Content is absolutely key for B2B customer retention, and selling the c-suite on its value comes down to focusing on the things they care about most.
It was wonderful to talk to B2B marketing strategist MICHAEL BARBER about the value of content for customer retention in technical B2B spaces. In this episode, he explains how to sell content marketing by understanding an organization’s perspective, using case studies and examples to underline how content can help retention, and much more.
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In this episode, you’ll learn:
How to use retention metrics to examine customer behaviors
How to help organizations understand the value of time and creativity to create content
How content can help sell services and reoccurring models around a product
How to prove that the time spent on content is paying off for customers
Amanda: Hey, friends, welcome to Cashing in on Content Marketing. I’m Amanda Milligan, the marketing director at Fractl and every week on the show, I interview marketing experts about ways to know the value of your work and get buy-in for your strategies. This week we’re exploring the value of content and technical B2B spaces. Our guest is marketing consultant, Michael Barber who has experience in content marketing, and B2C and in complex B2B industries. Welcome to the show, Michael.
Michael: Thanks, Amanda. I really appreciate being here.
Amanda: I’m excited for this because just before we went live, we were talking about some of the stuff of the things that people say about B2B versus B2C and maybe B2C being a little easier and how you might disagree with that, I’d love to have a conversation around the differences and similarities between the two.
Michael: For sure. So, I sometimes think that us as B2B marketers, and to give some background I’ve been lucky enough to work extensively on the B2B side of the business, particularly in complex industries working for agencies like Cohn, and in most recent years, Godfrey, which focuses specifically on B2B marketing for complex industries and a variety of things petrochemical, chemical processing, building materials, those sorts of industries. And having spent my prior years before those experiences on the consumer side with brands like Ubisoft, Microsoft, Southwest and now past, or should I say currently working on brands like me 01:50 [inaudible], and Ithaca College and a variety of other brands. It’s really interesting to me how often we as B2C and B2B, marketers create points of tension amongst our relationships, or should I say, a better way of putting this would be like a lack of empathy for both sides of the coin. BZB marketers often say that B2C marketers have an easier job. And B2C marketers often say that they have way more personas, way more individuals, way more buyer profiles that they’ve got to deal with on the consumer side. So, one of the things that I think that’s really interesting that we need to do as marketers is first understand that at the end of the day, regardless of if we are working as a B2B or B2C marketer, number one, have some more empathy for the other side of the business, right? If you’re a consumer-oriented marketer, understand that there are really keen nuances and, and points of differentiation that B2B marketers can bring to the table. And also, on the B2B side of the business, don’t just roll your eyes at your B2C marketers and think that their job is any easier. There are complex situations that happen even for consumer marketers, where they’re dealing with the same challenges that a B2B marketer deals with, different types of individuals inside their organizations, massively complex organizational structures that they have to work their campaigns through. Getting buy-in to content can be just as challenging on both sides of the coin and so I think one thing really interesting, and that could be a healthy debate inside our community is just having a bit more empathy for both sides of the coin, that we’re both dealing with the same challenges, regardless, if you’re B2B or B2C.
Amanda: Yeah, I love that, we actually had an episode recently about empathy. So, I’m kind of glad we didn’t talk about this specifically and I think it’s really interesting to exercise that same practice with our peers and think about some of the things that they’re going through. It’s easy to be like, I have it easier and just kind of write it off like that.
Michael: Yeah, I’ve been lucky enough to do presentations for both B2C and B2B and blended audiences. And I’m constantly surprised by the level of, I think probably a more negative word would be like the animosity that B2B marketers have for their B2C colleagues of just like, my job is so much harder than yours. And I get it, I truly do, I have a huge amount of respect and empathy for B2B marketers. I just think sometimes we grapple with those differences as sort of being harder when B2C marketers have just as many challenges and often have the same challenges, they’re just nuanced a little bit differently. So, I think just having a bit of that, but the understanding and respect across the various industries that we work in is important.
Amanda: Absolutely. So, yeah, I think it can almost be its own episode, right, the way that we can learn from one or the other. But I would like to focus on B2B and especially some of these more, quote unquote, complicated industries that maybe aren’t as accessible to everyday people. I don’t know anything about the industry, as you mentioned at the top of the show, which can be intimidating, I think for marketers, but also, I think harder to prove sometimes the content benefit if people at these companies are familiar with these types of marketing strategies. So, let me start with like a very general question, which is, do you think that most, if not all B2B companies need a content strategy?
Michael: I mean, 100%, I don’t see how anyone is able to drive, not only things that matter to B2B marketers, like inbound leads, drive sales opportunities, create retention and loyalty opportunities, I don’t think you can create those things, especially in an environment where we are largely remote and will be for the foreseeable future. I don’t think any industry can do that without a solid content strategy, and a solid investment in content creation, right now and in the foreseeable future.
