2. IT’S TIME FOR
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The vast majority of B2B marketers today use content marketing in some form or other
(most surveys put this in the 80 to 90 per cent range). Of course, as an approach that’s fully cresting
the marketing hype curve, content is an area where the noise can often overwhelm the reality.
The prevailing wisdom (on many blogs at least) is that content marketing
is essentially an inbound approach where, to succeed, you need to
produce a high volume of quality content to attract people to your site.
Once you have them, you then nurture them with more content to help
them move towards being sales ready.
So far, so good.
Except, while plenty of B2B marketers are seeing some results,
too few are seeing the kind of results they want (and were promised
by the hype). In fact, according to a recent study by the Economist,
40% of companies feel they aren’t getting the return they need from
their investment in content.
In short, it’s time for an upgrade.
In this guide, we’ll focus on the five top uses of content in B2B
marketing today. We’ll look at the basics you should have in place
(the price of entry if you will). Then we’ll highlight what you can do
to upgrade your approach (and your results).
Let’s get started.
3. UPGRADE YOUR
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Lead generation is the number one goal of the majority of B2B content marketers
so it pays to do everything you can to deliver higher quality, more profitable leads.
4. 1. Attracting prospects who have a potential need for your products
2. Persuading them that you can help them achieve their business
From a content marketing perspective, you start with the second of the
two and work back. You begin by identifying what your prospects want
Importantly, you do not start with what you want to sell (hint: they don’t
care what you want to sell). You show them that you can positively affect
their business and help them achieve at least some of the stuff their
bosses and shareholders judge them on.
To do this well, you need to really understand your customers and
prospects. What matters to them? What are their days like? What drives
Next, you need to segment your market into meaningful groups (that is,
groups that share common pain-points).
Finally, you need to create content that helps them address these
Lead generation is fundamentally about two things:
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5. Firstly look at your data. While no company is ever 100% satisfied
with their database, poor data can be crippling to content marketing
success. You can produce the best content in the world but if the right
people never get to see it, you’re wasting your time and money.
Of course, buying data can be problematic. Quality is variable and,
today, everyone needs to be paranoid about permission. However,
partnering with a key media property to distribute your content can
be a wise investment. Create something that has real value for your
prospects, gate it (and yes, there is a price to pay for this in terms of
response) and you can begin to get the right people on your database.
Secondly, look at the content itself. Sadly, too many companies still
assume that their customers care about them. They don’t. This leads
them to produce essentially self-serving product-led content that only
appeals to those customers who are in the final stages of short-listing
a solution. (Content which the Economist’s research found is a turn-off
for 71% of business executives.)
Instead, look at everything from a religiously customer-focused point
of view. What do they care about? What don’t they care about? What
keeps them up at night?
Then focus all your efforts on helping them out.
(For extra credit – always make your content active. That is, have a
clear idea of the next action you want the prospect to take and bake
that in to the core.)
Do the basics well and you’ll be in pretty good shape.But it can
still be a little scattergun.So how can you take things further?
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6. UPGRADE YOUR
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While lead generation is often number one on a B2B
marketer’s list of content marketing objectives, it then raises
the question of what to do with the leads once you have them.
Traditionally, they simply got tossed over the wall either to
sales (who complain about them) or resellers (who, all too
often, ignore them).
The problem, of course, is that B2B sales take time
(somewhere between six to nine months on average).
No matter how good any single campaign, it’s rare that
you’ll deliver instant sales off the back of it (with the
exception of lower cost items and some trial-to-purchase
So what do you do with the ‘not right nows’?
7. On a very basic level, creating a drip marketing campaign for lead
nurturing is as simple as finding reasons for maintaining regular
contact with a prospect. This is often achieved through new case
studies, some regular webinars and the obligatory monthly emailed
newsletter. The idea, of course, is to simply stay top of mind until
the prospect is ready.
This is borne out by different research which shows that an average
B2B buyer will consume around five pieces of content before they
feel ready to talk to a sales person.
Better still (though still firmly in the basics) is to ensure you really
understand the stages any lead is likely to go through on their way
to becoming a sale after initial awareness. These will vary by company
but as a rough and ready approach, you can look at interest,
consideration, evaluation and, finally, purchase. You can then structure
your nurture campaign into communications that map to each stage.
Lead nurturing is by no means new to most B2B marketers.
Traditionally, however, it was often something that happened
on the sales side of the fence. In recent years, this has shifted.
The criteria of a marketing qualified lead (MQL) or sales
accepted lead (SAL) has become ever more stringent. This has
led to lead nurturing now being a marketing responsibility for
most B2B organisations.
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8. We can look deeper into a prospect’s pain-points for each stage
together with points of friction that may stop them moving forward.
For example, in the consideration phase, prospects may have identified
that they have a problem but not see it as urgent enough to warrant
action. We could then develop content and communications to
reinforce the fact that by not acting, they are harming their business’s
competitiveness and losing revenue.
