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What's Most Important to B2B Customers? (Hint: Not Content Marketing)
Posted on November 1st 2013
The fanfare has been loud and non-stop. Drums beating and reverberating throughout the B2B world to jump on board the content marketing train. As in the B2C world, we are beginning to see a dramatic rise in web-based content, online communities, and video-based messaging. These are proving to be powerful ways to communicate.
There is just one problem.
B2B customers are experiencing disconnect between brand as well as content messaging and what they care about most. According to a recent research study and survey conducted by McKinsey, of 700 global executives, corporate messaging may be having little impact on evaluation and purchase decisions. What can be disheartening for many to learn is corporate messaging and content can be out of alignment with customer values as well as expectations.
Perception Is Everything
What should catch the attention of B2B marketers and sellers are the top 3 themes most strongly influencing brand perceptions – and ultimately purchase decisions. These can be characterized as relational versus as strength in messaging. Take a look at these three:
- Cares about honest, open dialogue with its customers and society
- Acts responsibly across its supply chain
- Has a high level of specialist expertise
The study, which also looked at publicly available content from 90 public B2B companies, found content messaging correlated very little to these three themes. McKinsey also found this disconnect is more widespread than we would think due to finding a high degree of similarity in messaging by the 90 B2B companies. Another way to put this is most companies are doing exactly what their competitors are doing – with no significant differentiation.
What Is Forgotten
This type of study, and others in similarity, should serve as a wake up call for B2B companies who may be too fervent in pursuing digital as well as content marketing to an extreme. Putting themselves at risk by unintentionally tossing aside one of their most valuable assets – as viewed by B2B buyers. Which are, their sales representatives. Here is what this study pointed out:
Even in the digital era, our surveys show that personal interactions with sales reps remain the most influential factor—across touch points—for B2B customers. Face-to-face and phone contact with sales representatives ranked highest among B2B customers considering, evaluating, and purchasing products, as well as in product-loyalty decisions. This was true across all industries and regions in our sample.
Potentially, what can be happening here is this: companies are perceiving digital messaging as selling as opposed to messaging supporting these most valuable personal interactions.
In a recent article, Why Are 76% Of Content Marketers Forgetting Sales Enablement, I echoed this same sentiment. Offering a plausible explanation of marketing working in isolation and detached from sales in their content marketing efforts. This sentiment is supported by other recent surveys indicating disconnect between sales and marketing when it comes to supporting their interactions with buyers. Despite the emergence of the digital era, B2B buyers still value personal interaction the most.
B2B companies can best overcome such issues by focusing on enabling dialogue. Therefore, corporate messaging, content marketing, and personal interaction must be viewed as an integrated pathway for enabling dialogue. Doing so allows for the three themes mentioned to rise above the noise and become visible. Demonstrating to B2B customers:
- An ability to have meaningful and open dialogue
- Demonstrative responsibility across the entire supply chain
- A high level of expertise in their personal interactions
While this particular study focused on the impact of brand messaging, it also very telling of a major issue lurking underneath. One I find I am having increasingly more conversations about when helping people. Which is, the inability of corporate messaging, content marketing, and sales to deliver a consistent story to B2B customers. Putting themselves at risk of being seemingly disconnected and perhaps worse, lacking credibility. Creating a perception, which is often unintentional, of an entity incapable of having an honest dialogue, not acting responsibly, and not having the level of expertise required.
By focusing on enabling dialogue, B2B companies can prevent these unintended consequences. Instead, rising above the fray in the B2B competitive landscape, as the one-company customers should and want to talk to.