B2B sales are complex. They tend to involve multiple people, an extended time period and not a little uncertainty.
Importantly, it’s not just business challenges that customers need help with. Often they’re struggling with the entire buying process, from identifying the problem through to how to actually go about engaging with a potential partner.
With the rise and rise of procurement, many companies have an established process for the final negotiation over pricing and terms of business. They’ll often have off-the-shelf RFPs and RFIs – though all too often these will be the same whether they’re seeking a paper cup supplier for the canteen or a multi-million pound ERP system to run their business.
Buyers, however, will gravitate to whatever they can get to help them navigate large, scary decisions (any port in a storm).
So, for them, these templates are invaluable. Sadly, it means vendors can find themselves answering questions that have no bearing on their suitability while the buyer fails to get the information they really need to make an informed decision for their business.
It’s a problem but also an opportunity for your content.
Content can have many roles – from helping to establish thought leadership and brand equity at one end through to providing technical product information at the other.
Somewhere in the middle (and often forgotten) is the role of coaching customers through the process of a sale.
Coaching-based content provides a vital bridge between high-level, business-focused pieces and more product-centred material. It’s what we term ‘how‘ content.
It details how the customer should begin to go about tackling their challenges. Fundamentally, it’s about process. Specifically, it’s about making the process as easy and painless as possible.
So, let’s say you’re a vendor of advanced predictive analytics software that will help enterprise businesses spot critical trends in their markets.
It’s brilliant stuff but, as it’s quite new, you’re selling to people who have never bought this kind of software before. It’s expensive and it touches on some core aspects of how they do business – so it’s kind of scary too.
You’ve produced some top-of-funnel ‘why‘ content about the business issues of spotting trends in a rapidly changing market. You’ve also produced a suite of material on the software itself.
You’re seeing some interest but not converting sufficient amounts into sales-ready leads.
By creating some mid-level coaching content you could help bridge the gap.
So, for example, you could produce a predictive analytics workbook that takes buyers step-by-step through how they’d implement a solution, what they should look out for and how to make it a success.
You could create buying guides (eg 8 questions you should ask before investing in predictive analytics).
Or you could produce case studies around the process, focusing on an individual customer’s experience of implementing a solution.
You get the picture.
The benefit of this kind of coaching content is that it can begin to show the relationship the buyer can expect with you. It shows that you’re not simply going to sell and run – after all, they’ll have heard too many disaster stories of how projects have died in implementation. Instead, you can demonstrate how you’ll hold their hand through the entire process.
Finally, coaching-based content can also play an important role in shaping RFP requests.
It can help ensure the prospect asks questions that play to your individual strengths (and which highlight competitors’ weaknesses). This can place your offering at a distinct advantage when buyers shortlist and select their solution.
Jason Ball is the founder and managing director at Considered. With a multi-decade career in B2B marketing, he’s worked with world-leading brands such as Adobe, Google, EY and Cisco together with niche specialists in technology, manufacturing and professional services.