By Abby Sorensen, Chief Editor
It’s old news that B2B content should be written for the people you want to read it. This is one of those content marketing concepts that agrees with the “When you are tired of saying it, people are starting to hear it” adage made famous by LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner.
Content marketers enjoy throwing around words like “targeted” and “personalized” to describe the stuff they send out into the world in hopes that their buyers will click/download/engage. But from a buyer’s point of view, so much of that same B2B content is better described as “salesy” and “unhelpful.” That’s why the phrase “Stop Selling. Start Helping.” is front and center on the Follow Your Buyer home page.
What does it mean to create helpful B2B content? It means you need to write about your buyers’ problems and challenges, and not about the features of your products and the advantages of your services. This is not another article about why your content needs to be “targeted” and “personalized.” This is an article about how you can ensure content is truly buyer-centric.
The Follow Your Buyer methodology is built on the belief that your content should be for someone, not for everyone. Here’s the process to follow that guideline:
- Step 1: Don’t assume you know your customers as well as you think you do.
- Step 2: Map out your “someone” using a market > company > persona framework. That is the first stage – IDENTIFY – of the Follow Your Buyer method, and it’s what we’ll focus on the most in this article.
- Step 3: Talk to your customers and conduct the proper research to validate your thinking.
Disclaimer: This is hard stuff (that’s why this article is longer than many other Follow Your Buyer articles). You can even argue that it’s a bit dry compared to our advice on other topics. But make no mistake: you will not be successful at content marketing unless you can accurately identify your buyers.
Step 1: How Well Do You Really Know Your Buyers?
Most B2B marketers know more about their products and services than they do about their buyers. The reverse needs to be true to follow your buyers. The authors of Selling To The C-Suite explain, “To truly focus on solutions means to solve problems. To talk about problems is to abandon the self-indulgence of promoting our products. This is not a comfortable place for most marketers.”
Writing for someone and not for everyone will take you out of your comfort zone. You may think you already know your buyer, but it’s likely that knowledge only relates to how your buyers use or benefit from your products and services.
You might be humbled to find out you don’t know your customers as well as you should. The process of getting to know your buyers will feel frustrating at times. And that’s OK. Because once you identify your buyer, you’ll be ahead of your competitors who are only creating unhelpful, salesy content.
You might also be surprised at how long it takes to identify your buyers. LinkedIn’s B2B Institute explains, “What generally happens is marketers -- and maybe salespeople -- get together in a room armed with some third-party data and create personas out of ‘thin data.’” You can use this “thin data,” but don’t expect it to result in content that is effective and personalized. This process cannot be knocked out in an hour-long lunch meeting. It will take multiple meetings with several stakeholders across the marketing, sales, and executive teams to learn what you truly need to know about your buyers.
Step 2: Find Your “Someone”
The “identify” stage of Follow Your Buyer is all about aligning the stakeholders you need to influence to meet company growth objectives. In plain English, the “identify” stage is where you “figure out who your buyer is.”
The first stage of the Follow Your Buyer methodology is to identify your buyer – that “someone” – by exploring growth opportunities based on market segments, then company types within each market segment, then personas within those company types.
Market segment identification is relatively easy. You should be able to describe why the market segment is important to the company’s growth objective. Additionally, you should know why it will be difficult to achieve growth in that market.
The same thought process applies to company types within each market segment you want to reach with your content. You should be able to describe the most important company types in each market segment and why it’s difficult to sell to those company types.
The final layer of identifying your buyer comes down to individual personas. Content should be tailored to both the level and function of each persona. For each persona in the buying group you want to influence you'll need to identify:
- Common job titles
- Seniority level
- Education level
- Primary job functions
None of the answers to these questions should be about your products/services. This exercise is all about your buyer.
Those are just some of the questions that will help you identify your buyers’ demographic information, attitudes/beliefs/challenges, and perception influencers. Identifying this information will start you on the path of developing and distributing content to each persona you need to influence.
