There are many parallels that can be drawn between flirting and moving leads down the B2B buying cycle. Both go through a number of stages, from initial awareness to developing an interest, and displaying clear signs of a willingness to commit.
Not to belittle or oversimplify human relations, but let's be honest -- marketing is a form of enticement (and flirting is a form of marketing). And in order for marketing to be successful, it needs to address different personas at the different levels of interest in a variety of ways.
As you know, the buying cycle maps the progress of leads towards the desired end goal of them making a purchase. During the stages of that cycle, leads can be offered content assets which build their awareness, create and strengthen a conviction and finally lead them to the goal. This is what content selling and content marketing are all about.
Here we will explore the main stages of the cycle and what types of content are relevant for each of its stages.
The stages of the buyer journey
Broadly speaking, the buyer journey can be separated into three main stages: Awareness, Interest (or Consideration) and Sale (or Purchase).
Different people in the content marketing industry call these in different ways, and further separate them into sub-categories that can reach up to 9 stages in total. These reflect particular instances within each stage and can certainly be very useful for a targeted content selling process.
The awareness stage
The Awareness stage could further be divided into: the identification of a problem and the development of criteria on the side of the buyer about what solution they are looking for. This also entails that they will do research to educate themselves and will consider a number of options. Hence, at this stage you need to foresee what kind of information people will look for when researching. Your content should address broader questions and create awareness for the buyers about their needs and pains.
Such content can range from regular blog post articles to more informative eBooks or white papers. You could offer how-to videos, tip sheets or even educational webinars. Basically anything broad enough to attract people at the top of the funnel.
The consideration stage
The second, mid-funnel stage is Interest or Consideration and means that buyers have already gained knowledge and are now: evaluating the solution you offer and looking for justifications to opt for your solution. Therefore, you can get more serious about solutions. While in the first stage you would educate about problems, here you start to resolve them. In doing this, you strive to get one point across - how your solution is appropriate and desirable.
Case studies and testimonials are a great content asset at this stage. Have a long-standing customer with a great story? Turn the story into a case study and share it with leads. Show them your best side. And nothing speaks as strongly as someone else's success story.
Offer more white papers and eBooks but this time make them in-depth and specific, comprehensive and highly informative, with lots of data. How-to's are a no-no at this stage. Instead, you need to offer demo videos or guided tours, webinars about your products or even classes. By offering all of these, you are effectively and naturally bridging the gap between educational assets and product solutions.
Finally, repurpose content! If you have some great content asset that generated leads at the Awareness Stage, take it, repurpose it and expand on it. This will only strengthen the natural feel of the content transition, because it will be both familiar and enriching to your leads.
The sale stage
At this point your leads or prospects are considered 'hot'. You've got their attention and they're considering proposing to you, metaphorically speaking. You can now proceed to 'empower' them, give them a taste of what they'll receive if they fully commit to your product.
You can achieve this by offering them trials and further demos of your products or services. Basically, you need to get them engaged - help them change from a passive receiver of information to an active participant. This is the moment before they transition to being a customer.
Final considerations are also addressed here, and buyers get to ask very specific questions and receive personal treatment. They're already knowledgeable enough to understand what it is you're offering and are just filling in the last blanks. The quality of the content here is high-premium. You can also include special offers or discounts to prospects who are more or less on the edge of purchasing, which usually does the trick.
Beyond the sales stage
It doesn't end there. Beyond the Sales Stage you're still engaged with your clients. You've solved their need but now you have to continue to provide them with relevant and regular information in order to retain them. It pays off to have loyal clients that embrace your brand. Not only will they get the word out about your products but they will probably make numerous repeat purchases. Focusing on client retention, therefore, further helps the above process repeat itself.
Content selling and content marketing have to work together in order to be effective. You have to have a clear idea with which of your buyer personas you are interacting with at any given moment and at what stage they are. This will determine what kind of content asset they are in need of and how you can pitch it to them in a natural way. If you can create the right conditions for your leads, you will see the results you're looking for.