In the most recent B2B benchmark report (CMI), 49% of those whose content marketing success remained stagnant attributed their stagnancy to strategy issues (or the lack of a strategy).
Through the years this has been a recurring problem. Organizations understand the urgent need for a holistic and documented marketing strategy no doubt, but many are still wild guessing about how to do it.
Earlier we discussed how important clarity, commitment, and consistency is in achieving content marketing success. And while many of us probably got the commitment and consistency down pat, it's the clarity part that gets tricky. (What's the point of being committed to churn out one blog post after another when you're not clear about where you want to go?)
That said, instead of doing a hit-or-miss approach, understanding the B2B marketing funnel is a good place to start in creating a clear and intentional digital marketing strategy.
The B2B Marketing Funnel
A marketing funnel, in a nutshell, is a visual representation of the buyer's journey. It maps out the various stages of the journey as a potential customer moves through the marketing and sales process.
In simpler terms, it tracks the progress of a visitor to becoming a prospect and eventually converting into a loyal and paying customer.
For example, a potential lead finds you by searching a specific keyword, or through an online ad, or through social media. As he browses your website, he finds the information he needs and signs up to download more resources. Once in your subscriber's list, he goes through the process of lead nurturing where he eventually decides to avail of your product/service. He then becomes a satisfied and loyal customer who promotes your brand to his colleagues and friends.
The process goes on as new leads come in, are nurtured, and become paying customers. For marketers, the funnel shows important stages that guide us as we usher leads through the process.
The difference between B2B and B2C funnels
Before we proceed, it's important to discuss the differences between the B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to consumer) funnels.
1. B2B usually involves a larger group of decision makers
Rebecca White of TrackMaven points out that most B2C consumers navigate the funnel alone or with a small group of trusted advisers (like family and friends), while B2B consumers have a larger, cross-departmental buying group.
In other words, in B2B scenarios, a potential customer usually involves a group of highly analytical stakeholders who decide whether or not they want to make the investment.
2. B2C has shorter cycle than B2B
To illustrate the B2C cycle, consider this scenario. A buyer lands into the pages of an ecommerce website, sees a bag, reads reviews about the product, maybe tries to get approval from a few friends, and purchases the item. Done.
On the other hand, B2B consumers need a longer time going through the sales process. For example, an HR Professional sees the need for a payroll system and starts doing research, finds a company that offers what she's looking for, finds other competing brands which broaden her research, convenes stakeholders of the company to consider the purchase, gets in touch with a sales representative, asks for a demo, and decides whether or not they want to invest.
But even at this point the cycle is still not done. (It's never done!) Which brings us to the last point.
3. B2B's "retention" element
Using the above examples, the customer retention element is less true in B2C scenarios than in B2B. Say, once the bag lady checks out an item from the website, she may or may not get in touch with the brand anymore. Unless she has complaints or she wants a refund, the brand has little to no responsibility to interact with her, except maybe to sell her a new product.
On the other hand, the company that purchased a payroll system requires continuous relationship building, nurturing, and customer service.
These differences are evident as we dive into the details of the marketing funnel, and while there are also similarities, we're going to specifically discuss the marketing funnel in light of B2B.
ATTRACT Stage: From Strangers to Website Visitors
This is the stage where potential customers come to an awareness of your brand. There are various ways a potential customer finds you—through search engines, social media, trade shows, networking events, referrals. The key to this stage is to think of creative ways to make them, in the most basic level, visit your website.
This means you need to establish a good online reputation and thought leadership, create content that gets passed around social media circles, and even network with people both online and offline.
How to attract
When creating campaigns to attract, it's important to know who your buyer persona is. What topics resonate with them, what entertains them, or what makes them curious. More importantly, you have to know where they "hang out", because you'd want to hang out there too.
Your buyer persona might be into "light reading" or entertaining material, or he could be interested in whitepaper material that tackles details of a specific set of topics.
