Content Influence in the Buyer Journey
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Last week, we released the tenth HockeyStack Labs report. When we started HockeyStack Labs, we didn't have any KPIs; we just wanted to create a knowledge hub for B2B revenue teams out there—a knowledge hub myself, a B2B growth leader, always needed. I haven’t written any report that I didn't find interesting myself, and I suppose that's why these Labs reports became such a huge success. They are written by me, for myself, without any sales pitching.

What's the goal now? It's been three months, people are sharing these reports without us asking for it, these reports influence 50% of our pipeline, and they've increased our website traffic by over 3x—we found our golden goose. But why am I writing this? Because I realized that most of our reports were mainly focused on paid spend, and we didn't make enough analysis for the content side. It was probably because I'm coming from a paid background, but now that I've ended up becoming a part-time content writer, I do appreciate content more. For this report, we started with two questions: how does content consumption impact the buyer journey? Is it true that if your audience reads your content more, they will convert better?

Methodology 

Blogs: All ungated content on their website with URLs containing but not limited to blog, resource, academy, and hub. (the mainpages were excluded)

Definition of content consumption: Stayed on that page for more than 30 seconds in the last 60 days.  

MQL: Direct form submissions such as demo, pricing page, and contact us. This doesn’t include any ebook downloads, webinar registrations or anything like that. Currently there’s an inflation of terms in B2B marketing, some say ‘hand raisers’, some say ‘high intent conversions’. I’m calling this MQL simply because I like the sound of it. 

SQL: Pipeline created. Every company has different definitions, but we unified this on the backend and used the SQL definition for when the pipeline is actually created.

Deal Size: also known as deal value, the contract value assigned during the deal process (not necessarily needs to be equal to ACV - i.e. your deal size could be $50k, but then you might get 20% discount which would make your ACV $40k)

ACV: Total new business revenue added divided by the number of closed-won deals (also known as Average Contract Value, Selling Price)

CW: Closed won deals, net new business, new revenue. 

Sample Size: 103 B2B SaaS companies. 

Sample Description: 

- At least 20 blogs on their website. 

- From $9M ARR to $2B ARR; average ACV from $8.5K to $150K. 

- 75% NAM, 15% UK, 10% Europe

Part I:  Pre-MQL

Amongst over a hundred B2B SaaS companies, we found out that the average number of blogs visited before becoming an MQL is 4.28. So, on average, the prospect who submits the contact form reads more than four different pieces of content.

On the company level, the average number of unique people reading at least one blog is 2.51. This means that before any contact form submissions, there are more than two people in that company on average that have been reading your content in the last 60 days. We'll see the importance of this later in this post.

Before submitting any forms, on average 2.51 unique users read blogs per account

On average before becoming an MQL:

  • 25% of the prospects read either no or one blog. 
  • 64% of the prospects read between two to five blogs. 
  • 11% of the prospects read more than five blogs. 

And how does consuming content before submitting any contact form influence the entire buyer journey, if any?

According to our dataset, the average deal size of prospects who read between two to five blogs before becoming an MQL is 14.3% higher than those who read less than two blogs. And the average deal size increases by 27.1% if that person has read more than five blogs in the last two months. This data clearly shows that there's a positive correlation between content consumption and deal size.

On the ACV side, we're seeing a similar pattern. Before looking at that data, I'd like to highlight the difference between deal size and ACV—at least for me. Deal size is the amount assigned by AEs during the deal process; it's the proposal. But one might get a discount, let's say they get a 20% discount from a $50k proposal. Then, once they sign the contract, their ACV will be $40k. So the deal value was $50k, but in reality, the ACV ended up becoming $40k.

But yes, on the revenue side, we're seeing that the ACV of prospects who read between two to five blogs before becoming an MQL is 17.4% higher than those who read less than two blogs. Furthermore, the ACV increases by 27.1% on average if prospects read more than five blogs in the last two months.

And my favorite part, how does this impact the average sales cycle? Not only are we seeing higher revenue with the increase in content consumption, but also we're seeing that if prospects have been reading two to five blogs in the last two months, their MQL to SQL duration decreases by 9.5% compared to those who had read less than two blogs. And if prospects read more than five blogs, then this actually speeds up the sales cycle by 26%! 

This is such a significant number that I want to highlight it one more time. Imagine your MQL to SQL duration is 10 days. If your prospect has been reading your blogs, you can actually decrease this duration to 7.5 days. At scale, now imagine you're generating 10 SQLs every day; this would mean that you could generate around 25 more SQLs every month. If your ACV is $50k, this equals a $1.25M extra pipeline every month.

