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B2B Buyers. Understanding and Engaging Them

Updated: Nov 11, 2023


B2B Buyers. Understanding and engaging with them.

This article is for B2B services providers in the professional, scientific, and technical services (PST) subsectors and business professionals interested in understanding the the role content plays in the B2B buyers journey.

 

Definition: The PST subsector comprises establishments primarily engaged in activities in which human capital is the major input. These establishments make available the knowledge and skills of their employees, often on an assignment basis. | Source: Stats Canada.

 

While we refer to a Technical Services example later on, the principles that we cover, should be seriously considered when developing a B2B marketing and business development strategy and marketing program for PST organizations.



The Digital Age and Its Impact on the B2B Buyers Journey


The way people find, select and buy PST services is evolving with traditional marketing (print advertising, direct mail, trade shows) and sales (cold and in-person sales calls) techniques no longer sufficient.


B2B services firms need a digital content strategy in order to connect with modern buyers looking online for professional advice, expertise and services.


This strategy is particularly crucial for organizations who are targeting a tech-savvy audience that are increasingly using the web for business-related insights and help.


Recent Research and COVID-19 Impact


According to Hubspot, B2B buyers are showing a preference for self-service options before engaging with PST organizations.


Specifically, 39% of B2B buyers want self-serve options, suggesting a trend towards independent research and decision-making before formal engagement with a B2B services provider.


This trend underscores the importance of having comprehensive, easily accessible content about your competencies and services available online for potential and existing customers to consume.


According to McKinsey & Company the trend of B2B buyers preferring to do research themselves first online before formally engaging a professional services organization has increased because of the COVID-19 pandemic.


COVID-19 has forced B2B buyers and sellers to go digital in a significant way. What started as a crisis response has now become the new normal, with significant implications for how buyers and sellers will do business in the future.


More than three-quarters of buyers and sellers say they now prefer digital self-serve and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions. Only about 20 percent of B2B buyers say they hope to return to in-person sales.


Furthermore, 70 percent of B2B decision-makers say they are open to making new, fully self-serve or remote purchases in excess of $50,000, and 27 percent would spend more than $500,000. This indicates a high level of comfort with conducting significant business transactions online.


This data suggests that the trend of B2B buyers preferring to do their own research and make purchasing decisions online is not only continuing but also expanding to include larger transactions.


Buyers are searching for answers, expertise and solutions to business problems online. These answers, in part, come from the content you produce and offer to prospects and current customers.


Let's dig into the buyers journey and the role content plays.

The Digital Buyer's Journey


The buyer's journey typically consists of three main stages: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision.


Today and going forward, these stages are influenced by the buyer's online behavior and the digital content they consume.


Here's a basic outline of what the buyer does, what content s/he needs and types of content to develop for each stage:

Stage

Buyer's Actions

Content Neets

Potential Content Ideas

​Awareness

​Realizes they have a problem or need

​Educational content that helps identify the problem or need

​Blog posts, infographics, social media posts

​Consideration

​Researches options to solve the problem or meet the need

​Detailed content that presents your product/service as a solution

​Webinars, case studies, comparison guides

Decision

​Decides on the solution

​Content that convinces the buyer to choose your product/service

​Product demos, case studies, customer testimonials, detailed product information

The table above is a simplified version and depending on the complexity of your product or service, your target market and industry, you might need to break down these stages further or add more stages.


Content needs and ideas will vary based on the specific product or service a business is marketing and selling, as well as the target audience. This table could be customized to fit your specific needs.

Where Do Decision Makers Find Information?


Current research on the content used by buyers in the technology sub-sector, verifies that decision makers and champions rely on an array of sources to gather information at each stage of the buyer's journey.


While specific to IT we believe it's a good reference source and starting point for all B2B services companies wanting to understand where the buyers journey and content intersect.


Here are the top five sources IT decision makers and champions use and how those sources rank in priority at each stage.

​Stage

Content Sites

White Papers

Peers Inside Company

Webcasts/ Webinars

​Peers Outside of Company

​Determine the Business Need

1

2

3

3

5

​Determine Technical Requirements

1

2

5

-

3

​Evaluate Products and Services

1

3

-

-

2

​Recommend and Select Vendors

1

-

4

-

2

​Sell Internally

4

-

2

-

3

​Authorize and Approve Purchase

2

-

3

-

1

​Post-sales Engagement

5

-

3

-

1

What Type of Content Do Decision Makers Use?


