It's an interesting response when I ask buyer personas what vendor content they seek. The initial reaction is a major eye roll followed by a big sigh. It doesn't matter if the industry is real estate, banking, manufacturing, higher education or the person's seniority.

It's always the same.

In probing why this solicits such an unconscious reaction, the response is a litany of complaints we're all familiar with: lack of relevance, value, originality, consistency and accuracy. Even personalization needs to be revised as that content is perceived as too general.

Our research found that, on average, 50% of vendor content is neither sought, read or valued. That is a lot of wasted dollars and time. We also found that 25% of the remaining content does not meet persona expectations regarding tone, language or detail. What buyers value, and actively look for, is journey-step specific content created by trusted sources. The trick is to uncover what that content is for each journey step.

What Do B2B Buyers Want in Each Journey Stage?

I've analyzed hundreds of B2B interviews we conducted over the past two years to discover the most sought content by journey stage.

To set the context for this discussion, I'll use our journey framework, the Sellers' Compass®, developed from thousands of B2B buyer and customer interviews. This time-proven framework defines the lifecycle stages from the buyer's perspective, not the vendors.

There are five stages in the purchase journey: Trigger, Define, Search, Evaluate and Validate.

The Trigger Event: The Spark Behind Every Purchase Journey

Every purchase journey begins with a trigger, an event resulting in an organization acknowledging an opportunity or problem. Triggers can be proactive, reactive or curious, and there are typically one to three, regardless of company size.

Proactive triggers can be an opportunity to create a competitive advantage, a merger/acquisition, a competitor going out of business or a new market need. Reactive triggers are the opposite. They occur when a crisis has occurred, and the organization must respond to avoid revenue or reputation loss. 

Content plays a minor role in this stage.

The Define Stage Content: Is the Problem or Opportunity a Priority?

In the Define stage, the organization decides whether the opportunity or problem is significant or painful enough to focus resources on it. The organization is trying to answer the question: "Have companies like me solved this and why?"

Commonly sought content at this stage is:

  • Articles and blogs on alternative ways to address the situation.
  • Industry-specific articles on alternative approaches and resulting outcomes.
  • Thought leadership articles.

The Search Stage Content: Finding the Right Approach

After deciding to address the situation, the buyers/team research the various ways to achieve their target outcome and solution providers to consider. Organizations are answering — "Which approach is right for our situation?", "Which vendors should I consider?" and "Who should be shortlisted?"

In addition to researching time to value, outcomes, and the risks of various approaches, buyers also invest significant resources to understand vendor solutions and their features, customer base, pricing and reputation.

Commonly sought content is:

  • Industry and role-based thought leadership articles and white papers on the solution approach and its merits compared to other approaches, relevance to emerging industry issues, the evaluation process companies followed and best practices.
  • Industry analyst reports on the solution category, vendors and their strengths and weaknesses, and category trends.
  • G2, Capterra, TrustRadius, Gartner Peer Insights and Trustpilot rating sites.
  • Vendor websites with a particular interest in:
    • Use and case studies.
    • 5-, 10- and 15-minute product demos on YouTube.
    • Clearly defined product features with capabilities.
    • Copy that clearly differentiates the vendor compared to competitors.
    • Easy to find and transparent pricing, ranges or models.
    • Sample requirements tools to support requirements definition.

Peers and personal networks carry an inordinate amount of influence. They are trusted sources for feedback, vendor referrals, and shortlist recommendations. In this stage, buyers do not want to engage with vendor sales.

Related Article: Are You Suffering from Account Blindness in B2B Marketing?

Learning Opportunities

The Evaluate Stage Content: Buyers Narrow Options

Buyers/teams enter this stage with a preferred vendor or two in mind having completed one or two shortlistings. In this stage the focus is to dive deep into the shortlisted vendors to identify the top choice. Key questions organization are answering include — "Which vendor offers the best fit to achieve the target outcome?" and "How much do I (or can I) trust the vendor?"

It is in this stage that buyers/teams typically engage vendor sales. Having a solid understanding of each vendor and their solutions, buyers expect Sales to have a reciprocal level of knowledge about the buyer’s organization.

Commonly sought content at this stage is:

  • Buyer situation-specific tailored live demos.
  • Technical/architecture white papers, content on how the solution meets specific regulatory compliance, content on process workflow or process innovations, and detailed industry-specific content on how the solution ‘fits’ into organizations from a process, technology, ongoing maintenance and user perspectives.
  • Industry customer lists, references, and quantified case studies.
  • Vendor websites with a particular interest in:
    • Detailed technical and architecture information.
    • Detailed API/integration, security, customizability specifications.
    • Access to user communities, technical documentation, roadmaps.
    • Use case, user/persona, and industry-specific videos on YouTube.
  • PowerPoints, business case templates, and FAQs that help sell the solution internally.
  • Freemium, 1–3-month trials, or sandbox trials.
  • Detailed competitive feature/function and benefits (IT, user, organization, TCO) comparisons (behind firewall).

Feedback on vendors and their reputations is sought from peers and industry communities.

Related Article: Are You Asking the Right Questions in B2B Marketing?

Validate Stage Content: Assessing Risks and Affordability

In the last stage before Purchase, buyer/teams typically conduct technical due diligence to meet compliance requirements. They also want a solid understanding of the onboarding process, meet the customer support/success team, and get specific on support levels and costs.

The questions the organization are trying to answer are — "Which vendor will deliver the target outcome with the least amount of risk?," “Can we afford this?," “What are the surprise costs?” and “Will leadership sign off on this purchase?"

Commonly sought content is:

  • Customizable or vendor developed presentations to support Internal selling and the business case.
  • Customer references including failed adoptions/implementations.
  • Technical deep dive on privacy, cybersecurity, regulatory compliance, and integration.
  • TCO/ROI tools and overall and industry-specific benchmarks.
  • Customized onboarding and service/support plans.

Peer feedback on vendor support experiences, pricing and post-purchase experience are strong final selection influencers.

Summary: Search Stage Most Hungry for Content Experiences

Below is a table that summarizes the above discussion. Keep in mind that buyers expect content to be stage specific. Meaning, white papers for the search stage differ from those sought in the evaluate stage. One size doesn’t fit all and adopting that strategy is where most vendors do themselves an injustice. 


Define Stage

Search Stage

Evaluate Stage

Validate Stage 







Thought Leadership




White Papers




Industry Analysts



Rating Sites



Vendor Websites



Case Studies





YouTube Demos






Product Features



Customer Lists


 X X

In-Depth Technical




Internal Selling Tools




Competitive Comparisons






Onboarding Plans



Conclusion: Know Your Buyers With Qualitative Market Research 

While the above journey stage content lists are high-level and generalized, what your buyers and customers look for may differ. My advice is to invest in securing, in actionable detail, what your buying team personas and customers really want from you by conducting qualitative market research.

As I shared in a B2B journey article, the majority of the buying team’s activity is in the Search stage, before they contact vendors. It behooves vendors to invest in clearly understanding what buyers seek and value. That is the fastest way to understand what content will resonate with your audience and build the credibility, trust and consideration you need to increase your win rate.

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