This year has disrupted the economy and changed the way we work on a global scale. While much of this change is negative and the long-term consequences are yet to be fully understood, it has also introduced many new opportunities for businesses and marketers.
Within the space of weeks, many organizations were forced to adapt, shifting from a traditional sales strategy including brick-and-mortar stores and meeting customers face-to-face to running their businesses completely online.
Every department in these organizations has had to change without any prior warning or planning.
Pre-2020, digital transformation preparation advice involved looking at the long-term evolution of corporate culture and incorporating advanced technologies. All this planning would take a lot of time and money – it was predicted that in 2022, businesses would spend almost $2 trillion on digital transformation.
And yet, when the coronavirus crisis hit, many of the same organizations that were planning a long-term digital transformation strategy adapted practically overnight through sheer necessity.
- The pandemic has forced global businesses in all sectors to undergo a rapid digital transformation.
- Most marketers already have the experience of adapting quickly to new technologies and changing conditions. They can lead the entire organization by example.
- The changes in buyer behavior due to the shift to digital mean that marketing has overtaken sales in importance.
- As more customer interactions take place online, it’s possible to collect more data and use it to prove the value of content marketing.
Welcome to the Digital Marketing Renaissance
In the early days of digital transformation, many organizations looked to their marketing department for a model of how to adapt.
Marketers have been at the forefront of digital transformation for several years now. They know how to adjust to ever-changing technology and fine-tune strategies.
Just as organizations had to adapt or die in the time of COVID-19, marketers have had to learn to constantly evolve and adjust their strategy or be left in the dust.
Traditionally, the sales department was thought to be more important to the running of a business than the marketing team. After all, sales drives revenue directly into the business – their value is clearly recognizable and measurable.
For too long, marketers have been thought of as an optional extra, designing glossy flyers and polishing the company website while the sales team did the real work.
Of course, this is far from the truth, and the coronavirus pandemic has made this obvious to any company that under-appreciated the efforts of their marketing team.
According to research from McKinsey & Company, almost 90% of B2B sales have now moved to a web sales or videoconferencing model, and most organizations consider digital interactions to be two to three times more important than traditional sales interactions.
Understanding Buyer Behavior Post-COVID
Buyers are spending more time online than ever before. This has led to a shift in customer behaviors.
More buyers are searching online for the information they need to make decisions, rather than passively waiting for this information to be fed to them via a sales team.
This shift has been happening gradually for a long time in the B2C world, but the change has been more abrupt in B2B sales.
According to a survey of US-based B2B professionals at the height of coronavirus lockdowns, almost half of B2B purchases were being made online – an increase of 38% since before the pandemic. Only 20% of respondents said they were still buying directly from sales reps, compared to 56% before the pandemic hit.
Marketing now has more control over the sales funnel than ever before. In-person events and conferences have been struck off the calendar indefinitely, and businesses are scrambling to rebuild their funnels to adapt to the new normal.
As face-to-face sales and marketing events are no longer on the cards, the focus has shifted further back to the start of the funnel, where we’re more in control.
A typical buyer moves through the standard sales funnel stages of awareness, interest, and consideration before they make their purchase. Traditionally B2B businesses would focus on the consideration and purchase stage of the funnel, persuading the buyer that their solution is better than other options and pushing the customer toward the sale.
But by shifting the focus of marketing toward the wider end of the funnel by informing buyers and building engagement, they’re more likely to lead themselves through the funnel, making purchase decisions based on the information they find through their own research.
This means content marketing is more important than ever before when it comes to sculpting your funnel for maximum sales.
Why Content Marketing is Critical in the New Buyer Funnel
As it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to take your buyers by the hand and lead them to the sale, you have to provide appropriate breadcrumbs so they can find their own way there.
Ensuring you publish high-quality, informative, and engaging content on a regular basis is the best way to educate your customers and help them to build a relationship with your brand, nurturing them gently through the buying funnel.
Customers are also increasingly showing a preference for self-service channels when making purchases. But this behavior shift does not mean you can leave them alone to get on with it.
Although customers are favoring self-service options, they still expect the feeling of personal attention that they would get from purchasing directly from a sales rep. Suppliers who provide outstanding customer experiences to their buyers are twice as likely to be chosen as a primary supplier than those that provide poor experiences.
There are many aspects to building outstanding customer experience. Ensuring your website is easy to navigate, transactions are smooth and error-free, and support is available when needed are all vital to a positive customer experience.