Here are the top five types of content IT decision makers and champions use and how they rank in priority at each stage.

​Stage

Reviews / Recommendations

Product / Service Literature

Industry News

Analyst Research

Vender Site / Presentation

​Determine the Business Need

4

2

1

5

-

​Determine Technical Requirements

1

2

3

4

5

​Evaluate Products and Services

1

2

5

4

3

​Recommend and Select Vendors

1

2

-

4

3

​Sell Internally

3

1

-

4

3

​Authorize and Approve Purchase

1

2

5

4

3

​Post-sales Engagement

1

4

-

-

3

 

TIP: Have all five types of content on your website if possible.

 

So, Digital Content is Important


A B2B services sale can take months or years to develop.


When businesses have less urgent problems, and not yet ready to make a purchase, they tend to allocate fewer resources to those problems often going online to research the problem and potential solutions. In the process, they encounter websites, blogs, and free educational materials that put their problem in context and describe various solutions.


But, when there is an urgent need to solve a problem content can be a competitive differentiator and convert an unknown visitor to your site into a potential customer. Content can also be used to upsell and cross sell to existing customers.


Whether a prospect has a budget or is developing one content plays a role.

But, Do You Have a Digital Content Strategy?


A digital content marketing strategy is a plan that helps a business create and distribute digital content to reach new markets, audiences, support existing customers, build greater credibility, generate more leads, and achieve its overall strategic business objectives.


This plan needs to connect PST firms with the increasing number of potential buyers who are using digital tools and looking online to solve their business challenges.

 

TIP: Make sure your content interests buyers in the buying cycle and those who are not... yet.

 

Components of a Digital Content Strategy


There are several components of a digital content strategy to consider when creating a content strategy including:

  • Business Goals Alignment & Measurement: what will your content do to achieve key goals? What will be measured and how?

  • Target Market and Audience: Clearly identify the market(s) you'll be targeting and the key people you want your content to appeal to.

  • Content Focus: What are some of the key issues you want to help people understand? How will you tie your company's expertise and services to helping solve those issues? How wide and deep are these issues in your target market and does your target audience even care? How is your content relevant to your target market and audience and what your business is known for, wants to be known for and sells

  • Search Focused Content: This is a critical factor that must be at the core of your content strategy. Provide content on your website, that people are searching for.

  • Content types and mediums: Develop content that people can read, listen to and watch. Variety is important because buyers rely on different types throughout the buying cycle. How much content should or can you produce? Equally important who will produce it?

  • Editorial Schedule: This drives the timing, priorities and content development and publishing. It also acts as a repository of active content on your site, for example, that should be checked, updated or unpublished.

  • Promotion: content should be promoted digitally and in-real life through marketing campaigns, sales promotions, digital channels, stakeholders and individually by those who are engaging with your prospects and clients regularly.

The Importance of SEO and Keyword Research


One of the central tenets of any digital content strategy is making your content findable via online search. To accomplish this, you need at least a basic knowledge of search engine optimization (SEO) and you need to research a list of SEO keywords that relate to the information and answers your buyers are searching for and your competitors may be competing for.

 
 

Understanding Search Intent


Search intent refers to the underlying motive or purpose behind a user's search query. By understanding the search intent, you can tailor your content to provide the information or solutions users are seeking. To align your content with user needs, it's important to analyze the search intent behind specific keywords.


By understanding these search intents, you can tailor your content to meet the needs of your audience at each stage of the buyer's journey.


There are four types of search intent:

  1. Informational Intent: When a visitor is looking for more information on a particular topic. They might use search terms like "what is...", "how to...", "understand...", or "definition of...".

  2. Navigational Intent: When a visitor is trying to get to a specific website or page. They might search for the name of a website, a brand, or a specific service. They may be trying to find where you're located too.

  3. Transactional Intent: When a visitor is ready to make a purchase or perform an action online. They might search for specific products, services, or use terms like "buy", "order", "book", etc.

  4. Commercial Investigation: When a visitor is looking to make a purchase in the near future and is comparing options. They might use terms like "best", "top", "review", "compare", etc.

Informational keywords indicate that users are seeking answers or information, while transactional keywords suggest an intent to make a purchase. By creating content that matches the search intent, you can address user queries effectively and position yourself as a reliable source of information or solution provider.

 

TIP: Test drive some keywords on Google including your company name. Try some informational keywords and see what comes up on on page one. Also know as SERP (search engine results page).

