Updated: Apr 26
In 2017 I joined a B2B tech company as a Marketing and Sales executive. Prior to working there, the company didn’t have any marketing infrastructure, and they outsourced their Social Media management to an agency (who really sucked at what they were doing).
I decided to start implementing Content Marketing as a strategy to help the company boost sales and revenue, and position its brand as an authority in the market.
At least that was the goal. Little did we know we would get so much more for our efforts.
Within the first two months of implementing the content strategy we saw the following results:
Closed a multi-million dollar deal that was stagnant for 12 months prior
Attracted potential investors for the company
Started getting inbound sales leads
Increased pipeline opportunities with a 43% win rate
Increase in social media engagement and brand affinity across all channels
We would walk into sales meetings, introduce ourselves and the company we represented, and hear people say “Oh I’ve seen a post by you guys on Facebook/Instagram/LinkedIn”. This told us that what we were doing was working, as it started to create significant awareness, that also drove business outcomes.
The reason I share this story with you is so you understand that the concepts in this article aren’t based in theory, but in fact and results I’ve seen and experienced executing this both for the CMG brand as well as companies I’ve worked for and clients I’ve worked with.
As we go through this process understand that it's not about creating a single piece of content for each stage of the buyer's journey, but creating multiple pieces for each stage. This is important because not all your buyers struggle with the exact same challenge, and each buyer will purchase what you offer for their specific reasons and motivations. Therefore, you have to create multiple pieces of content to appeal to different buyer scenarios and needs at each stage.
Understanding how Buyers Buy in 2021
To really understand and be able to replicate this process for yourself, it first starts with an understanding of how customers buy today. It has been stated that buyers are 80% through the sales process before even wanting to speak with a sales rep. That means you have to be able to meet them at the beginning where they are, instead of waiting for them to complete majority of the process.
Why is this important?
Because when they are ready to buy you want to almost guarantee that you’re the company they purchase from. We call this process the Buying Process.
So let’s break down how customers approach buying.
Before thinking of a purchase most buyers aren’t aware they have a problem that they need to solve or that your products/services can solve. We call this first stage the Unawareness Stage. This is why when your marketing is just focused on awareness of what you offer and promoting just that it often falls flat. Buyers don’t know they need what you have so why should they pay attention to what you’re saying in the first place?
Once the buyer becomes aware of the problem they now seek information to help them define what the problem is and the possible solutions that exist for the problem. This is where that first Google search comes in. We call this second stage the Awareness Stage.
Once they begin educating themselves through what they find on Google, there will be certain sites that stand out and appeal to their need more than others. In other words, they develop an interest in this company or brand, and possibly what they have to offer as a possible solution to their problem. We call this third stage the Interest Stage.
After sifting through a few pieces of content; done their research on a few companies through reviews, product info, asking opinions of people they trust on the company that offers the solution they are looking for to solve their problem, next they select 2-3 options they can choose from. Now they have built up a desire for the product/service you offer. They are in a state of “I really need this to help me!” We call this fourth stage the Demand Stage.
The final stage is the Purchase Stage. Here is where the buyer has done their due diligence and selected a single company they wish to purchase from. Some buyers will purchase immediately without hesitation. However, for most there are still doubts about the purchase and this is where a sales rep would typically come in to help close the final deal. At this point they are 80% of the way there.
Back to the point, as mentioned what you want to do is to be able to reach buyers when they are at the Unawareness stage before even starting their journey, so by the time they get to the Purchase stage, you have preference over every other competitor.
Moving Buyers from Awareness to Paying Customer
Now that you understand how buyers think, now is the mechanics of how this process works. How to take a buyer from not knowing about your company to becoming a paying customer.
This is where a framework I came up with called the Buyer’s Matrix comes in. It details how to move buyers from one stage of the Buying Process to the next.
Getting Buyers from Unawareness to Awareness
The first stage of the process is making buyers aware that your brand exists by getting their attention.
