There’s nothing more powerful than speaking with real buyers to take the guesswork out of what content they find valuable. In 2014, I had the pleasure to interview over 100 business and IT executives across a variety of industries about their buying journey and what resources they consulted to guide their decision-making process.
Here are some of the things they had to say about the content they came across as they searched for and evaluated solutions, what worked and what didn’t, and how you can make their buying experience better.
1. Help me to build the business case for change
“Anything that a company can provide that helps me translate the business case to the decision-makers in my company is a benefit. Any kind of comparison tools that show, not just ROI, but the impact of your solution on my business.” – Senior systems administrator, manufacturing industry, enterprise
More often than not, your solution is competing with other projects for finite resources in the buyer’s organization. B2B buyers need your help convincing senior executives to make your solution a strategic priority. The content you give them, therefore, needs to go beyond demonstrating the ROI of your solution. It has to communicate the ROI of fixing the problem that your solution addresses.
You can help stakeholders understand the profound impact your solution will have on their business with one of these approaches:
- Parts-whole relationship: Paint the big picture by explaining how this problem affects a bigger problem or goal on the organization’s radar.
- Opportunity ROI: Explain how fixing this problem will enable the organization to pursue new opportunities for growing revenue, saving cost, or mitigating risk.
- Compare and contrast: Simulate what it will be like working in the new environment. Compare and contrast the new business systems, processes, and user experiences with the existing ones.
- Pros and cons: Weigh the positives and negatives of fixing the problem versus doing nothing. Explain how those attributes might change over time and why.
- Case study: Provide proof of the value. Share what tangible and intangible benefits and ROI organizations have seen as a result of fixing the problem.
By helping buyers to build the business case for change, you’ll become a valuable resource and make it on their list of top companies to consider once they secure the budget and begin the buying process.
2. Tell me in 90 words or less why I shouldn’t eliminate your product/service from consideration
“You have a potential customer’s attention for three to seven seconds, and what you say in that time period is pretty important. And so, that’s what I was looking for. Something that in 90 words or less came closest to fitting what I wanted and needed to do.” – Owner and operator, professional services, small business
Buyers quickly scan your website to determine if you appear to have a solution that meets their needs. Because they screen a long list of vendors, they look for any reason to eliminate you from consideration and focus on vendors who “get it.” The short-form messages on your home page and product-landing page help convince buyers whether it’s worth their time to take a deeper look at your solution. To get your value proposition under 100 words and ensure it truly resonates with buyers, you need to be absolutely certain that you understand what they’re looking for in the first place.
You can achieve this by interviewing buyers and probing for the following insights:
- Buying criteria: What are buyers looking for in a solution and vendor? What criteria do they use to compare you to your competitors?
- Business impact: Why is each criterion important? What impact does it have on their business?
- Evaluation process: What does the ideal solution look like with respect to each criterion? How do buyers evaluate this among the vendors?
- Final decision: How do buyers decide which vendor to choose? What is the tipping point or number one thing that sways them?
After interviewing buyers, don’t be surprised to discover that your web content is misaligned with buyer expectations. In my experience conducting buyer persona research, only 30 to 40% of what buyers care about is typically addressed on a vendor’s website.
3. Give me more in-depth product info so I can determine if I should short-list you for evaluation
“We wanted more than just the data-sheet stuff that you find on a website. The providers that didn’t make it through didn’t have robust sets of marketing materials that helped us understand what the breadth and the depth of their offerings were and their capabilities as a company.” – CIO, utility industry, enterprise level
“I expected to have more non-marketing related evidence as to why it was a bad idea or a good idea. I hate to use the word empirical, but more specific in nature that wasn’t driven by a marketing group. What is your demonstrated research? What are your demonstrated metrics? What have you done to actually test the assumptions you’re making?” – IT director, manufacturing industry, mid-market
If your short-form message resonates with B2B buyers, they will spend more time on your website to have an in-depth look at your solution. At this point, they’re trying to determine if you are likely to meet all or most of their buying criteria, and whether to put you on the short list for evaluation. Your web content, therefore, has to do more than just restate the benefits buyers expect and confirm that you meet their criteria. To be persuasive, your content has to explain how you meet each criterion, why you do it better than your competitors, and how you back up your claims with proof points.
The best way to do this without overwhelming buyers is to layer your content so that they can drill down on each criterion as they choose:
- Criteria overview: Open with a brief value proposition on your main product page, followed by a bulleted list of the buyer’s criteria that your solution addresses.