 

Creating Engaging and Relevant Content


When crafting content, focus on providing value to your target audience. Use keywords strategically to optimize your content for search engines, but ensure that the content remains informative, engaging, and relevant.


Incorporate keywords naturally within headings, subheadings, and throughout the body of the text. This approach not only satisfies search engines but also enhances the user experience, encouraging visitors to spend more time on your website and increasing the chances of conversions.


The Value of Hiring a B2B Marketing Agency or Our Pitch!


Small B2B services firms ( up to 99 employees) could be stretched very thing if they choose to develop content themselves without the help of an experienced B2B marketing agency like ours. Hiring a marketing agency with a deep understanding of B2B buying and selling and domain expertise matters. Here are some reasons why:


Competencies and Trust

B2B marketing agencies bring a set of competencies that are crucial for building trust with your target audience. They do, or quickly will understand the language, trends, and buyers specific to your industry, and they have a track record of delivering results.


They understand the nuances of B2B marketing, including how to create content that addresses the informational, navigational, transactional, and commercial investigation intents of potential clients. Moreover, they have expertise in SEO, ensuring that your content is discoverable and ranks high in search engine results.

 
 

Resource Efficiency

Hiring a B2B marketing agency can be more cost-effective than trying to build an in-house team which can be time consuming and costly. You can have access to a team of experts who can develop, implement, publish, promote, and optimize a digital content strategy. They can work with your subject matter experts and productively and minimize the time they would normally spend having to produce content themselves.


Access to Latest Tools and Technologies

Marketing agencies are equipped with the latest tools, technologies and techniques for market research, data analysis, campaign management, and SEO. Better yet, they're paying for them so you shouldn't have to. They'll help you understand whether your marketing technology stack (martech) is good enough or not with your website being front and center or your digital doorstep. This can help you stay competitive in the digital age, where understanding the digital buyer's journey and the search intent of the target audience is crucial.


Focus on Core Business

By out-tasking or outsourcing some of your marketing activities to an agency you can focus more on core business priorities that truly set you apart from the competition. The agency can handle the creation, publication, promotion, and optimization of digital content, allowing you to focus on delivering value to your customers. But, make sure that you maintain control and access to your martech stack and engage with the agency regularly.


Fresh Perspective

An external agency can bring a fresh perspective to your marketing strategies. They can provide unbiased feedback and suggest new ideas to improve the your marketing efforts. This can be particularly beneficial in the digital age, where the buyer's journey is constantly evolving due to technological advancements and changing consumer behaviors.

 
 

Conclusion


Understanding the buyer's journey and search intent should factor into marketing strategies for B2B services professionals especially in the PST sub sector. By knowing where decision-makers find information and what type of content they use to help them make a buying decision, you can tailor your approach to meet their needs at each stage of their journey.


A digital content strategy and marketing program is the intersection point that connects your company with the buyer using content of various types. Content that is developed to help buyers learn about problems they may face and address ones they're trying to solve. This requires an understanding of using keywords effectively to match the search intent of your target audience.


Partnering with a B2B marketing agency can provide valuable expertise and resources to help you navigate this journey and achieve success. With their help, you can ensure your marketing efforts resonate with your target audience, driving engagement and ultimately, sales.


As the marketplace continues to evolve, staying abreast of these changes and adapting your marketing strategies accordingly will be key to staying competitive and achieving your business goals. We're available to help if your interested.

Want to Keep in Touch or Connect?


I've been a marketing professional for over 25 years and have loved every minute of it.... well mostly! I hope that the content we produce is of value and you can use it in your career and your business. Here are ways we can keep in touch and connect:

I'm open to connecting and meeting with you if there's something we can discuss that is of mutual value; is relevant to the content I'm producing, the project and ventures I'm involved with and clients my agency serves. And of course, if you'd like to know how I can help you and your business use marketing to be more successful.

 

Key Sources for this article: Foundry, Hubspot, McKinsey & Company, Mi6

 

About the Author

Chris Herbert spearheads Mi6 Agency, emphasizing small business growth and entrepreneurship. On the agency's blog, he offers practical marketing insights and solutions to unique challenges faced by businesses. Herbert advocates for sustainable and responsible growth. His "Rural Entrepreneur Podcast" extends this mission, providing essential advice and experiences for entrepreneurs. He adopts a comprehensive approach, focusing on building sustainable businesses, community engagement, and active participation in entrepreneurial ventures.


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