More businesses are focusing on content marketing as a crucial component to driving sales. In the 2019 Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs B2B report, organizations are increasing their spending on content marketing, with the biggest increase in content creation.
In that same report, 72 percent of the “most successful” organization measure their content marketing ROI, while the majority of the “least successful” companies do not. Measuring your content marketing activities can help refine your program to improve its impact on your business including content’s ability to drive leads and sales.
Here, I’ll talk about how your content marketing efforts can have a direct impact on sales and how to use content to make your sales team’s life easier.
Content before tech
There are so many tools available to help improve the sales process. Database managers, marketing automation platforms, business intelligence integrations, etc. It sometimes seems like those tools are the best ways to fix a broken sales process.
But, according to two of content marketing’s biggest names, none of them have the same impact without a good strategy and great content.
I recently interviewed Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute about how they saw these tools affecting content marketing. Their responses were less than enthusiastic.
“No amount of tech in the world,” Joe said, “is going to help irrelevant content.” Robert echoed those sentiments by adding, “Instead of letting the newest features of technology drive our [content] strategy, it should be the other way around.”
When you’re trying to generate more leads and drive sales, developing a sound content strategy is often the best place to start.
Measuring your content marketing ROI
Traditionally, content’s impact on organic traffic and SEO value has been the go-to method of measurement. Brandpoint president, Scott Severson, lays out this relatively simple method in a piece he wrote for Content Marketing Institute.
The method boils down to this: Find how much organic traffic your content marketing is driving and calculate how much it would cost to pay for that same amount of traffic, either through ads or sponsored content.
Using this method, we’ve seen our clients recoup the cost of content in nine months and even double their organic traffic in just a couple of years.
Content marketing and the sales process
We love the organic-traffic method. It makes sense to us and our clients, and reflects the compounding, long-play nature of content marketing.
However, content marketing is so much more dynamic than that. We can use content to influence sales directly and create a more immediate impact on someone’s business.
The typical sales cycle is 3 1/2 months long. If you’re like most organizations, most of that time is spent in the consideration stage where your prospect has identified a problem and is trying to find the best solution.
If you develop email, blog, eBook and case study content specifically designed to answer the most common and important questions your prospects have, you can dramatically shorten that sales cycle and close more sales.
These are a few of the questions your prospects may have at any stage of the buyer’s journey:
- How can I make my current tactics more effective?
- What tools are available to help me do my job better?
- Is it time I look for an external solution?
- How can I make the biggest impact with the budget I have?
In her discussion on B2B buyer persona development at Content Marketing World, Ardath Albee said that having content assets in place to answer these questions allows you the opportunity to become your prospect’s benchmark resource. You might not be the first one to provide your prospects with this information, but you can be the first one to help them make the connection between their problem and a possible solution. When you do that, you become the resource by which they judge all other options.
How this works depends largely on your sales process and how well you understand your buyers. But content of all types can be an important sales tool that not only helps you create better alignment with your sales team but also helps them shorten the sales cycle and close more deals.
In a more literal sense, content helps drive sales by being an invaluable inbound marketing tactic.
According to Demand Gen’s 2016 Content Preference Report, 80 percent of B2B buyers consume at least three pieces of content before even talking to a sales person. That means your content is responsible for priming your audience long before they receive a sales call.
Here’s how just a few content types can help you move people down the buyer’s funnel before they even engage in a sales conversation:
According to Act-On and Gleanster research, about 70 percent of companies use email for customer acquisition and retention. It’s a great way to engage one-on-one with your clients and prospects and is the perfect vehicle for other content assets.
Ebooks tend to be more in-depth about a specific topic and are usually gated. That means users are required to enter some information about themselves (usually a name, email address and company) to download it.
You won’t have as many downloads as you have blog views. But they can help establish credibility (critical in any sales conversation) and you’ll get contact information from people who are genuinely interested in a very specific kind of solution.
Case studies can play an important role in inbound lead generation and the actual sales process. When you develop case studies for all areas of your business, you’ll likely be able to provide your prospects with an idea of how they can solve their problem and how you can help them do it.
The perfect match
Content marketing is exploding but marketers are asked more and more to prove their efforts are making an impact on sales. But when you look at the questions your prospects are asking, it’s clear that strong, relevant content and a healthy sales process go together like ham and cheese. You simply have to know who your audience is and invest in the right content resources to serve them.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October, 2017 and has been updated for relevancy.