In this article my goal is to do two things:
Show Marketers how they can use content marketing to support Sales by helping to move buyers through the Sales Process with less friction
Help Sales Reps get a better understanding of how customers buy and where they (the reps) fit in the Buyer’s Journey
Hopefully I will be able to demonstrate how Marketing and Sales can be aligned in helping to create brand awareness and sales, and also the role of each at different stages of the Buyer’s Journey.
It's also important to note that this only works if you have a deep understanding of your customers and what their needs, challenges and aspirations are.
Now assuming that you are either a Marketer, Sales Professional, or a Business Owner who wants to better understand how this entire process works I will go through things from the sales side, then I will go through the buyer’s side, which also ties into the marketing side. That way Marketing better understands how Sales works, and Sales better understands the buyers and how Marketing ties into this entire process.
Understanding the B2B Sales Process (The Sales Side)
This step is for Marketers so they better understand the sales side of things.
The typical outbound B2B Sales Process is broken down into the following steps:
3. Needs Assessment/Discovery Session
5. Handling Objections
Prospecting is where the sales rep does cold outreach to people who they believe are the best fit for what the company offers based on set criteria.
Qualifying is where that criteria is measured against each specific potential customer to see who is most likely to buy what is offered.
Needs Assessment is where the sales rep meets with the potential customers to better understand their goals, challenges, and how what the company offers will best help them solve their challenge and/or achieve their goal.
Presenting is where the actual product or service is demoed. Think of it like a preview of what they can expect to get if they buy.
Handling Objections is where the sales rep answers questions the potential customer may have or overcome any barriers that may prevent them from purchasing.
Closing is where the potential customer agrees to move ahead with purchasing the solution.
However just because they agree doesn’t mean they will or will right away, so there still needs to be a follow up process to get the final payment.
Understanding the B2B Buying Process (The Buyer and Marketing Side)
This step is for Sales Reps so they better understand the buyer and the marketing side of things.
The typical buying and marketing process follows the outlined flow:
In marketing this is known as the A.I.D.A. model. It speaks how marketing helps to move a prospect from brand awareness or knowing about the company, getting them interested in the product/service, creating desire or demand for the product/service, and finally purchasing the product/service.
However, to make this process more effective we need to approach this from the buyer’s side.
Let’s see what that would look like.
Awareness in this case is the customer becoming aware of the problem they have that your solution can solve, and if you’re the one to make them aware of the problem then they become aware of your brand.
Interest in this case is the buyer being interested and open to learning more about their problem and possible solutions that exist to solve it. Potentially this will be your company’s product/service.
Desire from the buyer’s perspective is where you have helped them so much it creates a demand for your product/service specifically to solve the problem they have. This is where they have a “I need this!” reaction to what you sell.
Action is when they purchase your solution.
You can map the Buying Process to the Sales Process. This is how alignment is created by knowing where Marketing starts, where Sales starts and where in the process both fall at each stage.
Also, to make it easier to follow let's map it to the three stages of the typical Marketing and Sales funnel.
Using Content as a Marketing Tool to Support the B2B Sales Process
For the purposes of this article we define Content Marketing as using content (whether digitally or otherwise) to attract an intended audience with the intention of eventually converting that audience into customers.
How this is done throughout the Sales Process is by using content as a persuasive marketing tool to move buyers from one stage of the funnel to the next until they convert to customers. To do this you need to have a deep understanding of your customers, and what motivates them at each stage of the process, that is in-line with your offering.
In other words, what motivates someone to want to know more about a problem they have? What makes them finally decide to seek a solution? What creates a desire within them to want to pursue options to solve the problem? Finally, what makes them decide to buy.
Let’s walk through that entire process using the mapping done with the Buying Process aligned with the Sales Process (marketing and sales alignment).
Unaware & Awareness Stage/Top of Funnel
For most sales reps the thought is often to go in cold and try to sell to the buyer. Yes as a sales rep you can do this and it has been an effective method to selling for you. However, this process is about making your job easier and creating less friction for you getting the sale.
Which would you prefer?
1. Having a long list of prospects you have to cold call, dealing with being disrespected, chasing them just trying to get them to sit down for 15 minutes with you
2. Prospects being open and receptive to what you have to say because they already know the brand and trust the brand from prior interactions with the brand’s content?
I think the answer is obvious.
So at this first stage it isn’t the best thing to have you as the sales rep coming in and trying to sell. At this stage is where marketing takes the lead and takes control of the wheel to steer the prospect to you.
How content marketing does this at this stage of the journey is by making the prospect aware of a problem that they probably didn’t know they had, or maybe they do but they haven’t figured out how to define the problem in a way that makes it easy for them to search for a solution.
Let’s say you’re selling a time management tool to a Project Manager. For some reason their projects never seem to meet their deadlines and it’s causing a lot of frustrations for them. They are aware of the problem but they don’t know why it keeps happening.
In that case Marketing would put out a targeted ad to specific locations or companies directed to Project Managers , or do a 5-minute video that says “5 Reasons Why You’re Projects Fail to Meet Their Deadline”. It’s not trying to sell them anything. It’s using content to help them understand and define the problem they’re having.
