By Tom Pisello published November 23, 2011

4 Ways to Optimize Content for the Economy-Focused Buyer in 2012

Businesses entered 2011 with optimism that an economic recovery was at hand and anxiously put plans in place for much-needed new projects,  a return to growth and innovation.

As we know, 2011 is best characterized by the recovery that never came. The Greek crises and European woes, U.S. debt downgrades, and budget conflicts all conspired to put a damper on the year and set a pessimistic stage for 2012.

B2B salespeople and marketers seeking better times for 2012 are facing more of the same with buyers forced to “do more with less” for yet another year. They also are facing more fiscal scrutiny from executives — a condition that has been defined as Frugalnomics. Achieving success in 2012 will require recognition of the continued malaise, and implementing new content marketing strategies and tactics to help buyers navigate tough budget waters and achieve goals despite the challenged economy.

The following are our predictions of how economic pressures will define 2012, and four tangible ways you can overcome some of the challenges with content marketing:

Challenge #1: Budget uncertainty grows

There are some key findings that, according to a survey of B2B purchase decision makers from Demand Creation Specialists (DCS), are important for you to understand:

  • Only one in every four dollars for new project budgets are set in stone at the beginning of the year, leaving much of the budget up for grabs for the right business projects.
  • The discretionary budget allocations this year will be a substantially higher percentage of new project spending than in years past, indicating that buyers are in a wait-and-see mode about the economy and are planning to allocate as little as possible up-front. Over 50 percent of the new project budget will be allocated for projects that are identified, prioritized, and justified based on needs, either leveraging unallocated budgets or taking budget from projects that have less value or a lower priority.

Advice: Be provocative. Because much of new project budgets will remain up for grabs in the new year, there is a unique opportunity for sales and marketing to consultatively and proactively convince a buyer that:

  • A need for your solution exists, and it should be a priority
  • If the need is solved, it could return tangible and significant financial and competitive rewards
  • The proposed solution is viable and can deliver significant ROI and fast payback.

Marketers need to proactively convince buyers that maintaining the status quo is not an effective option, and that there is a cost for doing nothing. With more of the budget being allocated on an ongoing basis in 2012, a provocative sales and marketing approach can help the customer identify significant opportunities while resulting in more sales opportunities and incremental revenue throughout the year. This can be accomplished in two ways.

Provide content that helps buyers prioritize needs that the solution addresses. In some instances, the buyer might not even be aware of the issue and severity, while in others, they know of the pain point, but don’t realize what a priority solving it should be. Content can be developed to illuminate the opportunities and raise the priority of assisting buyers in understanding and prioritizing opportunities especially in the following areas:

  1. Provocative research can be used to show buyers the facts and figures behind a particular opportunity, which helps prove that the issue exists, that it is costly and important to fix, and that solving it can yield substantial and tangible business benefits. This can be best delivered via white papers, infographics, and eBooks.
  2. Diagnostic assessments can be applied to survey buyers about their current situations, scoring them against best practices and their peers to illuminate specific trouble spots, raise urgency via benchmark comparisons, and prioritize specific solutions to resolve the most significant of any identified issues;
  3. Case studies can help demonstrate how similar companies identified the issues they are experiencing and successfully addressed the issues to yield bottom-line impacts.

Provide content and tools to help buyers quantify the value of your solution and justify the investment, especially proving higher return on investment (ROI) and quick payback compared to other projects. Content that helps buyers quantify solution value could include interactive benefit estimators and ROI calculators, ROI white papers, and justification-focused case studies.

Challenge #2: Discount demands increase

Price dominates the decision-making process for the vast majority of B2B buyers — some 64 percent,  according to a TricomB2B/ University of Dayton survey: The Considered Purchase Decision. This means that discount providers will have an inherent advantage. The majority of B2B providers is not discount-focused and will have to adjust sales and marketing strategies to defend higher purchase prices.

Advice: Elevate the discussion beyond price. In a price-focused environment, discounts will gain attention and can often be enticing to frugal buyers; however, most of us need to move beyond the “discount dance”.

The good news is that certain buyer groups, such as senior executives, are more likely to consider:

  • How much it costs to own the asset or service over multiple years vs. just initial purchase price
  • The incremental value certain solutions might deliver over lower-cost alternatives.

To end the discount dance, content marketers need to create content that helps buyers:

  • Quantify and prove lower total cost of ownership (TCO) over the useful life of the asset/ service
  • Quantify the incremental business benefits their solution delivers (compared with the competition) by looking at the total value of ownership and ROI, not just cost differences.

