New Research: B2B Content is a Dead End

Dead End, DeKalb, ILAccording to research from the Content Marketing Institute, B2B marketers are now spending 26% of their budget on content marketing.

What happens when someone downloads or accesses some of the highest value and most in-depth content marketers are offering? Today, many large B2B marketers are putting a stop to the conversation and cutting off prospects ability to continue finding additional information when potential customers get to their best content.

Best Practice: Enable Self-Directed Research

Many B2B websites enable prospects to find the information they need, and they should. Multiple research reports have shown B2B buyers conduct more than 70% of their research before engaging with sales. Providing access to a range of content that allows potential buyers to continue their research is critical.

This practice should not stop at your website. It applies anywhere prospects are engaging with your content, from Facebook to PDFs of research or whitepapers. If your audience is engaged with your content, give them an opportunity to stay engaged!

The Reality: Marketers Are Pushing Away Prospects

Yet when buyers get to some of your highest value content, marketers act like they should be done with their research. Instead of giving them the opportunity to continue their research, you give them a dead end, with no paths to additional content.

I reviewed white papers from 10 large B2B marketers, mostly downloaded through third party sites (paid placement with publishers). On third party sites, content from competitors is just one click away, and frequently offered in an Amazon-style “you might also like” module. Clicking to a competitor is an easy way for prospects to continue researching, making it even more critical for marketers to include navigation in their own content to keep prospects engaged.

Of the 10 white papers reviewed, here is what I discovered:

  • Only two white papers included a link to an additional piece of content, and one of those had a single somewhat random link only.
  • Only one white paper included a link to a topical page where content published since the white paper could be available.
  • Five white papers did not include links to an appropriate product page for more information. Instead they only linked to a homepage or very broad page covering a significantly wider range of topics than the white paper.


B2B marketers need to revisit content assets to ensure they enable prospective buyers to continue researching the same way their website does.

By adding links to related content and to content destinations that will have more recent information, marketers can provide paths for buyers to continue their research.

Your Turn

With the focus on content and inbound marketing, who do you think B2B marketers are not implementing these practices in their content? Share your opinion in the comments or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

White papers from the following companies were included in this review: AT&T, Cisco, Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and VMWare.

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  • Especially in a large company, it’s easier to post a single piece of content than to curate an ongoing stream of related content over time.  To do it well requires some oversight and planning, not just of one particular area and group of writers, but also across lines of business and multiple groups of writers.  This may be an area where small business could have an advantage.  But whether large or small, finding time and resources to create content paths is a challenge.

  • Shimon

    Good point!! However, connecting the content dots is extremely difficult, mainly for large organizations, such as the ones you looked at. I think call-to-action in general is a point for improvement in content marketers. 

  • carmenhill

    Absolutely agree, Eric. There are challenges, though, since the same asset may be used in multiple places, and the call to action may be different depending on the audience/channel. It’s not that it can’t be done; it just requires some pretty sophisticated, proactive content strategy to do it right. 

    • Doug Coleman

      That’s a great point, Carmen. It takes a lot of effort and hard work to craft complete marketing, social media, and content strategies, Virtually every company I’ve ever worked with overlooks this crucial step (to various degrees) in their haste to participate online. I am adamant in recommending companies go no further until a solid strategy is in place. Of course I have yet to see a company fully take my advice- from 100 million dollar businesses to struggling startups.

  • Doug Coleman

    Excellent post Eric, you restore my faith in B2B marketers. 

    I’ve had the opportunity to work with a couple of large B2B companies and it frustrated the hell out of me. My opinion is not a very popular one among the industry, but I stand behind it. First I’ll answer your question: 

    B2B marketers are not implementing these strategies in their content because many B2B marketers don’t know what they are doing yet in this brave new era of digital media. Simple as that. I think we can all agree; B2B is an entirely different beast when compared to B2C marketing. I contend that even the best of B2B marketers are still learning what works and NOBODY has yet perfected the craft. I would also argue that the most successful B2B companies don’t really “market” to prospective customers as much as inform, educate and enable them to choose their product. 

    Ok, I’ll stop there, as the whole subject is way too deep for a single comment or post. 

    Thanks again for providing this forum, I’m becoming a big fan of your work here.

  • Great post and insight, Eric.  And I love the quick research.
    I’m a big believer in cross-promotion in content marketing but I really like your idea of self-directed research.
    That feels like a critical discipline as we all get good at marketing whole libraries rather than just one piece of content at a time.

  • Wow, that’s crazy. What a missed opportunity. I agree it is about a conversation and conversations shouldn’t auto stop when hitting a download button. I always include more information and invite further conversation in any downloaded material.

  • Fantastic post Eric — very interesting discoveries. It always amazes me that some organizations forget the basics.

  • Terrific post, Eric. As Doug Kessler said, being able to point white paper readers to a logical next step means marketers need to prepare a rich repository of interrelated content, rather than dribble out their content over time. This is especially important for tech marketers. A study by TechTarget found that many IT buyers gather a mountain of content in one fell swoop as they’re conducting online research. As you point out, if you don’t provide all the info prospective buyers are seeking, they’ll likely click away until they find a competitor that does.

    • Eric’s post is right on – and Stephanie makes a valuable point that the buyer’s research is deep and we need to do more than just generate a white paper or a case study. To understand this ‘buyers journey’ I suggest engaging directly with
      current customers, new customers and lost sales opportunities. Your focus in these important meetings is to
      understand by industry and role within the company their evaluation and buying
      process in person and not by the reports.
      Talk to them about what triggered
      the need for the solution, what actions they took, where they went to find
      answers, what they were looking for, who they spoke with and how they evaluated
      the information. By conducting focused
      interviews like this you will learn how
      best to align your marketing to social media marketing outlets that are
      most effective. What will emerge as well
      will be the best ways to engage with the types of content that will interest
      consumers and build the relationships and evangelists you need to successfully
      build and sell in today’s social media dominated world. And more importantly I think you will find insights that will spill over to other marketing and sales
      programs thereby enhancing your solutions marketing programs as well and
      elevating them within the organization. As someone mentioned in another post, this is a new area for B2B marketing and I think increasingly we will need to become more analytic in our marketing efforts.

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  • Good point. It’s perhaps an example of marketing forgetting about the sales required at the end of the discussion; sales will want a next action, an agreement to proceed and clarity on who to deal with.

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  • Annetteg

    It is a thin line that we have to walk.

    It seems like a total misfire, not including a call to action on a case study or a white paper.
    However, as a user of a marketing automation tool, I’m constantly told to act as resource and back off on the selling and closing. 

    Would be great to read about a test and conclusive results.

    I’m on it!

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  • Any dead end is symptomatic of an un-holistic strategy towards content. Content is supposed to generate discussion, returned engagement and increased loyalty. It’s a cycle. 

  • Hi Eric, first of wall I would say that I’m new on your blog and I find it excellent!

    Concerning your post, it is a very interesting finding indeed. I am not as expert as you in content marketing and inbound marketing strategies, but according to me, there is a reason for that: content is made to inform, to convey the expertise of the company on a subjet, not to sell directly (even if it is hypocritical to believe that sale is the ultimate goal).
    The presence of links going toward other pieces of content or product descriptions may seem to be another commercial tactics, whereas buyers try to figure out what are their needs.

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