A lot of content marketers think that writing for business customers is the same as writing for the individual consumer. It’s people making the decision in both cases, right? Actually there are some big differences in the way individual and business customers make purchases. And it will impact how and what you write.
Characteristics of the B2B Customer
Here are the traits of the B2B customers that make them unique:
- They are not as focused on the price as an individual consumer may be. It’s not their personal money being spent.
- It is unusual that a single B2B customer makes a purchasing decision on his or her own, unless the item being purchased is relatively inexpensive (e.g. a piece of office furniture). The more expensive or the more people impacted by the product or service, the more people will be involved in the purchasing decision.
- B2B customers are less emotional in their purchasing decisions. Rarely do they make impulse buys as a personal consumer might. There is a decision process in place which is more logical.
- B2B customers insist upon thorough education. They want to understand every aspect of a product or service, and content must provide that. They want others in the organization, especially their superiors, to know that they have conducted their research, and that means you need to provide that research, so that they look “smart.”
So, as your produce content for this customer, it must be high in educational value, it must be lengthy, and it must be detailed to a fault. No one is going to make a new HR software package purchase, for example, unless s/he is convinced that it meets every criteria that has been set, that it meets every need the company has, and that there is sufficient training to make all users comfortable.
The Purchasing Process
You may not know the detailed steps of the buying process of organizations to which you sell; however, there are certain steps that are common to all, and that should help you develop your content strategy.
1. The Stage of Awareness: At this point, the customer realizes there is a need or a problem but is not actively pursuing a purchase. Perhaps a group of individuals are discussing the problem or the need.
Content that you write or buyers at this stage of the process should focus on changing attitudes, convincing them that the problem is severe enough to warrant a solution and what type of solution the need. In the case of the new HR software, for example, content will address the time and money being wasted on antiquated HR functions and the time and money to be saved by purchasing a more efficient, streamlined solution.
2. The Stage of Evaluation: At this stage, someone has been tasked with exploring potential solutions to the problem. They set about looking for experts who can educate them and offer realistic solutions.
Any content that targets customers at this stage must focus on your expertise, your ability to educate them, and your standing as the one who can provide the best solution. You will need to provide all of the details regarding your HR software, all that it can do, the options that your customers have, and, of course, the organizations for which you have provided similar solutions.
3. The Stage of Decision: When customers are in this stage, they have usually narrowed their options down to just a few, and it is your job now to convince them that you are the best option.
Content for buyers in this stage should include case studies, references, and success stories, along with commitments to service after the sale.
Developing Your Content Strategy
The early stages of developing your strategy will look a lot like B2C content marketing.
1. Identify Your Audience(s): In many ways, this is easier than B2C identification. You want to target those people in any organization who will be the first to identify a problem that needs your solution. It may be more than one type of audience, however, so be careful. If, for example, you are selling HR software solutions, you know that your audience will be HR managers and executives. However, it you leave out the IT department, you will be sorry. The HR manager is interested in what the software will do for his/her department; but it is the IT department that will need to understand the systems requirements, so that potential upgrades to hardware may be evaluated. Making sure that you have included all of the “players” will determine the content you write, as follows:
- What topics will relate specifically to your audience(s). You may have to alternate topics based upon the varied people involved n the purchasing decision.
- What is the literacy level? Your HR manager will not be tech-savvy, so content written to appeal to that person will be very different than the technical content you may write for the IT person.
- The “voice” and style you use will be different according to the target.
- What content type should you use with each audience?
2. Developing a Persona: This is something that is absolutely critical for B2C marketing; it may be a good idea for B2B marketing as well. If, for example, you can get a generalized “persona” of an HR manager, a logistics engineer, an IT expert, etc., that can help you develop topics and personalize the content.
3. Develop broad topic areas based upon the audience(s) and persona(s). These are not actually post topics, but broader general area from which you can pull specific post topics.
What problems does your audience typically have in relation to the product or service you offer? List those under each broad category. What education does your audience need regarding your product or service? Can you also entertain; can you tell a good story? List ways in which you can do this. Remember B2B customers are humans and they like stories, humor, etc. as much as a B2C customer does.
