“Timing is everything” may be a well-worn cliché, but it’s more relevant than ever when it comes to B2B demand generation. If you’re delivering one type of content at a time when the buyer is looking for another, you’re creating a disconnection rather than nurturing a relevant dialogue. So, it’s important to make sure the content you’re sending matches what buyers are looking for at a particular phase of their relationship with you.
This means moving away from static, simplistic “batch and blast” segmentation. To maximize the power of personalization, marketers must factor behavior into the equation, going beyond chopping up lists based solely on demographics such as industry vertical or BANT (budget, authority, need, timeframe) data.
Taking the Stage
One strategy for creating a successful nurturing program is to segment campaigns by stage of the buying cycle. In other words, specifically tuning different email messages and download offers based on both explicit and implicit indicators of where a buyer is in his or her current buying cycle.
Clearly buyers interact with different channels and content in different ways throughout the cycle.
For example, to help initially qualify leads that come in through its Web site, Ingres, the leading open source database management company, launched an automated “triple-touch” campaign to help weed out unqualified leads early. Based on their lead score after responding to a trio of emails and surveys, prospects either remain in Ingres’ 18-step nurture campaign for further qualification or are synched to Salesforce.com as a qualified lead. By implementing this campaign Ingres can gauge real interest early on.
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Clearly buyers interact with different channels and content in different ways throughout the cycle. So, to dialogue more effectively, you’ll need to converse with them in a way that reflects this. Given that the buying cycle can vary by industry, company and customer, it’s no easy task. According to a Silverpop survey of B2B marketers, “reaching the right prospect at the right time” is the biggest challenge B2B marketers face.
Different Messages, Different Channels, Different Times
Fortunately, trends have emerged regarding communication channel use that can help you develop relevant, timely campaigns. At the initial acknowledgement phase, when buyers know they need to buy something but are still “on the fence,” inbound and social media are the most popular channels—with thought capital the content that resonates most strongly. Given that buyers spend much of their time in this phase, it should be a key area of focus.
As prospects move into the middle stage of the buying process, where they are actively seeking more information, email and outbound channels are most important. With the recent shift in the B2B buying process, salespeople are increasingly focused on interacting with prospects at the investigation stage or later. Here’s a brief breakdown of how messaging might change throughout the buying cycle:
- During the early stages, when buyers are acknowledging the problem or need and finally making the decision to solve it, best practices content such as white papers, newsletters and Webinars are most engaging.
- In the middle stages, when prospects are deciding on selection criteria, product- or service-focused content such as data sheets and video clips will resonate most strongly.
- At the later stages, when buyers are creating specific requirements and searching for the product that meets them, pricing and feature comparisons, customer testimonials and deep-dive demos will engage them.
Beyond the general trends listed above, you’ll also want to do research regarding the specific path your buyers follow in assessing the potential purchase of your product—known as the “dialogue path” or “critical path.” Use this information to fine-tune your nurturing program.
Building Real Dialogues
By segmenting your messaging by stage of the buying cycle, you can really kick up your dialogue with prospects. For example, you might do a weekly pull of all prospects who have downloaded a particular white paper from your website that’s commonly read at a certain stage of the buying process, and then send a targeted email to that list with messaging and additional download offers aligned to that stage.
A week later, you might follow that up with another email designed to introduce information aligned to the next stage in their buying cycle. Finally, you might measure click-through and downloads from that second email as an indicator of whether the buyer has, in fact, moved to that next stage or not.
Success with segmenting by buying cycle thus requires two levels of insights. The first is understanding the specific types of information consumed at different stages of the buying process. Segmenting against the buying cycle means not only delivering up the right content per buying stage, but also using content clues—e.g., content being consumed — to categorize buyers’ current buying stage. The second is understanding which stages and content types align with specific information channels, such as email, the Web or social, and which behaviors prospects use as they shift into the next phase so that you can time your content and automation accurately.
Buyers today are more knowledgeable, more connected and have more options than at any time in history. In this new age of buyer-centric marketing, creative content must be responsive, connecting with prospects on their terms—when and how they want to dialogue. Only then will you engage buyers and build a strong dialogue that increases conversions and ROI.