How e-books can provide actionable value to B2B buyers

In an age of the compelling images and short, snappy sentences, the e-book comes across like a dinosaur. It’s just a few thousands words of tightly-packed information, backed by a few charts and graphs. Yet it remains a vital tool in converting a prospect into a customer in the B2B marketing world.

That lead you are trying to reach has to make an “informed” buying decision. Getting that person to purchase will require time, effort and facts. Here the e-book delivers, as B2B customers are looking for authoritative sources to inform, confirm and validate.

“The B2B audience is ideal for e-books, particularly during WFH [work from home] time. Candidly, we’re seeing a higher likelihood of someone spending time absorbing long-form information when their boss isn’t walking past their desk every half hour,” said Adam Smartschan, Chief Strategy Officer at Altitude Marketing, a B2B agency. “B2B buyers are doing more and more research as budgets tighten – helping them along with solid, useful content is a great way for marketers to prove their company’s worth.”

Slow, but well aimed

Like everything in marketing, knowing your target audience is half the challenge before making the pitch.

That means looking at any data compiled from past interactions. Consumer testimonials, surveys and third-party data can be used as source material, noted Jeff Taylor, VP for Media at influencer and performance marketing agency Viral Nation. SEO and keyword search are also useful, added Altitude’s Director of Content Marketing, Jeff Kotran. “But additionally, you must determine what industry publications – what stable of blogs, newsletters and forums – do they visit to learn about the problems their business has and how to solve them?”

The landing page can act as “radar”, providing insights into what information B2B clients are seeking. “Look at your top three landing pages and determine the most likely next piece of information that a visitor would want after landing on each page. Create an e-book that provides that information,” said Jon Anderson, Content Strategist at B2B tech marketing agency New North.

There are many sources of information, all useful for crafting a profile of a B2B prospect. Just remember that the B2B marketer is trying to hit a smaller target compared to B2C marketing. It’s just a “few specific, needs-based groups of stakeholders,” Taylor observed. 

Where in the funnel is the e-book reaching the B2B customer? “E-books are great for top of funnel and mid-funnel lead generation campaigns,” Kotran said.

“They’re geared toward providing insight and education that builds trust with contacts and nurtures people down the funnel toward a buying decision,” Smartschan added.

Bespoke knowledge

There is no ideal length or format for an e-book.

“Most seem to fall in the 1,500-4,000 word range,” Kotran observed. But the focus has to be practical. Kotran offered the topic of enterprise construction software as an example. The e-book can point out features, providers, and prices – basically anything a B2B client needs to know when buying the software. “[I]t should help them do it in as few words as possible.”

Which leads to the next factor: format. E-books can be as simple as a PDF file or as intricate as an interactive web site.

“Interactive web pages are a great way to increase clicks and engagement – that’s the pro,” Anderson said.   “Downloadable PDFs are classic – still useful and generally easier to create.”

“PDFs have a huge advantage in terms of ease,” said Smartschan. “Send a Word doc to a designer, let them spend a day in InDesign, and you’ve got your finished product. They’re also very easy to gate with a form. That said, they often don’t get the engagement you’d like. How many times have you downloaded a PDF and filed it on your desktop, only to throw it in the recycle bin a month later? Heck, you probably did it today.

“Interactive online experiences are significantly harder (and more expensive) to produce. You’re not going to get one in a day,” Smartschan continued. But you do get better tracking data with this format. “With a PDF download, you get one datapoint – ‘they accessed it.’ Anything HTML-based can utilize events, triggers and more.”

Mobile use also has to be taken into account, as people are more apt to interact online over their smartphone.

“With a PDF, that means relatively simple layouts and intuitive forms for access. With an interactive online experience, it’s about responsive design on a fluid grid,” Smartschan said. About 10% of B2B prospects are interacting with the content on their smartphones, “But you never know who that perfect buyer is, or how they’ll get to your content.” he said.

“At this point, everything should be designed as if it’ll be read on a phone. That tends to mean bigger fonts, scannable blocks of text, and engaging images,” Anderson added.

“An electronic publication (EPUB) is the most widely supported e-book format and is accessible on a variety of devices – computers, tablets, smartphones, and most eReaders (except Kindles),” Taylor added.

Here’s the end game

Many contend that the purpose of the e-book is to create “thought leadership” on a given issue. “In many ways, thought leadership just means demonstrating a strong opinion that other people agree with,” Kotran said. But in the case of disruptive technologies, the e-book can take the time to explain things in greater detail.

The e-book is about building credibility and nurturing a customer relationship to the point of sale, Anderson said. “On that note, e-books should generally be followed up with email automation sequences, providing more information and next steps following download.”

“’Thought leadership’ is absolutely a buzzword,” Smartschan said. “We’re not here to simply sell our smarts. We’re here to advance a user toward becoming a customer. If we gain a reputation along the way, awesome. But e-books and other lead magnets serve a specific purpose. They’re about getting some information and providing real, actionable value.”

This story first appeared on MarTech Today.

About The Author

William Terdoslavich is a freelance writer with a long background covering information technology. Prior to writing for Martech Today, he also covered digital marketing for DMN. A seasoned generalist, William covered employment in the IT industry for, big data for Information Week, and software-as-a-service for He also worked as a features editor for Mobile Computing and Communication, as well as feature section editor for CRN, where he had to deal with 20 to 30 different tech topics over the course of an editorial year. Ironically, it is the human factor that draws William into writing about technology. No matter how much people try to organize and control information, it never quite works out the way they want to.