Content marketing is getting a great deal of attention. A number of studies point to it as one of the fastest growth areas in B2B marketing. Our friends at Velocity Partners are doing an outstanding job in this area - if you haven’t already, I strongly recommend that you download their accurately named "Big Fat B2B Content Marketing Strategy Checklist".
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) defines it (somewhat formally) as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience - with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
Velocity Partners, by the way, have a simpler definition, and one that I rather like: they define content marketing as “thought leadership, lead-generating, Google-pleasing, revenue-pumping content…” It’s clear that regardless of whether you prefer your definitions all-encompassing or edgy, one thing is clear: you can’t afford to ignore Content Marketing.
Brilliant content depends on clear context
Brilliant content depends on clear context. That’s why we recommend that you lay the foundations by identifying with your audience first. Note the “with” - it’s a critical component. If you truly want to influence their thinking, you can’t simply slice and dice your audience using conventional segmentation techniques like size, sector and location.
Identifying with your audience involves identifying the common characteristics of your ideal prospects. It requires that you are clear about the key stakeholders you are trying to reach. And, above all, it requires that you anticipate their likely issues, motivations, concerns and priorities. You need to understand how they think today, and what it would take to make them think and act differently.
Your content must stimulate the right sort of conversation
But even if you do all these things, create a stream of outstanding thought-leading content, and generate a storm of inbound enquiries from potential prospects who are keen to learn more, the job is not yet complete - and all your good work could go to waste unless you complete the picture by enabling your sales organisation to continue the conversation.
There’s nothing more frustrating than being inspired by thoughtful, impactful content that sets your mind racing about the possibilities of what you have just learned - only for your hopes to be dashed and your aspirations cruelly dragged back to the ground by a salesperson who hasn’t got the faintest idea of what you’re interested in and seems solely concerned with selling you their product as quickly as possible.
From the peak of inflated expectations to the trough of disillusionment
In one fell swoop, and notwithstanding the brilliance of your marketing message, an ill-equipped sales person has dragged the potential prospect from what Gartner refers to as the “peak of inflated expectations” to the “trough of disillusionment” - and it’s going to be an uphill road to recover any momentum from there.
That’s why I’ve come to believe that great content has to lead to great conversation. The sales experience has to reinforce the marketing promise, and if you aren’t consciously and deliberately training and equipping your sales force to continue the conversation in the right direction, your carefully crafted content is provbably going to come to nothing.
Your content plan must incorporate a conversation plan
Great content ought to stimulate great engagement with the reader. So if your content plan does not incorporate a conversation plan - if you’re not crystal-clear about what sort of discussion you want to stimulate, and what conclusion you want to draw your prospect towards - you run the risk of wasting all the clever work you’ve done to date.
So - what should a conversation plan contain? Before you start you need to ensure that you are clear about the role the piece of content you’ve just developed plays in the buying decision process. Is it designed to target the top, middle or bottom of the funnel? What do you want the reader to think or do as a result? How will you measure success?
What happens next?
This context is crucial for developing an effective conversation plan. Before you unleash your latest piece of brilliant content on an unsuspecting world, you’ve got to brief your sales people on how to follow up the interest that you plan to generate.
What questions do you want them to ask? What issues do you want them to raise? What talking points do you want to prepare them with? What anecdotes do you want to equip them to share? How do you recommend that they qualify the prospect? What next steps do you want to lead a well-qualified prospect towards?
Your content will have much greater impact if you address these issues upfront. Can you afford not to, and run the risk of your brilliant work going to waste? I’d be interested in your experiences of aligning content development with the subsequent sales conversation. What’s worked for you?
One final thought…
A thoughtful approach to content marketing is just one of a number of winning habits we’ve observed in today’s top-performing B2B sales and marketing organisations. We’ve distilled all that we’ve learned into a quick (10-15 minute) online self-assessment. Why not take the test and compare your results with the best-in-class today?