The availability and interconnectivity of multiple communication channels have altered the traditional “marketing funnel” flows. While the stages remain, the customer journeys have become haphazard and nonlinear. This means that today, customers can enter the “funnel” at any stage. They move in an irregular fashion (compared to the linear AIDA model), keeping marketers on their toes.
The changing avatar of the marketing funnel
Lori Wizdo, VP & Principal Analyst, Forrester, notes that the funnel is circular. She visualises it as concentric circles where the client is zig-zagging between the stages leading to a purchase, albeit in their own time and on their terms.
Source: Forrester Research Inc.
Forrester is not the only one. Experts around the world have recognised the non-linearity of the sales funnel.
Gartner Inc., a prominent consulting company, charts the buying process as a complex maze of back-and-forth decisions, keeping the linear model at its core.
Source: Gartner Inc.
Mckinsey & Company provided a simplistic model more than a decade ago. They reported that the decision-making process is now a circular journey with four phases: initial consideration; active evaluation, or the process of researching potential purchases; closure, when consumers buy brands; and post-purchase, when consumers experience them.
Hubspot, an inbound marketing software firm, adapted James Watt’s flywheel to introduce their very own marketing flywheel. It envisions the marketing process as an energy-efficient flywheel that uses the momentum of customer success to propel business. The wheel represents the business itself — factors like the size of the business, friction within the organisation and the capability to make faster decisions affect the momentum it can gain.
It identifies three main stages of the marketing wheel — attract, engage and delight. Activities in these stages pursue strangers and convert them into prospects and promoters. The promoters, in turn, help attract more strangers (via word-of-mouth promotions, testimonials etc.). The snowball effect makes the wheel bigger. It accounts for friction and speed (flexibility of decision-making processes) as the other key variables that affect the momentum (growth).
Why must marketers follow the buyer’s journey?
Much has been written and discussed about mapping the buyer journey. Hence, it is worth understanding why it has become such a crucial factor in a marketer’s success.
The current business world is buyer-driven. Global products (or services) are plentiful, and information is now readily available, tipping the scale in favour of the “demand” market.
Sarah DeRocher Moore, Chief Marketing Officer, Beekeeper, hits the nail on the head, “The only person who owns the customer journey is the customer. The customer has more power than ever to decide when, how, and where to interact with brands on their own time — on their own terms.”
For marketers to develop and grow their portfolios, they require a sense of structure. They need to define and predict the variables as closely as possible to minimise the risks. With customers charting their own non-linear journeys, it can become cumbersome to accomplish linear business goals.
Choosing the right content for each stage
The non-linearity of the buying model means that the customer can enter the purchase cycle at any stage. Hence, businesses should be ready to serve them with valuable information that would facilitate their journey towards purchase.
Non-linearity also indicates that customers may skip stages or go back to reassess their requirements. They may postpone their decision or abandon the journey completely.
Given this dynamic nature, it would help to break down the buyer’s journey into different stages and follow in their footsteps to identify the key information areas that one must look at while building content for each stage. Relevant content builds trust and nudges the buyer towards purchase. Great content also helps recall and encourages prospects to re-enter the buying process.
The section below discusses the stages of the buying process and incorporates examples that can help businesses create better content assets.
There are four prominent stages of a buyer’s journey.
At this stage, potential customers are cognisant of the problem they are trying to solve. They are open to research and to understand the problem better. They are unaware of the business offering and are keen to explore the various solutions in the market.
If a business identifies that the majority of their potential clients are at the awareness stage, they should focus on creating content that directly addresses the customer segment’s pain points to show relevance and get their attention.
Marketers need to understand a prospect’s need and motivation for information. Therefore, they should focus on creating a clear, crisp business proposition that is easy to understand and recall.
A few formats that work great are:
- Blog posts
- Search ads
- Press releases
SpaceMatrix is an international workplace design consultancy that offers design and build services to architects, interior designers and office administrators.
Most of their client base had shut down operations due to the pandemic.
SpaceMatrix revived its relevance by sharing their views on how a post-pandemic office may look. They proposed that given the decline in pandemic cases and the increased vaccination of people, businesses would be toying with the idea of re-opening office spaces.
Source: SpaceMatrix blog
They identified the need and pain points of their prospective buyers (uncertainty of opening offices, reluctance of employees, structural changes to maintain distance, etc.) and addressed them via a blog post.
A prospective buyer business looking to re-open their offices would resonate with the blog and is more likely to reach out to SpaceMatrix for more information.
When communicating with an unaware audience, businesses should focus on establishing a familiar ground for relatability. Opening conversations acknowledging the buyer's pain points is a great way to build rapport. Prospects are more likely to communicate with a business that understands their needs.
Once a potential customer discovers the business, they consider if it can solve their need. They will actively look for more information by visiting the company website, searching for reviews and client testimonials, etc.
A business that sees a large chunk of its potential clients at this stage should focus on pushing out information that the prospect might require to make a decision. They are often looking for product information, need-gap analysis and the philosophy and values of the business. By building reverberating content around the solution (core business offering) and why it is the apt choice, the businesses position themselves favourably in the eyes of the prospect.