Amanda: So, if you’re talking to, you know, a VP at one of these companies, who is skeptical, how would, you can go on forever, we have an entire podcast about this, how would you bullet points, this is why you need it?
Michael: For sure. So, I think when I’m talking to a VP, there are certain things in the C-suite that they care about. First and foremost, depending upon the type of organization that they typically care about financial related points of the conversation. So, they are looking at things like P&L, the balance sheet, they’re looking at, how they’re growing their customer base, and how they are retaining and creating loyalty amongst their current customers. And hopefully, they care way more about the ladder, the retention and loyalty than they do, just met new customers but that’s an entirely different podcast and a conversation we could have. So, anytime I’m having a conversation with someone in the C-suite, or in the senior levels of the organization, I do my best as a marketer to create conversation points that are solely focused on how do, we impact the metrics that they care about. So, if that’s top line revenue growth, it’s focusing on how content can help drive top line revenue growth, if it’s bottom-line revenue growth, then we focus on metrics and reasons why content works to drive those opportunities. So, you’ve got to as any marketer, and this is where I think we have opportunities and marketers to really improve, not only just as an agency partner, but also as brand marketers inside organizations. When we’re trying to sell-in any of the work that we’re doing, we have to understand the perspective that matters to the individual that we’re selling to. So, if we’re thinking senior level individuals of an organization, for me, it comes down to figuring out what are the metrics and analytics that those individuals care about, and then creating those bullet points and backing into those bullet points based on stuff we can control with content. So, anytime I’m having that conversation, the best thing I can do is figure out what they care about, and back those three to five bullet points on why content can impact those metrics into that conversation.
Amanda: That makes total sense. So, when you talk about backing into those metrics, how are you able to illustrate that when you haven’t done work already to kind of point to, what do you use as your examples of how to arrive at those metrics?
Michael: That’s a really good question, you’ve got to go look at both your competitive set and if there are any known case studies, or and or what they’re doing in the space to see, here’s how we can fit into that conversation. But it’s also about looking outside and towards aspirational brands. So, regardless, if you’re in a complex industry, or something that’s more simplified, it’s looking for those, both those competitors and aspirational brands and looking for the case studies that show the value and impact of content on their organizations. And the good thing is, those case studies are widely shared, you only need to do a Google search to understand, you know, what are the benefits of content generation on organizations, and you can get into industry specific or vertical specific impacts really, really quickly, depending upon how you’re doing those searches or which particular areas of research, you’re looking for those opportunities to share.
Amanda: I do want to touch on the retention point you made because I think this is an interesting one between B2B and B2C. I think a lot of the time, there’s some debate in B2C where especially for ecommerce or like, retention is not really as much of a thing, it’s more just get as many people in here as we can, but with B2B, when you’re making large purchases, and then out of ongoing basis sometimes of its services, retention really does play a huge role that might be undervalued. So, how do you go about like, what do you think is the percentage of importance between retention and new business?
Michael: I think this comes down to exactly, you kind of nailed it on the head when you talk to different types of B2C versus B2B organizations. Depending upon the the size of purchase or the dollar figure of purchase and the quantity of purchases that are happening, content can play a different type of role on retention metrics or retention of current customers with your organization. Now, for very specific, complex industries, retention is a huge part of what the organization has to be doing and how marketing generates revenue for the organization. Because, as you just mentioned, these typically are high value ticket items, high value sales that happen on a limited basis. So, you’re buying, you know, an air conditioning unit that’s cooling a chemical plant that’s going to cost, you know, 3 or $400,000, or potentially millions of dollars. There are two big things that retention come into play, is that more and more in complex industries. retention is about not only just getting the product and understanding that you’ve chosen the right product for the long term and reinforcing that messaging. But more and more, you’re seeing B2B organizations sell an increase top line revenue on services and support. So, it’s not only about the purchase of the physical product or service, the initial one, but it’s also about how do we generate net reoccurring revenue over the long term of that product? And content can play a really key role in helping develop those opportunities, right? That content can help sell in services, and reoccurring and subscription models around the product. That content can also help reinforce why you have spent so much money on said multimillion dollar product, because it repositions you over and over again, or I should say, it can reposition you over and over again, as the reason why that customer has bought and spent with you in the past.
Amanda: I love that you went into that because that was basically my next question, which was what are examples of content that you can use for the retention side? Because I think it’s a different perspective, it’s a different approach.
