If your idea of content marketing stops with blog posts, your marketing goals may be in trouble. Okay, so that may be a bit extreme, however, it's easy to get lost in the weeds of producing and distributing blog posts on a consistent basis.
Many businesses forget to truly optimize the buying experience with their content or provide context-based information to prospects based on where they are in the sales process.
By aligning content to the sales process, you can get better marketing (and sales) results and I've got a few tips to help you get started.
If you believe that content is crucial to a successful marketing campaign, why would you abandon content during certain key sections of the buyer's journey? More importantly, if your prospects are interested enough in your content to download it, why would you stop giving it to them once they become leads? If you are not using content as a way continue communication you just may be losing qualified prospects in your pipeline.
A Real-World Example of Content Alignment
I recently worked with a member-based organization that wanted us to focus on creating blog posts to drive awareness of their brand and mission.
As part of our discovery process, I encouraged their team to talk about their sales goals and how their current sales and marketing process was supporting those goals.
Here's what I learned:
The recruiters (sales reps) were completely overwhelmed with the number of leads that had been interviewed and accepted into their program.
There was a list of over 1,000 people that had gone through a majority of the sales process but weren't being closed as members or communicated to in any way.
The team of six recruiters simply didn't have enough time to communicate with all of the accepted applicants.
So what did we do to help close the gap in the sales process?
Step One: Together, we carefully crafted email campaigns on behalf of each of the six recruiters to help them automate communication to the applicants assigned to them.
The emails within the campaigns included a variety of different blog posts, downloadable content, and videos. By choosing content that was best aligned with their current stage in the sales process, we were able to send more relevant messaging that resonated with where the prospects were in their journey to making a final decision.
Step Two: If an applicant interacted with any one of the emails, the correct recruiter was notified so he/she could interact with the warm lead. This allowed recruiters to easily understand who the top 10-20 leads were to focus their attention on while the other roughly 100 leads assigned to them were being automatically nurtured by the marketing team. Pretty cool, huh?
Step Three: By narrowing the focus of the sales team, they were able to identify the prospects that were most likely to convert and spend their time nurturing those leads personally.
This entire process helped the organization close new business because it was specifically aligned to the gaps in their sales process compared to creating more blog posts to drive awareness.
That example wasn't meant to say that blogging is ineffective. In fact, we still produced and distributed awareness-level blog posts for this client. However, it's important to remember to take a deeper look at the overall buying journey your leads are going through, identify content gaps in your sales process, and prioritize the creation of content to fill those gaps.
So how do you figure out where the gaps exist?
How to Identify Your Content Gaps
Simply put, you need to figure out what you have and what you don't have in terms of content.
The biggest challenge? It can be really difficult to recognize where your gaps are if you aren't sure what you are trying to accomplish. Hopefully, the example above will help provide some context so that you can take an audit of your existing sales process.
Here are a few questions that will help you get started as you begin to audit your sales and marketing process:
When a sales qualified lead gets passed along to a sales rep, what is the sequence of events that a rep completes to follow up with that lead?
What happens if that rep doesn't get ahold of them after going through their sales sequence?
Are there any places where qualified prospects fall into the abyss of your contact database without a notification or process to follow up again in the future?
Are your highly-qualified contacts getting specific communication based on their previous actions or are they getting email blasts meant for contacts at any stage in the buying journey?
Do you have an email campaign with helpful resources, based on actions that a specific lead has taken, that is triggered by an unsuccessful sales sequence?
Spend some time with your sales and marketing team trying to answer these types of questions. Make note of all the areas where leads are falling through the cracks and not getting the correct communication. These will be helpful as you move into a lead management audit.
Once you've identified your sales and marketing process, it's important to think about what content your audience is looking for. Here are a few questions to help you identify what content you might need:
- What questions are your prospects asking before they even know about your product or solution?
- What solutions are they already looking for?
- What solutions do they not even know exist?
- What pain points are your ideal customers looking to solve?
- What hurdles do they need to overcome before they will make a purchasing decision?
- What are their barriers to making a final decision?
By simply answering these questions you'll start to uncover a ton of potential content topics that will help you better align interesting, helpful and unique content to your sales process.
What's a Lead Management Audit?
Start with a whiteboard, and at the top, record all of the ways you generate business leads. For example, it may include things like:
- Blog/newsletter subscriptions
- Content offer downloads
- Consultation/demo requests
- Purchased lists
Next, take each conversion opportunity that you have and ask "What happens next?" Or, better yet, "What should happen next?" Keep asking those question until you build out something like this.
When building this process out, the most critical branches aren't always the most obvious. It's easy to say, "After an appointment is set, the lead is transferred to outside sales." It's harder to get your group to determine what happens if an appointment isn't set.
Do we cease communication with that prospect because they didn't answer the phone when we tried to call? While the answer is probably clear, many companies don't set up a process to make sure those leads circle back to the salesperson.
Remember that not all of the hard work has to fall on the shoulders of the sales. If your sales team has tried multiple times to connect with a prospect, it might be time to try a different tactic. This is where sales sequences and marking workflows really shine.
Content Marketing + Sales Support
By leveraging regular, relevant content with timed (and automated) communication, it becomes easier to gather intelligence and insight on which prospects are really interested in your products and services and which contacts in your database just want to be left alone.
Content marketing allows your sales team to be armed with reasons to connect with your audience without always shoving your product or service down their throat when they aren't ready.
If you don't have a great arsenal of content, go to the list of questions above and start creating content that will help support your sales team. If it helps, start by creating a piece of content for a specific contact or use case and then see how you can adapt it for other use cases.
Aligning powerful content to the sales process is one of the most effective and repeatable ways to get results. It takes hard work and effort, but you've got to start somewhere, so don't get discouraged if you're far away from where you want to be in terms of content and sales alignment. Take it one day at a time and always measure the impact of your campaigns.