Knowing your buyer persona guides you in creating the right content. And if you want good leads, you have to create value.
Exhibit A: Buffer
Buffer does the "attract" stage so well by (1) providing great content that people talked about and (2) cultivating a social media presence that naturally builds a community around their brand.
I remember the first time I came across Buffer's blog. If you're living under a rock, Buffer is now a multi-national company that offers social media management tools.
The first blog post I read on Buffer was a piece by Belle Beth Cooper. (I even remember her name!) Specifically, this post:
Seeing this post you wouldn't guess even for a second that Buffer is an app.
Through the years they blogged about, not just social media topics but also life hacks, their startup journey, leadership lessons, community building tips—which attracted a wide range of people who are more or less active in social media.
Even as their content marketing strategy evolves, their understanding of their market and where they are in the buyer's journey is evident in the content they produce and the community they build.
As a sidenote, I did eventually become a loyal Buffer customer, about 4 years after I came across that first blog post. The journey may be long, but it sure went full circle.
CONVERT Stage: From Website Visitors to Leads
Conversion is usually seen as the bottomline or the end goal, but in B2B marketing, you're really just getting started. This is the part where visitors become leads. They drop their email address and enter your contact database where they begin the lead nurturing process.
The most important part of this stage is to get people to willingly give you permission to send them emails and be kept on loop. It is for this reason that sign up forms and lead capture pages should be strategically placed around your website.
How to convert
You need to set up your website to generate leads. Three things you need to have: (1) a database to manage the email addresses; (2) sign up forms to capture email addresses; and (3) a reason for contacts to give you their email addresses.
Content upgrades like downloadable ebooks, white paper, check lists, templates are effective ways to get people to signup. Free webinars and videos are particularly effective these days. Sometimes, publishing great content on your blog makes readers want to subscribe to get blog updates from you as well.
Exibit B: Neil Patel
Neil Patel is so good at many things, but especially at capturing leads. He creates great content, offers great content upgrades and free webinars, and strategically utilizes sign up forms and marketing copy to encourage people to sign up.
Again, the main goal here is to get people to sign up and enter the lead nurturing process.
Anyone who knows Neil Patel has learned something from his many resources, blog posts and webinars—all of them free. He then offers consultancy services to those who want to work with him; in fact he has worked with a couple of big names in the digital industry through the years.
CLOSE Stage: From Leads to Paying Customers
So you've attracted visitors to your site, converted them to leads, and now you'd want to turn them into paying customers. This is where many marketers would argue that the marketing funnel is non-linear, meaning, they don't always go from A to C.
Sometimes, one lead's journey is much quicker than the others. Other times, leads have to go through the cycle repeatedly before they're convinced. The road from "Convert" to "Close" can either be super simple or very dynamic. One lead can come in very skeptical and would require more nurturing. Another lead can come in very positive or referred by another satisfied customer.
Each lead has unique requirements, considerations, backgrounds, even budgets, and no two customer journey is the same. The beauty of having a lead management system is the ability to understand your leads based on the information they provide and insights from their digital behavior.
Exhibit C: Hubspot
These Hubspot guys were on to something when they coined the term "inbound marketing" in 2006. Although the lines between the terms digital marketing, content marketing or permission marketing seem to have gone blurry, the inbound methodology has placed a structure to the principles and created a tool that integrates everything together.
As the guys who "invented" inbound, it goes without saying that they do know how to convert leads to paying customers. As a full disclaimer, Spiralytics is a Hubspot Partner, and you bet we went through the whole lead nurturing process, top to bottom. From being mere subscribers, to users, to paying customers, and now partner.
How did Hubspot do this? By knowing who we are, providing answers to our questions, solutions to our problems, and the right kind of content when we need it.
I must admit, I did devour every ebook in Hubspot's arsenal of resources in the early days of Spiralytics. ;) In true inbound fashion, we benefited from their free resources long before we were paying customers. When we became qualified leads, they started sending us more information about their product, more advanced content, free trials, etc. The rest is history.
