By STEVE WILLIAMS

Co-Founder / Chief Creative Officer

Feb 15, 2020

How to Build B2B Relationships using Content Marketing

Having a digital presence that can support your sales teams and serve as a 24/7 resource for your buyers is fast becoming a requirement for B2B/Industrial marketing.

One of the most effective, and cost efficient forms of lead generation for manufacturing marketers is Content Marketing. Content Marketing allows you to proactively provide your buyers with the information they are actively seeking allowing you to begin developing a relationship before the, often lengthy, process of actively selling has even begun.

Content Marketing vs. Sales Content

Materials science companies have a unique challenge when designing their marketing strategies. Their target audiences are often made up of purchasing managers who have an educational background in chemistry or biology or another science-based field and are looking to understand the physical and chemical properties of a material as well as confirming that it meets the requirements specifications. The depth and breadth of the information these buyers are seeking is frequently too great to be communicated through more traditional advertising and marketing practices. As they go through the requirements gathering process and begin to build their short list of vendors, buyers are looking to gather information on potential solutions, often before they engage directly with sales. This is where Content Marketing can be a highly effective way to allow a buyer to engage with your brand, but on their terms.

Historically, sales in the B2B space were facilitated by the building and nurturing of relationships between people and grew over several months or even years. Nowadays, as the internet has become so ingrained in almost every aspect of our lives, both personal and professional, and automation seems to be driving so many of our daily activities, buyers prefer and expect to be able to learn about and even complete transactions on their own terms and without any human interaction. While this is more often the case in B2C purchases of personal products, people are bringing those expectations with them into the workplace. Building trust and establishing credibility is still critical to closing a deal but it frequently needs to begin before a prospect picks up the phone and calls you.

Content marketing serves to progress your buyers through the buying cycle without directly selling. It demonstrates where you have expertise and educates the audience on the topics that are of interest to them and where you already have credibility. It provides evidence of your deep knowledge across an entire field, not just your products, including your customer’s industry and the specific challenges (and opportunities) they face. Content Marketing is effective when it results in earning a potential buyer’s trust and loyalty before a transaction is completed.

Building a Relationship

When the deals are as big as they are in B2B transactions, buyers want to know that the companies they are purchasing from understand the buyer’s business and are experts in what they do. SLAs are complex and ongoing support is usually a pretty important component of the contract. Labor intensive implementations and employee training are often involved. In other words, these deals are rarely a one-and-done transaction but rather the beginning of a relationship and the quality of that relationship can be as important as the performance of your product. Content Marketing allows you to begin building the foundation of a sturdy and trust-based relationship long before the deal is done, even before any conversations occur.

The key to any good relationship is a mutual understanding of what the parties involved expect from each other. In B2B marketing, one very effective technique for understanding your customers is to develop profiles of different segments of your target audiences. These are called personas, and they include specifics about what sort of problems your customers might be facing that your company’s products or services could help solve. They don’t stop there, covering a diverse set of characteristics that help to provide great insight into how your different customers behave. Some of the most valuable pieces of information a persona contains are insights into how a customer researches solution providers and what information they actively seek out when doing this research. Armed with this information, you can create content that answers these questions and proactively provide it to them. This has the effect of building brand affinity and establishing your company as a source of relevant and credible information. When this happens at the onset of the relationship, before you have made any sort of sales pitch or asked for anything in return, the result is a solid foundation upon which you can build a long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationship.

Content Marketing vs. Brand Marketing

The days of B2B marketers ignoring branding are long gone. Professional B2B marketers have embraced the need for their company to develop strong brands that accurately reflect their portfolio of products and services and what the brand stands for. They understand the valuable role that brand plays in customer referrals and word of mouth. They have embraced the need to create emotional connections with buyers and build trust in order to maintain a loyal customer base. They have also recognized the power of a distinctive brand in differentiating themselves from the competition, even, or perhaps especially, in commodity marketplaces. And now they are beginning to realize how important Content Marketing is in building a recognizable and trusted brand.

When B2B buyers are evaluating potential partners, meeting requirements specifications are table stakes. All they do is get you a seat in the game. What gets you on to the next round and into the final consideration set is your reputation. Do you deliver on quality? Reliability? Support? Even better, are you a thought leader with the respect of your peers in the industry? If you have status as a source of unbiased, accurate and credible information that is relevant to buyers, you’ve got a significant head start on the competition. You’ve already developed some familiarity with customers and begun to communicate your knowledge and expertise, which are important factors in the value equation. On the other hand, if a potential customer is not familiar with your brand and a cursory bit of research turns up nothing about your company, or the information they do find is too self-serving and sales oriented, that may be sufficient reason to eliminate you from further consideration.

Brand Advocacy & Content Marketing

Of all the tactics marketers can deploy to engage with their customers and convince them that their product or service is superior to the competition, nothing is as powerful as a recommendation from a trusted and unbiased source. Word-of-mouth marketing has become its own discipline and even created sub-disciplines such as “influencer marketing,” “buzz marketing,” and “viral marketing.” While these approaches may be effective at creating awareness and interest, they rarely succeed at establishing brands as thought leaders or sources of deep expertise but using aspects of content marketing, B2B marketers can use a word-of-mouth strategy to drive advocacy. If a brand consistently publishes information that provides value to its customers and makes that information easy to share, word will spread. Prospects and customers will develop expectations around brands being sources of value, based on a steady stream of relevant and reliable content and if brands consistently meet or exceed those expectations customers will recommend those brands to peers and colleagues. As your base of brand advocates grows organically, the reach of your content, and your reputation as a thought leader, grows exponentially, driving interest and consideration, growing both the volume and quality of sales leads being generated.