For years, B2B marketers have been worried about competitors' products and solutions. They spent a considerable amount of effort trying to differentiate their features and prove their offering is better than another company's version of something similar.
As technology continues to shorten product time-to-market and allow for rapid updates and improvements, it's also enabled marketers to become publishers, applying even more pressure to move faster to produce more information than competing vendors. Online publishing is the new version of one-upping. (Competitor A just published a cool infographic, we need one, too!)
The issue is that not much has changed in the way messaging is designed. Just today, I saw a template for a client to complete that was based on the premise of a persona message map. However, the columns requested information all about the products, unique product value proposition and product differentiators. Although there was an attempt to align these messages with the persona's goal, it was so high-level that the only real choice left is to talk about the products rather than what the persona really wants and needs.
Due to the ease of accessing information online, a big part of what's changed in the buying process are your customers' expectations about the experience they'll have along the way.
Because buyers can self-educate rapidly and much easier than the were able to in the past, they know more. In return for this education, they've raised the bar. They expect to continue to receive value each step along the way. And they expect it on their terms.
This is a big adjustment for marketers who are used to working on internal timelines and still believe they control the information flow. Or that what they want to say is what buyers want to hear.
What's important to note is that all this technology evolution and speed to market has also increased the complexity of solving problems. It's just not as simple as buying a product anymore. Education is the resulting mainstay. It will always be needed. Expertise is necessary beyond the product to help deliver on the promise made. Preparing for the future is no longer a next step down the road, it's an ongoing effort that needs to be incorporated as part of every purchase decision.
What marketers choose to publish online can no longer be "good enough" content. Instead, content has to play an integral role in facilitating the buyer's experience. And that's not best served by feeds-and-speeds content.
You know this, but it bears repeating: according to Selling Power, “Today, up to 70% of a customer’s buying decision is now made based on information he or she finds online well before a salesperson has a chance to get involved.”
What Buyers Expect:
- Educational information. 23% say there's not enough - IDG Connect
- Expertise. 48% said if the quality of thought leadership improved, it would influence their purchase decision - ITSMA and PAC
- Relevance. 39% say this key element is missing - IDG Connect
- Consistent Value. 43% of marketers say customers view their content as disjointed or hit and miss - Forrester Research
I read a lot of research that delves into the opinions and thoughts of B2B buyers. Not once have I ever read a statistic saying that they want more product or solution information.
What buyers are saying is that their expectations have changed. Their online behavior and engagement levels are barometers reflective of the experience provided to them by your content, web properties and social media dialogues.
Let's face it. The only true differentiators left are your expertise and the experience your company provides to help buyers achieve their goals. If it was just about products, it would be a hat toss.
You're no longer competing against the vendor with a similar product down the street. It's the ability to exceed buyer expectations and provide a valuable buying experience that will determine the winner when the time comes to make a purchase decision.