We could also look more explicitly at behaviour. At Considered Content
we use a behavioural change model that was originally developed to
help people quit smoking (and which has been used for a wide range
of behavioural change project since). We do this because lead
nurturing is fundamentally about changing behaviour – starting
something new, stopping doing things the way you always have,
overcoming barriers and inertia.
Different types of communication will unlock different stages of activity.
So, for the contemplation phase, a prospect will know they have a
problem and begin looking for a solution. However, the danger is that
they will do this endlessly. The solution is to engage them with more
visceral, emotionally-led content. This will help provoke action. Then
we also need to help them picture a world where they have overcome
their challenges – making this as real and concrete as possible.
For each stage, we ask a number of questions: What behaviour do we
wish to see next? What would the person need to believe to behave
this way? What evidence do we have in our offering to help create this
belief? And what message best conveys this?
(There isn’t room here to go into the full model. Drop us a line at
firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to geek out over a bit
of behavioural psychology.)
As an early step towards better lead nurturing, we can, of course,
use marketing automation to create automated nurture flows.
This will enable us to trigger communications based on customer
behaviours (or inactivity). We can then score these activities
and build up an understanding of when a nurtured lead should
be passed to sales.
Upgrade your lead nurturing 8
9. UPGRADE YOUR
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Marketing automation has taken the world by storm – especially in business
to business. The promise is clear: You can now deliver more targeted, more
relevant, more effective communications than ever before. Better still, you can
automate virtually the entire process, freeing your time. And you’ll get all the
data you need into what’s working and what’s not.
What’s not to love?
Well, the thing is, while marketing automation can deliver all these things,
making it live up to the promise is not always quite so straightforward.
There can be an expectation that you will end up with something like a big
red ‘leads’ button that, when pressed, will automatically hit all your objectives.
The truth of course is quite different.
10. First off, you should as a matter of course be segmenting your
database. This sounds obvious but too many companies still use
marketing automation as a batch and blast tool. Each segment should
receive tailored messaging that talks directly to their most pressing
pain-points. This is key in a complex B2B sale where you will often
have business, finance and technology specialists making joint
decisions – and this is before we begin talking about vertical segments.
You should be testing everything you send. From subject lines and
calls to action through to offers and design, everything can be
improved through systematic testing. Also, running low-cost pilots
to small segments of a market or territory can offer important proofs
of concept when you are exploring new messages and positions.
And you are making all your emails responsive aren’t you?
Landing pages should be stripped back to focus 100% on the action
you want to see. If this is to download a piece of content, anything
that does not increase your response rate for that individual content
item should be ruthlessly eliminated. Again, test different options –
copy, design, buttons, forms to discover the optimum combination
that delivers the best results.
As we mentioned earlier, the first thing to focus on is not
the system itself, it’s your data. But let’s say your data is ok
(not perfect but ok), then what?
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11. For example, you can ask:
• What’s the biggest challenge you’re currently facing?
• What kind of content do you find most valuable?
• What’s the largest barrier to adopting an X solution?
These will help you build a richer, more detailed picture of your
prospects and will prove invaluable when you hand off to sales.
For prospects that appear closer to purchase, you can focus more
on BANT (budget, authority, need, timing) discovery questions.
Personalise your communications. By this, we’re not just talking the
“Hi Jason” kind of personalisation (though it’s somewhere to start).
Look to personalise the offer, the content, the reinforcement – everything.
It’s one thing for me to get a communication that says, “Hi Jason,
download our free guide to CRM.” It’s another to get, “Hi Jason,
download our free guide to CRM for content marketing agencies –
a guide that’s been downloaded by 7 out of the top 10 leading firms.”
Score your prospects. Work with sales to understand what a buyer
really looks like. Unpick the stages they went through from anonymous
visitor through to final sale.
Of course, no lead scoring is ever perfect, you will need to refine
yours constantly as you learn more about how people buy from you.
Place more value on how prospects behave than what they say –
actions speak far louder than words. And make sure you have negative
scoring in place – eg putting in penalties for inactivity over time or
for visiting your careers page.
Group prospects into different tiers so you can segment
communications both by where they are in the buying cycle and their
likelihood of converting. Then, have a slick process for routing qualified
leads to sales (or to your resellers) which has detailed feedback built in
so no lead is ever left behind.
You will invest a lot of time and money into your marketing automation,
so it pays to extract ever last drop of value when you do.
There are many, many ways to upgrade virtually every aspect
of a marketing automation programme.
With the importance of data, you should be looking to
progressively profile your customers and prospects.While initial
forms for gated content should be brief (and automatically
populated where possible),for each piece of high value content a
prospect downloads,look to find out one more thing about them.
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12. UPGRADE YOUR
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We all want access to smart people who can give us valuable insights we can use to grow
our businesses. While it is possible to find a technical solution to most business problems,
getting real intelligence that will help you make a significant step-change in your business
is far more rare.
13. The secret to good thought leadership is contained within the title.
Thought. And leadership.