DELIGHT Stage: From Paying Customers to Raving Promoters
Delighting really happens althroughout the funnel, but this stage in the funnel is where you keep your customers happy and satisfied such that they don't only continue paying you for your service, but become raving promoters as well.
Have you ever experienced being fully satisfied and happy about a product or service you can't stop raving about it? This is the effect you want to drive out from your customers. More than customer retention, you want aim for utmost customer satisfaction.
How to delight
There are a lot of ways to go about this stage. For B2B, it makes sense to provide continuous education to your customers and create a community where they can interact and find support. Of course great customer service is, by default, a key ingredient in keeping customers delighted so you should definitely focus on that too.
Delighting customers means you're actively listening to their needs and addressing their concerns. This could mean using social listening, a process of monitoring conversations to understand what customers are saying about your brand or product/s.
You can create surveys or ask for product reviews. If you're using a CRM software, you can get insights about your customers based on their activity. The idea is to create an environment where they can interact and be in a two-way communication with you. You want to use all of these insights to keep improving your product and service, and maybe even expand your offerings.
In other words, getting to know your customers shouldn't stop when they swiped their card. ;)
Exhibit D: Moz
Moz comes to mind when you think about brands that are successful in creating a thriving community, providing education, and keeping their customers delighted.
Everyone here knows Moz, right? Right! These guys need no intro.
We specifically love how Moz uses gamification to keep their community active and engaged. The MozPoints are like a reward system where everyone can earn points for participating and contributing in the community.
There are several ways MozPoints are earned—by leaving comments, creating content, getting thumbs ups from others, participating in the Q&A, etc.
The MozPoints are for everyone, whether or not you're a paying customer. But the MozPoints can be converted to free credits that you can use for your Moz Pro account.
Moz also has other ways to keep their community learning, taking active participation, and promoting their brand. They churn really great content on their blog, publish "Mozinars" and White Board Fridays, and host an annual industry event called MozCon where industry leaders come to teach and network.
I say, this is just pure marketing genius. Not to mention, you get a lot of value from their products too.
As another disclaimer, we sure are happy Moz customers, and me raving about them right now is an example of how to delight your customer and turn them to raving promoters. ;)
What happens when you get the stages mixed up?
The other day a sales rep from a popular CRM provider called me up on my personal line. (And no I'm not going to say which brand it is.)
The sales rep started her spiel and I already knew where it headed. True enough, she was trying to see if Spiralytics is ready to subscribe to their service. I started to explain why I'm not in the position to make this decision so she asked if she could maybe talk directly to my boss.
There are so many things wrong about this situation, other than the awkwardness of it all. First, for them to be cold calling me means I've been categorized as a marketing or sales qualified lead. When the truth is, I can not remember showing any interest other than downloading an ebook.
While I have so much respect for the brand, I would be lying if I said that incident didn't turn me off one bit. For them to be selling a CRM that boasts of its modern sales and marketing solutions, it sure doesn't make sense why they're engaging in a sales call with someone who's not ready (or may never be ready at all) to make the purchase decision.
That illustration is just an example of what happens when you don't understand the marketing funnel and why it's important that you do.
One last thing, the role of Email Marketing
I like to think that email is the thing that links everything in the funnel together. From the initial sign up to the lead nurturing process to closing the sale; through every stage of the funnel, from turning visitors to leads and leads to paying customers, email is the consistent line of communication between the company and the lead.
Needless to say, a strong grasp of email marketing terminologies, priciples, trends, and strategies is required to have a successful B2B (or B2C) marketing strategy. To know more about how to become a smarter email marketer, feel free to download our new Email Marketing ebook. You're welcome. :)
Spiralytics is a digital marketing agency that has presence in Manila, UK, North America, and Spain. Our passion is to help businesses implement online marketing profitably. Need help with your digital marketing strategy? Hit us up! We'd love to hear from you.