Multichannel Content Strategies, Customer Advocacy & Frictionless Buyer Journeys Take Center Stage At #COS19

Published: April 29, 2019

There is a recurring question that arises when assessing B2B campaigns and demand gen initiatives: what’s working? Progressive B2B organizations are putting a bigger emphasis on producing relevant messaging and content, as well as making it easier for buyers to research and make purchase decisions on their own terms.

This was highlighted in detail by analysts, experts and practitioners during this year’s Campaign Optimization Seriesin which presenters highlighted specifically what’s working — and not working — for today’s B2B marketers to optimize their demand gen campaigns and accelerate pipeline.

While the week-long webcast series touched on a variety of trends, tactics and strategies that are having a positive impact on their demand generation initiatives, three of the main takeaways focused on:

  • Creating content and messaging that adds value across a variety of channels and nurture programs;
  • Removing friction from the buyer’s journey to ultimately accelerate deals; and
  • Incorporating customer advocacy into go-to-market initiatives that can help boost brand credibility and enhance the quality of content and messaging.

Multi-Channel Strategies For Creating Irresistible Content

Today’s buyers are inundated on all channels and have less time to spend researching vendors and consuming content. Almost half (41%) say they consume only three to five pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep, according to the 2019 Content Preferences Survey Report. This year’s Campaign Optimization Series speakers dived deep into current content marketing challenges and discussed new approaches and formats that are helping B2B marketers break through the noise and reach target accounts at the right time with the right message. 

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“What we often see are emails that are so obviously being blasted out to everyone in a company’s database,” said Christine Otsuka, Senior Content Marketing Manager of Uberflip. “They’re sending the same content to everyone and this is neither strategic nor compelling to the recipient. As marketers, we know we can do better.”

During her session, “How To Create High-Converting Demand Experiences,” Otsuka outlined how marketers can build personalized experiences that resonate with buyers and drive engagement. To do so, she suggested creating nurture variations for different audience segments, which could be based on persona, funnel stage, technographic information and more.

“How you segment isn’t as important as what you segment, and that you have nurtures designed for each to provide a truly personalized experience,” said Otsuka. To take it one step further, marketers can also improve content engagement and downloads by placing a personalized CTA over the content. According to Otsuka, this can boost conversion rates by as much as 17%.

In another Campaign Optimization Series webcast titled, “From Interruptive To Irresistible: How Video Content Is Leveling-Up B2B Marketing Strategies,”Tyler Lessard, VP of Marketing at Vidyard, discussed how marketers can incorporate videos into their email, digital ad and social media campaigns to create the kind of content that buyers have grown accustomed to in their consumer lives and now expect in B2B

Lessard shared an example from Gordian, a facility and construction cost data provider, that created a video series called “Job Order Contracting 101.” The five-minute videos, which were designed to answer frequently asked industry questions, proved wildly successful. In less than six months, they generated more than $20 million in pipeline and $6 million in direct revenue. Lessard suggested marketers follow this model and keep the four E’s in mind when developing their own video campaigns. The content should be: 

  1. Engaging: people are hardwired to engage in storytelling;
  2. Emotional: use this as an opportunity to invoke emotional responses;
  3. Educational: most people self-identify as visual learners; and
  4. Empathetic: this can be a powerful way to develop trust and empathy with prospective buyers.

You can’t replace the human face and video is the next best thing to being there in person,” said Lessard. “As B2B marketers we’re not going to be producing ‘Game of Thrones’ content. [But] we can produce content that has more personal interest to it and that goes through that hero’s journey.”

But don’t just stop at video, direct mail is another top-tier channel for engaging prospective clients. In the session titled: “Thinking Outside The Box: Why Direct Mail Works In The Digital Age,” Kris Rudeegraap, Co-Founder and CEO of Sendoso, shared how companies such as Talkdesk have used direct mail to ensure their content reaches top-tier accounts. The contact center solutions provider sent a copy of its Total Economic Impact report along with a handwritten note and Starbucks gift card to priority accounts, resulting in more than $2 million in pipeline generated.

“Picking out your best pieces of content online and having that printed on demand and mailed out is a great way to get it on someone’s desk,” said Rudeegraap. “Instead of just sending an email with a PDF attachment, you can send out printed collateral such as a white paper, E-book, or case study with either a handwritten note or a Post-it Note to drive engagement.”

Alicia Esposito, Senior Content Strategist at Content4Demand, and Holly Fisk, Content Operations Manager, offered additional tips and tricks for improving your content with the help of influencers, interactivity, events and more in a session titled “Making A (Content) Marketer: Lock Up Your Lead Gen With The Right Content Formats.

