B2B buyers are highly influenced by online content sourcing, with 54% reporting that it keeps them current on new technologies and 40% claiming that it helps them identify potential suppliers, partners and solution providers, according to a newly-released report [download page] from the CMO Council and NetLine. The study identifies the critical factors behind decision-makers’ quests for information online, along with the types of content most valued by buyers.
About two-thirds of the survey respondents begin their content sourcing at search engines and portals, while 40% go to vendor websites and one-quarter act in response to emails from trusted sources and peers. In fact, emails are a key way by which stakeholders in the buying process share knowledge: a leading 67% do so through formal meetings, but a majority 56% also send emails with links for downloading content. That’s rivaled by the 54% who spread knowledge through group presentations that summarize the factors influencing purchase decisions.
The report finds that 3 main factors motivate buyers to find content supporting their decision-making:
- Learning about new developments and best practices in their industry or markets (62%);
- Discovering new solutions that address specific process or functional needs (60%); and
- Addressing a project, challenge or program being undertaken in their company (52%).
Content that includes some type of third-party validation emerges as being highly valued, with respondents mainly using these types of content to identify best practices and best-of-breed solutions (51%) and to determine where competitive differentiation can be achieved (50%). Buyers are using these types of trusted authority for specification of RFPs and qualification and selection of vendors.
Overall, the most valued content types for buyers include:
- Research reports and studies (65%);
- Technical spec sheets and data sheets (50%);
- Analyst intelligence and insight (46%);
- White papers (35%); and
- Articles on trade publishing sites (30%).
But, not surprisingly, the influence of those pieces of content varies throughout the purchase cycle. So while research reports and studies prove most influential in the awareness and evaluation stages, technical specs and data sheets hold the greatest sway when it comes time to purchase.
It’s not surprising that buyers are engaging with a mix of content throughout the purchase process – but the report goes a step further to identify various ways in which content consumption differs by “content persona.” The study outlines 6 personas which can be then grouped into 3 categories of buyers: researchers, influencers, and decision-makers. The following are some brief highlights of the different personas:
- Grazers/Sharers (32% of respondents)
This group finds and consumes content with the goal of sharing it with colleagues and facilitating the decision-making process.
For these individuals, research reports and studies are the most frequently consumed content types, particularly at the evaluation phase of the journey. This group also leans towards software demos and use cases, as they tend to source content in order to address specific process or functional needs.
- Hunters/Gatherers (10% of respondents)
This group’s main role is to source content, but they are less involved in consuming it or drawing insights from it.
Not surprisingly, these respondents are most likely to be continuously researching content, and are more interested in breadth of content than specific solutions. This group tends to find analyst intelligence and insights to be most valuable during the evaluation phase.
- Critical Contributors (25% of respondents)
These individuals are primary influencers in the buying process and share content internally, though their influence doesn’t extend to budget control.
This group is more likely than the average to seek out content when they want to learn about new solutions that could address specific problems or needs, and will source content in response to a specific project. While blogs are valued by this group in the awareness phase, few turn to them in the evaluation or purchase phases of their journeys.
- Informed Influencers (4% of respondents)
This group, consisting of key influencers within the organization, consumes content but does not seek it out.
These individuals are more likely than others to value highly-synthesized types of content such as infographics and pictograms. Their most valued type are analyst intelligence and insights.
- Decision Drivers (23% of respondents)
This group is made up of primary decision-makers and budget holders, who both source and consume content.
This persona is the most likely to value research reports and studies, and doesn’t see much value in use cases and peer-written reviews.
- Authority Leaders (6% of respondents)
This influential group is comprised of primary decision-makers and budget-holders who consume content but are not involved in sourcing it.
These individuals are most likely to consume content when they want to learn about new solutions. While they most frequently consume analyst insights and research reports, they are significantly more likely than decision-drivers to be influenced by use cases and testimonials and peer-written reviews.
About the Data: A total of 352 respondents took part in the online survey during January 2014. Participants from all executive levels and areas of responsibility were drawn from nearly 30 different industry sectors. Representation across company size included 23 percent for companies with revenues of more than $1 billion; 10 percent for companies with revenues between $501 million and $1 billion; 32 percent for companies between $50 million and $500 million; and 36 percent
for companies with revenues less than $50 million.