Remember at this stage buyers don’t know they have a problem so you have to start with that in mind.
There are three ways I’ve found to effectively create brand awareness that gets your target audience paying attention.
Bring awareness to a problem they have (not what you offer)
Telling your brand story (but in a way that will resonate with them)
Creating amazing creative
1. Bringing Awareness to a Problem
This is self-explanatory. However, the focus here should be bringing awareness to a problem that your product/service offering can solve.
For example, the same B2B tech company I mentioned earlier we did customer research. Based on our research we found that a lot of companies were still operating with legacy or outdated systems. This means no data integration across departments or operating with the latest technologies.
So what we did was write a blog post titled 6 Questions to Ask to Know If It’s Time to Implement A Digital Transformation Plan. In it we went through six symptoms that indicates a company may be operating with outdated ways-of-working.
This article simply brought awareness to a problem our target buyers weren't aware existed because they had been used to operating a certain way for years, some even decades.
2. Telling your brand story
Now there’s a lot of talk around telling your brand story, but in order for this approach to be effective your story can’t simply focus on all the things that are great and wonderful about your company. It has to include elements that are relevant and resonate with your intended customer base.
For example, I recently worked with a client and before crafting their story one of the first things I did was interview eight customers who had purchased from them in the last three months. Based on their feedback I looked at what were the common responses among all customers and ranked them from highest to lowest in terms of which were mentioned most frequently.
It turns out the main reason people bought was because their products were animal free. The second reason was because the company was Canadian based and 85% of their customer base lives in Canada.
So we took that and developed a brand narrative that tied the values of the company to the values that customers appreciated the most about the brand.
3. Creating amazing creative
I won’t go much into this one as it speaks for itself. Sometimes your message doesn’t have to bring awareness to a problem or tell your story to be effective. Sometimes all it takes is outstanding imagination and kickass creative team to bring it to life.
Take for example Nike ad (which I’m absolutely in love with)
Now I’m not sneaker head, so I buy sneakers based on my style rather than brand. However, Nike was really able to capture my attention with this piece of creative. So much so that weeks maybe months later the brand is still top-of-mind.
Getting Buyers from Awareness to Interest
It’s not enough to drive brand awareness and get the attention of your intended customers, you have to now be able to move them from simply knowing about you to being interested in what you have to offer.
There are three ways you can do this:
Give Solution to a Problem
Entertain to Resonate
Consistently Provide Value
1. Give Solution to a Problem
So in the first stage of the Buyer’s Journey I mentioned bringing awareness to a problem your offering can solve. The next step is to give the solution to the problem, and the solution in this sense is not “Our products help you to…”. The solution here is in the form of content.
Using the same example of how we brought awareness to companies operating legacy systems, next we wrote a blog post titled Creating a Digital Transformation Strategy to Grow Your Business. In this post we went through the steps companies can take to build out their own strategy (even if they chose not to do business with us). The by-product however was due to this piece of content we got inbound queries and leads, and a few converted to paying clients.
2. Entertain to Resonate
This can be a very powerful one if done well, as it helps to set you apart from your competitors by appealing to the emotions of your buyers. However, entertaining alone isn’t enough. Your content has to also be tied back to your offering, because people need to make that connection between the emotional trigger and what you sell.
Take Blendtec for example, they sell blenders. Now there’s nothing unique or special about a blender but they have found a unique way to entertain their audience while appealing to those who would buy what they sell.
The video above not only generated millions of views in a few weeks, but also generated millions of dollars in revenue for Blendtec over the next several months, and they are still going strong 10 years later.
3. Consistently Provide Value
There have been many talks on social media of companies providing value before trying to sell, and I agree. However, what does ‘value’ really mean? For me I define it as anything that is helpful and useful to your audience that helps them do or be better than they were before coming across your content.
The key here is consistency, because it takes several interactions with your brand and content for people to like and trust you enough as a valuable resource to help them with a problem they have.
