Mo’ input, mo’ problems. At least that’s the case in B2B, where the average number of stakeholders involved in purchasing decisions jumped to 6.8 in 2016.
The struggle to reach consensus in a group of that size has stretched the B2B buying journey to an almost painful length. But in a world where buyers are most of the way through their decision process before they ever engage sales, content becomes key for reducing friction and driving conversions.
What Does the B2B Buying Journey Actually Look Like?
Awareness, consideration, purchase: While that three-part structure has long been the way we think about the buying journey, it might not make the most sense today. A new model from Gartner slices and dices those high-level stages into six “jobs” that buying groups complete before a purchase. Here’s how Gartner breaks things down:
Problem identification: “We need to do something.”
- Solution exploration: “What’s out there to solve our problem?”
- Requirements building: “What exactly do we need the purchase to do?”
- Supplier selection: “Does this do what we want it to do?”
- Validation: “We think we know the right answer, but we need to be sure.”
- Consensus creation: “We need to get everyone on board.”
Source: Gartner, “The New B2B Buying Journey”
I like this update because it captures the true buying path, which is so much more roundabout than the traditional funnel model would suggest. The inclusion of independent online research, white paper downloads and search activities also emphasizes the importance of providing consistent, quality marketing content that reaches buyers where they are.
Where to Focus Your B2B Content Marketing Efforts Now That the Journey Isn’t Linear
It’s no revelation that buyers have questions—a lot of questions. Answering the right questions at the right time is essential to creating effective B2B content.
So how do you identify the right content? By knowing your buyer. Ardath Albee, CEO of Marketing Interactions, recommends developing a handful of detailed personas aligned with your actual buyers. These personas, she told a crowd at Content Marketing World 2019 in Cleveland, help identify the topics that matter most to prospects so marketers can create content that contributes to meaningful “conversations” with decision-makers.
For example, if a prospect for a B2B cybersecurity company is likely to ask, “How do I convince my team to move beyond traditional security practices?” then marketers can answer that question with content that taps recent breach statistics to make the case for updating defenses.
Then, when the prospect asks, “What can a risk assessment show us about our environment?” marketers are ready to strike back with a top 10 list of the most important assessment criteria. And the conversation continues like that until the prospect is ready for sales.
The average number of buyers involved in a B2B purchase in 2016, up from 5.4 in 2014
Use Content to Build Consensus Among Today’s Complex Buying Groups
Of course, the back-and-forth dialogue between prospects and marketers works only if content is readily available online at the exact moment it’s needed, so B2B brands must anticipate questions early and often to be successful.
I can tell you from experience that sales teams are a great resource for helping marketers identify content gaps. But even beyond that, they can give you an idea of who’s involved in today’s complex buying groups.
With this information, you can consider the buying journey from every angle and create content that pre-empts stakeholders’ objections around security, adoption, compliance and other potential issues. In other words, you can arm decision-makers with the white papers, case studies, one-pagers and even listicles they need to build internal consensus and open the door for sales.