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How to Develop Content Based on A Need Stage

There has been lots of good discussion about the role of content and the “sales funnel.” For instance, Robert Rose had a two-part  series on segmenting based on personas and lead stage. There are also good arguments to flip or even forget the funnel. Seth Godin and Joseph Jaffee have written books on the topic and Rahel Bailie had a post this week on how you need to think beyond the traditional sales process.

This post offers an alternative view on segmenting prospects based on their state of need at a given point in time. A fresh perspective might help for a couple of reasons:

  • The majority of people aren’t in the buying mood right now. In the B2B world, it is estimated that 90% of companies aren’t actually in a buying cycle when we first contact them. (Source: Selling is Dead)
  • While the funnel is perfectly logical and rational, it lacks an emotional component. And without satisfying an emotional need, we can’t decide so we don’t buy. (Source: How We Decide)
  • While the idea of moving through a funnel, even a leaky one, might resonate in a sales and marketing class it is not how we tend to view ourselves. We simply don’t like to be manipulated.
  • Even if we accept the funnel, the reality is that we would actually be in a set of parallel-funnels, one for each product or service in the consideration set.

At the center of each of the previous points is the notion that the prospect is the center of the universe, not the company. So rather than our sales funnel, let’s look at their state of the prospect’s mind to shed some light on content development and delivery.

Taking a page from medicine, at any point in time an individual with a need may be described as being in one of several states.

  • Acute: those looking for immediate relief. The ‘buy’ decision has been made; it is simply a matter of selecting the best option. Content should focus on ease, convenience and satisfaction. Personal recommendations, whether thru first hand experience, or “I’ve heard good things” work well because they create a short cut to a purchase decision.
  • Chronic: those who know they have a need and should seek relief but haven’t yet acted. Buying a product simply isn’t a priority yet. Content should focus on empathy and the benefits of the future state in order to elevate the situation to one of action.
  • Latent: those with a potentially invisible need or only expressing curiosity. Content should focus on building awareness and a sense of familiarity and competence.

Depending on the industry and market, it is possible that the same content can be crafted differently to satisfy the three types of demand. For example, in B2B marketing there should be three versions of a white paper, each with its own marketing approach:

  • Acute – focus on implementation steps, checklists, and testimonials to convey a sense of ease and low risk. Since the prospect is actively seeking solutions tie this content to search and other inbound marketing tactics.
  • Chronic – focus on emotional benefits and justification for funding a project. Since prospects are aware of the issue and are often marshaling resources to get the project approved, create and deliver content that reflects the social nature of the buying team.
  • Latent – focus on thought leadership and expertise. Since prospect are only slightly interested in a solution today, tie content to air cover and broad sponsorship opportunities to establish a position in their minds for when they’re ready.

For a fresh perspective at content and the sales funnel, try imagining the prospects’ needs based on their point of view and what stage of demand they are currently in. Hopefully, you’ll find some new and interesting ways to help them choose.