“A thread that connects all of these different formats and content experiences is that they’re really shaking up the traditional nurture flow and nurture experiences,” said Esposito. “That’s what we want to do… The goal is to stand out and part of that is stretching the creative limits a little bit, not just with experiences, but also with creative theme and visuals.”

Serving Up Killer Customer Stories To Gain Audience Trust 

The power of customer stories was a key topic during the Campaign Optimization Series, with experts from SurveyMonkey, New Relic, Inc. and ON24 highlighting the importance of leveraging existing customer successes to gain prospects’ trust. 

Research from SurveyMonkey shows that 60% of those surveyed think marketing and advertising is selling them things they don’t need, rather than helping them. In addition, 43% surveyed find marketing not so or not at all trustworthy. Today’s B2B buyers are much more informed than ever before, and quite frankly, they are more in tune to filter out a sales pitch. 

“It makes me deeply concerned that, as marketers, we’re not listening and we’re not a trusted source of information and insight,” said Leela Srinivasan, CMO at SurveyMonkey, during the session titled, Why You Must Invest More In Customer Storytelling, Stat. “Forty-three percent, in fact, of those surveyed say they either find marketing not so or not at all trustworthy. So, in marketing, we’re in a tough spot. If our goal is to win hearts and minds and convince people that what we’re doing matters and that we can add value to our customers, we’re starting on the wrong foot here.” 

To become more of a trusted source, companies are turning to their best customers to tell their success stories from their point of view. SurveyMonkey research shows that 82% of people trust the voice of customers over a brand or product copy. “The voice of the customer is incredibly compelling at getting your point across,” said Srinivasan.

She even added that customer stories can make a huge impact internally as well as externally. “Whether or not a company leans into customer relationships and voice of customer matters greatly to the employees and impacts their likelihood to stay at the company,” she said. 

One company who has their customer storytelling strategy down pat is New Relic, Inc. Cynthia Hester, Sr. Director of Customer Marketing, joined in on the presentation to discuss the company’s customer advocacy strategies.  

“The whole reason for any business is how they’re delivering products and services to their customer base,” said Hester. “Hearing the voice of the customer, sharing their stories and sharing examples of their success is critical in my mind to really supporting the business. More and more companies are realizing that attracting customers includes sharing their voice back out. That requires a group that’s dedicated to doing that. 

“It’s not quick and easy,” she added. “It’s like any other relationship — it takes time to nurture, grow and build trust and partnership. But once you do, that is worth gold in business.” 

During the session, Hester shared a variety of insights into how New Relic achieves customer advocacy. This includes: 

  • Finding mutual interest with the customer. People forget that everyone can say please and thank you,” said Hester. “It doesn’t cost us any budget. This is about relationship building. How do you show your appreciation and invite them to embark on that journey? Find a mutual interest and develop that relationship.” 
  • Recruiting passionate customers to tell their stories. “I look for people who are passionate about their stories, passionate about what they’re doing for their company, community and partners,” she said. “Those are the people that we try to invite to be our advocates.”
  • Thinking about partnerships internally. Customer success teams are my BFFs because they’re usually the last ones to be in contact with our customers,” said Hester. “Before we embark on a conversation about whether this is a great story, we set up time to talk with our CSMs.”
  • Having a proper tech stack for your customer advocacy program. “I believe that every program needs a tech stack,” she said. “You want a set of tools that you can scale, but you also need a baseline. First thing I did was [get] a reference database for reporting across the organization. [We also use] TechValidate for capturing customer feedback, responses and evidence. Because we have a good tech stack, I can operate our program and start to grow it with a small team.” 

In another session, titledBreak Through The B2B Noise, ON24’s Tessa Barron revealed that customer stories in the form of a webinar are a great asset to the conversion stage of the buyer journey. In the that stage, the company shares an on-demand customer webinar of a company with similar traits as the prospect to provide third-party validation to their solution. 

“Our conversion stage is all about having the voice of the customer shine through — it has to be in the same industry as the prospect we’re trying to engage,” said Barron. “That allows us to give a third-party validation that they should even be talking to us and seeing how fast they’re going to move. We add a poll to determine that velocity.”

Removing Friction From The Buying Journey

The week-long webcast series highlighted a variety of trends and tactics that are specifically helping B2B companies remove the friction out of their buyers’ journeys and accelerate deals. One area in particular is the topic of lead follow-up. Effective lead follow-up requires a streamlined, efficient coordination between marketing and saleswhich continues to be a difficult process. During the session, A Marketer’s Guide To #SelfCare Using Conversational AI,” Conversica’s Gloria Ochman noted that the three key areas to lead follow-up in their buying journey are promptness, persistence and personalization. 

