Every year, one of my ITSMA colleagues asks me “Why don’t we have a chart like this?” The chart he is talking about shows which marketing delivery vehicles to use at each stage of the buying process.
Every year, I tell him, “Because when I do the research with buyers of services and solutions, I don’t see any difference in the data for marketing vehicles by buying process stage.” (Note: Since 1999 I have done an annual major research project on how customers choose services and solutions providers.)
My colleague is persistent. He really wants one of these cool buyer stage charts! So I‘ve asked the question a number of different ways. Still, no change.
Then I thought, if there’s no difference by marketing vehicle (e.g., white papers, podcasts, videos, cases studies), maybe I need to ask about sources of information (e.g., peers, vendor websites, sales meetings, analyst events) to get more interesting results. I asked, but still nothing.
Not wanting to disappoint my colleague yet again, I had an epiphany. If the delivery vehicle and source of information don’t vary by buying stage, maybe the kind of content, or the type of information marketers should use is different across buying process stages.
ITSMA did a global study in the fall of 2011 with 465 buyers of technology-based solutions (purchasing solutions that cost $500,000 or more).
So much for my divine insight: We saw very little difference in buyer preference for delivery formats, sources of information, or types of content as they moved through the buying process.
HOWEVER, when we analyzed the data by Traditional Buyers (those who do not use social media during the purchase process) and B2B Social Buyers we found that the traditional buyers’ needs for type of information did, in fact, change as they progressed through the buying process. On the other hand, the B2B social buyers’ needs for different types of information remained virtually constant from one stage of the buying process to the next. (click on chart to make larger)
In summary, we found:
- Traditional Buyers have different needs for types of information as they progress through the buying process. As they get closer to making a purchase decision they focus more on product/offering feature comparisons, pricing, SLAs, and contract terms and conditions.
- B2B Social Buyers needs for information do not change as they progress through the buying process. They want nearly the same stuff in all stages of the buying process, notably industry/technology research, data, and analysis and online discussions.
Our conclusion: The buying process is becoming less linear. Just as there is no silver bullet delivery vehicle, there is no right or wrong content at different stages of the buying process.
Eric Wittlake said it best in a comment on his recent post: “The path a buyer takes will not match the marketer’s vision, but hopefully the idea of the buyer’s journey helps marketers to develop an understanding of the range of information they need to provide.”
The important thing for marketers is to make sure there are no gaps in the content strategy. There has to be content to support buyers at every stage of the buying process, and that content must help “propel” them to the next stage. And of course, the content needs to be packaged in a myriad of formats since every person has their own preferred delivery vehicles to consume content.
I think I finally made my colleague happy!