Post written by
Co-founder and chief content officer at SPROUT Content, an inbound marketing agency.
In life, we are taught to “shoot for the moon,” “rise to the top,” and get to “the head of the class.” We always strive for the highest level, whether in a video game or in our careers. The same is true in marketing.
As an inbound marketing agency, we talk to dozens of companies every year to develop and execute a strategic inbound marketing plan. One of the first and most important topics we discuss are buyer personas, which are crucial for inbound marketing success. If you’re new to inbound, buyer personas are fictionalized composites of your ideal customers. Personas are more than target audiences. They reveal the real needs and insights of each of the people at every stage of your buying cycle and answer how your products/services solve their challenges.
During countless conversations with clients about buyer personas, the conversation sometimes takes a turn that creates a moment of tension with their internal team. Often, they disagree about who their buyers are or how accurate their current buyer persona profiles are – if they exist at all. Other times, the group confidently shares their buyer personas: CEO, CFO or CMO – the inevitable C-suite. These are the leaders at the top of any company, the most sought-after individuals by most organizations.
Then things get interesting when we ask: What about the researcher?
We’re usually met with silence, as the conversation continues with questions like, “Is the CEO researching in Google to find a new solution?” Or “Is the CFO searching online for price points of tools to make their processes more streamlined?”
No, most likely they are not. There is a very important role that most organizations have left out of their inbound marketing strategy: the researcher.
Who Is The Researcher?
The researcher is the person who is tasked with learning about new solutions for a challenge their business is facing. Sometimes the researcher is a manager who reports to the C-suite. But in recent years, we’ve discovered that many companies’ first point of entry with a prospective customer is anyone from a junior level staffer to even an intern.
In 2015, Google released a report, The Changing Face of B2B Marketing, which showed that 89% of B2B buying processes start with an online search. The study showed that, while that wasn’t a big change from 2012, the people conducting those searches were. The study revealed that in 2012, B2B researchers comprised a pretty even mix of age groups. By 2014, almost half of those B2B researchers were 18- to 34-year-old millennials, a 70% increase in that group.
According to that Google report, “While 64% of the C-suite have final sign off, so do almost a quarter (24%) of the non-C-suite. What’s more, it’s the latter that has the most influence; 81% of non-C-suiters have a say in purchase decisions.”
Identifying the need for the researcher persona for our clients, who are mostly in the B2B technology space, was very eye opening. Most companies we talk to have only been focusing on those at the highest level of the decision-making process, and not addressing the needs of those who are actually researching new solutions. The researcher is your entry point in the inbound sales funnel, and how you enter through the front door of the companies you want to do business with. This person will be gathering information and making recommendations to present to the next level decision maker.
In Inbound Marketing, The Top Is Really The Bottom
With most things in life, you strive to get to the top. That’s not how inbound marketing works. The inbound funnel is inverted. The very wide top of the funnel is the entry point for those seeking information in the consideration stage. Top of the funnel content is very clear, helpful and educational. People in this stage of the buyer’s journey are just starting to look at options, and learning more about a particular industry, technology or service that might be new to them. Examples of content types at the top of the funnel are blog posts, infographics with stats or research, and longer form pieces that are more educational.
For example, if you’re an IoT company specializing in the HVAC industry, content topics could be as broad as, “What is the Internet of Things Technology?” or “How the Internet of Things Can Transform your HVAC Business.” While some of this content might seem elementary to you, don’t assume knowledge. It’s critical for companies to offer educational, big-picture content for those just getting started. Think about the fact that the researcher can be an intern or junior level staffer with limited knowledge or someone even in a mid-level position, depending on the organization. You need content for all experience levels, stages, and decision-making role in every layer of the buyer’s journey.
A site filled with only overly complex information might make the researcher feel in over their head when your intent should be empowering them with information so they look good to the next decision maker. The researcher needs to understand enough about your industry and your company to feel confident that your products, tools or services can help them solve their challenge.
More granular or complex content is also critically important but intended for those with a greater understanding of the concepts and terminology of your industry and for those in the mid-decision. The middle of the funnel content should convince them that you are an expert in what you do and why they should choose you over a competitor.
Remember, you’re not your persona. It’s crucial for businesses to start marketing for their actual audience – not just the CEO. If you’re not marketing to the researcher group, you need to reevaluate your strategy immediately. No matter your industry, you must take into account millennials’ digital approach to everything and how this impacts the kind of content and channels they are using, even for business decisions.