But equally important is ensuring that you’ve covered any gaps in knowledge that your customers may have when they’re still at the very first stages of their buying journey.
If you don’t answer these initial questions and prove yourself as a knowledgeable and trustworthy source of information when buyers are conducting their initial research, the chances of leaving them to another company that does supply this information are high.
A third of US B2B buyers concerned about the possibility of a recession in 2020 said they would need more quality and accurate information about what they were buying in order to help them get through a recession.
Luckily, this need is easily filled by publishing excellent content. Blog articles, e-books, white papers, social media posts, videos, podcasts, and any other kinds of content marketing are all effective ways of meeting your audience’s thirst for knowledge and ensuring they hang around in your funnel instead of jumping ship to your competitor’s.
How Data is Changing the Way We Calculate Marketing Value
The changing trends in buyer behavior have not gone unnoticed – over half of the large B2B businesses surveyed in the McKinsey study have increased or maintained their marketing budget since the coronavirus pandemic, despite high economic uncertainty.
However, measuring the ROI of digital marketing, particularly content marketing, has always been tricky
Website traffic may not necessarily directly correlate with sales. You can’t know with any certainty how the journey of an individual buyer will change after they read a piece of content on your website or download a white paper.
Content marketing is a long game. It’s vital to play it as such. A single piece of content is unlikely to directly lead to a sale and should not be treated in the same way as sales literature. Instead, marketers should focus on the long-term value of content for increasing customer engagement and retention and improving the customer experience overall.
With the increasing shift toward customer interactions becoming digital, we’re able to track a lot more information about lifetime customer behavior. This data is the key to measuring the long-term value of content marketing and proving what marketers have known for many years but have been unable to adequately demonstrate in the face of sales teams armed with their CRM.
Big data analytics now enables marketers to predict the likely behavior of a customer based on their interactions and the past behavior of other customers.
Marketing teams can now track the entire buying journey based on a digital trail of concrete actions, and measure the value of marketing activities accordingly.
Why Sales and Marketing Collaboration is More Important than Ever Before
I’ve talked before about the power of getting your sales and marketing teams in perfect alignment.
In the COVID-19 new normal, achieving this balance is more important than ever before if you’re going to win over new customers and keep them coming back for more.
Despite the growing importance of marketing, sales is not dead – far from it. In fact, information from the aforementioned McKinsey survey shows that sales teams still have a vital part to play, although their daily activities may look different from before.
Rather than attending conferences and meeting with clients, sales teams are now conducting teleconferencing seminars and engaging in online chat with potential customers.
These online activities give us even more opportunities to collect valuable data about buyers. This, in turn, can be fed back to the marketing team so they can fine-tune their strategy and produce better content.
While even B2B customers prefer self-service transactions in today’s world, it’s unlikely that a B2B buyer will commit a large significant financial investment without talking to a member of your sales team.
And when they do, it’s important that their buyer journey thus far has been full of positive experiences, provided in no small part by the marketing team.
It’s no longer a case of whether sales or marketing is more important (not that it ever was). Both departments must work together to collect critical customer data and use it in unison to build excellent customer experiences.
How Outsourcing Your Content Marketing Can Improve Your Bottom Line
Most organizations are not experts in content marketing. While they may be experts in their field and capable of producing excellent and informative content, successful content marketing is more than just publishing good content.
These days it’s vital to track the success of various content marketing campaigns so you can figure out what’s working and do more of it.
This not only means you can optimize and improve your overall marketing strategy over time, but it also ensures that all your content marketing activities are measurable so you can calculate ROI and demonstrate their value.
Outsourcing to a content marketing agency like Marketing Insider Group means you’ll benefit from the specialist experience and knowledge of a group of marketers that understand how to collect the necessary data and use it to measure results.
It’s often difficult for even large organizations to produce the volume of high-quality content that’s necessary to start seeing content marketing success, let alone understand how to make sense of the data.
Employing full-time content producers, marketers, and data analysts can be a costly endeavor – one that eats into the potential profits of every piece of content. Instead, outsourcing to a content marketing agency means you can benefit from economies of scale, the latest data technologies, and up-to-the-minute knowledge of trends and changes in customer behavior.
This changes your content marketing activities from a drain on your resources to an outsourced service with measurable ROI at lower costs and no risk.
If you’re ready to get increase your reach with quality content published consistently, check out our Content Builder Service. Or, set up a quick consultation, and I’ll send you a free PDF version of my books. Get started today–and generate more traffic and leads for your business!