As a B2B, what do you need to be successful? The answer is sales. And what do you need to make those sales? Whether your business has a long or a short sales cycle, the answer is a pipeline full of hot leads for your sales reps to get to work on.
You need to be filling that sales pipeline with strong leads and new opportunities, and in the digital world we now live in, generating those leads online is becoming increasingly important. The good news is advances in technology mean there are now many tools available that can help you both find and nurture leads towards a conversion.
Content marketing remains a powerful and popular tactic and if some key adjustments are made in how you use it, then it can prove a highly effective strategy for both types of sales pipeline.
Role of sales and marketing
The sales landscape is a very different place compared to what it used to be and the role of the sales exec has also massively shifted. Traditionally, sales teams would have needed to pull together lots of information ready to present to potential buyers. But with the internet at their fingertips, most buyers will already have all the information they want before they even speak to a sales rep. (Check out Harvard Business Review ‘Dismantling the Sales Machine’ for a great overview of this change).
So from being an informative role and providing learning, today’s sales rep are instead needing to help potential purchasers to steer their way through all the information they’re faced with, to come to the right solution for their problem.
Marketing teams will kick the whole process off by attracting the right kind of buyers in the first place, providing the info they will be looking for before they make contact with any companies directly. That’s what content marketing in a B2B context is all about - producing content that helps answer the questions buyers have. That way they are drawn into the pipeline at the very beginning of the sales process. Depending on the nature of your sales cycle – whether it’s short or long – you will need to adjust your content marketing strategies in certain key ways. Here we have pulled together some top tips and advice on doing just that.
Short sales cycle
Often, but not always, a lower price will mean a shorter sales cycle. This is generally because the more money that is at stake the longer it can take for a buyer to make their decision. Think of it like this – how quickly can you fill your stationary cupboard versus introducing new business management software for your company? For your stationary needs, while you will still want to build a long term relationship with a supplier and will gain benefits by doing so, you don’t have to think too hard or too long about buying. But when it comes to purchasing a new system or software with a much higher price tag, far more consideration is needed before you press go.
With a shorter sales cycle, your content marketing therefore needs to aim to attract high volumes of the right leads. As the average purchase price will be lower, the average time taken to buy is likely to be shorter. You need to cast your net wide and keep a close eye on your conversion rates. Providing plenty of new, fresh content regularly will help you keep top of mind with your leads.
Goal: Lots of targeted leads
How to achieve it: Lots of strong and fresh content with interesting nurturing campaigns
In this situation you can dive into all sorts of topics that are only slightly related to your main topic (i.e. your area of business) or potentially not related at all, as long as it still brings in the right target audience - the one you’re after.
You need to keep an eye on how many new leads are coming in and how well you keep the existing ones interested. If you have a short sales cycles, then think what you could be doing to up-sell and cross-sell? What are the opportunities? How are you handling them? Build your nurturing campaigns around these opportunities.
Long sales cycle
With longer cycles, which could run anywhere from several months to years, the focus needs to rest entirely on building relationships. Often this will involve larger companies with several key people you need and want to keep in touch with. Regular meetings and bringing specialists in at various stages of the sales process are both strategies you are likely to use.
In the case of long sales cycles, you don’t need that many new leads as it isn’t going to be about volumes. Instead you need to be getting exactly the right type of leads and you then need to focus on nurturing them successfully along the full length of the buyer journey.
Goal: Lots of engagement
How to achieve it: The content relating to your products and services needs to answer all the questions that prospective buyers will have. This content should then be used by marketing to attract high level, quality leads that are interested in what you have to offer. At the same time it can be used by sales to continue to nurture the relationships.
It is crucial here that sales and marketing teams work closely together. There is less of a need for lots of top of the funnel content – those pieces of content that are designed to attract loads of leads. Instead the focus will lie in truly understanding your individual company’s buyer journey, what the various stages are and what kind of information buyers will need at the various stages.
High quality content will be key. For example, targeted niche event marketing can work very well for longer sales cycles. They can be expensive but are very effective when executed well. These type of niche events can also work for shorter sales cycles, but there will be distinct differences in how you set up and use this and other tactics.
Getting it right
Whether your sales cycle is long or short, if you want to successfully build a healthy sales pipeline then you need to fully understand your buyer journey. You need to start by being clear on exactly who your target audience is and the key questions they will want answering.
Content marketing is an effective tactic that can be used for both types of pipeline, if it’s used in the right way. It can even help shorten sales cycles, as its power in nurturing relationships can help decisions to be made quicker. By combining strategic content marketing with an investment in all the digital tools you'll need to help you at every stage of the process - from generating leads to nurturing them along to a conversion - the end goal of sales won't be far away.