Marketing Leadership

B2B Content, The Modern Buyer Journey, and Economic Headwinds: A Q&A With Marketing Leader Michael Schultz

The B2B buyer journey isn’t the only thing that has undergone a transformation over the last several years. Everything from economic conditions, the B2B technology landscape, and the amount of data companies have access to has made go-to-market teams reconsider how they conduct customer outreach and generate leads. I sat down with marketing leader Michael Schultz, who is no stranger to the changing tides of technology, to discuss the importance of B2B content in the modern buyer journey.

“A successful B2B content journey comes down to combining art and science: lead with a sense of the journey you want the buyer to take, and then leverage your data to find the best content that will fit into those touchpoints.”

Q: We’ll start with a big question: how does content fit into the buyer journey? 

The journey is about exploring and engaging with a company through their content, so I find it hard to separate the two: content is the buyer journey, and the buyer journey is content. In my opinion, B2B content plays two roles: first, it’s responsible for enabling the buyer to self-nurture; second, it’s critical to the sales touchpoint.

In both scenarios, the value of the content depends on how well it moves the buyer through every stage of her buyer journey. It’s important to capture interest at the right time, allowing your buyer to conduct early-stage research, while they interact with your brand or website. The data you get from the content consumption behavior enables your team to insert more specific content into the buyer journey, ultimately getting your buyer onto the path of conversion.

Q: We know the buyer journey is changing, but what do you think are the three biggest changes in recent years that you’ve noticed? 

The biggest change I’ve seen is how much of the buying journey now happens through self service. There’s a variety of research that shows prospects are 65%-75% down the journey before they ever talk to a salesperson – and it’s probably closer to 80%, or higher, today. This change makes content more critical than ever before, for two reasons:

1) More than ever it’s about getting your audience to engage with your content. It’s no longer enough to just have someone click and view, you need to show that your content is engaging people and driving them through the funnel.

2) Sales teams are increasingly relying on qualified inbound leads. This isn’t because they don’t want to prospect, it’s because it’s so much harder to reach people these days. Prospects rarely pick up their phones or respond to emails, so inbound ‘signals’ are really important, and a lot of that intent data comes from your content.

The average number of touches it takes to reach a prospect is now over 20 (across email, phone, LinkedIn, etc.). It’s important that your content allows the buyer to self-nurture, so when you do reach them they’re primed to have an engaged sales conversation.

Q: How can a team understand the impact their content has on the pipeline?

The first step is to understand what content generates the most early and mid-stage interest. Marketers sometimes make the mistake of thinking content quickly gets ‘old’ — they put too much focus on creating new content, and overlook the value of existing content that might have low views, but high engagement. Recorded webinars are a good example of this: they might not have a lot of views, but the people who engage by staying for the whole recording are valuable. An idea could be to transcribe the webinar or write a blog post out of it, move it up the funnel, and see if the content engages people earlier.

It comes down to combining art and science: lead with a sense of the journey you want the buyer to take, and then leverage your data to find the best content that will fit into those touchpoints.

Q: In today’s landscape, is personalization and providing tailored experiences to your customers’ table stakes?

Any time you can deliver a personalized experience for a prospect or customer that’s an amazing thing, but at the same time, people can overdo it. For me, it’s more about ‘understanding’ what your customer wants and needs to see to make a purchase decision.

For example: Maybe I’m a prospect in the life sciences industry. When I come to your website, extreme personalization means that everything I see is about my industry. There’s certainly a need to recognize and address my needs, but I also want to see how a company solves problems across a number of industries and the companies you work with.

Segmenting your visitors and providing bespoke content experiences helps with this: someone can interact with tailored content, but the real value is in helping them move along their buyer journey by providing a variety of content that shows you understand the depth of potential challenges.

Q: We know the buyer’s journey is changing, but the economic landscape has also undergone some changes over the last few months. What advice would you give to new marketing leaders who are experiencing cut budgets, headcount reduction, and changing priorities? 

This is a tough time for marketing leaders, particularly in tech. It goes without saying that marketing teams can’t run without awesome people, and I’m a proponent  of reducing program spend in favor of keeping a high-performing team in place. Once you have that team, start reviewing your approaches in these four areas:

  • Ensure the entire team is aligned with any changing priorities. For example, when it’s harder to bring on new accounts, ensure there’s a team-wide focus on expansion and cross-sell.
  • Doubledown on the content that works. Evaluate if it’s the right time to create a new piece of content, or if you should instead leverage the great content you already have. Find ways to repurpose or reconfigure.
  • Be maniacal about lead and MQL follow up. Now is the time for ‘no lead left behind’ and extra touches within sequences.
  • Revisit your outreach strategy (and who you’re targeting). It’s time to throw your ABM plays into high gear. Target just a few industries of micro-segments where you can rinse, wash and repeat your strategy.

    Q: What lessons did you learn during the 2008 recession that can help marketing leaders stay focused on their revenue pipeline? 

    I’ve noticed a lot of similarities between the global financial crisis we had in 2008 and the last few years of the pandemic and resulting economic headwinds. For starters, this is the first time younger workers have experienced a fundamental shift or pullback in the market. On the other hand, for marketing leaders, it is a good reminder that we always need to focus on the metrics—from minimizing cost per lead to ensuring that marketing is generating pipeline.

    Because of the current economic conditions, many marketing leaders are being faced with questions like “What has this marketing tool done for me lately?”, or “How can I consolidate marketing tools and spend”; now more than ever it’s important to ensure your martech stack is driving value for you, and your company is delivering value for your customers by differentiating itself from the competition.

    One thing to keep in mind is that the market always comes back. While customer budgets might disappear for a time, the interest in the problems you solve remain. So make sure you keep interested leads warm so when they do have the budget to bring on a new tool, your solution will be top of mind.

    Q: In the best of times, marketing is sometimes viewed as a ‘cost center’ and is usually the first team to lose budget during difficult economic times. How can a marketing leader convey their team’s value to the rest of the company? 

    During difficult economic conditions, companies will often pull back on variable spend, headcount, or events, to name a few. The key is to prioritize the initiatives that will generate revenue for the company: this could be growing accounts, cross selling, upselling, or accelerating ABM programs.

    All this considered, we know tools and programs cost money, but when you have a well-defined activity focused on generating revenue and pipeline, you don’t just have a marketing team—you have a revenue generation center. If you approach it with a sales and marketing alignment lens, you see that sales and marketing teams are in lockstep; by seeing the teams as one and the same it makes it harder to view one team as a ‘cost center’.

    If you’d like to get in touch with Michael, reach out to him on LinkedIn!