Every business needs to be generating revenue if it is to survive, but finding potential customers and sealing the deal is often easier said than done. Competition is fierce and can come from many different angles, so it's more important than ever to stand out from the crowd.
Crucial to a healthy balance sheet is the ability to produce a constant supply of high quality leads - and of course, to successfully convert them into sales. In an internet-driven world, having a customer-centric website and using digital marketing tactics effectively, is now a vital part of the chain.
The way B2B buyers - and in many cases their consumer counterparts - now find and choose products and suppliers, has changed dramatically in recent years. As a result, traditional outbound sales methods are becoming increasingly redundant. In parallel, inbound marketing techniques (which include content marketing, social media and SEO) have really come to the fore, and year-on-year their use is increasing.
Such tactics can be used to pull potential customers in, so they ‘find’ a business, rather than pushing out to get in front of a target audience. To understand why this shift has occurred, and why content marketing is now so popular with companies across the world, let's firstly look at what's changed in the buyer journey.
The modern buyer journey
Thanks to the internet, we all have access to reams of information at the touch of a button - and we like to use it! Most buyers (with some figures placing the percentage as high as 94%) will head online to do their own research, long before ever contacting a potential supplier.
They will look for advice on a problem they are facing, find potential solutions and eventually start to look into the companies who may provide them. What that means is that by the time they approach a potential supplier, they will already be highly informed and knowledgeable - often knowing about the broader market and the many different options open to them.
The suppliers they are most likely to shortlist and go on to use, will be the ones they have come across early on in this process. Which is why providing quality content and the right type of information at the right time, is key.
The journey buyers take can be broken down into the following three stages:
To be in with a chance of being chosen as a supplier in the final phase, it’s important for businesses to be seen early on, at the point buyers are doing their research. And that’s where content marketing comes in.
What is content marketing?
Content marketing is about producing and promoting various forms of content (from the written word, to infographics, video and animation) that are designed to help you fulfil your business goals.
The content you offer needs to hit potential buyers with the information they will be looking for, at each of the three stages of the buyer journey (as what they’ll want in the early stages is very different to the end).
Awareness - broader, top level pieces on a topic they're likely to be interested in
Consideration - more technical and detailed content on the topic or a specific problem they may be facing
Decision making - content that shows you solving the problem for others and helps them see what it may be like to work with you
So, what might this look like in practice?
Imagine for a second you're a solar company and your target audience is manufacturers, one content stream may look like this. Your aim being to pull in a potential customer with the broader piece, then to naturally guide them along this path, by linking all the posts:
Awareness - overview piece on commercial solar and how it can benefit manufacturers
Consideration - more technical piece on solar technology, grid connections, incentive schemes and other issues that need to be considered
Decision making - a case study of a solar project the company has managed for a manufacturer, its benefits, savings and a nice quote from the happy customer
One final piece of content that also needs to be part of the mix is a data capture mechanism. This should be a piece of content (usually a PDF but could be a video or other) that's only available in exchange for a name and email address.
These types of downloads can work well when used as a call to action, at the end of consideration-style pieces. They can help you begin to turn your web traffics into contacts, which you can then work on turning into solid leads with more great content!
The golden rule is that any content you provide needs to be top quality – the best out there on the topic in question. It should be interesting and relevant to your target buyers, and needs to provide the answers they are seeking.
Why use content marketing?
The aim of content marketing is to grab the attention of a potential buyer, then nurture them along, keeping your business top of mind until the point they are finally ready to buy.
The benefits of using content marketing are broad. As well as generating leads, it can help position you as a leader in your field and be used as a way to show off your knowledge in an unsalesy-way. It can help prospects self-qualify to some extent too, as it's likely that a majority of those who go on to find you, read your blogs and handover their details for a download, are likely to be interested in what you have to offer - just bear in mind that even if they download something, that doesn't mean they are going to become a customer. There are all sorts of reasons someone may be interested in reading your material, so don't jump on them with your best sales pitch until you've done some more qualification of your own!).
But even if they never go on to buy from you, through your content you can also create some valuable brand ambassadors. These influencers can help spread your message for you, and will do so, simply because you’ve impressed them with your content. Recommendations and word-of-mouth remain the most effective marketing tactics around, so these relationships can prove invaluable.
Plus, content marketing doesn’t end when a sale has been made. It can also help you grow more business from your existing customers, and importantly help you retain clients by building on the relationships you form.
The secrets of success
Key to success with content marketing, is to recognise that it’s quality not quantity that counts. It calls for a well thought through strategy, outstanding content and an ongoing process of review and refinement, to ensure the maximum impact is being achieved.
As a tactic, it isn't quick. It can take time to get up and running and you shouldn’t expect instant results – although you could get lucky. The good news is, the more content your produce and the better targeted it is, the quicker you’ll achieve results.
Any content you produce will become a lasting asset that continues to work hard for you 24/7 and potentially for years to come. Not to mention, it will support your broader SEO efforts by ticking lots of boxes for search engines. If you compare these benefits to an ad campaign, for example, which will run and then disappear when the money runs out, it quickly becomes clear why it can be such a cost-effective option.
The importance of a great website
As a final point, it’s worth mentioning here that your website will sit at the heart of your content machine - so it needs to be good! Importantly, your website needs to be customer-centric and designed entirely around buyers and what they will want to see (not just what you want to be saying).
You also need to get the basics right. The site needs to function well. It should work across all types of devices, load in seconds and be clear and easy to navigate.
Cut out the jargon and waffle, make sure it is precise and uncluttered in design, and provide clear pathways for visitors to follow. Use calls to action and page links to pull visitors through, and always have an end goal in mind – if that’s to encourage them to pick up the phone to you, then assess how well you are doing that.
Make everything super easy......and of course, make sure that if they do ring, they're dealt with brilliantly, as there's no point putting in all the hard work to generate an enquiry, only to waste it at the final hurdle.
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For an informal chat about any of the topics covered here, and whether content marketing could benefit your business, please call Amy on 07857 145 257.