If you sell products or services to other companies, you're in the B2B (business to business) space. While most of the copywriting, blogging, and content marketing advice you read is general – or focuses on the business to consumer (B2C) market – much of it can be applied to developing a content strategy for your B2B company and website as well.
The principles of good content are, to a large extent, the same – interesting to your audience, delivering compelling and highly valuable information, and created with your business goals in mind.
The specific focus of B2B copy has one variation: B2B sales funnels tend to be longer and more complex than consumer-focused transactions. Content needs to support that sales cycle and nurture leads and prospects along your funnel in order to be effective.
Here's what to keep in mind when outlining your B2B content plans.
What Makes an Effective Content Strategy?
Let's start by defining content strategy. It's a buzzword that gets slung around a lot, but it's important to understand what it encompasses:
- Decisions about what types of content you'll create for your customers (e.g., blogs, newsletters, case studies, etc.).
- Plans for what topics or material you'll cover, and who is going to write it.
- When and how you're going to distribute this material to customers and prospects (e.g., rely on search engine traffic, distribute at tradeshows, email to contacts, etc.).
What Questions Should I Ask About B2B Plans?
A number of different factors go into this planning. At the heart of it is understanding what's effective to help you sell your products and services.
Your content strategy needs to be created with several specific factors of your business in mind:
- Who are my customers, and what kinds of content do they like to consume? Understanding what channels, platforms, and content formats they spend the most time looking at is directly related to creating content that achieves your goals.
- What problems, concerns, or needs are they facing right now, that are causing them to seek out my product or service? As master copywriter John Carlton says, determine what's causing that icy cold feeling in their bellies when they think of about their most pressing problem. Use your content to help solve that issue, and you'll have a customer for life.
- Are my products or services best showcased in print, video, or audio formats? An art gallery promotion absolutely must have a visual component, for example, while a content marketing agency might focus exclusively on the written word. Choose content types that are natural to your business.
- What do I enjoy? If you're going to be creating or promoting your content, it's helpful to choose something that engages you personally. The energy of your materials will be better, engagement will be more natural, and your ability to create connections with customers and prospects will be much more evident. Plus you'll have fun, which will keep you on target with your content goals.
- What does my specific sales funnel look like – starting at general research or brand discovery phase and going past maintenance and upselling? What types of content can you create along the funnel to help drive your prospects toward that critical selling decision? We'll explore the relationship between key content types and buyer action in the next section, but any content strategy should start with your business' personalized funnel mapped out.
Asking and answering the right questions about your B2B content plans can save you critical time and put you on the road to getting great results from your efforts.
What Types of Content Should I Consider?
The B2B sales cycle tends to be lengthy, with several distinct stages. This is different than a typical personal purchase. When you decide to buy a computer for your home office or personal use, it's an easy process. You figure out what you need, do a bit of research, and then buy the model that appeals to you.
The business buying cycle differs in that there is usually more at stake. Tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars might be invested. Buying is often done by committees rather than sole decision makers.
Mistakes can impact businesses to the tune of hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. A mistake can also cost an individual employee his or her job.
B2B marketers have developed a number of different content streams to help attract customers and disseminate their messages. Let's take a closer look at different content types, how to make them effective, and how to decide if they're right for your business.
During the lead generation phase, you're working to build awareness of your brand and get prospects curious about your products and services. Content can be very effective in getting your name out there and stimulating buyer interest.
Writing and publishing a blog on your site has numerous benefits. Regularly updating your site content is very helpful from an SEO point of view. For some specific reasons why, see my article "Why an Active Blog is Necessary for a Successful SEO Initiative." It's also one of the easiest ways to get you to generate and publish a sufficient quantity content across a variety of target key terms.
Blogs are also a significant channel in helping leads get to know your voice, build your brand, and establish your expertise and authority.
It can be difficult to get to know you as a brand through mundane corporate materials. But a blog lets you introduce your team, comment on news items, and answer questions. It's a great way to build a deeper rapport with people visiting your site.
Guest blogging is, in my opinion, the strongest strategy that a company can employ to improve their positioning and enhance their search engine visibility. Developing a guest blogging strategy is simple, especially when you're thinking in terms of lead generation.
Your primary goal is to get your name, products, and expertise out there. Find sites and publications in your industry, and contribute your expertise to them. For a specific walk-through of exactly how to execute a winning guest blogging strategy, see my article "The Ultimate, Step-by-Step Guide to Building Your Business by Guest Blogging".
When developing post ideas, focus on educating, informing, and entertaining rather than selling. Hard selling in guest posts is generally frowned upon, and may actually backfire as people feel like they're being sold before you've earned their trust. Instead, focus on an idea that fits with the blog that you're targeting and is geared toward their audience.
Let's say you sell ATVs, for example, and are writing for a publication focused on Chicago. You wouldn't want to write an article about why your shop is the best.
One approach might be to write about the best ATV trails or daytrips near the city. Another might be how to maintain and store an ATV in the city environment.