Here are a few examples of what the market > company > persona framework can look like for various suppliers:
- Supplier 1: A data security software company. Buyer Market = IT channel > Buyer Company = managed services providers (MSPs) specializing in the healthcare vertical > Buyer Persona = VP of Technical Services
- Supplier 2: A contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO). Buyer Market = Pharmaceutical industry > Buyer Company = Pharmaceutical company specializing in small molecule oncology drug development > Buyer Persona = SVP of Drug Development
- Suppler 3: A compressed air systems distributor. Buyer Market = Wastewater treatment > Buyer Company = Municipalities > Buyer Persona = Plant Manager
Step 3: Validate Your Thinking
Putting this information down on paper isn’t an exercise for the faint of heart. There will be questions that you don’t know the answers to. It’ll take several hours to roll up your sleeves and get these answers, and you’ll need multiple people from multiple teams to help. Finding those answers is table stakes for marketers who want their content to truly help their buyers.
Your front line, customer-facing coworkers shouldn’t be the only people giving input to identify your buyers. Sure, as a marketer, you can sync up with your sales, product, engineering, or support team to get their opinions on customer challenges. But the best way to get that information is to hear from your customers, either through your interactions or from professional third-party market research.
Marketers can champion customer advisory boards, tag along with field sales reps, listen to customer service calls, and spend time at trade shows doing something other than checking email in the back of the booth. Talk to your buyers to validate and update the personas you’ve identified. Then evaluate all current and future content based on those findings.
This third step is never the end. It’s a continuous effort to identify your buyers. Changing marketing dynamics, changing company goals, and changing buyer preferences make identifying buyers a moving target.
Bonus Reading: How Follow Your Buyer Identified Our “Buyers”
Here at Follow Your Buyer, we like examples and metaphors and analogies. So we’re going to use you – someone reading this article – as a stand-in for our “buyer.” This is a real-life example of how we use this framework to make sure Follow Your Buyer content is for someone, not for everyone.
Step 1: How Well Do You Really Know Your Buyers?
Follow Your Buyer’s parent company has been a B2B publisher for nearly four decades, which makes it easy to assume we know a lot about B2B marketers. For example, our vertically focused publications serve marketers targeting specific industries. But Follow Your Buyer isn’t an industry-specific marketing publication, so we don’t want to rely on thin data to guess what these marketers need help with. That’s why we spent several weeks working through the exercise to identify our “buyers” before we created even a single piece of content.
Step 2: Find Your “Someone”
Writing for “everyone” would mean Follow Your Buyer creates content for marketers. But this content really isn’t for all marketers. For starters, our concepts aren’t the best fit for B2C marketers. And when it comes to B2B marketing, there are some types of companies that can benefit more from this methodology than others (such as companies with long, complex sales cycles in markets like clinical research, pharmaceutical outsourcing, wastewater treatment, electronics, and some sectors of IT).
And that’s just the “company” part of the framework. Now let’s imagine you’re a marketer at a B2B company in a market with long, complex sales cycles. What a CMO cares about is different than what a director-level title cares about, so we need to create content for each of those functions. We also need to create content for people who influence how marketers operate and how marketers are evaluated (such as sales leaders and other C-level executives). Instead of creating content generally for “B2B marketers,” this process helped us identify nearly a dozen different personas we think our content can help. Here’s just one example of what this step looks like for Follow Your Buyer:
- Supplier: A content marketing publication. Buyer Market = Life sciences > Buyer Company = A contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) > Buyer Persona = VP of Marketing
Step 3: Validate Your Thinking.
You can only glean so much from things like newsletter open rates. And while our “vanity metrics” are trending in the right direction, we still need to hear candid feedback from our “buyers” – the B2B marketers who read our content. This mostly happens over the phone, email, or LinkedIn messenger. We’re even building a Follow Your Buyer editorial board with a regular feedback loop from B2B marketing experts who help us develop content over time.