Interest Stage/Middle of Funnel 1
Continuing from the same example, the next step would be for the Project Manager to research possible solutions to the reasons identified why their projects fail to meet their deadline.
Marketing is still the lead at this part of the process as they now use content to offer solutions to the problem. Not solution in the form of a product/service but in the form of content, which is a significant difference.
So Marketing creates another piece of content such as “How to Structure Your Projects So They Always Meet Their Deadline”. It answers the question the Project Manager has of “How do I go about solving this problem?”
This is the stage where sales now enters the conversation. Now the Project Manager knows the problem, can define it, and is searching for solutions to help them solve it.
The reason why there was no point in Sales entering the conversation before this stage is because the Project Manager didn’t even know how to define the problem they had and therefore wasn’t at the point of searching for a solution.
If Sales had entered the conversation at the Top of Funnel stage they would have been wasting their time in trying to pitch to someone who wasn’t even ready to hear about any solution or probably isn’t even interested because they don’t have a problem the company solves for.
However, at the Interest stage the prospect is already familiar with the brand and some level of trust has been built. Therefore, as a Sales Rep you wouldn’t be going in cold, but rather prospecting a warm lead who is already open to what you have to sell.
Again it’s not about cold outbound not being effective, it’s about making it easier for you as the Sales Rep to sell by creating less friction throughout the Sales Process.
Desire Stage/The Middle of the Funnel 2
We are still at the middle of the funnel but at this stage it’s no longer about trying to find answers to the best way to address projects failing, now it’s about identifying the best product/service providers who can offer the best solution for the Project Manager.
At this stage of the Sales Process, Sales needs to take the lead in making a convincing pitch as to why they are the best choice, and marketing acts in a supporting role helping to continue increasing the value of the product/service in the mind of the prospect.
Think of it as Sales lighting the fire and Marketing adding fuel to the fire to increase the burning desire of the prospect to buy.
Content Marketing plays a significant role at this stage by help to address any objections the prospect may have, and consistently communicate the value of the offering.
So let’s say the Sales Rep has just presented to the Project Manager. However, the Project Manager is still unsure if this is a fit for them or what they need right now. Rather than the rep trying to force the sale, which is counterproductive, the rep can simply take all the questions, sit with Marketing and share the insights of what they learned about the Project Manager from that meeting.
Then Marketing can create a piece of content, whether it may a video, a slide deck or even a customized email sequence customized for that specific Project Manager that goes through each objection and question in detail. Marketing can also share detailed case studies and success stories of other clients who have worked with the brand to help overcome the same or similar challenge.
What this does is it helps to remove whatever anxieties the Project Manager may be feeling in choosing this particular brand as a fit for them.
Now when the Sales Rep re-engages with the Project Manager they are doing so from the standpoint of the Project Manager being less apprehensive and more confident in choosing the brand. Also, there is less resistance in agreeing to purchase the solution from the Sales Rep.
Action Stage/Bottom of Funnel
At the final stage of the journey is where the Project Manager has agreed to purchase the solution from your specific brand, but there may be a delay in closing the deal. Whether that may be in getting the final sign-off from senior management to move ahead, or maybe there are other priorities that the Project Manager is currently focused on.
Content Marketing works well at this stage of the sales process in helping to:
Further highlight the value that you can deliver and what they can expect from working with you
Show how your solution makes it easier for them to get what they consider current priorities done
There is no one way to execute on this and it depends on what systems you have in place to build out content assets and what your buyer responds well to. The main point here is understanding that content is used as a support system to continuously keep the value of your offering top of mind, while Sales does further follow up on their end to get the buyer to make the final sign-off and payment.
Two approaches I often use and recommend when working with clients are 2-hour workshops and/or a customized email sequence.
With the workshops we often meet with the teams who will be using the product/service in their day-to-day, and present on how the specific offering fits within their operations to help them be more effective at their jobs.
We use it as sort of a ‘test run’ so the client understands what they can expect by working with the brand. It also gives the team the chance to ask any questions they may have and gain greater clarity on what their experience will be like.
With the email sequence we use it as Bottom of the Funnel lead nurturing process. The difference here is rather than a generic sequence that tailors to all target customers, the content is specific to the needs of each individual client at this stage of the funnel based on information we were able to gather throughout the Sales Process of their needs, challenges and goals.
The best approach however is using both as the more touchpoints and positive interactions you can have with the client, the more removes their anxieties and builds their confidence that you are the right choice for what they need.
By Marketing having a better understanding of the Sales Process from Sales perspective they can be better aligned on how both teams can work together in delivering overall results for the company using Content Marketing.
However, as much as this article provides a framework to build from, there are moments where no matter what you do the buyer cannot be influenced to buy when you may want them to. Buyers work with their timeline not ours. In that case the best thing to do is use an email ‘drip’ sequence, where every two weeks to a month we send an email further communicating the value of what the brand offers until the client sees it fit to move ahead with the purchase.
At the very least this process will build greater confidence and brand equity in the marketplace, which helps reduce long sales cycles and moves buyers through the pipeline more quickly leading to less effort needed on the part of Sales to close deals and drive revenue for the company.