The Shifting Balance from Sales to Content Marketing

There is a cataclysmic shift underway in the way B2B solutions are being purchased today. Buyers are doing most of the pre-purchase homework by themselves, with very little involvement of suppliers. According to a CEB survey, sponsored by Google, more than 57 percent of the purchase process is completed without any discussion with supplier. Using the internet, buyers are finding solution providers, researching solutions, setting requirements, short-listing vendors – and are then contacting suppliers.

Sales, in this new approach to procurement, is being relegated to an order fulfillment function. The old way of “sales hunters”, building relationships with customers, helping discover unmet needs, slanting RFPs toward their own solutions, is now over. By the time businesses approach suppliers, they have already narrowed down the choice of vendors, frozen requirements.The discussion with supplier is mainly about pricing, order fulfillment, and post-sales implementation support.

So what can businesses do to still influence the purchase process?
Marketing now has to take the lead and influence decision makers. Marketing needs to play a pivotal role, particularly during the upfront critical steps, the 57 percent sited in this survey. This upfront involvement ultimately is the only way to increase the chance of a sale.

Content Marketing is one of the key tools in the marketing arsenal to influence decision makers. The traditional marketing approach to lead generation needs to give way to helping customers in their learning journey with useful content. Content is the way to indirectly – not through sales pitches and cold calls – influence key decision makers.

The good news is that most B2B companies have recognized the importance of content marketing. The bad news is that few are doing it well. Here is the dirty little secret of content marketing. For the most part the content – in content marketing - is of poor quality and not very useful. The content often is camouflaged sales collateral. It does little to educate the prospect who are in the midst of their learning journey.

A case in point is IBM’s Cloud Computing channel on YouTube which includes 370+ videos. Most, are a few minutes long, and lack informative depth. Videos are organized with no thought to the role or the needs of the consumer of the content. As a result, the content generates very little interest. Most videos have less than 1,000 views – this is a drop in the ocean of eyeballs onYouTube. Unfortunately IBM is not the exception, it is the norm.

Getting content marketing right requires you to do a few things right.
First, you need to start with the target audience – the specific roles or functions – you want to influence. You need to develop content tailored and useful to each role. The content needs of a senior executive are a lot different than a mid-level executive charged with solution implementation.

Second, you need to recognize that senior executives – the ultimate decision makers – have very little time to consume content. Few senior executives ever download a white paper or join an online webinar. So you need alternative marketing approaches to influence such individuals.

Third, content needs to be matched with the person’s learning agenda. Through marketing automation, you need to collect information on the precise learning agenda and needs. Sending a white paper, with generic sales fluff, to a person who is well versed with your product is not going to do much good. In fact it may have the opposite effect and turn off the prospect.

Finally, you need to seed your content in channels that match the prospects preferences. You have multiple outlets – video aggregators, b2b trade publishers, corporate website, and industry consultant. The content in each outlet needs to match the profile of the audience in those channels.

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