Once upon a time, branding was an indispensable part of a company’s success in B2B sales. Marketing budgets spent on bold logos, memorable slogans, pricey sponsorships and colorful presentations were all devised for a simple overarching purpose: to get sales in the door.
A company with strong branding could distinguish itself from competitors in the mind of a buyer long before the sales pitch. For sales, better branding meant better odds a buyer returned your call, opened your email, and visited your booth at an industry conference. It bred credibility.
This relationship was not always about the sale. A buyer might call a sales rep for no other reason than to hear about the latest products on the market, to make sure a competitor wasn’t enjoying a piece of technology they weren’t aware of.
Back then, buyers needed sales to stay informed and make a purchase, and sales needed buyers to stay employed. Strong branding, which would announce a company as a player, is what made this partnership possible.
Today’s B2B Sales Cycle Has Changed
These days, buyers aren’t returning phone calls from anyone—great branding or not. They go online to do their own research, compare prices and features, and make purchases. Search engines are the new outlets for information, and sales has less influence with these top-of-funnel shoppers.
To make B2B sales today, you have to have a variety of content, distributed in a variety of ways, to create and deepen the awareness needed to bring buyers closer to the sale.
That is not to say that a company’s brand isn’t important--it is. But it’s not the main goal of today’s demand generation engine fueled by content marketing.
The main goal is qualified leads for sales people, which means that if you’re not converting anonymous traffic to your website, blogs and social media, you’re not generating leads—you’re just branding, and that turns your overall customer acquisition costs into a much more expensive proposition.
Replicating sales conversations digitally
Great content does what a traditional hardworking salesperson used to do: it shows up everywhere. A compelling white paper or infographic can be viewed, shared and linked to over an endless digital lifespan, attracting new buyers both identified and anonymous.
Content solidifies your brand and creates awareness. Its role is to position your company as a trusted resource and problem-solver for your potential buyers—so they’ll think of you when purchasing time rolls around.
If this sounds familiar to the process that a consultative sales person uses to get in front of prospects, you’re right—the process is the same.
People still do business with those they know, like and trust. It’s only the tools and techniques that have changed to help replicate these conversations digitally. And so a content strategy helps to do just that digitally by building that trust online as shoppers can more accurately diagnose problems leading to follow-up conversations with sales people.
Make no mistake, sales people still need to prospect—it’s just that a content strategy in conjunction with a solid sales prospecting process should help get them into sales conversations that they wouldn’t have known about otherwise.
The design of a website, logo, or email campaign can shape a positive image of a company. But its payoff is murkier: How do you know if it had a part in creating or killing a sale?
It still speaks to the famous John Wanamaker quote, “Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
Small and mid-sized companies with tight budgets don’t have time or money to waste. They need marketing-qualified leads today and sales-ready buyers tomorrow. Each precious penny dedicated to promoting the company or product needs to be justified. Did it translate into a lead? Did the lead become a sale? This is where demand generation can complement branding.
Placing that content in front of buyers, then tracking its success or failure, is critical for demand generation. When you publish a blog post, article or infographic, you can track exactly how many people consumed it—and when you require registration to download, you can tell exactly who they are.
Measuring lead conversions is much more trackable than increased website traffic, social media interactions and mass media advertising.
Of course, gathering those insights requires technology tools like marketing automation software and website analytics, but if you’re using those tools properly, you can have an unprecedented level of visibility into how prospects are engaging with your brand.
Of those who consumed a piece of your content, how many downloads turned into leads? How many leads turned into sales? How much revenue was generated? Did it exceed the investment?
With the right analytical tools, you can quantify your ROI.
Good Content Yields Branding
A great logo and a beautiful website may or may not attract visitors to your product. It may or may not influence a sale. But the B2B sales cycle is complex, and traditional branding is only a small piece of the puzzle. The cycle is bolstered by technological tools, great content, and closing the loop on conversions into leads.