The old business growth mantra that it’s much easier and cheaper to sell more to existing customers than it is to win new customers is as relevant in 2015 as it has ever been. Brand loyalty is key to growth as savvy B2B customers faced with more and more choice become more and more selective about who they do business with. They are looking for trust and security on the one hand – and innovation and opportunity on the other. They’re easily distracted by all the information that they’re bombarded with on a daily basis but that doesn’t mean that they’re fickle – if a brand/business can keep them engaged by providing them with useful, valuable insight on an ongoing basis, they’ll stick with it.

The B2B buying process in the digital age

We work with B2B manufacturers and suppliers in niche sectors who have invested large amounts in search engine optimisation (SEO) and ‘pay per click’ (PPC) to ensure that they are at the top of a Google search for technical keywords related to their products. Why? Is that really where their audiences will be searching? Are those customers really going to base their B2B buying decision on what comes at the top of a search regardless of what they find on the landing page? And what about potential customers who don’t know the technical terminology or don’t realise that certain types of products exist or even that they need them?

In niche markets, your target market is small but potentially very lucrative. This means that long term relationships are key. The problem with this approach to online marketing is that ‘quick wins’ may be easier to come by but customer retention can be tough. Plus, it’s easy for your competitors to copy, meaning that you fade into the background and your USPs don’t stand out.

The same companies that are employing these techniques are those that have always used a very personal approach to sales in the physical world with individual account managers assigned to build one-on-one relationships with key decision makers and product developers listening and responding to customer feedback and needs. So why take such a ‘cold’ approach to new business development in the digital world?

The cost effective online business development solution for long term growth

For SMEs, SEO and PPC are the equivalent of advertising in the trade press. You may get a cheap deal sometimes but you have to pay for every lead and the impact is only short term. Enter content marketing. It’s certainly not a new thing but it’s gaining recognition with these types of businesses as the cost effective solution to winning and retaining business. Research shows that it costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generates about three times as many leads (source: DemandMetric). More importantly though, the leads that it does generate are much higher quality and much more valuable over the long term.

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as: “the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling… Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.”

Content that keeps your customers content

So, how do you create and share content that brings to life what you do and educates the customer about your technical expertise in a way that encourages action? The truth is, it’s not easy. Content marketing is a real skill and requires significant ongoing resource to work effectively. But the return on investment is much greater than other methods.

Although they know best about what makes your customers tick, it can be extremely difficult for technical experts and even sales people to translate that into compelling stories that keep them engaged and informed. It requires communications expertise from someone who can speak the language of the customer and enter into dialogue with them. Even in a world of 140 character conversations, quality over quantity is key when it comes to retaining loyal B2B customers. Better to give them something really meaty to get their teeth into once a quarter than something lightweight once a week.

Making the most of your new business content

One of the things that makes content marketing so cost effective is that, as opposed to PPC or trade press advertising, it is ‘channel neutral’ and ‘owned’ rather than ‘rented’. This means that the same content can be used across various different communication channels depending on the preference of the customer. It also means that there are more ways to stay ‘front of mind’ with customers than ever before but making the most of content means understanding the context in which your customers want to receive it. Social media like Twitter can be highly effective in some lines of business but for those in niche sectors with a database of existing customers to keep in touch with, the good old fashioned e-newsletter works much better – as long as the content within it is useful rather than salesy.

Whether you’re trying to sell adhesives or photocopiers, you know your customers best and by creating and publishing ‘owned’, branded content, you can be in control of your relationship with them. It’s not easy to keep them content, but content marketing is the best tool for the job.