Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer
You might know me as a writer, coach, content marketer, dog lover, editor, golfer, sales strategist, Diet Coke enthusiast, speaker, Allegheny alum, project manager, feminist, networker, or St. Louis Cardinals fan.
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When Follow Your Buyer started writing content about content marketing, one of the first pieces of content published on the site was about deciding what topics to write content about.
That sentence is hard to read, right? Right.
Instead, it could say, “Choosing content topics is a top challenge for B2B marketers, and that’s why Follow your Buyer made it a priority to publish advice on that subject.” The opening sentence is an example of making something harder than it needs to be – and that’s exactly what many marketers do when creating a content roadmap.
Marketers typically go one of two ways when brainstorming topics to include in a content creation roadmap.
The outcome is the same in either case: B2B marketers invest a lot of time and dollars into creating content that doesn’t move the needle on engaging your target buyers. And many B2B marketers set their content strategy without talking to – let alone understanding – what their buyers need and want from that content.
A lot of content gets thrown against the wall, and none of it sticks. But what if you could know what content sticks, and know it in advance of creating your next blog post or white paper? Then you could cook up a lot of the right content recipe before making a mess of your marketing strategy.
This is possible if you invest in upfront buyer-centric research to guide your content strategy.
Maybe you have the best writers, the smartest SMEs, the biggest budget, and a killer content distribution strategy. None of that matters unless you create content that is actually helpful to your buyers. And the only way to know if the content you create will be actually helpful to your buyers is if you go straight to the source and ask them. One of the best ways to understand your buyers is through market research.
No, we’re not talking about asking your sales team to vote on what content topics would help them sell more products and services. No, this doesn’t mean “researching” using the Google search bar. And no, please don’t create something in SurveyMonkey or Google Forms, blast it out to your current and prospective buyers, and allow that “research” to guide your content strategy.
Some B2B marketers might be familiar with professional research that entails buying a PDF packed with data that overlooks the entire market. While marketing research can encompass broad, off-the-shelf reports, more B2B marketers are using custom market research to understand the behaviors and preferences of their buyers.
Marketers have been loosely doing “research” for decades to understand their buyers. We’re not suggesting that you stop talking to your buyers (quite the opposite actually – we think marketers should have a regular communication cadence with buyers).
But your buyers – even if they are current customers – are guarded with what they will tell suppliers. The same buyer who tells you “Everything is great, we love working with you!” might already be halfway through a buyer’s journey that will result in jumping ship to your competitor (more on the topic of never-ending buyer’s journeys is covered in “Thinking Beyond Net-New Leads: Part 2”)
When you ask your buyers for feedback, it automatically puts them in an unfair position. If they answer honestly and say that your content doesn’t resonate with them, then it opens a can of worms for more uncomfortable questions. If they answer honestly and say your content is excellent, then you walk away from the conversation with little value. And if they do provide feedback on their challenges, it can be hard for B2B marketers to synthesize that feedback and compare it across multiple data points.
Market research conducted by a trusted third-party can be anonymized so that you get the most honest, actionable feedback from your buyers. Custom research is statistically significant, scientifically valid, has its own set of rules to ensure the feedback you receive is accurate and can be replicated over time to track your progress. This can’t be done on your own using a free version of a survey tool.
When done right, third-party custom research will ask specific questions, have the right context, and are formatted in a way that will give you accurate data to analyze. These questions should be asked to a large, diverse sample size of the right titles at the right companies (not just from the current customers you’re able to get to answer an email).
The result of a professionally conducted custom research survey can provide you with a compelling, data-driven answer to the question, “What should we write about?” Knowing the answer to that question will have an enormous and lasting impact on your ability to engage buyers with your content.
We will not be great by what we accomplish, but by what we help others accomplish.How does this apply to your work as a B2B marketer?
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Learning to follow your buyer is a change in mindset
A transition from selling buyers on what you do to helping them accomplish what they do.