Great content assets for this stage are:
- Lead capture landing pages
- Live chats
- Tip sheets
- White papers
Webinars are great examples of content for the consideration stage. They enable businesses to gather all interested prospects in one place to provide them with valuable information that is relevant to them. They also encourage the audience to engage with the business further by providing opportunities to network, ask questions and build rapport.
Ebiquity, a leading independent marketing and media consultancy, created a best-in-class webinar on the impact of the pandemic on the quality and effectiveness of advertising globally. The webinar was exciting because the presenters were also the co-authors of a research paper; hence, the arguments that were put forth were backed by scientific data and gave recommendations to marketers for the times ahead. This webinar is an excellent example of valuable, original content.
It is extremely helpful for marketers to invest in a single source of truth once first contact with the business is made. This single source is a central database that captures sequential information about all leads that have made contact with the business. A central database allows the marketer to track the prospect’s journey as soon as they enter the marketing cycle and deliver highly customised and personalised communication prompts that help build a better relationship with the lead.
3. Decision Making/Purchase
The purchase is a momentous step in the marketing cycle. All outbound and inbound marketing programmes lead to it; it is the most vital parameter for business success.
At this stage, marketing content should aim to facilitate and smoothen the onboarding process. Automated customer content (via emails, text messages or push notifications) that inform and engage the prospect at every step of the way can be great assets for the business.
Some effective ways to engage prospects at the decision-making stage are:
- White papers
- Case studies or customer success stories
- Testimonials/client reviews
- Free trials
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
- Personalised dashboards
Thoughtfully curated content not only accelerates a buying decision but also helps build a significant foundation for the relationship.
Language app Duolingo combines easy-to-understand infographics and simple content to engage their customers. It uses gamification to encourage customers to set goals for themselves, which lets them take ownership of their engagement with the business. As a bonus, this helps them capture data that can give them an understanding of behavioural patterns associated with the usage of their product.
One of the ways businesses can make prospects feel more comfortable and build trust with them is to talk to the client in a language they speak. Offering solutions in languages that are natural to them helps clients embrace solutions faster.
Once the sale is made, a client requires support in using the product or services to their best possible advantage. The post-purchase experience is a make-or-break factor in determining the customer’s lifetime value. According to Bloomreach, 79% of B2B buyers would switch suppliers if they had a poor experience.
At this stage, a business should focus on the extra value they can provide to their clients to nurture them. Engagement encourages customers to repurchase as they see more value than they have paid for. According to Finance Online, attracting new customers is five times more costly than retaining loyal patrons. Furthermore, a 5% increase in customer retention can more than double revenues.
Engagement helps the business become a valuable part of their customer’s lifestyle and facilitates the transition from “vendor” to “partner”. This new relationship encourages customers to recommend the business to their peers, resulting in more leads for the business. A study by Ogilvy states that 74% of consumers identify word of mouth as a key influencer in their purchasing decisions.
American author and marketer Seth Godin describes this concept in his work, Flipping the Funnel (2006) more poetically:
“Turn strangers into friends. Turn friends into donors. And then, do the most important job: Turn your donors into fundraisers.”
In the world of increasingly cost-intensive advertising, brand advocates are powerful assets for your business. When a client puts their reputation at stake for a business, its credibility compounds.
Some great content formats to engage existing customers are:
- In-app messages/push notifications
- Onboarding emails
- User guides
- Product updates
- Promotions and loyalty offers
- News and events
- Social media content
- Help desk
Inside newsletters have a simple yet effective way of sharing relevant content - they let the audience choose which newsletters they are interested in.
Frequently checking in with existing clients and making personalised recommendations can help foster trust and make them feel valued. Engaging customers and accounts has shown considerable impact on repurchase, upselling and demand generation. R “Ray” Wang, Principal Analyst and CEO at Constellation Research, an advisory and research firm based in California, observes how companies who improve engagement increase cross-sell by 22%, drive up-sell revenues from 13% to 51% and also increase order sizes by 85%.
A study by Accenture finds that the majority of buyers are likely to purchase from businesses that identify their needs and offer them relevant solutions. In addition, the global survey showed that B2B sellers greatly benefitted from a service-over-sales approach.
According to CEB (now Gartner), an average of 6.8 people are involved in each B2B purchase decision. With multiple decision-makers, no one type of content will address all the buyer goals. In fact, businesses would need to create content for all stakeholders at all stages simultaneously, pushing them from one stage to the next.
Too often, marketers have a myopic view when it comes to content marketing. Content is not just blogs and e-books. Content marketing comprises push notifications, SMS, chatbots, memes, and more formats yet to be created. Good content marketing is all about listening to customers (both potential and paying) and offering valuable solutions for their needs. A robust content strategy identifies the most relevant content assets and customises the formats to address the various decision-makers at different stages of the sales process by creating a consistent, intelligently sequenced message.