The Top 5 Questions B2B Leaders Ask About Content Marketing

March 27, 2024

B2B leaders aren’t usually focused on content marketing.

More pressing issues—such as safety, finance, talent, and operations—preoccupy their minds.

This is a pity because content marketing plays a key role in today’s B2B landscape, as I’ve expounded many times on this blog.

Whenever content marketing does catch their attention, however, the conversation usually heads in one of five directions.

Here are answers to the key questions, plus why they are often proxies for deeper misunderstandings and outdated beliefs.


Why Should I Care About Content Marketing?

This is the mother of all questions that no marketing leader wants to hear—the “So what?”

B2B leaders are busy people, just like the rest of us. They must ruthlessly prioritize their time and—importantly—their attention.

I’ve written at length about why a B2B CEO should pay attention to content marketing.

Moreover, I implore them to play an active role in championing the company’s content marketing efforts.

The tl;dr is that content marketing has become mission critical for B2B companies that want to efficiently deliver future business.

This has as much to do with how B2B buyers operate as it does the companies trying to sell things to them.

And that’s the crucial back story.

B2B businesses have historically been sales-led organizations.

Sales brings in revenue, which keeps the lights on. Accordingly, salespeople have been among the highest paid and most highly protected employees.

Marketing, in contrast, has played second fiddle. In many cases, it has been subordinated to sales both on the org chart and in the fight for attention.

Traditional “boots-on-the-ground” sales approaches are much less effective than they were

Today, that balance of power has shifted.

Traditional “boots-on-the-ground” sales approaches—such as cold calling, milk runs, and trade shows—are much less effective than they were.

B2B buyers want an end-to-end digital process akin to the Amazon experience with which they’re familiar from shopping on their couch.

This requires showcasing your company, brand, and solutions online, often without knowing who the prospects and customers are until very late in the process.

This is the domain of content marketing, without which your company will be left picking up scraps after more adept businesses have won most of the business.

Many B2B leaders who came up through sales-led organizations either don’t realize how drastically things have changed or refuse to accept it—or a bit of both.

Check for their underlying beliefs about whether the company is sales-led or marketing-led before trying to secure their attention for content marketing.


Who Are We Trying to Reach with Content Marketing?

This is a very good question and I get excited when I hear it from B2B leaders.

At a minimum, it suggests that they realize marketing to everyone is a fool’s errand.

Surprisingly, the concepts of market segmentation and targeted marketing are still lost on some people in positions of influence.

Hearing this question gives us an opportunity to explore to whom the company’s solutions can deliver most value—using concepts like ideal customer and target buyer personas.

That’s the literal answer, at least.

But there’s another angle to consider, which relates to the buyer’s journey.

Picking up the scraps while competitors who engage prospects earlier in their journeys pick up most of the business

Content marketing should support prospects and customers at every stage of their buyer’s journey—from when they first become aware of a challenge to be solved to when they become a loyal, repeat customer.

This is another example of the shift from a sales-led to a marketing-led business.

Historically, 95% of the company’s focus would have been on sales-ready prospects (who only constitute about 5% of the target audience).

Why spend time and money on people who aren’t ready to buy? Always be closing!

Today, as we’ve already discussed, that strategy will leave your company picking up the scraps while competitors who engage prospects earlier in their journeys pick up most of the business.

Content marketing begins by attracting and engaging prospects who are researching possible solutions—what we call the awareness and evaluation stages of their journey.

If you fail to engage prospects during that time, establishing your company as a trusted advisor and potential supplier will be much harder to do once they move into selection and purchase mode.

A more complete answer, therefore, is that content marketing tries to reach buyers at your company’s ideal customers when they are searching for and evaluating solutions.

This allows you to position your business, brand, and solutions at the top of their mind when it comes time for them to make a purchase.


How Can We Make What We Do Interesting?

I wrote a humorous blog post on this last week, adapting a fairy tale to show how mundane information can be conveyed in a light-hearted way.

There’s a tendency among B2B folk to think that their industrially focused businesses are dull and uninspiring.

And while that might be true relative to, say, Nike or Apple, B2B businesses aren’t producing content for the same, flighty consumer audience.

People who want to buy themselves the latest gizmo or pair of sneakers are easily swayed by flashy ads, glamorous influencers, and clever product placement.

