My friend, colleague, and client, Carl Naessans from Telstra, posted a startling blog article about the changing landscape of enterprise sales. In this post, he mentions a recent Forrester study that predicts our economy will employ about a million fewer B2B salespeople in 2020 than it does today.

Think about that: a million fewer B2B salespeople in just four short years.

What is the shift that’s happening? And how will it affect B2B marketing?

The cloud brings the winds of change for sales and marketing
Here at TDA Group, where we focus exclusively on B2B marketing content for the high-tech industry, we’ve seen a huge transition in recent years, and our mix of projects reflects this trend in some dramatic ways. We’ve seen traditional marketing assets decline significantly. The materials marketing departments produce most frequently have completely changed. Today, we’re creating far fewer print and PDF assets—data sheets, solution briefs, brochures, newsletters, and magazines—than we did just a few years ago.

But the need for B2B marketing assets isn’t going away. We’ve seen a definite uptick in digital deliverables such as e-books, smart papers, infographics, social tiles, blogs, videos, and content streams (responsive microsites, which are driven by editorial strategy and deliver continuous content updates). These modern deliverables are consumed on mobile phones and tablets as well as traditional desktop and laptop computers. They are SEO-optimized so they can be quickly found through searches. They are then shared in social networks.

There are two basic reasons why the most prevalent types of deliverables have changed:

1. Self-educating customers
As Carl Naessans suggests in his article, B2B customers are increasingly using social media, professional networks, and other online sources to self-educate, identify, and choose solution alternatives. In fact, according to a survey from the Consumer Executive Board (CEB), corporate decision-makers get 57 percent of the way through the buying process before they contact a potential supplier. Today, customers can evaluate a wide range of solutions without ever contacting a salesperson. From a B2B marketing perspective, this shift means marketing content has to reach and influence prospective buyers where they are doing their product research—on social media and professional networks—to get the consideration that’s a prerequisite for purchase.

At TDA, we’ve found that the most effective way to execute in this environment is to produce content designed for the B2B sales funnel. That content should include thought leadership as well as mobile-optimized, social-friendly deliverables that align social outreach with a unique point of view.

2. The cloud-based try-before-you-buy model
It’s not just customer behavior that’s changing: vendors are changing too. More and more vendors are shifting traditional software, hardware, storage, and networking solutions to the cloud. These new cloud-based solutions enable vendors to introduce try-before-you-buy offerings. Making free, trial versions of products available in the cloud offers customers a simple way to evaluate all types of products before making purchasing decisions.

To support this new sales model, marketing teams must develop strategies and produce online content that ultimately drives prospects to these cloud-based trials. Content should educate prospects about alternative technology solutions, emphasize the differentiating benefits unique to the target offering, and offer proof to back up those vital claims.

Once a cloud-based product trial begins, the lines between product support, customer service, marketing, and sales blend into the overall customer experience. Marketing teams can embed messages and strategies into the trial process to help lead prospects to purchase. By offering integrated training, feature tours, milestone alerts, the “unlocking” of new features, suggestions about unused features, and so forth, vendors can help trial users recognize more of the value of the offering and better convert trial prospects into paid subscribers.

And the job doesn’t end with purchases. With a move toward subscription-based business models, vendors must continue to win renewals at the end of every subscription period—whether it’s a month or a year. Leading up to the renewal, marketing communications should be focused on customer satisfaction and usage. A high-usage customer might be most motivated to renew by understanding the vendor’s roadmap for the year ahead, while a low-usage customer might need to better understand the basic benefits of the offering, and just be more motivated to use it at all.

Marketing automation platforms can help support new sales models by delivering the right content to customers based on where they are in the sales cycle or customer journey. Creating effective, targeted content for these platforms can help speed the dialog and accelerate revenues.

Get ready to make your ascent into the cloud
The good news is that new B2B realities present opportunities for marketers. As customers continue to educate themselves online, and vendors increasingly adopt the cloud-based try-before-you-buy model, vendors need relevant, targeted digital content more than ever.

Are you looking for ways to optimize your content marketing efforts in light of changes within the B2B industry? I’d love to talk with you about how we can help.