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Content Marketing Requires More Than Content

Lately, I've been receiving calls from B2B sales executives in search of how to use content to drive pipeline momentum. Many of their companies have marketing teams that are doing good work. Their websites include customer-centric content, they have active blogs with posts contributed from across the enterprise, their social media accounts show a good ratio of other people's content vs. their content.

  • They aren't talking incessantly about themselves.
  • The content isn't overly product focused.
  • The content is providing solid information that is being read by their prospects.

From the description above, you'd think that they're doing all the stuff that all the blog posts, consultants, agencies and "gurus" say they should, right?

But this is where the rubber meets the road. What it comes down to is that content marketing takes more than content to be an effective catalyst for sales. Content requires a strategy for putting it to work. Without a strategy, there's no work ethic in place for your content. And that means you'll have a nice collection of quality content that people enjoy, read and share, but that never motivates them to buy.

I know you're sitting there thinking, how can this be? You're thinking that you've done what was required. You're getting form completions for eBooks and white papers and webinars. Your videos are being shared on Twitter, your infographics are being pinned on Pinterest and your blog posts wind up on people's Facebook timelines. Wasn't that the point?

Nope. Not by a long shot. That's only the training-wheels level for content marketing. Until that 30% of budget that marketers are investing in content helps salespeople sell something, your content still needs to reach maturity.

One sales executive told me that he thought all the content work his company has done was stellar, but that there wasn't much improvement to the quality of leads. Upon further inquiry, I discovered that they were evaluating lead quality based on the number of resources viewed/accessed. They were using quantity to measure quality and it wasn't working.

Why not?

Because the number of resources doesn't matter as much as the information that's being accessed and what that can tell you about the prospect. [Note that for the purpose of this blog post, I'm assuming the prospect has the right demographics and firmographics to become a customer.]

This company has created a ton of educational information about the industry and the related problems that need to be solved - and can be by their products. But there is nothing to help their prospects build a business case. Nothing to help them visualize what solving the problem could do for them. Nothing to show that the company has a depth of expertise beyond a high-level understanding of the industries it serves.

Do you see the problem?

Each content asset stands alone with no link to any of the other assets. It's all good, well written content with structure. It delivers on the promise made in the title. But it doesn't work together to build the problem-to-solution story. There's no progression of storyline so there's no momentum in the pipeline.

Even if the prospect wanted to expend the effort, they wouldn't be able to find all the pieces of the puzzle to make any sort of decision they could back up in a conversation with their colleagues to gain consensus. The only call to action used was your standard "contact a sales rep." Unfortunately, there's never a strong enough reason to click that link.

It's been said many times by many content marketers - including me - that content must be mapped to buying stages. There's a reason for this. Different stages have different informational requirements. What your prospect is trying to achieve in each stage is different. Therefore, the same kind of content won't serve.

This is where the strategy part comes in. And I'll go back to what those of you who know me, know I always say: You must start with buyer knowledge, aka Personas.

Until you know what they care about and what they need to know as they make each small decision that leads to progress, it's next to impossible to create content that will help them make that progress with you.

And progress is what you need. And it's what your salespeople need.

The bonus is that if you create content mapped to buying stages, your salespeople will not only get quality leads, but they'll have quality content to use in conversations with them that continues that momentum through the later stages that lead to the coveted purchase decision.

Content is not one-size fits all. Each asset plays a different role in the story. Go figure out the story your prospect needs to become the hero of and share it with them. It takes work, but it's also becoming the table stakes for content marketing. And it's called strategy. With all the noise out there, it's what's required to catch and keep attention. This is no longer optional.

Your sales team will thank you! And so will your company and customers...

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More Stories By Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee, CEO & B2B Marketing Strategist of her firm Marketing Interactions, helps companies with complex sales increase and quantify marketing effectiveness by developing and executing interactive eMarketing strategies driven by compelling content.

Her book, eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, was published by McGraw-Hill.

Her articles and blog posts have been used for university ezines, published in CRM Today, Selling Power, Rain Today and Enterprise CRM News. Marketing Profs has incorporated her blog posts into a number of their "Get to The Point" newsletters.