After fifteen years in B2B marketing, the biggest misstep I’ve seen B2B companies make is becoming too focused on themselves—not their customers’ needs. They think that simply saying how products or services are better is enough to differentiate them. They assume that customers spend all day comparing product features. They like to think that they are better at engineering and overuse words like “innovative,” “best-in-class” and “market leader.”
All of these assumptions are wrong. Inevitably, “we are simply better” leads to both marketing and business disasters.
On the marketing side, content begins to focus solely on product features, functions and benefits (FFBs) communicated through flyers, spec sheets and price books. Websites become just online versions of product catalogs. Direct marketing is just about your latest product release. You have to have them, but if these are your marketing department’s main focus, then you’re essentially betting that you can “out-spec-sheet” the competition.
For many B2B industries, this approach rarely contributes to growth because product differentiation isn’t enough to guarantee advantages. They get caught up in screaming “me too” about small product features. Before long, their product features are replicated by the competition and they become commoditized. The result is that they end up competing on price alone, eating away at margins.
Customer-Centric Content is an Asset, Not an Expense
B2B customers have access to more information than ever before to help inform their purchasing decisions, and they are taking advantage of it. Recent studies by the Corporate Executive Board found that B2B customers are 57% of their way through a purchase decision before they have the first contact with a supplier. At that point, they’re more interested in price and availability, and you’re not going to change their mind with product FFBs and specs. Most likely, they’ve already decided that you can or can’t meet their basic needs.
Given this new paradigm, B2B companies should focus on creating content that helps customers make smarter overall buying decisions, not product decisions. This requires understanding the challenges a customer faces and directing content creation toward addressing those challenges. For example, do they worry about becoming more efficient and lowering costs? Do they focus on safety and reliability? What are the macro trends that will impact their industry in the coming years? Can you provide insight into how they can improve their outcomes?
This type of content may be more research-intensive than writing about your own products, but it is also more valuable to your customers. You are investing in becoming a thought leader, a trusted partner, a solution provider, a guiding voice in the crowded B2B space… whatever terminology captures not being seen as just another “product supplier.”
Reasons-to-Believe Help Customers Find You
The benefits of good content goes way beyond just giving you’re sales people something more meaningful to talk about. You should give your customers a reason-to-believe that helps them answer the question: “What’s in it for me?” If you can capture this, then you gain many benefits.
First, the main reason B2B customers are more informed is because of search engines. Therefore, your content strategy should include topics that align with customer searches. Call it Search Engine Optimization or common sense, but if you are on page one in search results, you can get into their consideration set almost automatically. (By the way, I’ve checked, and they don’t search for product number 3335.xx1 very much!)
Another benefit to investing in customer-centric content is the versatility it gives you. A well-researched and written white paper can generate much more PR interest than a product release. Advice on improving customer retention and loyalty makes for a much better blog article and interest-driver on social media than saying you added another new feature to your CRM software. It’s not that you’re getting away from your products/services; it’s more that you’re integrating your offering into content that explains how your customers can improve.
Are You Giving Customers a Reason-to-Believe in You?
Here is a simple way to test whether your brand has become too “you-centric” instead of customer-centric: When you tell people what company you work for, do you tell them what products you make? Or do you tell them how the products you make contribute to a customer’s satisfaction?
For example, you could say you work for an industrial pump manufacturer. Or you could say that your company makes pumps that help customers become more safe, productive and profitable.
See the difference? One is about what you make, the other is about why customers might want to buy your products to improve their lives. It may seem like a small difference, but even B2B customers want to think that you can help them improve.
Ask around your office and see how your colleagues answer.
Jason McClain – Guest Blogger & Senior Group Marketing Manager, WIKA, LP