Original 2018 article by Lucy Cone. Updated for 2020 by Sharon Tanton.
Content and conversions are linked. Learn how smart B2B marketers are using valuable content to attract attention, build trust, nurture leads and convert visitors into customers.
Way back when, B2B web content used to serve a simple purpose – to tell potential customers what a company offered and provide contact details or a means for them to get in touch. Users would more often than not arrive at a site by typing in the domain from some form of print marketing collateral that arrived on their office desk or was picked up at a trade show, or by searching for a product or service online. Content was as simple and direct as possible and many marketers considered a short visit to be a good thing, as customers were obviously finding what they were looking for.
With the proliferation of digital technologies B2B buying behaviour changed just as much as consumer behaviour. We’re used to using the web and social to form opinions, educate ourselves about products and services and inform every stage of the decision-making process.
Businesses invest in content to attract customers online, but turning that attraction into sales isn’t straightforward.
"Only 53% of B2B marketers achieve their goal of using content to generate sales/revenue."
According to the Content Marketing Institute, the three most-cited content marketing goals achieved in the last 12 months were:
- Creating brand awareness (86%)
- Educating audience(s) (79%)
- Building credibility/trust (75%)
However, fewer B2B marketers say their efforts delivered success against goals like:
- Building subscribed audiences (45%)
- Generating sales/revenue (53%)
- Building loyalty with existing clients/customers (63%)
Although there seems to be a clear understanding of how effective content can be used to increase reach and drive traffic to a website, B2B marketers often neglect to put enough thought into where these potential customers go from there. In our opinion, content plays a critical role not only in attracting attention, but in building trust, nurturing leads and converting visitors into customers.
Why a long journey isn’t always a bad thing
We saw this in practice, when we developed and implemented an integrated communications project for a client in cloud-based services, who was keen to attract, identify and secure leads in this increasingly competitive market. Key to effectively taking the client’s proposition to market was a new website and content strategy, integrated with a marketing automation solution that encompasses behavioural tracking and scoring of potential leads, as well as email marketing and lead nurturing.
The client’s telemarketing partner was also able to view and share potential leads, allowing for more integrated and informed campaigning.
During one of our regular catch ups, a review of website user stats revealed an interesting phenomenon. Not only was average time on site gradually increasing, but lead tracking data showed that people made validating visits during sales calls from the telemarketing partner to find out more about the company. Actually, these visits were 3 or 4 times longer in duration than the actual sales call and often resulted in these leads returning to the website or contacting the company directly within a fortnight of this activity. Although the context is obviously a little different to what the great storyteller J. R. R. Tolkien meant, it’s true to say that not all those who wander are lost.
"Not all those who wander are lost"
Many of these people were actually following pre-defined journeys, supported by content that was created specifically to engage with them at each stage of their relationship with the company and encourage conversion.
So what does this tell us? Well, it clearly demonstrates how relevant content can be an extremely powerful tool for holding the attention of a lead and also building the trust they need in order to progress their relationship with a company to the next stage.
The basics of effective content for lead nurturing
Get it right and content can be one of your most effective ways to build meaningful relationships with your leads and turn them into customers. In order to retain engagement and build trust, there are a number of basic attributes to consider.
Each piece of content should:
- Serve a purpose, based on clear and established objectives
- Be relevant and offer value, based on a comprehensive understanding of the interests, needs and aspirations of your target audience
- Be true to the nature of the company itself, by highlighting expertise and communicating differentiators
- Be engaging and user-friendly, so that it retains the user’s attention and can be easily consumed
- Include clear signposting to encourage continuation of the journey (related content, call to actions, incentives)
However, it isn’t quite as easy as building your content and waiting for your leads to come knocking…
Content that converts takes long-term commitment
Great content doesn’t just happen overnight. As well as being carefully planned, it needs to be constantly monitored and evaluated – and redeveloped on a regular basis – driven by analysis and improved target audience intelligence. It should evolve in parallel with the wants and needs of your potential customers. This is where getting to know your target audience even better is essential and there are three great ways to do this:
- Analyse their behaviour – Leverage a combination of the analytics provided by marketing automation and Google to map how your leads interact with you across email, web and social. This allows you to assess how well your pre-defined customer journeys are working, as well as learning more about the kind of content they are most engaged with. Then you can optimise your content accordingly.
- Provide rewards – Website visitors will be anonymous until they volunteer more information about themselves. So reward them in return for supplying you with their basic data. If a piece of content such as a white paper or guide is perceived as valuable enough to a potential customer, they will often happily fill in a short form in order to access it. Remember you have to be crystal clear about the purpose or purposes that you’re going to use their data for. Simplicity really helps too. Your form might start out as simple as first name, email address and subscribe to a) our newsletter and/or b) email marketing. Tip: Your newsletter (…whadya mean you don’t have one!) is a ‘softer’ commitment than generic email marketing, and still lets you identify and better understand visitors’ behaviour even if they’re not yet ripe for a conversation.
- Just ask – We all know that the more data you can get, the more targeted and relevant your content can be, but there’s no need for data acquisition to be a covert operation. If you already have basic contact data on a potential customer, why not simply ask them to tell you more about their interests? Sometimes the only incentive they need in order to provide you with more data is the promise of more relevant content or promotions.
So as B2B buyers become increasingly demanding content consumers, it takes a lot more than a catchy blog headline or a fancy infographic to turn a prospect into a customer. Effective B2B content is a long-term commitment, but it is definitely worth the investment.
After all, what do you value more – views and shares, or conversion and sales?