Ensuring Technical Content Fills — not Creates — Gaps on the Buyer’s Journey
The buyer’s journey is often depicted as a linear voyage, during which prospects ideally check in at various touchpoints across three general phases: pre-sales, sales and loyalty.
Clearly, there is value in this approach; especially when compared to the traditional sales funnel concept, which led (and continues to lead) many businesses into believing that their objective is to aggressively push prospects towards making a purchase vs. consultatively guide them towards solving a problem. As the adage goes: while people don’t like being sold, they do indeed enjoy buying. The buyer’s journey model does a much better job of respecting this truth, and businesses that implement it effectively usually stand out in their marketplace for all of the right reasons. That is, they aren’t perceived as sellers, but are respected as partners.
However, while replacing the sales funnel with the buyer’s journey is a step in the right direction, businesses must also appreciate that prospects on this trek aren’t passive tourists, who are happy to sit back, take Selfies, and let a guide highlight points of interest. On the contrary, prospects are continuously gathering information that is either affirming they’re on the right track, or giving them reason to pause — or possibly, head for the exit. And that’s where technical content plays a pivotal role in strengthening relationships and helping prospects get to the finish line of the buyer’s journey, or undermining relationships and convincing prospects to find their solution elsewhere.
Of course, influence works both ways. Just as effective technical content is an asset on the buyer’s journey, ineffective technical content is a liability. Here are the key factors that distinguish the former from the latter:
The axiom you cannot manage what you cannot measure has a twin: you cannot experience what you cannot locate. As advised by content strategist Mark Baker: “finding is not complete until the [searcher] acquires the knowledge they seek.” As far as technical content and the buyer’s journey is concerned, this findability requirement applies on two levels.
The first level is that prospects need to easily and quickly find the technical content they want, or else they’ll stop searching and head to a competitor. As noted by Michael Hedron, professor of strategic management at Brigham Young University: “ensuring that your findability is better than your competitors’ can be the difference between success and failure.”
To this end, in addition using a structured and consistent approach that targets a defined purpose, technical content must be crafted with meaningful page titles that make sense without navigational context, internal links along lines of subject affinity, and the latest SEO best practices (including effective use of semantic metadata).
The second level is on the back end, and relates to sales reps having the ability to find content just as quickly and easily as prospects, including in real-time during conversations and presentations. The CMO Council found that sales reps spend up to 40% of their time trying to find content, which isn’t just a costly drain on their active selling time, but leaves prospects with unanswered questions — and bad impressions.
It goes without saying — yet, paradoxically because of this, it can be easy to forget — that prospects are self-interested. This doesn’t mean that they’re narcissistic or self-absorbed. They believe in relationships as much as businesses. But they aren’t going to read, watch or listen to something unless it directly falls within their relevancy framework.
As such, technical content — whether it’s available on-demand via the web or personally delivered by a sales rep — needs to borrow a page from the retail playbook by knowing what prospects want before they do, and using this awareness to provide relevant descriptions, summaries and context. For example, prospects in the pre-sales phase are typically interested in researching, prospects in the sales phase are typically interested in comparing, and prospects in the post-sales phase are typically interested in optimizing.
Simply put, if prospects must invest time with an asset to figure out why it matters to them, then many of them simply won’t get started in the first place. While they aren’t passive or closed-minded, they aren’t interested in discovery and learning for its own sake. They’re seekers, not explorers.
McKinsey notes that the 3 C’s of customer satisfaction are: consistency, consistency and consistency. But this axiom also applies before a transaction, because inconsistency is just as irksome and alarming for prospects as it is for customers. What’s more, this extreme sensitivity regarding consistency is rational and predictable. Prospects aren’t being unfair or unrealistic. They’re merely using available information to establish opinions and draw conclusions. That is, they’re doing what prospects are supposed to do.
Therefore, technical content must be internally and externally consistent. Internally consistent means that a piece of content can’t be a disparate patchwork of sections and segments, or a cacophony of styles and terms of reference. Each distinct asset, whether it’s a user guide, use case, reference sheet or anything else, must clearly demonstrate internal integrity and consistency from start-to-finish. Naturally, this includes visual values and information design as well.
Externally consistent is just as important — and also a bigger challenge. All technical content in the ecosystem, regardless of channel, medium or touchpoint, must be on-message, on-brand, accurate, up-to-date, compliant and aligned with organizational strategy. Prospects who come across contradictory or incomplete messages immediately (and sometimes subconsciously) ascribe these defects to the business behind them. Even if this doesn’t instantly end their trek on the buyer’s journey, it slows down momentum and compels them to ask the daunting question: “is this business truly trustworthy, reliable and safe to deal with?”
The Bottom Line
The role of technical content isn’t just to deliver competent information. It’s also to create engagement, build relationships, and advance prospects on the buyer’s journey. In other words, technical content can’t sit on some dusty (virtual) shelf waiting to be called upon, while marketing content and sales collateral do the heavy lifting. On today’s business landscape, technical content is as influential — and in some cases, more influential — than anything else that a business can or will do to turn impressed prospects into loyal customers.
At Zoomin, our innovative content publishing platform empowers businesses to create and deliver findable, consistent and relevant technical content across all touchpoints. When this happens, businesses can be assured that their technical content is filling gaps on the buyer’s journey and making sales happen — instead of creating gaps along the way, and losing profitable opportunities.