B2B marketing is a long game. Unlike our B2C counterparts, few B2B purchases are a snap decision. No B2B customers wake up in the morning thinking, “You know what, I just fancy a new supply chain management solution, I’ll pop down to Supply Chain Management World in my lunch break and buy one.

Most B2B purchases take months (some take years). During that time all sorts of things can happen to derail the sale – change readiness, changes of focus, changes in people, a simple change of mind by someone who matters.

Keeping a lead moving towards a sale is a challenge for any B2B marketing department.

B2B marketing and the long sales cycle

In the old world of B2B marketing, many companies would take an approach based more on luck than strategy. They’d create an offer, shotgun it out to as many relevant prospects as possible and hope that a certain proportion might be in the market and want to talk at that precise time. It was a binary thing – either they were in-market and could be thrown over to sales with high-fives all round or they weren’t and it was on to the next campaign.

Even in this situation, it was easy to get caught out by surprisingly long sales cycles. I remember producing a direct marketing piece for a large networking business (back when men still wore hats and people did that sort of thing) which bombed. Died. A total write-off. Until six months later when the client could suddenly attribute a few million pounds in sales to leads it generated.

Lead nurturing has got smarter (kinda)

Of course, B2B marketing has moved on (it has, hasn’t it?). These days, we can be more intelligent about our lead nurturing campaigns. We can see how customers engage with our content, messaging and offers, and plan accordingly. We can produce different content for different stages of the sales funnel and drip-feed our communications over time. And we can use marketing automation to time and trigger communications.

But there’s a problem.

Ok, there are a few problems, not least the fact that not so many B2B marketers run lead nurturing campaigns in this way as you might expect.

But even looking at companies that do, all too often the content they use does not move their B2B customers and prospects onwards in the sales cycle. It either simply keeps them warm (and fuzzy) or tries to move directly to a sale before the customer is ready.

Is your lead nurturing content too passive?

You see this all the time. For example, in ebooks that are all very interesting (hopefully) but which end on a “If you want to learn more, give us a call.

Of course, the argument for this is that these pieces are all about awareness. This may be true. But they can also form a critical part of your lead nurturing campaigns.

So I’d prefer to have an aware and actively engaged prospect over someone who simply recognises my client’s name.

For lead nurturing campaigns, this becomes even more important. It is easy for B2B customers to drop out of the funnel (to relapse as we’d put it). To counter this, each piece of lead nurturing content should be active. By this, we mean it should clearly sell the next desired customer action.

Often, this will be to look at more content (moving from why to how to what). Sometimes it’ll be to attend an event (either virtually or in real life). And at the very pointiest end of the funnel, it will be to contact sales (as long as we’ve sold the value of that engagement and sales has something useful to offer other than high pressure PowerPoint).

Planning active B2B content marketing

Now, one implication of this is that you need to have all the content for your lead nurturing campaigns pretty much ready to go when you start a campaign (especially if it’s to be triggered by customer behaviour). You also need to have planned your content flow to match the sales funnel (as well as giving customers ways of cutting to the chase if they’re ready). So you’ll need to be quite structured in your approach.

But with these elements in place, you’ll be in a better position to nurture your leads across even the most extended sales cycle.