Content marketing is booming. According to the 2017 B2B Content Marketing Trends, 39% of companies are increasing investment in content marketing.
And yet most companies are not creating effective content. Want proof?
Two of the leaders in B2B funnel benchmarking, SiriusDecisions and Forrester, will tell you that inquiry-to-closed-won conversion ratios are often below two percent in most industries, even for those who follow best practices. Of course, if you go upstream of lead capture, the conversion rates of clicks or traffic to closed-won business are absolutely microscopic.
There are many reasons for these low conversion ratios. The competition is growing more intense every day, with avalanches of new content sliding into the market. And let’s face it, creating compelling content is hard.
In short, the market seems to believe that content creation, in and of itself, will win the day. It won’t. You really need the right content. Mastering the five critical steps below will increase the quality and effectiveness of your content significantly.
Step 1: Define Where You Can Win
Media companies, marketing agencies, and our own egos often lure us into the crazy idea of expanding our target market. I must have heard this type of sentiment a thousand times from otherwise thoughtful, intelligent people.
We do so in the name of economies of scale or because we fear missing out on revenue opportunities. Don’t do it. Focus, focus, focus. Start with a rigorous exercise of looking at your current customers for the solution you are trying to sell. Begin with qualitative intelligence-gathering. Talk to the best sales people, the product team, the post-sales team, and the sales engineers:
- Who are your most profitable accounts and why?
- Which accounts have the greatest longevity and why?
- What do these accounts have in common?
- What accounts are unprofitable and why?
- How can we avoid them?
Then do quantitative analysis, ideally matching your customers to third party databases to add dimension to your profiles.
Share the findings with the most relevant stakeholders to get a consensus on the ideal customer profile. Define account characteristics. Break your market into two or three segments, based upon their potential value. If you can only afford to speak to one of the segments, talk to the most valuable one. (Often the market leaders, if you can win them over, will influence the rest of the market).
Please understand that your definition today will change tomorrow. So make this an annual exercise for every solution you sell. For new solution categories, you may need to have a running dialogue until you find the ideal customer profile, experimenting as you go. And of course, find different ways to test and optimize your messaging hypothesis.
For companies with multiple products and services, you’ll generally want to look for one of your solutions that can most readily open the door to your other products and services.
Find foot in the door solution for other things you sell
Microsoft, for example, started with tools for programmers initially. These attracted the most technically savvy people, a group with enormous influence over the next wave of early adopters.
Next, Microsoft created an operating system (well, Microsoft bought one and licensed it to IBM, to be perfectly accurate). The operating system created a platform for selling desktop productivity products like Word and Excel and their relationship with developers let them encourage those developers to build other desktop software and utilities.
There was enough critical mass to gradually expand from the desktop to the network and the applications on the system. Initially, the enterprise applications were BackOffice-focused but gradually became customer facing, like CRM Dynamics, Bing, and now LinkedIn. This sequencing idea is the essence of product strategy and a key to demand generation success.
Step 2: Understand Your Audience
Once you are clear on the kinds of accounts, you want to attract and the value you offer, it’s time to understand the decision dynamics for your solution in those accounts. While you will want to look at the entire path to purchase, let’s focus our attention on the top of the funnel:
Who is most likely to champion the idea?
Not all champions get to vote. You are really looking for one of those rare people inside an organization who can influence others. Many try. Few succeed. Think about the functional role, the attitudes, the personality type, the credentials, the likely beliefs, and so on. This persona is who you are speaking to. Even when your message reaches others in the company, as it probably will, they will often find this person for you. Let them know who to look for.
What events trigger interest?
Trigger events can be positive or negative (although, generally, people are far more motivated by pain-avoidance than by gain-attainment). These events can happen within a company or externally. They can happen on a day or over a long period of time.
The point is that those events often trigger companies into consideration for your solution. In many cases, these are problems your company can help address. You’ll want to understand what those trigger events are, like layoffs, leadership changes, new regulations, rapid growth, competitive encroachment, a round of VC funding, or employee turnover or customer churn.
You can then reference or otherwise leverage one or more such trigger events to help connect what your champion cares about to the possibility your solution might make a material difference. You can also research the prevalence of these trigger events in your target market to gauge the possible volume of demand that might exist.
Describing these trigger events clearly helps build for your prospect a bridge from what he or she understands to what he or she hasn’t considered.
What unconsidered needs can your solution address?
Generally, for people to change, they must feel the status quo is unsafe. And to do that, you must help them see what they do not see.
