Most businesses focus their B2B content plan on prospects alone. We suggest that is a mistake.
In this post we review the standard approach to inbound marketing and outline a major flaw. We then go on to suggest an alternative way forward and its impact on customer engagement, credibility and competitive position.
B2B Content Planning – The Standard Approach
The majority of B2B content tends to support an inbound marketing process. When comparing ABM and Inbound marketing we defined inbound marketing as
“A general approach to answering a prospects questions or concerns. Its purpose is brand/credibility building and progressing a percentage of prospects to request more information.“
So after defining your prospect audience and their potential information needs your B2B content plan will probably include:
- Content subjects
- Content types
- Content distribution channels
- Expected investment and ROI
Let’s assume you are starting out on your inbound marketing journey. In our experience you will soon encounter a problem. You can publish the best, relevant, in-depth, researched content but if your website has no authority that content is unlikely to rank.
No rankings equals no prospect visits to your site. It equals no brand or credibility building, little interaction and no leads. You might read in depth content wins in Google. That’s true but only if your website has some authority.
If you distribute your post by other means and it is picked up by others with (perceived) authority or a large following then you have a chance. Without that (significant) push, forget it.
What gives a website authority (as perceived by the search engines)? Many things, but perhaps one of the most important is relevant backlinks.
B2B Blog Content Dirty Little Secret
So let’s run with the assumption you need backlinks to make your content rank. How do you persuade someone to link to you? Simple (in theory) you deliver something they consider of value to them and their readers.
Here’s the issue: the content that persuades someone to deliver a backlink is often not the content that provides value to your prospects.
Someone reads your content and finds it useful. Who is that someone, is it a customer, a prospect, or one of your suppliers or distributors?
Do they have a web presence? Is it easy for them to jump onto their site and insert a link to you? Linking is purposeful, it is not trivial. In most cases whoever does link to you has their own agenda.
Generally, those prepared to link out have a readership interested in a short snappy read. They know that is the content the search engines tend to surface. That is why there are specific types of content focused on links. These include:
- Product/service reviews
- Comparison blogs
- Resource roundups
Read a sample of that content and we suggest you will find it is superficial at best.
If someone is to link to your in depth, authoritative content it needs a push by some third party (see above). Or you could persuade your suppliers and distributors to link to you. That is a sensible option to pursue but it can be a painfully slow process.
Content – Is It Time To Re-Think Your Focus
So you produce content for prospects and you produce content for links.
You generate content that answers common questions or concerns your prospects could have. You address potential objections and try to soothe concerns over potential risks.
The majority of prospects who reach your site are in learning mode, they are not in buying mode. They read your carefully crafted content. If you are really lucky they may view a second piece of content then they are gone.
Have you raised your profile and credibility? A little yes. Will it be enough to persuade your prospect to return? Possibly but most will not unless you have a particularly strong brand.
Wait, you say my B2B content plan includes content for every stage of the cycle, from learning mode to buying mode. I produce content to collect contact details and to re-engage with my prospects. All valid points.
Most B2B purchasing decisions are not trivial. It is unlikely a prospect who finds you in search at a late stage in the buying process will be convinced by your buy now type content. Marketing funnels don’t work in the real (B2B) world. At least not with complex products or services.
The content for buying mode tends to be different. It tends to be shorter and more focused. Often re-targeting and Ads drive prospects to that content, not search. Or email can work if a large (clean) list is available.
A Existing Customer Content Plan
Here’s a radical idea. What if you switched to targeting your B2B content at customers instead of prospects with the aim of
- Keeping existing customers engaged.
- Improving credibility with the existing customers base.
- Improving competitive position.
A focus on existing customers and customer retention eliminates many of the problems outlined above.
Customers are more likely to visit your site directly rather than use search. They already know who you are. If they are looking for a solution they will often start with your website and those of your competitors.
If search is a low priority there is less of a need to invest in SEO and link building. A customer is more likely to continually return to a site than a prospect.
Your sales team engages with existing customers. They should have an intimate understanding of their information needs. Hence each piece of content should have more impact. Over time your website will become a valuable resource centre for your existing customers.
Content To Engage Customers
Working with sales, customer support and anyone else who works with customers identify:
- Where are the customer pain points.
- What are common objections?
- How can we help them use our product or services?
- What are common questions?
- What smoothes the purchasing decisions.
- Help customers understand the shortcuts lower price competitors take and the implications.
It may seem like an overwhelming task but a significant amount of content may already exist. Many companies in B2B markets create a mass of content for internal consumption. With a little editing and some design input this can be repurposed.
B2B Content To Increase Credibility
Let’s imagine you and your competitors decide to take the same approach and target content at customers instead of prospects. Then what will make one business stand out from the rest? It is the business that publishes consistent thought leadership content that wins. Unlike writing for prospects authoritative content is a distinguishing factor
Thought leadership content addresses where markets are heading and the challenges that presents. It is based on a firm understanding of the market, research or innovative thinking.
Thought leadership content will bring customers back to read more. With that content comes credibility and an improved competitive position.
Content For Prospects
To grow business it is not possible to rely on existing customers alone. The content best suited to existing customers should be of interest to prospects. If not work backwards from what is of interest to a customer (known) to what was of interest to them before they became customers.
If search engines will not pick up that content then find another way. You could choose to drive prospects to sales pages and lead pages via Ads. If you have the financial resources and the skills to deliver the process efficiently it is an option.
Of course taking the advertising route has a significant cost but so does SEO and inbound marketing. Before diving in to implementing a prospect focused B2B content marketing plan it is important to assess your priorities and your budget allocation.
Towards Account Based Marketing
If you sell high value product or services then you could take a sniper rather than shotgun approach.. You could develop an Account Based Marketing strategy and deliver content specific to your most important target customers and individuals in those businesses with an influence on purchasing decisions.
The ABM process depends on content found in search to a point but it is not the main focus. However, It only covers your most important prospects so you still need a process for the rest.
You need a B2B content plan that targets both prospects and existing customers that is clear. The issue is the mix of prospect vs customer content. The type of content required for each is different. There is a different set of content again for SEO purposes. Considering the fit of the content plan with the sales plan is crucial.
It is important to take a step back occasionally and review if your B2B content plan is delivering a return on your substantial investment. Should you need a sounding board to help with your analysis we will be happy to help.