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Can Marketing Content Trigger a B2B Buying Process?

Most B2B marketers recognize that their toughest competitor isn’t usually a company offering an alternative product or service, but rather what their potential buyers are already using or doing. No sale can be made unless potential buyers first become willing to seriously consider alternatives for their existing methods and practices.

Over the past several years, marketing pundits have promoted a variety of tactics marketers can use to “break the grip of the status quo.” I’ve discussed these techniques in previous posts (here, for example), but I’ve often wondered if they are consistently effective.

For decades, the Holy Grail of marketing has been to provide every potential buyer “the right message at the right time.” The belief underlying this goal is that the right message delivered at the right time will cause a potential buyer to be more likely to make a purchase.

There’s no doubt that marketing content can influence business buyers at several stages of their buying journey. But can marketing content alone cause a business decision-maker to begin a buying process? In other words, is marketing content sufficient, in itself, to break the grip of the status quo?

The answer to this question has implications that are often underappreciated by marketers. It affects the shape of marketing strategy and the allocation of marketing budgets. But it has a particularly significant impact on the substance and form of marketing messages and content.

The Trigger Imperative

Astute marketers have long recognized that some kind of “trigger” is usually required to ignite a B2B buying process. A trigger is an event that causes a business person to feel a need or desire to fix a problem or seize an opportunity.

A myriad of events can provoke a buying process, but there’s been little recent research about what specific kinds of events most frequently create buying process triggers. A 2021 survey by WSJ Intelligence and B2B International directly addressed this issue.

The “Trust Your Decisions” study was a survey of 1,601 business decision-makers who had recently led or participated in the selection of a new vendor for their company. All survey respondents were affiliated with companies having at least $250 million in annual revenue. Survey respondents were drawn from the United States (50%), Europe (25%), and Asia (25%). The study evaluated four purchase categories – technology, finance, professional services, and marketing services.

The researchers asked survey participants what kinds of events triggered their decision to search for a new vendor/service provider. The following table shows the percentage of respondents who selected each of twelve trigger events.

These survey results illustrate that a wide variety of events can trigger a B2B buying process. More importantly for marketers, the table shows that trigger events primarily involving the consumption of marketing/sales/news content (shown in red in the table) were near the bottom of the list, which indicates that marketing content alone won’t be sufficient to trigger a buying process in most cases.

Implications for B2B Marketers

So, what does this mean for B2B marketers? The key lesson here is that you need to use different kinds of marketing content with potential buyers who haven’t experienced a triggering event.

If you were using marketing content to trigger a buying process, marketing messages should focus on the “pain” created by an issue or challenge and emphasize the need for change. The objective of the content would be to cause potential buyers to feel the pain of their status quo sufficiently to provoke a willingness to consider change.

But since marketing content alone isn’t sufficient to trigger a buying process in most cases, the better strategy with out-of-market buyers is to use marketing content that emphasizes how an issue or challenge can be successfully addressed and describes the benefits such a change will produce.

You also want to use thought leadership content that showcases your company’s expertise on those issues that are most likely to be buying process triggers for your potential buyers.

These types of content probably won’t trigger the start of a buying process, but they will make it more likely that buyers will remember your company when they experience a triggering event.

Top image source: via Flickr (CC).

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