- Criterion “how” page: Link each criterion to its own dedicated web page explaining how your product/service meets the criterion, and why your approach is better than the competitions’.
- Formats and lengths: Use different formats and lengths to accommodate information preferences and time constraints (i.e., text, infographic, video, screenshots, demo, etc.).
- Criterion proof points: Include industry research, product metrics (up-time, MTBF [mean time between failures], fail-over rates, etc.) and customer proof points (ROI, benefits) to back up each claim.
- Criterion deep dive: Provide an in-depth explanation, including technical details, of how your product/service meets each criterion. Lock down the content behind a form to generate leads.
If your long-form content is persuasive, you’ll make it on the buyer’s short list of vendors to contact and even could affect the criteria it uses to evaluate other vendors.
4. Give me detailed case studies for companies like mine
“Case studies are useful as long as they have enough detail. A lot of case studies tend to say what the benefits are, but they don’t go into enough detail to tell us whether it’d be applicable to us in our environment or not. Also, we didn’t come across a lot from mid-market companies. There were some from the Bank of Americas and Chevrons, but not much on how you do it with a small team.” – CIO, retail industry, mid-market
Convincing B2B buyers that you can successfully solve a problem isn’t enough. They need to get a sense of whether your solution is within their means without having to contact your sales team. Your case studies, therefore, need to go beyond the standard, two-page “about the company,” problem, solution, and benefits format. You need to provide more details so buyers can determine whether they can implement your solution in their specific business and IT environment using the resources available to them.
The good news is that when you interview buyers to uncover insights about how they make their purchasing decision, you’ll capture 90% of the information you need to produce more helpful case studies, including:
- Goal: What were the organization’s key business goals or priorities?
- Problem: What was preventing them from achieving their goals?
- Trigger: What triggered them to finally do something about the problem?
- Expectations: What did they expect to change after implementing the solution?
- Environment: What people, business processes, systems, and technologies were affected?
- Time and resources: What time, budget, and people did they have for getting this done?
- Challenges: What were some of the major challenges they had to overcome?
- Requirements: How did all these factors shape their requirements?
- Vendor selection: How and why did they choose the vendor that they did?
- Outcome: What benefits (tangible and intangible) and ROI did they see?
- Lessons learned: What advice do they have for others looking to solve this problem?
This may seem like a lot of information to cover in a case study. However, if it’s written in first person from the customer’s perspective, as is this case study from e-SignLive, it can tell a captivating story that’s easy and enjoyable to read.
5. Help me to sell your solution to our internal stakeholders
“The vendor we chose helped us market the idea of it, why there was a need for it, selling it to the top tiers of the organization. They put together a message for each group and in some cases for each person. They said this is what’s important to them. This is what you can anticipate the questions being.” – HR director, insurance industry, enterprise level
Consensus-based selling is the new normal in complex B2B-buying decisions, as the book The Challenger Sales: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation points out. The HR director’s quote supports the book’s argument that you need to tailor your message to a wide variety of stakeholders to maximize resonance and get consensus. The authors and researchers recommend doing this on four levels: industry, company, department, and individual. Most organizations, they add, don’t contextualize messages at any level, so this provides marketing with an opportunity to add tremendous value to the sales process.
When tailoring your content to each level, consider the following:
- Industry: Explain how your solution adds value to industry-specific business processes, channels, and customer segments, while complying with all applicable regulations.
- Company: Reinforce how the problem you solve is linked to a broader business objective the company has and how your solution will help to achieve it.
- Department: Address the specific priorities, concerns, and requirements of each department that is responsible for or affected by the problem.
- Individual: Appeal to individuals’ intellect and emotion. Explain how solving the problem will help (or not hinder) the individual’s professional and personal life.
Bottom line: You don’t get a second shot to get your message right with buyers.
Unless you’re one of the few lucky companies that have no competitors, your solution must compete with dozens of options for buyers’ confidence. At every stage in the buying cycle, your content will either persuade buyers that you deserve to move to the next stage – or cause you to be eliminated.
By interviewing real buyers of your solution, you’ll pinpoint precisely what they’re looking for in a solution, enabling you to move away from generic messaging that focuses on the least important things – to sharing specific details that assure them that you understand what matters most to them.
Want to learn more about how buyer persona insight can help your content marketing? Check out the CMWorld 2014 sessions available through our Video on Demand portal and make plans today to attend Content Marketing World 2015.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute