How to Market to B2B Buyers

Article ImageThe majority of enterprise-level companies have a content strategy. However, almost half aren't using buyer personas to generate demand, and about 50% don't design content to target buyers' pain points, a recent survey of B2B marketers found. "2015 Enterprise B2B Demand Generation Research Study," conducted by the demand-generation firm, ANNUITAS, focuses on companies in the B2B space with more than 2,000 employees and at least $250 million in revenue.

The takeaway is that "[c]ompanies are spending millions of dollars on demand generation and content marketing tactics, and for so many to fall short of the desired results is a serious problem," Carlos Hidalgo, CEO and principal of ANNUITAS, says in a press release about the survey.

In an interview, Hidalgo elaborates on the results of the survey and what it means for today's B2B marketing professionals. He says there's a reason most marketers aren't getting it right. "This stuff is pretty hard," he says. "As we like to say internally, this isn't your daddy's marketing. Twenty years ago, when I was at McAfee, our big focus was on giving sales everything they needed to drive and close deals. All that has changed significantly."

Due to the overwhelming amount of product information available, many B2B buyers have already made up their mind by the time they contact a vendor. This means that marketers need to reach potential buyers earlier than before. Marketers are still learning that they "need to hit [B2B buyers] before they even know they have a pain point," says Maribeth Ross, chief content officer and marketing director at Aberdeen Group.

Since the rules of the game have changed, marketing messages need to be disseminated before a B2B buyer even knows she has a problem. The goal is for a prospect to read a thought-leadership article and have an "epiphany," Ross says.

"They have this moment where they say, ‘Oh, my gosh, the way I'm doing this isn't the right way. There's a different way, and I might get better results if I do it that other way. I need to learn more about this.' Some people call that loosening the status quo, but basically, it's this catalyst moment where they say, ‘I need to do something different,' and that's when their behavior changes," Ross states.

"Marketers still haven't adapted to this," Ross adds. "The evolution that marketers have to go through to adapt to this behavior is to really focus on stuff that is useful to the prospective customer."

Here's another challenge for marketers: Hidalgo says that studies and anecdotal evidence from ANNUITAS clients' salespeople show that buying cycles are getting longer. "Because you have multiple people involved, there's so much information that I can access before I even start to actively engage with you as a vendor," he says.

Experts agree that a generic, catch-all type of white paper plastered on a company's website isn't going to work any longer. Hidalgo says that each buyer persona needs content that speaks to him at the appropriate stage-beginning, middle, and conversion-of the purchase process. When B2B buyers have everything they need to know in the palms of their hands-thanks to their smartphones--marketers need to understand the "complexity and how they are consuming content throughout their journey ...," he says.

Ross says companies that "aren't best in class are still focused on creating a lot of stuff." Their goal is to just keep producing "enough stuff," she says. Best-in-class-level companies, however, say that they've moved past the problem of just creating content and "are 100% focused on how to become more of a publisher and how to become more scientific about it," she says.  

Hidalgo believes companies need to change their approach to demand generation, and that includes adding a demand- generation department instead of asking corporate communications to create the content. "Buyers buy in a perpetual fashion, and so we have to create programs that are always on and are perpetual so that they always map to when the buyer wants to engage and not just when we want to-and then we launch a campaign," he says.

Demand generation is a full-time job, according to Hidalgo, and the employees need a laser focus on optimizing the programs that the company is building. "There has to be specific demand generation and content that's made to engage, nurture, and convert those buyers throughout their buying process," he says.

Best-in-class companies are using personalization, so every visitor to their website has a different experience, and the experience becomes more tailored the more a person visits. Forward-thinking firms are also using predictive analytics and their own data as well as third-party information to determine when a specific customer is ready to talk with the sales team, according to Ross.

So who's getting the new marketing paradigm right? Hidalgo, admitting his bias, cites two clients as examples. LENOX Tools makes industrial blades for metal fabricating, and Hidalgo says it has multiple buyer personas covered in its content marketing.

LENOX created a metal resource cutting center on its website, so different individuals on a buying committee (a buyer concerned about safety, for example) can be educated about what's relevant to his or her needs, according to Hidalgo.

ANNUITAS has helped another customer, PR Newswire, capture more business by seamlessly continuing the customer's journey, which most likely started in a digital fashion, once it has done its research and contacted a salesperson. "There's that continuity of conversation that they are having, so they can have that continual engagement, and we've seen their close rates rise significantly," Hidalgo says. The good news for companies trying to match their content to buyer personas is that "very few companies have this nailed," he says.

So there's still time to adapt to this new way of marketing. "There's a lot of companies that are making incremental improvements, but to make wholesale change is difficult," Hidalgo adds. "But it has to happen, and I really think those who do that and those who really apply themselves to it are going to have a huge competitive edge."   

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