Those who want to buy a widget or service from your B2B business are heavily influenced by technical know-how, detailed case histories, and killer customer support.

So, write about those things!

Your business is doing something great, otherwise it probably wouldn’t still be in business. The marketplace is too competitive for undifferentiated businesses to survive, except in high-volume, commodity markets where scale is everything.

Practitioners in your sector love to hear about those great things you’re doing, so tell them how the sausage is made (without revealing any trade secrets).

Customers want to hear what you do, how you do it well, and—crucially—why you do it.

Authenticity is the best special you can run.


How Will Content Marketing Drive Near-term Sales?

This question is both easy and difficult to answer.

The easy way out is to simply say “it won’t” and then try to change the subject.

The harder approach requires explaining why that’s not really the point.

Every near-term sale is a long-term sale whose time has finally come

Since a chunk of your content marketing effort should be directed toward prospects who are early in their buyer’s journey (see above), it will necessarily take a while for those efforts to bear fruit.

Similarly, content marketing aimed at delighting and retaining existing customers won’t contribute to sales until those customers are ready to order again.

There’s a pie slice in the middle where content designed to support the sales process—the selection stage of the journey—should help to increase and accelerate the conversion of prospects into customers.

A die-hard leader with a sales-led background might interpret this to mean that most content marketing is a waste of time. Why not just focus on sales enablement and let the sales team do its job?

This brings us to the harder answer, which I’ll summarize as, “every near-term sale is a long-term sale whose time has finally come.”

Salespeople love to believe that they can drum up as many sales-ready prospects as the company needs to hit its targets—if they’re given enough numbers to dial and enough budget to attend every trade show, golf outing, fishing trip, and cookout.

That was probably true a decade ago, but it doesn’t hold water today.

Without an active marketing program sowing the seeds of brand recognition and mind share, near-term sales become an endangered species.

Sure, one or two buyers will make last-minute decisions or fall out with their chosen supplier and be left scrambling for an alternative. Sales can harvest those for lunch.

To truly feed the beast, however, content marketing must set its sights on a much larger crop of prospects that will become the company’s harvest over the next several quarters.


What Return Will We See on our Content Marketing Investment?

And then there’s the ROI question.

Marketers love to hate this one because the impact of marketing is very difficult to measure in a complete, accurate, and timely manner.

How can we calculate the difference between the sales a company made with a certain level of marketing and the sales it would have made without that marketing?

We can’t.

How can we measure the impact of brand awareness and the ease with which your brand is recalled by prospects?

Nigh-on impossible.

What about the lag time between marketing and purchase, which means this year’s sales were likely influenced by last year’s marketing spend, and the impact of this year’s spend won’t be seen until next year?

Yeah, it’s complicated.

Bean counters love to plant beans, grow more beans, and count how many beans they have gained at the end of the day.

Marketing is like planting a garden of many species, each of which grows at its own pace, some of which enhance the appeal of the garden without bearing fruit, and some of which only bear fruit after multiple seasons.  

Is it right to compare the value of this month’s basket of fruit and vegetables with the initial outlay to plant the garden?  Not so much.

I hate to say it, but there’s no satisfactory way to answer the ROI question.

Attribution models, which try to tie sales back to the marketing activities that influenced them, are fraught and usually rendered useless by insufficiently granular data.

Handwaving is often more accurate, but hardly convincing.

Better, then, to answer a question with a question: What does “return” mean when it comes to marketing, and what happens if that return isn’t easily quantified?

This opens the door to a discussion about intangible impact and elements of long-term value creation, such as brand equity and customer lists.


The Bottom Line

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the questions that B2B leaders ask—or should ask—about content marketing.

Instead, I’ve covered five of the more frequent questions and used them to illustrate how the real issues at stake might not be the ones getting explicitly asked about.

Many B2B leaders arrive at the content marketing discussion with pre-conceived notions about how the business works, some of which are outdated or misinformed.

Consequently, we must observe for and seek to resolve those issues before attempting to enlist their support for content marketing efforts.

Until B2B leaders shift from the mindset that “marketing is a discretionary expenditure” to one where “marketing is mission critical”, it will remain difficult to explain the importance of content marketing and the true value it brings to the business.


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Image credits: Adobe Stock

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