The Three Questions Standing Between You and a Sale
Last week, I outlined why it is valuable to build your own audience (BYOA) and the fundamentals required to do it. The purpose of having an audience is to drive sales. You can do this in many ways without continually putting a hard pitch in front of your prospective customers. In fact, you typically get better results when your education to pitch ratio strongly favors the former. This means you need to provide content to your audience that has value irrespective of its relationship to your product.
However, content should not be produced for its own sake. Content should be intentionally developed to share information, shape thinking or motivate action. It’s most impactful when it does all three at once. However, it is frustrating to see great marketing content from companies that is incomplete and contains gaps that are avoidable.
Marketers need to continually think about how they are impacting the sales cycle. Revenue drives business. If you think like a sales shark you will know that before B2B technology buyers make a purchase from you, they need compelling answers to three basic questions:
1. Why should I do this?
2. Why should I do this now?
3. Why should I do this with you?
Why Should I Do This?
If you don’t answer this question effectively your sales process doesn’t advance. It should be the staring point for all of your marketing efforts. There is no point in people being interested in your company differentiators if they are not convinced that what you offer is worth doing. Of the three questions, it is also the largest cognitive distance a buyer must travel. You need to help them along the journey because there is a natural human resistance to change. No change means no sale.
What types of content help convince buyers that they should act? Case studies provide evidence that other people with similar needs as the buyer have found value in your solution. This is often the first thing that new sales people and prospective customers request. It becomes even more important the further along you progress in the technology adoption lifecycle. The fact that someone else has already done this and results are documented addresses many questions while simultaneously reducing the perceived risk of adopting the change represented by your product.
It doesn’t mean you can’t sell without a case study. Everyone has a first customer. No case study needed. You want to have other content that can supplement case studies or stand in their place when necessary. This could be market data about a specific trend that you impact, a feature that addresses a regulatory requirement, an analysis of an inefficient business process you can fix, or a cost savings estimate. It could also be documentation of actions taken by one of the buyer’s competitors. Take an inventory of your marketing content and determine which items directly answer the “why do this” question and use them to support the front end of the sales funnel. Use them later on to reinforce the value when a decision point is near.
Why Should I Do This Now?
Motivating a buyer to act now is one of the hardest challenges facing every company. Delays in purchasing push out revenue recognition for the company and benefit realization for the buyer. However, there are always many reasons to delay purchase. The buyer has other projects and responsibilities. There is risk for any buyer that adopts a solution. If it doesn’t work out they will be held accountable either formally or informally. The big problem is that time kills all deals. New requirements creep in, budgets are taken away, people change jobs. These can shift an almost certain purchase into a loss overnight.
Anything you can put together that helps motivate purchase sooner has significant value. Despite this fact, it tends to be the most neglected area for marketing departments. This is in part because sales teams are often most vocal about the need for comparative content for competitive positioning. They want to answer the third question because a loss to a competitor always seems worse than a loss that is really a no decision. Content that motivates immediate action is also difficult to produce and tends to be very specific to a subset of prospects.
The best content tools to motivate action remind a buyer about a strong pain point you can alleviate. A strong value proposition or return on investment (ROI) is less effective because gains are always weaker in motivating people than pains. Gains can also serve as motivation; they just aren’t as strong. Fear of missing out is another tool. Usually this is applied in the form of scarcity. Finally, positioning a deal based on an impending event or seasonal milestone that is important to the buyer can be very effective.
Content that can help address the “Why Now” question includes documentation of a pain point and results. This could be generated from a third party research study or a case study. A well documented ROI analysis customized to that buyer can help if there are near-term returns expected. You can also create content that takes this question on from a different angle: Why not now? Anything you can produce that shows how easy it is to adopt your solution can help remove reasons for buyers to delay action. That indirectly causes them to act sooner. Nice trick.
Why Should I Do This With You?
This question may seem the most obvious. Humans innately understand comparative argument and marketing against competitors and substitutes. However, I will make three points about opportunities that many B2B marketers routinely miss. First, they spend too much time creating content about all of the things they do and too little about the very few things that make them different and better than the alternatives.
Your 40-point feature list will never be remembered. Leave that for government buyers that are purchasing products that became obsolete years ago. Spend almost all of your time focused on the one or two things that really distinguish your product and company. The more items on your list, the less they will be remembered. Your unique selling proposition needs content to reinforce it. Blogs, white papers, feature articles, videos and infographics can all be tailored to shine a spotlight on what makes you different and explain why that is the most important factor for any buyer to consider.
The other missed opportunity is appealing only to logic. We know that even in B2B sales, it is humans that buy things and a substantial portion of the purchase decision is based on emotional and not logical considerations. But how many B2B companies do you know that attempt to create an emotional connection as well as win a logical argument? Very few. You might not even be able to name one. Think about this. If you and a competitor are equal on all counts, could an emotional attribute of your product tip the scales in your favor? Of course. Even if your competitor wins the logical argument of features and benefits could your emotional attributes secure a sale for your company? You bet. Tell stories, use language that expresses empathy and make your customers the hero. This approach can be embedded in almost every piece of content you produce.
Finally, think about how you can develop a reputation for trust. There is no silver bullet here, but we all know that buyers will sacrifice features and even pay a higher price if they trust the vendor. Don’t overpromise in your marketing and under-deliver in your product experience. We all know this is not a recipe for success. Instead, get third parties to validate your results. Have customers testify through case studies and videos about their positive experiences with you. And, if you build a large group of customers, use your market share as validation of the value you provide. You can be trusted because look at how many people trust you already. So build that comparative content but use focused differentiation, emotional connections and trust building as your objective.
A Blueprint for Marketing Content
A challenge every marketing team must face head-on is: “How are their efforts helping buyers answer these three questions affirmatively?” Take an inventory of your marketing content and campaigns and see how well balanced you are in providing answers. Where you have gaps, put a plan in place to fill them. Then, take a look at whether your content is being used at the right time in the sales cycle. Prospects early in the sales cycle require more focus on the “why they should do it” content. As they move closer to a purchase decision, the “why now” and “why with you” questions start to take center stage.
A lot of B2B companies produce marketing content and campaigns that don’t follow a clear strategy. Many technology CEOs that came up through engineering don’t know how to assess the efforts of their marketing teams. A very simple blueprint is to answer the three questions required to make a sale. If you have these covered, you are likely on the right track.