Specifically, when it came to persistence, research highlighted during the session showed that more than half (51%) of B2B businesses lack persistence in their lead follow  with most of them only attempting to contact leads one to two times. 

Trifacta, for example, had all their leads being funneled to sales from its website, content, PPC, paid social and more. During the session with Conversica, Jill Marguette, Demand Gen & Marketing Ops Manager at Trifacta, shared how this ultimately led to sales reps inefficiently using their time to engage with leads that were not converting — while other potentially high-valued leads were overlooked. Trifacta brought in an AI assistant powered by Conversica that helped pick up many of the manual tasks slipping through the cracks. This led to $1.4 million in influenced opportunities and a 5% lift in MQL volume. 

“She’s doing a lot of the heavy lifting, to help provide that quick, persistent response to potential customers and improve sales efficiency,” Marguette concluded.

One of the other common themes throughout the series was the concept of removing friction from customers’ buying journeys. During the session, 10 Ways To Reduce Friction In Your Buyer’s Journey,” the team at PathFactory shared a handful of tips designed to help make it easier for the buyer to accelerate their buying decision at their own pace.

One area of focus was on the concept of gating content with form fills. Research shows that 81% of Millennial and Gen X decision makers didn’t download a piece of content because they didn’t want to fill out the form. In addition, the majority (97%) of B2B buyers said the quality of vendor content could be improved by packaging related content together and making it easier to access.

One way that PathFactory suggests companies can remove friction from the buying journey is to bundle content together in hubs that can be binged at the reader’s convenience.

“Instead of taking your buyers down a clicking rabbit hole, you can instantly give them the content they asked for [with content hubs],” said Evan Doyle, Demand Gen Manager at PathFactory, during the session. “There are no roadblocks, there is no friction, just uninterrupted access to your content when the buyer wants it.”

There was also great discussion around obtaining and utilizing the right data to tailor the buyer’s journey and accelerate deals. During the session, How Accurate & Actionable Contact Information & Buyer Insights Are Impacting Engagement,” the team at DiscoverOrg broke the necessary data down into three key areas: fit, intent and opportunity. “Fit” data includes demographic and firmographic details shared with your ICP. “Intent” data is behavior-based activity and engagement that can be collected on a first- and third-party basis. “Opportunity” data consists of ideal explicit and implicit buying conditions — such as an RFP, round of funding or a leadership change. 

These insights provide opportunities to produce a variety of messaging for buyers, including:

  • Persona-based messaging, which utilizes “fit” data to segment target audiences and create and modify content based on those segments;
  • Engagement-based messaging, which utilizes “intent” data to leverage previous engagement, match messaging with relevant themes and interests, while also sharing stage-appropriate content; and
  • Context-based messaging, which utilizes “opportunity” data signals to reference significant events and provide relevant value.

Ultimately, these data and insights better positions marketers to “craft the right message so it can confidentially resonate with the buyer to ultimately illicit a response,” said DeAnn Poe, SVP of Marketing at DiscoverOrg, during the session. “It’s vital to craft that message to promote further engagement.”

Presenters also highlighted how ABM has been an adopted practice that helps sales and marketing teams align focus across the buying journey. During a session titled, ABM And Modern B2B Advertising: Reaching The Buying Committee At Your Target Accounts,” Nani Shaffer, Director of Product Marketing at Demandbasepresented research that showed more than half (52%) of B2B buyers say the number of buying team members had increased significantly. Also, 84% of buyers said they had either accelerated or put purchase decisions on hold based on changing buying needs. Ultimately, 46% of B2B marketing teams cited account-based marketing as a top initiative in 2019.

“Over the past couple of years, B2B marketers have come to realize that ABM is more than just a flashy trend,” said Shaffer. “For many, it has become a critical initiative within the organization, but there are still many questions on how to bring ABM across the entire funnel. To really drive success with ABM, you need to take a full-funnel approach to it.”

For Demandbase, the process is broken into five key pillars:

  1. Identify: build your target account list by targeting those with the most opportunity;
  2. Attract: it’s possible now to target and attract key stakeholders within target accounts through tactics such as account-based advertising;
  3. Engage: optimize your site experience for prospects, customers and partners by understanding their engagement;
  4. Convert: turn valuable buying signals into revenue with the right buyers and decision makers; and
  5. Measure: measure actionable insight on how to drive revenue or improve performance.

The entire Campaign Optimization Series is now available on demand. Click here to view the sessions.  

B2B Marketing Exchange
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Campaign Optimization Series
Buyer Insights & Intelligence Series
Strategy & Planning Series