Different Stages of the B2B Sales Cycle
B2B marketing timelines and sales cycles can be confusing. As opposed to classic B2C and eCommerce campaigns, individualizing your brand in the B2B space takes patience. The B2B buyer’s journey is a long and winding road. You need to know where to optimally place your brand in order to educate, nurture, and convert your different level leads.
This can require a balance between building brand awareness and targeting specific users to convert them into leads for your pipeline. You should be creating content that educates and nurtures your audience about your service. But depending on where they are in the B2B sales cycle, how you approach them will differ.
Think of it this way. A beginner level searcher who is somewhat interested in “SEO Marketing Strategy” wouldn’t be searching for the same content as a qualified searcher looking for “Different Pricing Options for SEO Agencies.”
To better accommodate the elongated B2B sales cycle, it’s important to distinguish between demand generate and lead generation campaigns.
B2B Pain Points: Demand Vs Lead Gen
So, what exactly is the difference between “demand generation” and “lead generation”? To put it simply, the first deals with driving interest and awareness for your service, while the second focuses on collecting contact info for your sales team to follow up with.
- Demand Generation: the focus of targeted marketing programs to drive awareness and interest in a company’s products and/or services.
- Lead Generation: the action or process of identifying and cultivating potential customers for a business’s products or services.
It’s important to note that lead generation is going to be tough for any B2B marketer who hasn’t properly launched a demand gen campaign. Without the initial traction of demand generation, your audience won’t be educated enough for you to convert them into leads.
Don’t put the cart before the horse.
Now, just because you’ve distinguished between demand and lead gen doesn’t mean it’s easy pickings from here. In B2B marketing especially there is a constant debate over how to target your campaigns.
Do I target my exact buyer with account-based marketing or do I go after the larger audience in the hope that my end buyer finds me?
It may seem like an easy solution to publish content that generates demands and leads (ideally). But the best search marketing campaigns aren’t built off blindly waving your hands and hoping for the best.
They are built on deliberate, data driven decisions. Speaking of which – you can read this Directive post on the 25 Ways Data Science is Changing B2B Marketing.
Roadmapping Your Buyer’s Journey
Publishing content without carefully researching where your end-customer is reading and converting is a great way to waste time and resources.
You not only need to create content and ads that cater to your end customer. You also need to place these assets on the right channels where your end customer is researching. This means knowing the difference between an entry level searcher in your demographic and a conversion-ready user. Each will be engaging with different content on different platforms. And you need to be able to reach both.
When it comes to successfully targeting different campaigns to different level users, the rule is always the same:
Segment, Segment, Segment.
The more you can target the unique offer of your campaigns to specific users, the more success you’ll see. You should be tailoring dedicated campaigns to generate demand, nurture mid-level leads, and convert bottom-funnel users. Each campaign is comprehensive and self contained to include its own:
- Psychological breakdown of value and offer (find the sweet spot between value and convenience for specific offer)
- Keyword research to target specific market segment (either broad level keyword for demand gen or long tail for lead gen)
- Unique content that targets specific pain points or questions
- Dedicated landing pages (if necessary) with focused CTA for the specific market segment
Where your user is in the buyer’s journey will determine how aggressively you market your services. Early stage is for relationship building, late stage is for closing and collecting contact info.
It’s key you know at what point to make the leap from demand gen to lead gen. For the most granular picture of your buyer’s journey, integrating your marketing and sales data may be your best bet.
Integrating B2B Marketing & B2B Sales
In B2B, marketing and sales can often become blurred into one larger digital marketing strategy. Marketing works to fill the pipeline with conversions for the sales team. Sales works to provide Marketing with real time feedback on how their content is nurturing/engaging leads.
For instance, at Directive Consulting, we recently niched our business towards B2B. After our rebrand and relaunch, however, we noticed that the majority of our readers weren’t engaging with out content and ads. This confused us, as we were used to seeing strong engagement from our guest posts on Moz and other digital marketing thought leader sites.
What we didn’t realize is that B2B executive aren’t reading Moz and Wordstream. These are blogs that fellow digital marketers read to better their own skillset. We were creating content and promoting it (spending hours and money) just for our competitors!
It wasn’t until our Sales team noticed that the leads we were converting from these campaigns were unqualified, non B2B, digital marketers that we corrected. Now the content we created was targeting the actual accounts we were chasing. Our posts went from looking like Moz SEO Guides to this:
Creating content and campaigns about your end customers, for your end customers, and promoting it to your end customers. That is how you directly engage with your ideal audience. Integrating your marketing and sales teams towards an Account Based approach should streamline your entire team towards the right goals. Consistent and data-driven communication between Marketing and Sales is a MUST in B2B.
Now that you know the need for target your campaigns to unique points in the buyer’s journey, let’s see how to do it.
Top of Funnel: Building Brand Awareness
Campaigns that focus on the top of your funnel usually fall under demand generation. These campaigns usually target users who are recently beginning their research into a pain point or problem.
