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I work with a lot of content marketers in a lot of different organizations. While the businesses and messages are different, they all want to know the same thing: what is content marketing’s impact on sales?
My answer is that content marketing’s influence permeates all aspects of the sales process throughout the buyers’ journey, though it may not always be obvious.
With so much information available online, buyers are spending more time researching and becoming more informed before any conversation with a salesperson. Experts disagree on how much of the buying process occurs before a sales touch (some studies estimate between 50% and 70%), however but they do agree that interactions with sales are still a hugely important influencer during the buying process.
This means that before a lead ever speaks to a sales rep, he or she has likely engaged with content on one of your channels. Your prospect has likely taken a visit to your website, read an email, seen your posts on social media, heard a presentation at an event, or experienced your brand through any number of your channels.
Sometimes a lead will discover and access content on their own; other times sales will direct a lead’s attention to relevant content. Content marketing and sales shouldn’t operate as completely separate spheres operationally because there’s so much crossover in practice. Content marketing and sales work in tandem to attract relevant leads and helps those leads arrive at a purchasing decision.
To help attract, convert, and retain customers at every stage of the sales funnel, you should align your content strategy to the buyer’s journey, from discovery and consideration through evaluation and decision–and beyond.
Content Marketing Buyers’ Journey: Discovery
The companies that rely on content marketing the most are high-consideration products or services with longer sales cycles. Discovery to purchase isn’t meant to take place within a few minutes or even a few days. But providing great content opportunities where the prospect can engage more deeply sets the stage for a consultative sales process.
Let’s start where your prospect starts–with discovery. If a prospect’s first interaction is with your website, it is likely that they got there via search. And if they started via search, they are beginning with a specific intention, such as looking for a solution to a problem or more information about a specific issue. The intent at this stage is informational and is often self-directed, that is, without the intervention of the demand gen or sales teams.
The company blog is often the first digital touchpoint for search traffic. Therefore, content on this dynamic area of your website should be highly targeted, relevant, and timely. A blog should primarily seek to educate, inspire, and help. Essentially, it’s a relationship building channel and its purpose is to lay the groundwork for future conversations that will lead to revenue.
A heavy-handed approach (read: lots of self-serving sales messages, aggressive retargeting, or too many annoying popups) can be counterproductive on your blog. A prospect can be easily turned-off because they feel “pushed” to take action instead of “pulled.”
Additionally, social media content is also a prevalent discovery channel. More specifically, amplification by macro or micro peers and influencers can be a very effective first line of interest. The “discovery” of your brand comes with the context or even the endorsement of someone they know.
Content Marketing Buyers’ Journey: Consideration
Once a prospect understands who you are and what you’re about, they’ll begin to explore how you might help them solve a problem. For example, when reading Curata’s blog, any visitor would instantly know that we play in the content marketing space because we cover topics related to those issues and opportunities. But to get more specific about what we do, we’d have to lead them to content that specifically communicates how we help our customers.
At this point, prospects are typically still engaging with content (not sales) to understand the basics of what your company can do for them. Once your prospect has consumed this content, sales can more readily have next-level conversations when they get leads on the phone. Used in this way, content marketing is helping to create a more efficient sales funnel. However, that comes with a big “if;” success at this step can only come if the content effectively communicates who the company is, why they exist, and what they have to offer.
Most B2B companies have a “Solutions” area of their website. But often this messaging can be overly complex or not differentiated enough for a prospect to get a clear understanding of what a company actually does. If sales has to spend a precious call clarifying basic concepts and clearing up misconceptions, that’s wasted time and goodwill that could have been spent guiding a lead further down the buyer’s journey.
Great consideration content doesn’t begin and end with your “solutions” section, however. Having strong “leave behind” sales enablement content that a sales team can utilize in their follow-ups reinforces the key messages that a sales rep may introduce during a discovery call or a product demo. This kind of content helps your company frame the sales discussion even if no one from your team is in the room. Imagine that content–be it a link, video, or even a guide–being shared by a potential customer with his or her boss and peers.
Content Marketing Buyers’ Journey: Evaluation
The line between consideration content and evaluation content can sometimes be a bit fuzzy. My rule of thumb is that during the consideration phase, a lead or opportunity is seeking to understand what your company does and which problems you solve. During the evaluation stage, they are seeking to understand how well your solution might work for them.
There’s a lot of variation amongst B2B companies in terms of how much evaluation content they should make publicly available, i.e., what can be published on their website versus what is exclusively in sales enablement materials. Some companies don’t like to make too much publicly available because of competitive or intellectual property issues. Regardless of where this information lives, evaluation content is crucial not just for making the sale, but in setting expectations for your post-sale relationship.
Evaluation content needs to be specific and clear to avoid misconceptions. Though these materials should be well-designed and clearly communicated (like everything else you do), substance over style rules the day in this instance. Some examples of evaluation content might be descriptions of integrations, competitive comparisons, and case studies.
A note about case studies: often companies think of case studies and testimonials interchangeably. I think there are some important distinctions. A testimonial is essentially an endorsement of your company by someone in a specific role at a specific company. Often testimonials are on your website where someone in the consideration stage can see a person like them having success with your product. Testimonials are typically short and sweet.
A case study, by contrast, should be much, much more specific. Good case studies detail what the company did, how they did it, the role your solution played, and what the outcomes were. True case studies are intended for the evaluation and/or decision making stages.
Third Party Content
When it comes to evaluation stage, another opportunity to consider is where the prospect is sourcing their information. A company website may be a primary source, but it’s certainly not the only one. Review sites, long part of the ecommerce world, have begun to make a big impact in B2B. G2Crowd, TrustRadius, and GetApp are just a few examples of peer-to-peer review sites that your prospects may check to get the unvarnished truth. And, of course, expert review sources such as Forrester’s Wave Report or Gartner’s Magic Quadrant can help buyers verify any preconceptions or claims.
Being proactive about the content that appears on those sites is a great way to build positive consensus on your product or service. Asking successful customers to leave reviews and addressing negative ones can help you manage your company’s reputation. Additionally, developing relationships with the big consulting houses is certainly a long-term strategy, but can one that can certainly payoff.
Content Marketing Buyers’ Journey: Decision
In the decision stage, victory is close, but it is far from certain. The buyer is now seeking to understand if the cost of your product or service is worth the price. They need to have a reasonable expectation of what their gains will be and what is included in their costs. The price of the product is just one factor. They also need to understand their internal costs for launching, integrating, and maintaining your product.
A healthy relationship between your content marketing and your customer success organizations can help you create content that answers these questions and supports the decision phase. This content helps the buyer understand what resources they will have access to and what they can expect post-sale.
For example, resources that describe training and adoption plans, educational tools, peer-to-peer networks, and even technical implementation will give the buyer confidence that this isn’t your company’s first rodeo. Planning templates that outline the steps your primary buyer will have to take can be especially helpful.
Content Marketing Buyers’ Journey: Retention
After the sale closes, many marketers forget about customer retention. But content marketing can play a big role in supporting customer retention, too. If your company continues to provide information and resources that speak deeply to the needs and interests of your customers, it will keep that relationship strong and support the value they get out of your product or service. Building trust isn’t a one-time activity; it needs to be continuous, especially in subscription-based business models.
Though the focus tends to be at the top of the funnel, content marketing is influential at every stage of the customer relationship. Your content is more than what you put on your website; it’s present in every interaction your company has with your customers.