4. Develop your specific topic ideas. Now you are down to make a list of specific post topics. Brainstorm these – don’t be shy. You can always eliminate later. Right now you need to get down every possible topic. Check out your competitors’ blogs, forums, etc. for good topic ideas. Use topic generator tools as well.
5. Identify Content Types: As you look at specific topic ideas, think about how best to package that content. B2B content is a bit different than B2C, and there are certain types that are best used. Writing engaging content can come in many forms, as follows:
- Interviews With Experts: Find other experts related to the product or service you sell or to the industry you sell to – people who can give solid information, expert opinions, and new trends. That HR software you are selling? Get some recognized HR managers from reputable firms and interview them about new trends in HR management and administration. This gives you credibility because of who you are hanging out with.
- Webinars: Host these live, announce them, publicize them, and take “reservations” so you know that you have participants. (And if you don’t have enough participants, gather some friends and give them some questions to ask that will relate directly to your product or service). You can even record the event and, if was good, publish it to YouTube and provide a link to that video on your website, Twitter account, and Facebook page.
- Case Studies: These fall into the categories of stories that are popular with B2C marketing. These are powerful stories, however, because they demonstrate that you solve similar customers’ problems successfully.
- Q & A Sessions: This is a venue in which you can really showcase your product or service. You can pose questions directly related to customers’ pain points; you can pose questions that allow a response that educates; you can pose questions that relate to the solutions that your product or service provides. This can be in a contextual setting of a post, or you can have friends pose the questions to you in a video format that can be published.
- eBooks: Here is where you have the chance to provide a lot of education and show your expertise too. If you make these available during the very early stages of the sales process, you may be able to move someone who is just “window shopping” into a solid prospect.
- Whitepapers: These are shorter versions of eBooks and really focus in on one issue. A part of HR, for example, is performance evaluation of employees. A whitepaper that focuses just on that function and the part of your software that makes that function consistent, efficient, and equal for all would be the topic for a whitepaper. The other use of whitepapers is to present research data related to your product or service. All of these things make you a trusted authority who knows what s/he is talking about.
6. Identify a Goal or Each Piece of Content: What are you hoping to accomplish with each piece of content you publish? Are you trying to get a reader to see you as an expert and thus contact you in some way for more information? Are you trying just to educate your potential customer? Do you want your customer to download something or watch a video? Do you want that reader to subscribe to your newsletter? Do you want the reader to go to another place on your site and see a demo? These goals will determine the calls to action that you incorporate in each piece.
7. Map Your Content: If you are writing for multiple audiences within an organization (e.g., HR manager and IT manager), you will need to be certain that you alternate content appropriately. Likewise, if you are trying to reach potential customers who are at different stages in the purchasing process, you will need to alternate content for them as well. In the example of the HR software, the HR manager is your primary customer, the IT manager your secondary one. So, the bulk of your content is for the HR manager. If you know you have customers in all of the purchasing stages, you will need to equally distribute content so that you reach them all, say, within a two-week period.
8. Develop Your Calendar: Try to plan for a few weeks at a time. And if you are using good analytics, you will be able to determine if that calendar, as well as your content, is getting the results you want. If not, you can then make adjustments to your schedule or your content map. You can develop a simple calendar using an Excel spreadsheet, or you can use any number of tools, such as Trello, Gather Content, Kapost.
9. Promote Your Content: How do you reach your intended audience and let them know the content is there? Hopefully, you have already optimized for SEO as you produced the content. But you have other tactics, of course. Promote on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and any other place you can think of. Syndicate it to sites of influencers in your niche. Neil Patel, on his blog Quicksprout, gives some great ideas for this in his content promotion guide.
The Wrap UP
Here are the most important takeaways:
- Focus on a variety of content types, each one designed to reach individual stake-holders, individuals in different stages of the buying process, and to deliver specific messages. Use text, media, and interaction.
- Include those keywords. All of your content should be optimized for them.
- Use every promotion strategy you can come up with.
- Remember that your content is to educate and to solve problems. Don’t stuff it with sales tactics and messages.
- Remember that your audience wants to be educated above all else. You need to show that you are an expert; your content needs to be lengthy and detailed and it needs to show that you have been successful in solving the problems of others with similar pain points.