Beyond the psychological intent behind beginner level searchers, it’s also important to identify where they are reading. For example, at Directive Consulting most of our top-funnel content consists of guest posting. This isn’t just guest blogging for link building’s sake. We actually target industry leading thought leader blogs to post authoritative content.
We focus our top-funnel campaigns on high-volume, broad primary keywords like “B2B Marketing.” This way we can target any of the entry level search queries who have yet to dive into the long-tail. Amassing as much market share as you can for these early stage queries is a great way to generate demand. The more your brand pops up, the more your user will associate it with the solution.
When it comes to B2B, often times you need to educate your users on the actual need for your service. You actually have to generate the initial demand for your supply from scratch. For this reason, you need to be careful with what copy you use. You don’t want to push jargon-heavy content or ads towards early stage users. The high-friction level will just bounce them off without interest.
Case in point: we ran into this same issue ourselves. While trying to generate demand for our Comprehensive Search Model, “Share of SERP,” we noticed we were targeting the wrong end of the funnel. Most entry level users don’t know that “SERP” stands for Search Engine Results Page. We changed our copy to look like the screenshot above.
Be wary of bouncing earlier users away by focusing too much of your language on the end conversion. It may seem like a great way to target late-stage buyers and market your expertise.
But awesome content doesn’t always have to be expert content.
Middle Funnel: Educating On the What & the Why
The middle of your funnel is where demand gen crosses over into lead gen. This is where you’ll see strategies like lead nurturing and drip cadences. Psychologically, users in the middle of your funnel are already aware of their need for your service. Ideally, they’ll already be aware of your brand as well.
Your job here is to convey the value of your unique branded service/solution. And this is where B2B lead gen gets tough. Nurturing leads today has become a balanced dance between clever marketing and value-driven sales.
The golden rule of lead nurturing sums it up well:
Help, don’t sell.
For middle stage users, you need to convince them that you/your company are the most helpful solution. Not the best, or the the highest ranked, or the most expensive – the most helpful. The more delightful and personalized the experience, the more inclined your user will be to convert. For help with lead nurturing you can check out Pardot’s infographic below for a step-by-step guide.
It’s important to keep in mind that this is where most B2B campaigns see the largest time discrepancy. It may be the case that you first interact with your user right when they sign a new 6 month contract. That’s okay.
This means you have 6 whole months to nurture that lead until they are ready to sign with a new agency. At that point – your name should be at the top of their list. As I said at the beginning of this post, B2B marketing takes time. And playing by the rules of the elongated sales cycle is necessary to build your brand and naturally fill your pipeline.
Bottom Funnel: Distinguishing Brand Value
Pipeline marketing is a big buzz word in the B2B space. But the truth is that pipeline marketing only really refers to lead gen campaigns that focus on the middle and bottom of your funnel. So, regardless of which cylindrical metaphor you choose, the bottom is going to look the same.
The bottom of your funnel is where your most qualified users will be lurking. These are searchers who have interacted with your site before, whether ads or content, and have returned for more information. Ideally, they will have been touched at least through one, intentional market interaction by this point.
This is where your full-blown lead gen campaigns kick in. Here you will see things like gated content and form fill outs. Explicit CTAs that encourage conversion and focus the on-page experience towards a single goal tend to perform best here. Emphasize conversion in the experience more than helpful insights. At this point you are less worried about nurturing and educating your users and more worried about getting their contact info in hopes that your sales reps can get ahold of them.
It’s time to close. Which means whatever you are offering in this late-stage interaction needs to be top-notch. If you are looking to convert a user, the asset you are leveraging must match the amount of personal information they have to give you.
Finding the right balance between your form submission field and the actual piece of gated content is the key to converting leads en masse.
Tracking Long Term Growth & Daily Inputs
While you should be targeting each stage of the buyer’s journey with unique and dedicated campaigns, that doesn’t mean they are isolated to themselves. Your campaigns should feed into one another to naturally transition your user from one stage to the next.
The more point-by-point you can map out this journey – the better you’ll be able to optimize your site for the ideal behaviors.
All in all you should be setting monthly and quarterly goals the reflect your segmentations, respectively. Splitting these long term goals into smaller segments will make task management easier.
You’ll have a better sense of what daily inputs are feeding into your long term growth goals. This way, you can allocate your time and resources to expand on the features of your campaigns that are working best. Or you can re-allocate resources to stages that may need more attention.
The more granular your tracking and the more segmented your campaigns, the more valuable your insights will be. And the more efficient your optimization strategies will become.
Takeaways: Know Where You Are & What to Ask For
Every user works his or her way through the search engines with an individual intent and individual needs. Especially if you are new to the B2B space, not every user is going to know who you are or what you offer.
It’s vital that you can build the initial demand and awareness for your brand. But its also necessary that you craft campaigns to capitalize on the demand you generate.
The better you can whittle down the targets of your campaigns (regardless of which stage), the better they’ll perform.
Educating, qualifying, and converting the right leads in your target audience all starts with three simple questions: “Who are you looking for?” “Where are they researching” and “What do they want?” Answer these questions – and you’ll know the exact who, what, when, and where of your campaigns.