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Content and Components of B2B eCommerce

For many manufacturers and distributors (and a lot of other B2B companies for that matter) content can become a bit of a quagmire. Understanding the right way and the right time to use content is important, but the best content strategy for B2B commerce is not always clear.  Creating the content is really just the tip of the iceberg. To influence your customers, it’s also important to know when to use specific types of content.

There are two components of B2B eCommerce that you need to understand to drive a strong B2B content strategy. First, it’s vital to acknowledge the different roles involved with B2B buying and selling and the ways in which these “People of B2B” will acquire and benefit from your content. From spreading awareness across the internet, to driving additional sales within the digital environment itself, content can become a powerful tool when it’s created with the needs of B2B roles in mind.

Second, you must map that content to a specific phase in the buying cycle. It’s true that some aspects of the customer journey may be unique to your organization. But there are five basic buying cycle steps that apply to any purchase, whether it’s a consumer product or a B2B service. Knowing these steps, and planning content to meet the needs of the roles involved with each step, can help drive customers through the buying cycle more efficiently. It can also help prioritize your content efforts by aligning to certain objectives like increasing repurchases,  introducing new product lines, or finding new customers.

Planning, building and scheduling content is actually quite easy once you’ve identified the people of B2B involved, and the area of the buying cycle you’d like to influence most. Here are some tips for building strong content that meets the needs of each role within a typical manufacturer or distributor buying cycle:

Phase One: Building the Brand with Awareness Content

In this phase, most customers may be new to your brand. It’s important to realize, however, that many customers don’t understand the breadth and depth of your product catalog, so existing customers may need additional awareness here as well.  In this phase, researchers are typically the primary people involved and you must try to attract them with strong Awareness Content. If they’re searching for product information, it’s vital that written content be front and center. It’s also critical that the content be optimized for the specific keywords these researchers may use to find you. Videos can also be useful in this phase, as YouTube can help tremendously where SEO is involved.

For the existing customer, new content may be developed that helps introduce new product lines or even distributes news about the organization that is of interest to the customer. Videos can also be helpful to spread awareness in this phase as well. Customers want brands to be credible and knowledgeable. Thought-leadership pieces that provide analysis of trends in the industry, for example, can be extremely impactful and keep the brand top of mind for researchers. Remember that researchers are increasingly becoming younger, so content in the form of podcasts, videos and other multimedia may be especially powerful.

Phase Two: Consideration using Need Content

In Phase Two, researchers typically locate several different options for purchase. They might be narrowing down the field by price, customer service reputations, location, or any other combination of logistics. A strong narrative and good storytelling will go a long way but it must be mapped directly to each customer’s specific needs and wants. At this phase, your commerce system should be identifying some unique preferences based on customer interactions and you can use that to drive your strategy for Need Content.

What kind of content can you create that adds more credibility for your product or service areas? Here is where longer customer testimonials via video may be effective, or an infographic showing how your company saved a customer both time and money. You may have customer leads that are lukewarm. A well-written, not too promotional email focused on meeting specific customer needs for information (and including links to more specific, relevant content) could be a good choice. This is also where a monthly newsletter might be effective. Once again, remember that researchers are the primary role involved in this phase. Short videos that answer the “what, when, where and why” of your products and services are particularly impactful.

Phase Three: Solution Evaluation and Proof Content

Hopefully, you’ve moved potential customers, and existing customers interested in new products, quickly through the first two phases with your content.  The rubber now meets the road in Phase Three, when researchers and some buyers begin to evaluate their top two or three choices. Here is where most manufacturers and distributors focus content today, in what we call Proof Content.  This content should be short, to the point, and extremely focused on the products and services in question. This could include product reviews, customer testimonials for specific services like warranties, or promotional and sale information. In this phase a strong call to action, or offer, is crucial. You must also include why your company is better than the competition. Remember that learning about your customer preferences means understanding what messaging channels they prefer, and when they prefer to receive those messages. Text messaging may be a good channel to introduce at this point, particularly for younger buyers and researchers, and this is where personalization is perhaps most important. Make sure your eCommerce solution is able to deliver the data that can drive this kind of specialized messaging.

One last note: Don’t make Proof Content all about the product during this Phase, or any other for that matter. Remember that B2B commerce is about driving up productivity, and driving down cost of sales. Customers will choose a manufacturer or distributor not only for price and availability, but for the experience as well. In fact, studies show that the experience is rapidly become the most important factor in a purchase. Anyone can price match. Remind customers why it’s so great to do business with you and make it easy for them.

Phase Four:  Purchasing and Functional Content

During the actual purchase, it’s crucial to realize that there are many different types of buyers involved in B2B commerce. You may be dealing with a junior buyer with purchasing power for only a limited amount of products they can buy. Attempting to upsell to those individuals is a waste of time.  For most buyers, however, Functional Content typically includes things like pricing, inventory availability, shipping information, product ID’s and specific catalog information. Here it’s important to focus on the searchability of the information. Rapid, easy access to the data a buyer needs in order to execute a sale is critical. Videos may not be as effective as a promotional pricing sheet, for example. Custom catalogs, or even custom lists, are most often written and should be easy to download as well. Pictures of products may also be helpful and should be prominent. Ask yourself what type of content will make the actual purchase as easy as possible.  Hot links within documents, custom catalogs with sophisticated search, and accessible bundling information are all critical here.

Focus on how easy it is for a buyer to navigate and locate the information they need at this point. Don’t spend time on “fancy”: here is where function takes major priority over form every time.

Phase Five: Post-Purchase Activity and Use Content

Within B2B commerce, the post-purchase phase is where many manufacturers and distributors leave far too much money on the table. It’s also the phase where content can provide some of the most valuable information for B2B roles like field service technicians, engineers and CSR’s.

Use Content includes anything that someone needs to actually “use” the product or service. This might include schematics, MSDS sheets, manuals, CAD drawings and how-to videos. The idea is to make the customer service experience here as easy as possible.  Assembly information should be well-placed and easy to find, whether it’s written or via video. Keep in mind that many people of B2B in this phase are working remotely. Having a native mobile app with image search, catalogs, real time shipping, and warranty information is really key to the efficiency of the experience at this point.

Strong Use Content can also help drive customers back to the Purchasing Phase, increasing sales. Perhaps a field technician reads a service update that includes parts that will need to be replaced soon, and the customer agrees to make that buy now. Or a new promotion decreases the cost of ordering additional parts now, rather than later. Beyond just the “how to,” providing helpful, relevant promotion content can be incredibly powerful during this phase, so don’t ignore it.

In summary, understanding the roles involved at each stage of the buying cycle can help:

  • Move the customer from one Phase to the next more rapidly
  • Warm up leads
  • Drive more purchases
  • Improve customer service
  • Increase repurchases and add on sales

Build your B2B commerce content strategy with the above goals in mind. Prioritize your content creation based on which phase of the cycle you need to influence the most. And customize your content to use the channels and media that each role – from the researcher to the field service technician – prefers.

Attending B2B Next this September? “Content and Data” is one of the four main tracks at the conference. Discover how to use your data to create personalized buyer experiences across your sales channels when you attend sessions under this track. Insite experts would also be happy to share their perspectives on mapping content to the B2B customer journey when you stop by booth 206 in the exhibit hall or schedule a meeting with one of our experts. 

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Manufacturing and distribution companies know that the true value of digital commerce is the ability to make it easier for your customers to do business with you. The B2B buyer is often responsible for purchasing products from one to many vendors or product types

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