The standard to aim for must be very high. You are competing not only
with other vendors’ content, but with mainstream publications and a
never-ending number of extremely well-written business books.
At a basic level, you need to be focusing on developing thinking that
moves things forward. Me-too material is better viewed as thought
followership and will underperform across every metric.
More than this, your thoughts need to be relevant to both your
prospects’ businesses and yours. When reviewing your content,
look at it through a cynical customer’s eyes. Keep asking, “So what?”
Cut out any fluff and filler – people simply don’t have time.
Classic thought leadership material – white papers, ebooks,
webinars – still perform well. (At least, some do.)
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14. A major step is to ground your thinking into everyday reality. Even if
you can’t provide case study examples for forward-thinking ideas, you
can still illustrate what putting your thoughts into action would mean.
This will help readers move from abstract theory into real-life practice.
Look at your tone of voice. Too many companies hear the term ‘thought
leadership’ and assume they must produce something dry, academic
and impartial. So they end up producing dull content that no one reads.
Instead, think in terms of creating a manifesto. Pick a fight with old
out-dated thinking. Take a stand.
Doing this accomplishes three things. It helps your content stand out
from the crowd. It attracts like-minded customers who will be easier
to convert and more profitable over time. And it dissuades those
companies who were never a good fit for your business in the first pace.
So you now have real thought leadership material that is cutting
edge and relevant to your customers. You’re now ahead of at least
80% of the market. But what about that final 20%?
Upgrade your thought leadership 14
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Sales enablement is a terrible term. Really. We should stop
using it right now. While it’s well-meaning, it has become
a lazy shorthand for the most basic marketing support –
the kind of ubiquitous presentation and leave-behind
combination that hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years.
It’s not wonder that SiriusDecisions found that up to 70%
of content produced by marketing is never used by sales.
So what’s to be done?
16. For them, the purchase journey is more dynamic, more seamless. It is all
about determining their business need, assessing the available solutions
and finding the right fit for their organisation. They should never feel the
joins as they move from suspect to prospect to MQL to SAL.
This means that ‘sales enablement’ needs to take an end-to-end view
of the entire sales process (not sweep in like Batman at the last minute
to save the day).
The basics start with positioning and messaging. Still too often, marketing
communicates one thing only for sales to talk about another. Ensuring
there is alignment between the two is fundamental to ongoing success.
Importantly, this cannot be an imposition by one group on the other –
it must be a genuine team effort. Where you are struggling, getting a
third party in to help can often break down stubborn barriers to success.
From here, you need to understand and document all the key stages
in a sale – specifically, the opportunity stages sales track in their CRM.
From here, look at specific points of friction in the sales process – the
places where sales get stuck, or go into reverse, or vanish from the face
of the Earth. Then work to identify the kind of content and tools that can
help ease this friction to get the sale moving again.
Finally, determine what should be communicated by who and when.
Effective scoring will help, of course, but this doesn’t have to be about
the hard hand-off. For example, you may want communications from
marketing to deal with higher level issues and be more ‘designed’
while those from a named sales person to be plainer and more granular.
Both can be automated.
Firstly, understand that the line between marketing and sales
is becoming increasingly blurry. This is a good thing. Customers
do not recognise this division when they purchase from your
business (though they may when they choose not to).
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17. The surprising thing is that it’s not all about relationships as many
would expect. Fundamentally, the top performing sales people are
those who can teach their prospects and customers something
about their own businesses.
This has a direct bearing on how you can upgrade your sales
enablement. However, it does involve a significant rethink for many
At its core, this means refocusing sales enablement materials away
from being all about the product or service being sold, and placing the
spotlight firmly on the prospect’s business and how you can help them
achieve their goals. It’s a move away from what you want them to buy
and toward how they can achieve the things they care about most.
Produce content that helps your sales people tell better stories. Not just
the classic case study – ‘X company had a problem with Y, they fixed it
with our product’. Instead, focus far more effort on telling stories about
the core business issues customers face. What was holding them back?
Why were they not as competitive as they should have been? What
kinds of conversations did your people have with theirs? This is what
prospects find really interesting.
Ensure all your content is active. By this we mean that each piece of
content should have the next action baked in. Too often content can
attempt to jump to a sale before the prospect is ready. Just as often,
it can leave prospects in a ‘that’s interesting, so what?’ state. Yours
should take its place in a carefully planned series of steps, each selling
the next desired behaviour.
There has been some excellent research into what makes
the very best sales people outperform all others (in many
cases by 200%).
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Want more? Check out our executive briefing:
Supercharge sales effectiveness with content.
19. IT STARTS
WITH COFFEEIf you’re already investing in B2B content but not seeing the return you
need,the good news is there are a ton of ways to improve its performance.
Of course,sometimes it can be difficult knowing where to begin.
We start with coffee and a chat (or tea if you prefer). Your place or ours, no
PowerPoint, no big sales pitch – just an open conversation about the challenges
you face. Then, if we can help and there’s a good fit, we’ll go from there.
Drop us a line at email@example.com and we’ll set up a time.