Most agencies and consultants emphasize the importance of a good brand.
It represents the story you tell and your promise to deliver. The greater the brand awareness, the more people will engage with your company, and your salespeople will have more fruitful conversations.
That’s the theory, anyway.
But in reality, branding is expensive and hard to trace. For example, did you get that prospect because of the Super Bowl ad or was your salesperson that good on the phone?
For small and mid-sized B2B companies that live hand-to-mouth, I would argue that there are much more efficient ways for companies to spend their digital dollars.
That’s content marketing first for the purpose of lead generation and second for brand awareness.
Now, most B2B companies have figured out that they have to develop content. But the problem is that many are unwittingly executing branding strategies and are scratching their heads wondering why all this money and effort isn’t turning into leads.
A lead generation strategy is very different from a brand strategy, and it’s important to understand the difference.
Early Stage Buyers Have All the Control
It used to be that branding was enough for a good sales prospectors to fill their calendars with appointments. They could leverage off of that brand positioning and awareness by making phone calls, going to conferences and networking events, and sending out email introductions.
I remember growing up as a marketing director supporting a sales team in the late 90’s, and salespeople kept telling me, “I just want them to have heard of us when I pick up the phone to call them.”
Before the internet gained prominence as a content smorgasbord, people got the information they needed on new products and services mostly from salespeople (and maybe product review magazines—but they still had to call a salesperson).
Today’s buyer has much more control over their own buyer journey. When they have a problem, their search starts on the internet. They read blogs, watch videos and webinars, and download white papers.
And they’re unwilling to talk to a salesperson—at least, not at this stage.
The consultative sales process still exists—it’s just been pushed back further in the buyer journey.
That has shifted a lot of the burden of prospecting to marketing—so if you’re focused first on branding and second on leads for sales, you’re guaranteed to be missing opportunities.
Content Marketing’s Role in the Sales Process
The way we need to think about content marketing is: How can we replicate digitally what used to happen with sales reps and prospects in a face-to-face context or in one-to-one phone conversations?
Content marketing for lead generation therefore must address the business problems that prospects are searching for—just like a salesperson used to do in-person and on the phone.
In other words, content should attract more qualified prospects at the top of the funnel if:
- They are aware that they have a problem and have begun to search the marketplace for solutions, and
- You can get that content in their path through email, social media, paid and organic search, and content promotion.
The downside of this process is that unlike a person-to-person interaction, content cannot shift the conversation from one pain point to another if one doesn’t land. So, content marketing must work collaboratively with sales to ensure that they’re providing content that addresses separately all of the likely pain points.
Sales’ Role in the Marketing Process
It’s always been the sales rep’s job to know what high probability pains a prospect has in order to tee up fruitful conversations. They know the questions to ask that will lead them to the consultative conversations they want to have.
What’s different now, is that they have to do that based on the topics that buyers are interested in, and gingerly nurture them down a buying path without putting on the full-court press. (Translation: How can I help? Vs. When can we set an appointment to talk?)
But if sales reps know that there is a high likelihood that the person that downloaded that whitepaper is experiencing a problem that you can solve, that’s useful in terms of engagement. You have a real person at a real company that’s engaging with your brand on a topic about a problem that you can solve—and that’s a good lead.
It doesn’t mean that they have the authority to make a decision or that they have budget. But they can figure out the next logical topic that the prospect might be interested in.
The Next Step is Nurturing
Because the buyer is in control, they’re most likely not looking at the top-of-the-funnel stage to buy software or talk to a sales rep about their options.
Although it does happen where they read a blog post and pick up the phone or send a meeting request (and it’s great when it does) it’s usually not in great enough volume to adequately grow the business.
So you have to nurture these prospects with more quality content to guide them down a path:
- Tell them how to evaluate vendors in the space
- Inform them about the necessary criteria to make an informed decision
- Warn them about potential pitfalls
Further down the funnel is where content such as case studies comes in. And by spoon-feeding more helpful content to those prospects, you’ll nurture them until they are sales-ready.
Combine all that with marketing automation that links your website to your CRM and now your sales team has the lead intelligence they need to prioritize their time (based on what content is being consumed and at what frequency).
When you combine all that—the content with the technology—that is a lead generation content marketing strategy, and you’ll gain some of the control back over the customer’s buying process.
And as an added bonus…
You’ll establish your brand as a thought-leader and problem solver as a byproduct of producing great content—and I’ll take that any day over name recognition to get my foot in the door.