How to Develop a Content Strategy that Supports Your Sales Process

If your content isn’t turning into sales conversations, the most likely reason is that you’re not speaking directly enough to a business problem that your prospects have. 

But don’t fret–even experienced sales and marketing professionals constantly get this wrong, and it does take some experimentation. 

Historically, marketers have been taught brand building–but that’s not enough for a salesperson to find enough qualified opportunities. 

To generate more fruitful sales conversations from content you must help them solve a problem. 

Think about why someone goes searching on the web for content in the first place–it’s because they have a problem and are searching for solutions. So if your content isn’t addressing a solution to their problem, they’re going to pass right by it. 

Check out this short video from Donald Miller’s Youtube Channel Storybrand where he explains this concept well. 

So how do you create content (including cold sales emails) that’s going to get you into more qualified conversations?

Use these 7 steps to create content that’s truly going hit them square between the eyes with problems that they must solve.

Step 1: Map out typical buyer journeys

Go back and look at all the customers you’ve signed for the past year (or more) and ask yourself these questions: 

  • Who are they? (What titles are they?)
  • How did they find you?
  • What were they most concerned about?
  • Why was it a problem that they had to solve? (What would happen if they didn’t)
  • How many people were involved in the sale?
  • How long did it take for them to become a client?

And even better, talk to them about the work you’ve done together, get them in a state of appreciation, and ask them for referrals. (The book: The Referral Code is a great reference for this process).

Step 2: Develop or revamp your buyer personas

Hopefully, you’ve talked to enough of your customers that you’ve found some similar problems that they needed solving. 

But that’s just surface pain. 

They most likely haven’t shared with you their true motivation, unless you’ve been trained to go that deep. 

For example, I recently spoke with an executive coach that asked about how he should create content. I asked him, “what problem is it that people need to solve that makes them reach out and find a coach?”

His answer was about organizational issues and politics that typically get in the way of being successful as a leader.

Okay, not bad. 

But if he then produced content about leadership best practices based on that assumption, would it really move someone to action? Sure, they might find it interesting and valuable–but it’s not enough.

So the next question is: “what happens to that leader if they don’t solve these problems?”

“They’re likely to get canned,” he says. 

Aha! That’s real pain.

Understand that every purchase decision that people make are based on emotion. So when they’re truly in pain, they’ll do everything they can to alleviate it. 

Everything can be reduced to wanting to look good, or the fear of looking bad.

View this step as an ongoing process–not a project that needs to be completed. The more you talk to prospects and customers, the more problems you hear, and the more content you can create to address them.

Step 3: Define The Ideal Customer Profile and their buying triggers

In the book Spear Selling, Jamie Shanks talks about eliminating “random acts of selling.” That’s where we’ve identified prospect targets based on geography, revenue, number of employees, industry, or maybe it would just be a nice logo to boast about. 

But that’s an extremely inefficient way to prospect.

A better way is to use content to identify the targets where you’re most likely to get engagement. For example:

  • A few people from one company attended your last webinar, and they might be in the market for a solution like yours
  • You have an advocate that you’ve worked within the past and they can provide a direct referral into one of their connections. 
  • You’ve identified a trigger event where you know that people tend to search for solutions when it happens. 

Whatever it is, define what your ideal customer profile looks like and what prompts them to take action to look for a solution. List out as many of those pain points that you can think of based on past conversations with clients and prospects. 

Step 4: Narrow it to 2 or 3 overarching pain points. 

Once you’re sure about the profiles of your ideal prospect, and the problems that they must solve, take a look at your list of pain points and see if you can group them. 

Do you see any patterns?

Are some of them facets of a bigger problem?

You’re looking for overarching pain points that are going to give you some lead intelligence on that prospect. Because once you have that, you can move to:

Step 5: Develop a key lead magnet that identifies lead intelligence. 

Just because someone enters their email to get your white paper or attend your webinar does not mean they’re ready to buy. Or even talk to you.

If they were, they would reach out to you directly. 

But that’s not the goal of developing a lead magnet anyway. (If it does, great!)

 The goal of the lead magnet is to convert an anonymous prospect into a lead and gather some intelligence about the potential problems they might have. That way, (assuming they meet your ideal customer profile from step 3) you can reach out to them armed with something relevant to talk with them about and find out how you might be of service. 

The loose format I like to follow for developing a key lead magnet is:

  1. There’s a big problem out there.
  2. People try to solve this problem by doing X, but that doesn’t work.
  3. Here’s how the innovators have solved that problem with X results. 

Step 6: Use the Facets as your distributed content. 

Now that you’ve defined your lead magnets to turn anonymous traffic into something that you can research, you want to push your traffic to them. 

These are the blogs, videos, articles, infographics, podcast episodes, webinar recordings, etc. and again, they should speak to specific facets of the overarching pain. 

Step 7: Determine at what stage the buyer should be for each facet and get content in front of them. 

Do they know they have a problem? If not, that’s top-of-funnel thought leadership. 

Are they aware that they have a problem and are searching for solutions? 

That’s middle-of-the-funnel.

Are they ready to make a decision and want proof that you’re the right one? That’s bottom-of-the-funnel. 

It’s not always clear cut, but you do want to pay attention to the next piece of content in the series that you can use to nurture them down a buying path.

This is especially important to identify the decision-makers, influencers, and advocates in the complex sale because each one of those personas has different reasons for buying and you’d better address their concerns at some point. 

Step 8: Distribute and Engage

Your content consumers will come from three places–search, social media, and sharing. So you need to figure out which methods are best for you. 

Whether it’s paid or organic, search is a tough one if you’re just starting this process. But it’s always a good idea to pay attention to long-tail keyword phrases that less competitive. 

Posting and sharing on social media is also a good way to get new prospects. Make sure it leads to lead magnet, so for example, if you repost on Linkedin, make sure you have links to the lead magnet in the post somewhere.

Sharing, whether in terms of you sending it out to your email lists, or someone else sharing your posts with their audiences is probably the easiest way for the small company or solopreneur to get content in front of prospects, especially if you can build a syndicate of people in your industry that know you and can share your posts without reservation.

Marketing for leads is a process, not a project

No matter how you slice it, prospecting is hard work, so we must try and be efficient in every activity we do. 

The most efficient way is to ensure that every piece of content that you develop and share is speaking directly to business problems that you can help them solve. 

That way, we can replicate the activities that produce the highest return. 

That means regular conversations with everyone that is client-facing (sales, business development, customer success, product development). 

If you’re a solopreneur, keep notes every time you talk to a prospect–what were the problems they had that caused them to reach out?

If you view this as a continuous process, you’ll get better and better at hitting them with problems they have to solve right now, attracting more qualified prospects and closing deals faster.

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