This content can be delivered via TCO comparison calculators, TCO-focused white papers, eBooks, infographics, webinars, and case studies to compare and contrast competitive alternatives/ solutions on a TCO/ value basis.

You can also arm your sales force with TCO/ value-focused tools and content to effectively connect and engage upwards within accounts, enabling them to proactively develop comparison reports and present competitive alternatives/ solutions on a TCO/ value basis. To move discussions beyond price, analysis workshops are extremely effective, using TCO comparison tools with the customer to compare and contrast different competitive solution options head-to-head to understand the lifecycle cost differences, incremental values of different options, and advantages of each alternative.

Challenge #3: More skepticism

Buyers are taking more time to make each decision (48 percent) and are using a wider variety of sources to help them make a decision (36 percent) compared to just 12 months ago, according to DCS’s buyer surveys.

While vendor content is one of the key sources of content being used in the decision making process, buyers are three times more likely to trust content from peers and industry analysts

Advice: It’s a matter of trust. Several different collaborative content strategies are needed to help connect and engage today’s more empowered buyer, including:

  • Leveraging content developed/ contributed by industry pundits and research analysts — such as research white papers, infographics, eBooks, webcasts, videos, diagnostic assessments, benefit estimators, ROI calculators, and TCO comparison tools. This is especially effective when using a third party to validate opportunity, savings, cost, and value claims
  • Developing and delivering peer case studies (especially those that use video and audio testimonials) to help buyers understand how others have solved priority opportunities using proposed solutions — particularly ways in which other customers have achieved savings, drove business benefits, or realized other values
  • Adding social sharing capabilities to all marketing collateral, making it easy for buyers to share, comment, discuss, and even contribute to the content
  • Establishing and cultivating advocate communities and user groups to help buyers get peer and influencer advice on how the proposed solution can solve their problems and help them realize favorable outcomes
  • Providing “freemium” offers, demos, and live trials. Today’s buyers are used to being able to try before they buy in their personal purchases and now expect similar test drives on their B2B solution purchases.

Challenge #4: More overload

Forced to do more with less, buyers are consumed with keeping the lights on, which give them less time to research new opportunities and solutions. At the same time, according to research by the Vanella Group, buyers are more overloaded than ever, receiving upwards of 15 sales calls per day and 200 marketing related emails from solution providers each week. With buyers adding social media participation to the mix, the overload will only get worse, making it harder for buyers to keep up, and more difficult for marketers to get heard above the noise.

Buyers need relevant content more than ever to help more quickly research opportunities, select and justify solutions, and assure they are getting best value possible; however, they are lost in an ocean of available resources, and inundated with irrelevant content and offers.

Advice: Service the “short attention span theater” set. Buyers’ time is precious, and it is a currency. For the buyer’s time, are you providing a value added connection and engagement? Here are some content marketing techniques to help support this goal and address buyer overload and short attention spans:

  • Use nurturing techniques to understand the buyer’s role and stage in the decision making process, and providing relevant emails and content at the right time to help facilitate the purchase decision
  • Keep content as short as possible
  • Leverage content designed to deliver more information more quickly, such as eBooks
  • Make content like white papers more personalized via intelligent interactivity — using the buyer’s profile to customize the content, making it relevant to their role in the decision making process, stage in the process, pain points, industry, size, and location
  • Enable sales with content that help them add value and be more collaborative with customers by giving them information that they can’t find for themselves online, such as intelligent diagnostic, roadmap/ sizing, and justification tools.

The bottom line

The much-sought economic relief in 2011 never arrived, setting the stage for a budget constrained, frugal 2012. Frugalnomics is in full effect with buyers more uncertain about their budgets, more price-focused, skeptical of vendor claims, and seriously overloaded.

Successful sales and marketing groups recognize the continued buyer’s woes.  Implementing new and improved content marketing strategies to help facilitate buyer decision-making and help buyers overcome these challenges.  These savvy organizations will purposely address the frugal buyer of 2012 by leveraging content to be more provocative, reducing discounting, overcoming skepticism and breaking through the noise to achieve better connections, engagements and sales performance despite the challenges.

Author: Tom Pisello

Tom Pisello, the ROI guy, has built his 25-year career helping companies to get more business value from their IT and business investments. Tom’s latest endeavor, Alinean (a CMI benefactor), was founded in 2001 to develop SaaS software for changing the way B2B sellers reach frugal buyers with interactive white papers, assessment, ROI and TCO tools. You can read Tom's blog, see related research and best practices or follow him on Twitter @tpisello.

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