In an earlier blog we outlined five dynamics that make the cable market unique and discussed how they affect content creation for broadband equipment vendors. In this one we’ll take a closer look at the service provider buying cycle and the opportunities it creates to inform and inspire some really good, highly targeted content.
First things first: most marketers are familiar with the B2B marketing funnel – the traditional view of how a buyer moves from stranger to prospect to customer. While the details can vary, the typical stages include awareness of a problem or an opportunity, consideration of possible solutions and decision on which product(s) to purchase. For each stage, marketers typically create multiple forms of content to educate, inform or persuade buyers.
The funnel approach is tried and true, but it’s also generic. This same approach can be applied to cloud-based disaster recovery platforms, all-flash storage arrays or just about any high tech B2B solution. But marketing to service providers is unique and complicated, so using the generic funnel to guide your content can leave opportunities on the table.
So, what does the service provider buying cycle really look like and how does it affect content creation?
To kick things off, a challenge, an innovation and a standard usually coalesce to start the journey. Service providers rarely make significant technology changes without the presence of all three. They then enter a long period of consideration where they evaluate vendors and their solutions based on several factors. Technology capabilities are important here, but so are integration, operational and financial matters, which are critical to a solution’s network fit and real-world viability.
The unique thing about the consideration stage in the service provider world is that the solution that’s being evaluated often isn’t fully ready for field deployment. Service providers tend to select one or more vendor partners with which they’ll collaborate on honing, hardening and operationalizing their solutions through months of work and multiple trials. In other words, it’s not always an if you build it, they will come model, sometimes it’s more like an if they come, you will build it sort of thing.
When you dig deep into the intricacies of the service provider buying process, you’ll find some amazing opportunities to improve your content. Here are a few to get you started.
Respect the leap of faith
When a service provider selects a vendor for a long-term, big-ticket solution rollout, it means there’s some serious trust involved. Look for opportunities within your content to highlight relevant experience and use cases. But don’t forget to demonstrate that you’re humble and open to tackling new challenges together. Remember that trust is earned, so pretending to have all the answers can damage your credibility.
Build content for the long haul
The service provider buying cycle can be extremely long. We’re talking 18 months to two years here. Along the way, various stakeholders interact with an average of 13 pieces of content from independent industry sources, your competition and your company. To meet service providers’ information needs during these extended buying cycles, it’s critical that you develop and deploy enough content – and target it to the issues that matter most to key stakeholders. Most vendors come up short when it comes to quality content, leaving service providers to look elsewhere for the information they need as they travel the path to a purchase decision.
Tell them what they need to hear
There are many ways to evaluate content, but one of the simplest and most effective is to place each piece into one of two categories. The first is promotional – any piece of content that focuses on the benefits of a given product or solution. The second category is informative – content that provides useful information a service provider may need at any point along their buying journey. Most of the content you develop for service providers should fall into the informative category. In other words, develop and deploy content that makes your company an information resource for service providers by focusing more on what they need to hear rather than what you want to tell them.
Create operational content early
While service providers tend to tackle integration and operational issues after they’ve selected a vendor, it doesn’t mean those things aren’t on their mind early. In fact, service providers rarely make purchase decisions on innovation alone. Integration is a huge part of most major network upgrades, and they’re likely to gravitate toward a vendor that has plans and solutions for the management, billing, support, supply chain, training and plant upgrade requirements that almost always accompany a new technology rollout. Create plenty of content on these important integration and operational issues, and make sure it’s available to stakeholders in the consideration stage.
Try it out
If your job is to create or manage marketing content that’s targeted at service providers, we hope you’ll give this approach some thought. If you try out any of the tips above, please drop us a line and let us know what you think.