Michael: It is, and in complex industries, where we see the value is in again, reinforcing, how do you continue that relationship with a customer? So, it’s understanding what the challenges are they’re going to have once that product purchase happens, and when you’re going to need to have touches with that customer post purchase. You know, is there an average lifespan of these products so that you can understand, hey, we need to be ramping up our touchpoints with them when we get to year one, year two, year three, so that we are top of mind. It could be that you also want to continually reinforce why they purchase said brand name because when they do get to that end of lifespan opportunity, they don’t look for a competitor because they know that they have not only purchased, they’ve had a good experience, but you’ve also educated them for the amount of time that they have been a customer. So, there’s a variety of ways we can do that with content, we can do that through case study work, we can do that through white paperwork, we can do that through telling customer testimonials, of why our products are being chosen over and over and over again by certain types of customers. All of those opportunities become really interesting touch points for how do, we leverage content to do retention activities.
Amanda: We talked about how to get buy-in for something like this. So, once you start doing it, especially in the retention side where it’s not as clear or immediate, what your results are, how do you go about proving that the time you spent working on case studies or putting these materials together is paying off for your current customers?
Michael: Yeah, so these are where systems and technology become really important as a part of, not only just what you’re doing on the content side, but what you’re doing as a marketing organization. So, as we think of our platforms that we use, as marketers call them, you know, attribution systems, call them demand generation systems, whatever your term is marketing automation platforms, your email service writer, all of these this tech stack that you have, we have to be able to, not only know every, not know everything, that’s a bad word to say just because from a privacy perspective, but we have to know when our current customers are touching these content pieces that we’re creating. And the good news is, is that regardless of what you know, tech stack we’re using, whether that’s a Salesforce, a HubSpot or responses, a Marketo, an Adobe insert whatever platform right XYZ into that conversation, all of them don’t do a very good job of telling us, hey, x customer looks at y, z, a, b, c,10, 11, 12-thing of ours. Once we create a connection with that customer, whether it’s through their email address, and then we get to know them through any number of things that we can do on the tracking side within these platforms. We can see what videos they’re watching, what content they’re downloading, we also see the opposite too, right, we can see what they’re not doing, which can become a really important opportunity for us to help open up those intriguing moments where they’re not paying attention to us, to our sales teams, to help them say, hey, this customer seems to have turned away from our retention activities, we may want to have a conversation with them, we may want to reach out to them and see what’s happening on their side. I’ll give a consumer example, this was something that was on a bunch of major news sources, but several years ago, and this is a consumer example, but I think it can apply in our B2B realm. Several years ago, Domino’s went through a massive restructuring, redid their pizza recipe but what they also did, is spent close to something crazy, like $100 million on their tech stack over the course of about three years, all with a number of goals in mind, but one of those was to help their franchisees know if a loyal customer suddenly stopped ordering from Domino’s. And so, there was this specific example of a customer and I cannot I think it was in Kentucky, I can’t remember the state, but it doesn’t matter for the sake of this conversation. But there was a specific customer who was ordering Domino’s four or five times per week. Now, we can get into the nuances of how healthy that is or not but hey, you know, you can get like grilled chicken breast from Domino’s apparently these days so maybe it’s not all that bad. But all of a sudden, this customer stopped ordering from Domino’s one week and this text app within Domino’s flagged this customer and one of the things that Domino’s did really well is they allowed for automation points to happen when a customer stopped doing something so a franchisee could go in and click like send this customer coupons or send them an email campaign with these types of offers. And it would pull up dynamic offers based on what the customer had bought in the past. But this particular customer was someone that this franchisee knew so well, because he had been ordering so often, the franchisee worked in the store, he knew who this gentleman was. So, he picked up the phone and called this customer, didn’t answer, which was unusual. He picked up the phone again, didn’t answer. So, on the next delivery drivers run. He said to his delivery individual, Hey, can you go out to x customer and just make sure they’re alive? Delivery guy goes out to this customer’s home, bangs on the door no answer sees that, and this delivery driver knew this guy because he’d been delivering pizzas for like a year to this individual, sees that his car is sitting there and thinks oh, it’s kind of weird, looks around through the window and sees a pair of legs. This customer had had a brain aneurysm and literally almost died on the floor, that delivery driver called 911 and saved this guy’s life. And it was only for the domino system that flagged, hey, this customer had stopped doing something that he had done previously over and over again. So, I tell this long-involved story to say that, just as much of the actions that we see our customers doing matter just as much as what they’re not doing, are they paying attention to our email campaigns? Are they downloading content? Are they looking at stuff we’re sending them? Are they continuing to subscribe to our services, all of those moments that we have the ability to track in these systems and understand back to your original question, why does retention matter and how do we measure it and look for these moments, all of them can play a really interesting role in understanding our customers continuing to do business with us, even if they’re not spending money, but are they continuing to engage with us, which is doing business with us or are they ignoring that, and I think those become really interesting opportunities for us as organizations.