The goal here is to capture the audience's attention and become a trusted and recognized expert on a topic that the readers care about. Sales and other benefits will flow naturally from there.
White papers have been popular since the 1990s, but have been revived in a big way in the last few years. A white paper takes a theoretical problem facing your prospect, and gives them a framework for solving the issue.
For example, an ideation and app building company created a white paper to help executives understand how to cost out app development. A simple app might cost a few thousand dollars, while a more complex app could run in the hundreds of thousands.
Instead of creating a presentation selling their product, the company instead wrote a paper that broke down the specific elements of how to price out an app. It looks at features ranging from number of screens to the databases used to pull data.
Leads can opt in by giving basic information to get access to the white paper, as well as to a complementary calculator. White papers can be sent to prospects, featured on landing pages, and syndicated to white paper directories.
Since their focus is educational, white papers tend to have a long lifespan. They are also fairly in-depth and potentially expensive to develop, by comparison to other content types.
Once you've captured a prospect's interest, it's time to deepen your relationship with them and improve their overall opinion of your products and services. Specific content types can help you do that.
After you've attracted a lead to your site, it's important that you get them to make that first conversion. To get their information, you want to offer some sort of valuable report, video or other piece of content.
Many experts advise that this piece of content needs to be compelling enough to break down the first barrier and get them to say "yes." I would add that it's also your first chance to showcase the quality of your thinking and materials. This doesn't have to be equal to a paid report or product, but it's important that you offer something highly tailored to your audience and that directly addresses their interests.
Newly signed-up prospects often watch newsletters to gain a better understanding of businesses. This regular contact is one of the best ways to develop a relationship and build trust. Newsletters should be delivered regularly (but not too regularly) – once a week is optimal.
Topics should be timely and focused in on your customers' needs. Create an editorial calendar with a variety of potential topics and use that to keep you writing and emailing out newsletters on a regular basis. Cross-post newsletters to an archive or to your blog to get more mileage out of the content.
Many companies feature testimonials on their sites. It's a great marketing tactic, because it helps prospects associate real customers and familiar brands with your business. But a well-developed case study that shows what problem the customer faced, how they chose your service, what the implementation looked like, and what the end result was plays a different role.
It helps prospects in the research phase to be able to envision how your solution solves their problem. These case studies are likely to be created from interviews and should be professionally written. Focusing in on just a couple can be a powerful way to move an interested prospect along the funnel to the decision phase.
Closing the Sale
Closing the sale is often the hardest part of the whole cycle. Once you've made it to the final list of vendors under consideration, it's critical that you offer the right kinds of content to help the buying committee make a final decision.
One pagers B2B decisions are often made by committee. It's important to create simple one-page sheets that summarize all the features, benefits, and relevant specifications of your product for easy perusal. These sell sheets can be used in a variety of contexts beyond this one, but you'll find that customers serving as internal advocates for your product love one pagers. They're an easy way to give your materials to interested executives that need something that they can easily scan.
A high quality, well-written video presentation is a great way to help seal the sale. Video content is another way to target certain keywords in search engines, and helps engage potential clients that don't like to read very much. Many copywriters in the B2B space actually suggest that B2B buyers don't read, which seems counterintuitive to the reams of materials you're working to create.
The key, I think, is that B2B buyers do read – but have a very high bar on what's relevant and engaging. Video is another way to stand out in the sea of information, and help quickly distill information for time-starved prospects.
Ongoing Relationships and Upselling
Many companies make more money on upsells and the backend of relationships than they do on the initial sale. Here's how to use content to support that set of goals.
One of the keys to successful B2B selling is to understand the progression of your sales. For example, your customers might start by purchasing your book. If they like what they read, they move on to a more expensive course or program that you sell. For people with whom your message really resonates, they might look at joining your mastermind or hiring you as a coach or consultant.
One way to help nurture this is to use a specialized series of more "advanced" newsletters that help move people along. For example, a simple series targeted at helping people implement the advice from your book – that frequently, but tactfully points them toward your course – can be a very effective upsell mechanism.
Another focus of ongoing sales is retargeting. Retargeting refers to technological solutions that allow you to email people who visit your site but don't purchase, or add items to the cart without completing the purchase. It's hard to know why people don't complete the sale, but retargeting can be an effective way to get them to finish it.
Some messages might just remind them that they need to complete the purchase. Others offer a discount if they take action. Think carefully about your retargeting content.
Capturing just a fraction of the people that abandon the sales process can have a dramatic impact on your bottom line. This is especially true with high-end, big margin B2B products.
The B2B sales process isn't for the faint of heart. But developing a strong content strategy will help you in every aspect of your business – from attracting leads to developing stronger relationships with existing customers.
What kinds of content are really working for your business right now? Let me know in the comments below.
Twitter Canada MD Kirstine Stewart to Keynote Toronto
ClickZ Live Toronto (May 14-16) is a new event addressing the rapidly changing landscape that digital marketers face. The agenda focuses on customer engagement and attaining maximum ROI through online marketing efforts across paid, owned & earned media. Register now and save!