But this is not only about pipeline; this is also about revenue. We found out that the SQL to CW duration, the sales cycle, decreases by 24.4% if your prospect read between two to five blogs before becoming an MQL. And it decreases by 30.1% if your prospect read more than five blogs.

Before submitting any forms, 25% of MQLs read either no or 1 blog

Let's take a step back and assume that your entire sales cycle is 60 days from the first form submission to closed-won. Your MQL to SQL duration is 15 days, and your SQL to CW duration is 45 days, and you don't really focus on your content strategy so your audience hasn’t been consuming anything. Our dataset shows that if prospects have been reading more than five blog posts in the last two months, then their MQL to SQL duration will decrease to 11 days, and their SQL to CW duration will decrease to 31 days, so the total sales cycle will decrease from 60 days to 42 days which will make your sales cycle 30% more efficient!

Part II: Post-MQL

Okay, we're seeing such significant numbers on the pre-MQL side, but what happens after? How many pieces of content do your prospects read after becoming MQLs? If prospects start reading your content after submitting the form, would this have a similar impact?

Let's start with the first part. Between the MQL to SQL stage, prospects read an additional 4.84 more pieces of content on average; this increases the average number of content read to 9.12. 

In the pre-MQL stage, the average number of unique people reading at least one blog was 2.51; between the MQL to SQL stage, this number increases to 4.2. This is likely because the prospect who sends the demo form also begins to share some content with their colleagues.

between MQL to SQL, on average 4.2 unique users reads blog per account

Between the MQL to SQL stage:

13.4% of the prospects read either no or one blog. 

70.1% of the prospects read between two to five blogs. 

16.5% of the prospects read more than five blogs. 

This data shows us that not only does the number of people consuming content increase, but also people who've already been consuming content keep consuming more.

Between the SQL to CW stage, we're seeing similar if not better numbers. After becoming an SQL, prospects read an additional 6.35 more pieces of content on average. So on average, a B2B buyer reads over 15 different pieces of content until closed-won. This shows that when looking at content performance, first-touch attribution is certainly not enough to see the whole picture.

But this is not it, there’s something more important here. The average number of unique people reading at least one piece of content jumps from 4.2 to 14.73 during the SQL to CW stage. With this jump, we're witnessing the actual size of buying committees. Probably, the prospect starts sharing some content internally, and sales people start sending out some content during the sales process.

Although it would make a very simple assumption, this data shows that during the proposal process, the buying committee is actually 3 times larger than what we see during the pre-SQL process.

Between SQL to CW, on average, over 14 unique users read blogs per account

Between the SQL to CW:

7.14% of the prospects read either no or one blog. 

64.29% of the prospects read between two to five blogs. 

28.57% of the prospects read more than five blogs. 

When we look at these metrics all together with the pre-MQL, MQL:SQL, and SQL:CW stages, what we are seeing is that not only does the number of people who read less than two blogs dramatically decrease, but also the number of people who read more than five blogs increases more than 2x during the sales process.

Okay but what do these numbers mean? Do they help to improve revenue or not? 

Obviously, they do. 

Even if your prospect hasn't been reading your content before becoming an MQL, it's not too late. After becoming an MQL, if prospects read between two to five blogs, this increases the ACV by 6.2% compared to those who read less than two pieces of content. And if they read more than five, this increases the ACV by 9.4%.

Similarly, on the sales cycle side, if your prospects read between two to five blogs after becoming an SQL, this speeds up the sales cycle by 3.3%. And if they read more than five blogs, this speeds up the sales cycle by 9.1%.

So even if prospects haven't been reading the content beforehand, it's not the end of the world. You can still improve your sales metrics by improving the content consumption during the sales process.

Unitil CW, average number of blogs visited is 15.47

Conclusion

In a nutshell, maximizing content consumption seems to be one of the low-hanging fruits to improve revenue metrics. And when we think about it, it does make sense. If your target audience has already been reading your content, it means they have already been on your website and are familiar with your product. This familiarity makes the sales process way easier. Your sales people don't need to spend as much time convincing them, as this audience already knows about you and your product. Furthermore, since they are already familiar with the product, apparently they are also more likely to pay more for it.

However, as highlighted above, if your audience hasn't been reading your content already, this is still not the end of the world. While you should work on improving content consumption, you can still improve your sales metrics by making sure that your audience is exposed to your content during the sales process - maybe with remarketing campaigns, emails, or through sales people. But the data is clear, if prospects read your content more, they convert easier! 

WRITTEN BY
Canberk Beker
Head of Growth at HockeyStack
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