By Ann Gynn published October 28, 2021 Est Read Time: 6 min

Why the Future of Demand Gen Lies in Self-Service Content Experiences

The future of sales-enablement and demand gen lies in self-service content. Is your content marketing program ready?

Buyers continue to want control of the process long before they connect with a sales rep.

“At least half, probably more, of B2B buyers prefer a self-driven experience,” Ardath Albee, CEO of Marketing Interactions, said in a presentation at Content Marketing World in September. “They want to research on their own. They don’t think they need any help from the sellers.”

But they arrive at a problem – too much information. Worse, she says, a 2019 Gartner survey notes only 9% say the content they come across from vendors is sufficient.

Content marketers can help buyers help themselves to the content they need to make a purchase decision. But they may be going about it the wrong way.

“We really need to make this shift from marketing-driven campaigns to buyer-driven experiences,” Ardath says.

#B2B buyers want to research on their own. That means it’s time to shift from marketing-led campaigns to buyer-driven content experiences, says @ardath421 via @CMIContent @Semrush. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

To help you move toward buyer-led experiences, we’ve gathered advice from two Content Marketing World speakers: Ardath and Marcus Sheridan, president of IMPACT.

Build a buyer-led content flow

In the traditional approach, the sales process triggers the minute a potential buyer fills out a form for gated content. Then they get a series of emails or phone calls offering demos or requesting meetings.

But prospects usually aren’t ready for that. They may not have gathered the stakeholders involved in the purchase, and they may not know what outcome they want. So, the prospect ignores the outreach because it isn’t helpful to their interests and goals.

A buyer-led approach recognizes that prospects want to address their problems or needs in the least disruptive way. “We tend to market assuming that everybody is already an in-market buyer, and they are not,” Ardath explains. “There’s a whole change management process that needs to take place, and we can help them with that.”

How? Take part in solving their problem by helping them:

  • Define the stakeholders
  • Identify the potential disruption the solution will cause
  • Determine how to make compromises to move the buying process forward.

By the time they get to supplier selection, your brand is already involved in their process.

Take part in solving buyers’ problems. By the time they’re ready to make a decision, your brand and #content is already part of their process, says @ardath421 via @CMIContent @Semrush. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

“We need to let them drive. We need to allow them to be in control, and we need to help them accomplish what they need to do,” Ardath says.

A buyer-driven content strategy, Ardath says, includes four components:

Context

Build value by creating content based on the prospect’s desired outcomes. Focus content on helping them complete the steps in their task to solve their problem. Help buyers understand the questions to ask and simplify access to the right information to answer those questions.

Choice

Help buyers decide whether to stick with their current solution or to change. Guide them through options for minimizing the disruption involved in the change, and so on. Provide relief by making it easier to complete their research and buying process.

Conversations

Make sure conversations – the exchanges of information – happen on the buyer’s terms. Focus on the information they want, not the information your brand wants to share. For example, the act of filling out a form isn’t relevant to a conversation, but the topic of the content they accessed probably is. Keep the exchange going by giving them the next thing relevant to their behavior and what they engaged in.

Confidence

Help buyers feel confident about their choice. Give them what they need to make an informed recommendation or decision, even if that choice ultimately isn’t your product or service. Prioritize becoming a credible resource over prioritizing your brand.


ADVERTISEMENT

The Data-Driven Competitive Analysis Guide

Semrush’s practical guide is designed for those looking to leverage extensive competitive intel to transform and grow their businesses. Supercharge your marketing efforts with the free download!


Operating in a seller-free world

Marcus Sheridan, president of IMPACT, concurs: “Buyers are forcing sellers, salespeople, and marketers to change.”

He points to three B2B trends that indicate that:

  • Buyers are 80% of the way through the buying cycle before they engage an organization
  • 33% of all buyers prefer a seller-free sales experience (44% of millennials), according to Gartner
  • 70 to 80% of buyers say they prefer digital self-service and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions, according to McKinsey

That means, Marcus said, you should embrace the self-service model buyers want and put them in control. Marcus points to Yale Appliance, which has become the most visited appliance site in the world, as an example of a company offering an excellent self-scheduling and self-selection process.

Buyers are forcing sellers, salespeople, and marketers to change, says @TheSalesLion. That means your demand-gen #content needs to embrace a self-service model via @CMIContent @Semrush. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Self-scheduling

Visitors and prospects want the ability to schedule time with your sales team or someone else in the company without talking to a person to create the appointment.

On the Yale website, people can choose their preference for a showroom visit, video call, live chat, or online order placement:

Self-selection

As the buyer clicks down the path, they can select the Yale team member they want to work with. They can choose based on who’s available when they are, but Yale goes further. It includes the sales reps’ name, headshot, bio, availability:

Yale Appliance’s CEO told Marcus the self-selected closing rate is 62% higher, and the average sale is $4,000 per scheduled appointment compared to a $2,000 deal average for a walk-in customer.

“Give visitors the ability to make important decisions by guiding them virtually to a conclusion,” Marcus says.

Self-pricing

Marcus’ fiberglass pool manufacturing business offers another kind of buyer-driven experience: self-pricing. Self-pricing doesn’t mean the buyer determines the actual price. Instead, it involves walking buyers through choices to create the product they need and see the actual price or the range of pricing.

A self-pricing tool on Marcus’s site asks what shape of pool the visitor wants, then returns the selected pool with details about the base package. Buyers can click on any aspect to understand it in detail. They can choose upgrades and make comparisons. Eventually, the pool site will show other cost considerations (such as hidden costs related to construction).

The self-pricing experience gives buyers the complete picture of a swimming pool project, and it’s been a big success. As many as a couple of hundred wholesalers per day completed the form in the summer season. Marcus says it’s a cash cow lead magnet that works because it gives the buyers the power to determine the pricing.

It’s a buyer’s world

These ideas from Ardath and Marcus make a great case (and helpful tips) for transforming your traditional content marketing, marketing, and sales operations for a buyer-led future.

The buyer will remain in control. The only choice you’ll have is whether you’re willing to follow their lead.

Want more insight from these and other Content Marketing World speakers? Register for a virtual pass to get on-demand access through Dec. 31, 2021. Use code CMIBLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Ann Gynn

Ann Gynn edits the CMI blog. Ann regularly combines words and strategy for B2B, B2C, and nonprofits, continuing to live up to her high school nickname, Editor Ann. Former college adjunct faculty, Ann also helps train professionals in content so they can do it themselves. Follow Ann on Twitter @anngynn or connect on LinkedIn.

Other posts by Ann Gynn

FOLLOW CONTENT MARKETING INSTITUTE ON SOCIAL