Dave Green

B2B Marketing: Calls-to-action and the business buying cycle

March 17th, 2011

The solution's complexity also affects the business buying cycle

One way to look at the Business Buying Cycle is to break it down into stages. There are lots of potential stages and we can talk about those stages later but let’s keep it simple for now and just use these five:

  1. Connect Stage: for generating demand by helping a prospect connect a business problem or goal with the possibility of a solution
  2. Validation Stage: for validating the worthiness of that expression of interest into a priority project
  3. Investigation Stage: for doing a deep dive on one or more solutions in order to figure out what to do
  4. Purchase Stage: for picking the right solution and negotiating the right deal and terms
  5. Operational Stage: for implementing or using the solution

Calls-to-action in the form of particular pieces of content should align with these stages. In other words, you need a hypothesis of the stages of the buying cycle and a hypothesis of the content that maps to each stage.  If someone responds to content in a stage, marketing can use the interest in that content to score the level of interest higher.

By using this approach, B2B companies can use a call-to-action that is appropriate within the overall content marketing effort and extrapolates interest in the offer based on the stage of the buying cycle, testing and iterating to a more efficient demand generation and lead nurturing strategy

In this blog post, I will focus on four of these stages.

Connect Stage

When generating demand early in the connect stage, companies should use credible (often third-party) information about the business problem solved by their particular solution.

For example, research might reveal that problems with sales forecasting drive purchase decisions for sales force automation (SFA) software. To take advantage of this information, an SFA vendor might contract with a company with an industry reputation for providing credible information on sales forecasting best practices to write a white paper on sales forecasting, perhaps based upon field research.

On the other hand, if research revealed that chief financial officers (CFOs) were the individuals feeling the pain of faulty forecasts, perhaps a paper by a brand more familiar to CFOs would be more effective. In other words, B2B companies should keep in mind the target community when developing the call-to-action offer strategy.

Validation Stage

In the Validation stage, the offers need to perform a slightly different job. In this case, the responder has expressed an interest in the problem.  Now the offers need to validate the worthiness of the solution so that it becomes a priority:

  • A case study
  • An exercise to assess the potential return on investment
  • A webinar that features a current customer with a well-known brand
  • A report by an industry analyst (e.g., the Gartner Group in the computer industry)

Response to each of these offers indicates a higher probability of purchase than the initial response to an offer about the business problem.  In other words, it’s predictive of purchase intent. Again, interest in these content offers would result in a higher lead score.

Investigation  Stage

In the Investigation stage of the buying cycle, customers are generally ready to speak to sales.  Offers in this stage can identify those customers and prospects.  For example, a prospect may want to develop a request for proposal (RFP) to send out to a short list of vendors under consideration. As such, an RFP template (biased to the solution of the vendor) might be very useful to the prospect and even highly predictive of an increased likelihood of purchase.

Likewise these calls-to-action will also indicate the customer is prepared to speak with a sales representative:

  • Implementation guides
  • Technical white papers
  • Competitive guides
  • Evaluation software
  • Total cost of ownership exercises
  • Other similar content

All of these relate to the concerns of customers and prospects entering into a deeper investigation of a particular solution.

Purchase Stage

Once the buying cycle has reached the purchase stage, the sales channels should primarily deliver call-to-action offers. Purchase stage offers include discounts on a product or a service, and sales representatives can use these types of offers to win deals and to expedite the purchase process. These offers should be left to the judgment of salespeople and their managers in order to avoid unnecessary discounts.

Across the entire Business Buying Cycle, vendors can also include generic offers such as sweepstakes or free merchandise to generate demand, and move prospects toward a decision. One thing to keep in mind, is unlike the more targeted calls-to-action, these offers are not as predictive of future purchase behavior.

Related Resources

Free Web clinic, March 30th — Converting Leads to Sales: How one B2B company generated $4.9 million in additional sales pipeline growth in only 8 months

B2B Marketing: The FUEL methodology outlined


How and When to Use Content in the B2B Sales Process (Members library)

B2B Marketing: Relevant content must move beyond “glitz” and tell a properly sequenced story

Content Marketing: How to get your subject matter experts on your corporate blog

Categories: B2B Marketing Tags: , ,

  1. March 23rd, 2011 at 05:45 | #1

    This is a really useful article – I feel you have underplayed the amount of time needed to get a prospect from the contact to purchase phases. When we are trying to persuade a big print buyer to move from their incumbent supplier it sometimes takes years and then being in the right place at the right time. In other words being on the phone the week that the incumbent supplier messes up an important job.

    Thanks for sharing.


  2. March 23rd, 2011 at 08:56 | #2

    @Rob Beckett
    Rob, you’re absolutely right: it often takes a long time for prospects to make a purchase decision for big-ticket solutions. In those cases, you would want to stay in front of the various buyer personas on a regular basis and that might mean having 10 or even 20 touches (or rotating a series of touches after seven to nine months). In this case, I was simply sharing the basic idea of mapping content to the buying cycle and using interest in particular types of content to predict buying probability. For some solutions, that will mean three touches. For others, many more. Thanks for the clarifying comment.

  3. October 11th, 2011 at 18:03 | #3

    Great article and great points! The best call to action our company has used for lead generation LeadLifter’s B2B sales conversion system works wonders for increasing ROI for complex sales. The self service quote software can increase ROI by 200% based my experience and from their examples given. Which are proven to be true for me and my company. Primarily built for complex sales within the tech industry for storage solutions and products for mid-sized companies.

  4. October 11th, 2011 at 18:24 | #4

    @Mike B.
    Thanks for the kind words. I agree with the premise that prospects often want some preliminary budgetary information very early in the sales cycle.

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