Jill Konrath in her excellent book, SNAP Selling, talks about “crazy busy” buyers. These are people who get so close to the day to day whirlwind of their jobs, they lose perspective. You want to help them see their situation with new eyes. This is the heart of the story you must tell.
To tell this story well, you really must understand the implications of these unmet needs.
Who is impacted by the status quo? What does doing nothing cost, both short term and over time?
If you can quantify the benefit financially, you will empower your champion with the universal language of money, a language that everyone understands.
To tell others in the organization about your solution, what key beliefs will the champion need to have?
You are not trying to get a champion to buy your solution at this point. You need your champion to begin to share your story enthusiastically with others.
To do so, she will need to believe a few things. She’ll have to believe your solution could make a big enough difference to warrant prioritizing your solution over any number of other things. Such an overarching belief often has some stepping-stone beliefs.
For example, I was just looking at a very cool software program (Conversica) that can apparently understand written email responses, including their tone and sentiment. So one stepping stone belief is that the AI engine can actually understand the nuances of the written language. Another is that my prospects won’t know they are not emailing a computer. A third might be that the program won’t inadvertently annoy my prospects.
What evidence can you present?
Again, you are not trying to win the sale here. You are only trying to earn enough commitment to move the prospect from their status quo to interest in having a conversation with your company.
Still, you must present sufficient evidence to make the promise you are making credible enough to warrant taking the time to take a deeper look at your solution. To do so, you will need to marshal sufficient evidence to address the key beliefs your champion must have, both about your solution and the viability of your company.
Ideally, you are getting most of this information through direct interviews and/or focus groups, augmented with simple surveys. Usually, 5-10 interviews will give you what you need. If the information you are hearing gets redundant, you’ll know you have talked to a sufficient number of people. One tip: talk to these individuals during the purchase process or shortly after that while the experience is top of mind.
Step 3: Clearly Articulate Your True Value
Duh! Right? And yet how often do you see words like “leading,” “exceptional,” “largest,” “greatest,” and other unbelievable, vague, vacuous claims? One reason social media has become so popular is that people want another source of information they can trust: information from their friends or really anyone but the vendor and their media conspirators.
Part of the problem is that there is a LOT of things you can say about your solution and your company. But verbosity is confusing and boring. And if you really research your market, you’ll have a far more to share than you will need at the top of the funnel.
To find your value, you need to look at your solution through an honest, competitive lens and through the eyes of your customer. When doing so, you are looking for something your ideal customer wants badly that your competition doesn’t have. If your customers don’t want it, it doesn’t matter. If your customers want it and your competitors can also provide it, you’ll be in a low margin commodity business. Instead, you are looking for your only-factors, the ones your customers care deeply about and that only your company can make.
If your customers don’t want it, it doesn’t matter. If your customers want it and your competitors can also provide it, you’ll be in a low margin commodity business. Instead, you are looking for your only-factors, the ones your customers care deeply about and that only your company can make.
This is another case of getting your key stakeholders in a room to really grapple with this problem and come to a consensus. Look for three areas where you stand out and then build your messaging and story around these three value positions.
Step 4: Define Your Objective
It’s important before you start to create content to consider your objective. It’s not to build your brand. That can certainly be something that happens as a by-product of your efforts, but it’s not the goal. The role of content at the top of the funnel is also not to generate clicks, traffic, inbound calls, or even leads, either. It’s also not to sell your product or service. That may be the endgame, but it’s not the objective at the top of the funnel.
I like to think of the objective as going to a party. Yes, you might secretly be hoping to meet the man or woman of your dreams, but you don’t go around asking someone who appeals to you to get married.
Rather, you’re just trying to spark a conversation, typically by being observant and interested in the other person. That’s the goal with demand generation. Show enough insight and interest to spark a conversation. Within the demand generation framework, each element must support that objective. If not, trim the fat, using your objective as a knife.
Step 5: Love Your Prospective Customers
This one may seem obvious, but there is a reason sales and marketing often have bad reputations in the public square. Loving your customers starts with being respectful and empathetic toward them. And that means being authentic and honest, even if your tone needs to be playful. Treat them the way you would want to be treated. To the best of your ability, you want to climb behind the eyes of your would-be champion and experience the world the way she does. The more deeply you connect with them, the more effective the story you will tell.
This connection to your audience will generally help you find the right tone and voice, just as it does with people in your personal life.
Of course, with these five steps, you still need to create the content and adapt the content to the most appropriate method(s) of contact.
You’ll also need to make sure that the content and messaging at the top of the funnel is congruent with what comes later on. But you’ll have a sound basis for breaking through the noise in the ever changing market because what you will offer will be rare, honest and true.
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