Uncovered: The Diminishing Returns for B2B Content Strategy in Sales & Marketing

If marketing & sales is meant to be creative – why does my inbox look the same everyday?

As I drink my morning green tea; I sift through vendor message after vendor message; shamelessly promoting their product without any form of personalization.

The sales enablement vendors all have some kind of “playbook” for improving my team’s performance. Been there, done that.

The IT vendors all ask me to read the latest version of their Magic Quadrant Report – despite it being revealed publicly weeks ago. I’m sure this will only continue until the same time next year.

In the world of marketing vendors – I quickly dismiss another webinar invite to a panel where a bunch of “leaders” attempt to “influence” me into purchasing their technology. I’m so sick of it.

The fact of the matter is that in a world where buyers do their own research – the devaluation of gated content is a palpable phenomenon. Buyers are able to access the data of 3rd party analysts, review sites, influencer blogs and other information sources primarily through Google search. Not only can they explore these assets freely at their convenience – they can experience an unfiltered spectrum of ideas and in most cases do not have to hand over their contact information prior to engaging with these materials.

This behavior has its roots in B2C consumer trends – where the openness of information has led to people conducting in-store and online due diligence prior to purchase rather than relying upon the input of a sales professional. How many of us researched the price of the blender before we bought it in store or on Amazon?

Thus in a world where buyers are able to access whatever materials they like – how have vendors approached the question of adding value?

A handful have mastered a niche and truly own the thought leadership in the space. Most however confuse thought leadership with self promotion; producing case study type materials with embedded call to actions instead of provocative conversation starters.

Another handful successfully curate content and disseminate this in a fashion which is more easily consumable by their target market (daily update or newsletter for instance). Yet when push comes to shove; when firms attempt to convert these individuals into marketing qualified leads it simply doesn’t work as well as it used to. Most people don’t feel the ‘stickiness’ of the relationship; as despite the curation being helpful, they don’t often value the time invested given that there are a number of entities employing the same mainstream tactic concurrently. Given that most modern marketers also attempt to masquerade in-house content amongst a sea of external pieces which are also shared; these curative efforts are often rendered ineffective by these subtle, yet detectable marketing efforts.

The bottom line outcome is simple; modern buyers are smarter than ever before.

Unless you are producing quality materials or can create a news feed which is free from vendor influence – customers aren’t really benefiting from vendor materials. What’s more – the trust level associated with this content and the related promotional activities is at an all time low.

B2B buyers are born out of the age of self-discovery and just like they approach products with caution in the consumer world; they realise now more than ever that they are being sold to and want to approach everything independently themselves.

The Evidence

What I am saying isn’t just anecdotal – there is evidence everywhere we look. Recently Ardath Albee raised a good point in an article on the subject when she talked about her experience with a client who threatened to walk away “if he couldn’t find people talking about the product online.

What’s more – Albee then cites the results of DemandGen Report’s B2B Content Preference Survey from which I drew to three key takeaways from her analysis.

The first is that vendor content dropped from being considered trustworthy in the minds of 95% of respondents in 2016 to an alarming low of 34% in 2017.

Secondly despite changes in respondents and timing – the top 5 suggestions for improvement remained the same for all three years. These are:

–       Using data and research to support content

–       Reducing sales messaging

–       Making content easier to access

–       Provide more benchmarking data

–       Add more insight from thought leaders/analysts

The third point is that in 2015, 94% of respondents gave the most credence to peer reviews and user generated content as the most trustworthy however this fell to 68% in 2017.

How have we responded?

Despite buyers finding vendor driven content to be not only less trustworthy but devoid of believable data points, containing too little from thought leaders and sales centric; it seems to me that B2B marketers continue to produce more and more content without taking into consideration the feelings of the market.

This is also exacerbated by old fashioned management who are accustomed to maintaining traditional KPIs around net number of new case studies, newsletter open rates and net new web traffic. Due to their dated view on the importance of increase quality, relevance and timing with content marketing – many foster these old-world practices within their marketing organization by focusing on these results.

On the other hand, more progressive marketers have tried to address the question of authenticity at scale in three ways.

The first has been by establishing public, open community environments for both vendors and prospective clients to interact with the product; which has been very successful for Oracle – a learning from more open source vendors like Github in the developer space. Although this is a good start – the content is not often robust enough to be repurposed for marketing & is still met with questions of bias given the portal is managed by the vendor.

Another approach has been to engage proactively in social channels using social media management tools like Hootsuite or Lithium – allowing vendors to channel positive comments into further advocate initiatives and to triage less positive statements before they seen to be unaddressed by prospective clients. I am a full supporter of these programs – but again scale is also a factor, as is also attributing the impact of active involvement to new and existing pipeline unless it is explicit (i.e. a vendor writes I’d also like to be contacted on a LinkedIn post for example).

The final evolution I have seen is the growth in online reviews to foster trust and to serve sales enablement and marketing use cases. Reviews can surface new advocates and generate content in high volumes – however most review sites are limited to a simplistic feedback framework which can make testimony border on anecdotal. Questions should not be standardized but vary to support use case/persona and other situational variables.

What is more frightening is the way pay-to-play lead generation has corrupted what should be an egalitarian approach; with scores and content being perversely manipulated in the interest of maximizing CPC yield from finite B2B traffic. The malpractice of many of these platforms combined with emaciated content has reduced consumer trust in many review sites and thus I believe has contributed to the overall drop from 94% to 68% in user generated content authenticity as aforementioned.

Where to from here?

If we are to learn anything from this article is that we mustn’t ignore the evidence.

B2B buyers don’t want more content – they want better, more believable content.

Buyers want you to provide them with content that requires more effort.

It needs to be believable, truly add value and contain more concrete evidence/data points to make the case.

Often a musician produces the best results when they stop ‘trying’ and produce what comes from the heart.

In the same way – marketers need to stop ‘marketing’ and instead start listening; listening to what would interest them in the same position, listening to what their customers have to say about their offering and listening to what the marketing is searching for as a solution to their problems.

Similarly – content marketing needs to be viewed as more than just a top of funnel initiative. Most products in the B2B world are sold over long periods of time and are not bought transactionally. Even those which are consumed via a self-service model often originate as a direct result of strategic marketing involving content. Thus with a key number of touch points in an evolving customer journey-  it is important to remember the job of modern day marketers is not just to find interest – but extends to building & maintaining it as the journey progresses. This can only done with content that is thought provoking, balanced and highly trusted.

I would appreciate your thoughts in the comments below

About The Author

Dailius Wilson

Dailius Wilson is the 24 year old founder of WolfofYorkStreet.com – helping the world's top SaaS companies to optimise their sales and marketing efforts. Dailius is currently a Director at TrustRadius and a digital blogger at increasemyonlinebusiness.com. Dailius was named as one of the Top 30 Entrepreneurs in Australia for 2015 by Anthill Online and was ranked in the Top 100 SEO Experts in the World. Dailius has also been a guest on the Ellen Degeneres Show and has over 10,000,000 views on Youtube