According to Google, 88 percent of consumers say that they read an average of 10.4 pieces of content before making a buying decision. Seventy nine percent of B2B buyers also don’t talk to a sales rep until they’ve performed their own independent research.
The verdict is clear: buying patterns have changed drastically over the last two decades. It is only natural that selling patterns change as well.
Changing Buyer Behavior Demands More Content
In the not-so-distant past, a prospect would learn about a product through traditional channels such as trade shows or magazines and give the company a call. The company would send over a sales rep who would put together a demo and help the prospect learn about the product/service and its benefits. Depending on the size of the deal, the sales rep would develop a relationship with the prospect, slowly needling him towards a close. For large deals, this sales cycle could take as long as a year.
Today, the business of buying often starts not with advertisements in trade magazines, mass media or outbound cold calls, but Google searches and social media posts. For instance, the average American spends over three hours a day on social media (with use even higher among business users). Fifty five percent of B2B buyers also search for information on social media. Much of the sales work is now being handled inbound, meaning a much shorter sales cycle than the traditional outbound model.
For B2B transactions, Forrester found that buyers go through 90 percent of the buying process before they even talk to a vendor.
In this altered reality, businesses get found through their content, not their traditional efforts. How good you are at creating and promoting high quality content will determine how much prospects know about you, your business, and products.
Why Sales Needs Content
It doesn’t matter whether your buyers find you through a Google search or an article on their LinkedIn news feed; to show up and stand out, you need content.
In fact, according to DemandGen, 75 percent of B2B buyers rely more on content to make a purchase decision than they did a year ago. Eighty four percent of key decision makers such as C-level execs also use social media to support purchase decisions.
These are some pretty heavy numbers and make a definite case for increasing investment in content to grow visibility. The more important question is: how does content marketing actually help you grow your sales pipeline?
How Content Helps Grow Your Sales Pipeline
The typical B2B sales process moves through three stages:
- Awareness – Buyers become aware of your company and product(s). In some cases, buyers also become aware of a problem they didn’t know they had.
- Consideration – Buyers consider your product against others while also calculating budgets and internal needs.
- Decision – Buyers weigh in and make a final decision.
Since we are talking about filling up the sales pipeline, we will stick to the top half of the pipeline: the awareness stage.
Awareness is another name for visibility. Businesses with a visible brand are easier to find and hence, become the first choice for buyers before the deal moves to the consideration stage.
After all, you are far more likely to consider a product made by Acme Industries, which writes a blog you read every week, than one made by Vandelay Industries, which has a defunct blog last updated in 2012.
The buying process has now moved largely online. Buyers in the awareness stage come to know about your business through two core channels:
More (and better) content equals more visibility on both these channels.
For search, content pieces can help your business rank higher in search engines. This is crucial for visibility – the higher your rankings for key terms, the more traffic you will get (especially considering that 60 percent of all organic clicks go to the top three search results). Businesses with between 401-1000 pages also generate six times more leads than businesses with just 51-100 pages in search engines.
Similarly, high quality content gets shared extensively on social media (long form content, for instance, gets twice as many shares as short content). The higher the share count, the more visible the content, and by proxy, the business. In a world where 77 percent of B2C companies say they’ve acquired a customer through Facebook alone, distributing content through social media is a crucial visibility strategy.
The conclusion is clear: content equals visibility, and visibility eventually equals sales.
It doesn't matter how great your product and sales team is if you never get noticed. Focus on increasing visibility, but also improving rep performance at the latter end of the pipeline to actually grow sales and revenue.