Amanda: I was completely gripped by that story and I think it’s a really good illustration of how, I mean, it’s a really great illustration of how examples or case studies or actual stories can really make a point, just a little meta, but I want to note that. Talk about like convincing someone, like they need to know about retention.
Michael: But it’s so important because we often as marketers get so focused on averages and engagement and making that the thing that we hang our hat on. And I think sometimes we need to also pay attention too is, our lead scoring shouldn’t just be about when customers are engaging with us. It also should be about when they stop doing things that they’ve done with us, because that can be a really interesting sign that their attention is elsewhere. Especially if we know we are very equipped as B2B marketers to understand what is the average lifespan of product or service and if we aren’t part of the conversation, why is that happening? So, I just think it’s such a different perspective that we often just leave off to the side and discount that could be really important in making marketing even more of a revenue generating part of the organization.
Amanda: I love that. This has been a really interesting conversation. I think one of the questions I wanted to ask you, because you’ve had so much experience with brands, B2B and B2C is, have you ever gotten some kind of common pushback from from the C-suite or anything, when it comes to implementing a content program or anything relevant? Is there something that comes up a decent amount?
Michael: That content is cheap, always, it’s like, it’s the statements of, just do the Instagram story, just write the blog post, just create the white paper. I think some of those perspectives, and some of those opinions often come from that a lot of individuals that are saying those things do not value the creative process. We, as marketers understand this so well, that a piece of creative like, let’s just say something that’s very top of mind right now and for those listening, we just have the Superbowl so, Superbowl ads are very top of mind at the moment. If you’ve never been a part of the production of a Superbowl ad, you should know that literally this week is when the agencies that are creating the Superbowl ads for next year start their work, it’s a yearlong cycle, right? If we don’t understand that, senior levels of an organization don’t understand that. That’s the type of timelines we’re talking about here, with some pieces of content, we are talking about potentially a yearlong timeline. Because there are so many things we have to do, we have to understand customer perspectives, we have to know who we’re writing for, we’ve got to have tone and voice nailed, we’ve got to have value props nailed, we’ve got to things we’ve got to go through legal 14 times until Sunday to get approved, right and then they have to go through 14 other approvals after that. The most common objection that I get to content is, just do it. It’s easy, just get it done. It’s not, I think, business leaders need to have an appreciation that good content takes time. Now, good content can also be real time off the cuff. It can be, doesn’t need to be professionally produced, it can be very simple. But we still have to do the work beforehand to understand how to bring that to life in the simplest way possible. And that means getting to know our customers as close as we can building a relationship with them. What do they care about? What don’t they care about? What are they looking for? What matters to them? What doesn’t? That takes research, that takes time, that takes a perspective, that’s not just going to happen overnight. And so, the most common pushback to get back to your question is just that content is cheap, but it should be simple, and it is not.
Amanda: Yeah, I think I’ve definitely heard similar feedback at companies before, really, it’s really tough because it puts a lot of pressure on the ROI conversation, when you first have to sit there battling for more time and resources and then they’re like, well, this better be worth it.
Michael: Yes, and I think sometimes the perspective that on the other side of like, if you’re a senior level leader and manager and you’re working on the finance or business operation side, you’re the COO, CFO, CEO roles, is that you understand that our core marketers are artists, we are creatives, like an ad is a piece of art for us, it doesn’t just happen. And so, I hope that senior leaders of organizations can understand that that’s who you’re speaking to, you’re speaking to an artist. So, when you say something is cheap, and something is simple, we get, immediately we are on the defensive as marketers, because we understand that what we’re putting out there is a version of ourselves at the end of day, it is our art form. And it should not be devalued too just being simple and cheap. It can be simple, but it can’t be cheap. And it can be cheap but it’s not going to be simple that way that’s not going to be impacting our customers. We can do that, but it just won’t have the impact that you’re looking for. And it certainly won’t help you reinforce as a marketer that the value of good content matters because it will not have the impact you’re looking for.
Amanda: And I feel like that’s pretty common at organizations that value just like the output more than anything else. You’re like, oh, write, like 50 blog post this month and sure you can hit that volume, it’s terrible. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to get the actual result that you’re going for.
Michael: No, not at all.