When I first started posting on LinkedIn, it took me four months before I started getting much engagement and at least 12 months to land my first paying client from my content. That’s because I had to consistently show up every day, adding value before people could believe and trust my expertise as a marketer to help them.
Getting Buyers from Interest to Demand
Now that you’ve gotten buyers interested in what you have to offer, you need to create a desire for that offer. There are three ways to do this:
Interact to Connect
Create Personalized Experiences
Build Trust through Content
1. Interact to Connect
This is a great way to learn more about your target audience on a deeper level and also for them to learn more about you as a brand. This is an important approach as it cements brand affinity which eventually creates brand loyalty long term.
A good way to do this is to have private Slack, email or Facebook groups for potential buyers. This will be a separate group from your general audience to create a sense of exclusivity. However, you can do the opposite also and make it open to anyone who wants to be a part of the interaction.
The method or channel isn’t what's important. What’s most important is the interaction they get to have with you that creates a bond.
2. Create Personalized Experiences
This is a really good one, and with so much noise in the market making it hard to stand out, creating personalized experiences for potential buyers is a good way to stand out.
An example of this is a winter apparel brand I recently worked with. One of the ways they create personalized experiences is by allowing buyers who are interested in their product to schedule a virtual appointment where they can view the item in real time.
As a result they tend to see an increase conversion as buyers feel more catered to, and they get the chance to interact with a real person in a private setting.
3. Build Trust through Content
This pretty much goes hand in hand with consistently providing value. As a matter of fact I share a story of how I built trust through content that eventually led to my first major deal after starting my marketing agency.
Getting Buyers from Demand to Purchase
The final step in this entire process is now being able to convert demand for your offering into actual sales and customers.
1. Product Highlights
I’ve found this to be a good approach in both B2B and B2C business models. For example, for B2C the above client mentioned with the winter apparel brand, we used product highlights to win back 15% of abandoned cart shoppers through retargeting and cementing its product value to customers.
For B2B I’ve seen through execution how being able to tie the use cases to specific needs and challenges of the client lead to conversions as well.
The most important part in this tactic being effective is being able to make the connection to what your product does to a solution or outcome that the customers wants that is important to them. Simply toting features and benefits won’t be enough.
2. Case Study/FAQ Content
I think most of us know the power in using case study to drive final purchase decisions, but I don’t believe it is used enough in driving conversions.
One instance where this strategy worked really well was at a B2B tech company. One of the things we did was after meeting with qualified prospects to learn more about their business and pitch how our offering could help, we would immediately send them a PDF with several case studies of work done for previous clients. This helped to cement our credibility and remove any doubt prospects had as to whether or not we could deliver on our promise.
We also created a web page that highlighted these case studies.
Another approach is taking note of objections and questions a prospect would have in sales meetings and using that to craft FAQ content, whether in a PDF format, or creating a content hub around these questions and using them to drive lead-to-close pipeline.
3. Give Them a Test Drive
The final tactic at this stage is giving customers a test drive of your offering.
Now for this I want to talk from the standpoint of being a customer. As a marketer I’m always looking for new ways to work more efficiently. HubSpot was one of those brands that give potential customers test drives of their CRM product. To be honest I think they give too much.
However, the value offered is so much that whenever I’m working with clients and need to recommend a CRM, HubSpot is always my first recommendation because I know of the value that comes with it from personal experience.
Giving customers a test drive of what you offer allows them to see the value even before they make the final purchase, so that when it does come time to make a buying decision it’s easy for them to choose you over your competitors.
Of course every business, product and model is different and requires their own unique strategy of putting this concept to work.
What I’ve done is simply provided a framework or reference point that you can now use to build out your own content strategy. Also, examples of what type of content is needed throughout the buyer’s journey to move buyers from not knowing about your brand to becoming paying customers and driving revenue growth for your company.
You can watch the full breakdown of this concept in the webinar How to Use Content Marketing to Create Demand and Win Customers.