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Right people, wrong message: What B2B buyers really want from marketers

Henry Clifford Jones, director of marketing - UK, DE and ES at LinkedIn, explores the transformed relationship between buyers, marketers and salespeople

Over recent years, a revolution has taken place in B2B marketing. Technology and social platforms have redefined the way marketers go about engaging and influencing potential customers. At the same time, they’ve created new ways for buyers to research purchases and educate themselves about the options available to them. They have come to expect relevant content on their own terms, and in their own time.

In short, digital has torn down the walls between vendors and their target audiences and created a new kind of buying journey – a more collaborative one, to be sure, but also a more complex and a ‘many-to-many’ process.

And thank goodness. Some of us remember the dark days of blanket direct mail-shots going out in the post, and don’t wish to see a return to them. It was unproductive, inefficient and - usually - incredibly ineffective.

But whether it’s a new phone system, an upgraded fleet or a branding tender, the received wisdom is that customers are much further through the sales process today by the time they make contact. And this may be leading marketers astray when it comes to the kind of material they provide. They may not be as deft as they think at providing authentic, original content that customers find genuinely useful.

At LinkedIn, we recently undertook a study to explore this transformed relationship, not just between buyers and marketers, but also salespeople. It has uncovered the ways the relationships between each of the three points in this triangle have shifted, and highlights this content misalignment.

Stronger, together

The great news is that buyers rate their relationship with vendors as better than ever. Well over 80 per cent of buyers said the relationship with their vendors is good or very good. The years spent refocusing the marketing industry on customers and their needs have clearly paid off, and this encouraging figure points to a productive partnership. Reinforcing this view; buyers say vendors have achieved this by building trust, developing personal relationships and acting responsively.

This last factor points to a challenging world for marketers, one where they must adopt an ‘always on’ approach to meet the needs of customers any time, anywhere.

Knowledge still equals influence

More encouraging is the news that buyers still seek and highly value the knowledge marketers can impart and they want it as relevant to their individual needs as possible.

For example, the most important factor when it comes to a buyer’s willingness to engage with a vendor is that they really understand their business model – no surprise in a world where disruption is widespread. There just isn’t any one-size-fits-all approach to customers anymore. Marketers need to do their homework and really get under the skin of the organisation in order to personalise content.

Getting content right

When it comes to content marketing, marketers still have room to improve. The study found that the kind of content being served to potential customers wasn’t always what they were looking for. There was a misalignment between the kind of content B2B marketers thought people wanted and what they really valued.

For example, only 24 per cent of marketers thought technical product information is a useful tool in their arsenal, and just 18 per cent said the same of product demos. These may be old-fashioned kinds of content, but they are tried and tested and buyers rated the importance of both more highly. Despite being far along in the buying process, there is still a place for the kind of highly detailed information that buyers can’t always find themselves. A variety of content is needed to make a purchase decision.

How can marketers fine-tune this? In many cases, the research indicated that salespeople may be more closely aligned to the needs of buyers than their colleagues in marketing. B2B marketing today is a team game and the two functions must work in ever-greater harmony and share insights to achieve great things.

This may be problematic as the two groups have different ideas about lead-nurturing. Marketers - living on the front line of a multi-channel world - perceive it as a much broader term than their colleagues in sales do. This may explain why salespeople still do not believe marketers produce enough quality leads; they are looking at canvasses of different sizes.

The data points to ways to greater alignment between marketing and sales. When sales teams are equipped with lead nurturing technology themselves, they are 51 per cent more likely to say that their relationship with marketing is improving - a huge opportunity.

Marketers have a massive content production job to do, being responsible for generating everything from case studies (again, not as important as buyers suggest) to innovative thought leadership and client testimonials. There is no let up in the range of content they need to provide.

But buyers really do value this variety when it comes to making the all-important purchase decision. The critical factor is ensuring that the marketing message remains present in all forms of content, supporting the journey through the entire funnel.