Amanda: So, I feel like I can continue talking about all of this. So, we are nearing the end of the episode, but this is actually, the question I’ve been asking at the end of every episode is actually very relevant to what you were just saying, which is that there’s an art to this. You often hear and we are pretty data-centered at Fractl, but there is definitely, I’ve always thought a very specific art to all of this. It’s like understanding people that empathy you were talking about, that can’t be necessarily always drilled down to numbers. So, the question I’ve been asking all my guests this year, is how, do you stay creative, whether it’s personally professionally, we’re all, most of us, in marketing are working from home. It’s, we’re all kind of in a rut, as it is, how do you manage to think of new ideas to keep things fresh? What are your tips?
Michael: I’m going to be really honest here and say that I have really struggled the last year, particularly during the pandemic, with what I view as creativity. And this is something I shared in a conversation, a group of marketers, we have this little zoom happy hour occasionally. And I said, I’ve just honestly struggled. But what I will say is that I think, right now, during the pandemic, we’re having these moments of creativity at like, really odd times right? For me, that has been, literally as I’m about to go to bed and it has been at the most inopportune moments of like, the dog going crazy, or like being in the shower or being totally distracted, like, oh, yeah, that would work, I should write that down. And so, my only way that I have sort of figured out how to be creative right now is to like, just be okay with it, I’m not being creative, that there are going to be moments in your life where you’re just not going to be as productive in the creativity space and that’s okay. Just realize that those moments of creativity are going to probably pop up in odd moments of your life. So, figure out how to record those moments, whether it’s in your phone, or a little mini notebook, or putting something next to your bed, so that you can be like, okay, there’s something here, I need to unpack this, I’ll do it tomorrow. I think you have to do as a marketer also, get outside the bubble, like, stop following the same people on Twitter, stop following, you know, just your friends and family, on the social media networks, find points of inspiration from artists that you’re not exposed to, poets, writers who may not be about marketing, it’s just about finding points of inspiration and different points of view that maybe can help bring that creativity back. But know that it’s okay, that there are going to be moments where you’re not going to be creative, and you’re just going to have to figure out different ways to do it that work for you.
Amanda: I’m really happy you mentioned that that’s something I’ve been personally struggling with, is and not even just creativity productivity, feeling like, at any moment, I shouldn’t be doing something else and a lot of people struggle with that, in general, but I feel like especially during the pandemic, it’s brutal, you feel just uninspired and you feel bad for feeling uninspired. It’s just no, we have to give ourselves a lot more grace right now so glad you added that.
Michael: A huge amount of grace and also just make time for what matters. So, like, if creativity is not working for you now, then maybe it’s about working out or going for a walk or spending an extra 15 minutes watching your favorite show, do something that creates some structure, some ability to say like, hey, I did this and that’s all that matters right now. So, that you can just check that box and feel like something’s been accomplished rather than just feeling like, oh, I’m just not doing enough, I’m not getting there, I’m not moving forward.
Amanda: Absolutely. Well, Michael, knowing the objective of our show, who do you recommend to be future guests on the program?
Michael: This is a great question. I would love you to look at people like Melanie Diezel, I think she would be a really, really good conversation to have on content. I’m always going to say one of my friends and a bit of a mentor, through my career, Jay Baer has always been, I think someone I look to for inspiration around content. I also think another individual for you to potentially talk to, oh, my gosh, name, I’m terrible with names, everyone should know that I’m better with faces and so I always recommend sort of like the avatars, but I think his name is Julian Shapiro. He’s someone I follow on Twitter, that I’m constantly inspired by, like the way he creates content. He focuses on these guidebooks so like big meaty sort of hang your hat pieces of content that are very long form. I think he’d be an excellent guest to have on as well.
Amanda: Awesome. Yeah, I’ll definitely check them out on Twitter and if I find that person’s Twitter account.
Michael: I will find it. I probably totally butchered the last name by the way because again, I’m terrible with names, but I can recognize avatars and faces, which is horrible right now because everyone’s in masks. So, I feel like people that I live around constantly are walking around and being like, hey, how are you? And I’m like, I don’t even know who that person is, hey.
Amanda: Well, I really appreciate the suggestions and thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show.
Michael: For sure, thanks so much, Amanda. Appreciate it.
Amanda: If you’ve listened to this and want even more tips, sign up for our podcast newsletter by going to the podcast page on the Fractl website. And if you’ve learned anything from this show, we’d love it if you’d subscribe on your favorite podcast platform and leave a review. Finally, if you have feedback, suggestions, ideas, good masks to wear while running, I’m looking for one of those D&D character backstories or anything you’d like to share with me, shoot me an email at [email protected]. I’m a shameless extrovert who would love to hear from you. Thank you to Sean Kelly for podcast music and editing and to Joao Pereyra for logo design. And thank you, dear listener, I hope you’ll join us next time.