Here’s the thing: consumers don’t really want to talk to salespeople. In fact, according to a report by DemandGen, 90% of business buyers say when they’re ready to buy, they’ll find you.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should stop trying to reach your consumers. It just means that marketing and sales teams alike need to adjust their strategies. Consumers are no longer going to tolerate marketing messages that are forced onto them, and instead prefer to seek out information themselves. If marketers aren’t prepared for this growing trend and haven’t been producing readily-available content, their consumers are going to look elsewhere. Unfortunately, elsewhere normally means your competitors.
So how can your sales and marketing teams ensure that they’re catering to the preferences of their consumers? The answer is stage-based marketing.
What Is Stage-Based Marketing?
Stage-based marketing caters to your company’s sales cycle, helping to move prospects from the early stages of the sales cycle to the later stages as they go through the research process. Recent research by Mathew Sweezey, Marketing Evangelist at Pardot, highlights the growing importance of stage-based marketing by dissecting the consumer research process (you can learn more about Sweezey’s research in his upcoming webinar, The State of Demand Generation 2013).
According to Sweezey’s study, 96% of B2B consumers start their research on Google. 76% then indicate that they return to Google two to three times to continue their research, each time searching for more specific information. This pattern mirrors the stages of the sales cycle, which become more targeted as consumers begin searching for more specific solutions to fit their needs. And as consumers progress through the sales funnel, they also seek out different types of content. The State of Demand Generation study found that 77% of consumers want different content at each stage of their research.
77% is a whopping number, and a statistic that B2B marketers can’t afford to ignore. Offering different content at each stage of the sales cycle is the foundation of stage-based marketing, and one that’s relatively easy to execute with a solution that offers lead nurturing and email marketing capabilities, like marketing automation. Using lead nurturing, marketers can “drip” marketing content to prospects over time, track their responses, and adjust the next round of content accordingly. Messages can be spaced according to consumer preferences, and delivered at exactly the right time.
If you’re interested in trying out a stage-based marketing strategy, you need to make sure that the content you’re providing is appropriate for each stage of the sales cycle. Here are a few rules of thumb (keep in mind that your approach to stage-based marketing will vary depending on the length of your sales cycle):
Top of the Funnel
For prospects who are at the top of the sales funnel, content should be light, educational, and product-neutral. Think white papers (like “6 Ways to Get More out of Social Marketing” or “Your Guide to Effective Email Marketing” — content that’s focused on industry-relevant topics, not your product), blog posts, and videos. Top of the funnel content should not be intrusive, and should serve as more of an introduction to your industry than your brand. Often, prospects in this stage don’t even know that they have a fixable problem, so identifying this problem should be one of the main focuses of your content.
Middle of the Funnel
As prospects move through the funnel, your content can get a little more specific. Send out case studies that are relevant to your prospects (perhaps they struggled with the same pain points, or have a similar product as one of your clients), and content focused on ROI, like ROI calculators or white papers focused on reporting. You want to get your prospects thinking about the advantages of having your product, as well as the disadvantages of not having it.
Bottom of the Funnel
If your prospect has made it all the way to the bottom of the funnel, then you should be focusing on selling them your product. At this point, they’re probably sold on your industry and are just deciding between vendors, which means that you need to feed them content that creates urgency. Consider sending them an up-to-date buyer’s guide, or a white paper that details what implementation might look like and how they can prepare.
Using a stage-based marketing approach ensures that your marketing is as consumer-friendly as possible, while also making sure that your consumers are already educated when the time comes for them to enter the sales cycle and seek out a sales rep. By making the buying process easier for consumers, you’re making it easier for yourself, too.
Want a more in-depth look at the lifecycle of b2b nurturing campaigns? Check out our Lifecycle of B2B Nurturing Campaigns flowchart to see how lead nurturing can be used to move prospects through the sales cycle.