One of the biggest challenges businesses who adopt the practice of inbound marketing face is creating a consistent flow of new and relevant content. There’s a lot at stake here – especially if the company culture has embraced the fact that content, preferably an ample supply of it, has a big impact on site traffic increases, qualified lead volume and revenue gains.
What I’ve come to notice as I work with a variety of companies starting out with, or getting deeper into, inbound marketing is three distinct levels of content production and utilization.
Businesses at Level One are most concerned with foundational content creation – website content, blogging, articles, case studies and digital versions of sales collateral. The focus of early effort is to begin to rank for priority keywords and increase site traffic.
At Level Two, the focus remains on foundational content and adds supplemental layers of content – longer form content assets (whitepapers, eBooks, video, deeper case studies) with an eye towards using some or all of these content assets in converting site visitors to leads.
The Level Three companies, now that the content foundation is established and analytic feedback from using Level Two content to effect lead conversion is available, are finding more diverse ways to utilize content to actively assist in the sales process. The other important shift at Level Three is the creation of content that is specific to inducing movement in the mid to late stages of the sales process.
I recommend a three step process in determining both the type and format of the content you create to assist in the sales process:
- Determine the individual stages of your sales process and name them. It’s easy to over-complicate this step and end up with confusion as to which stage aligns best with a particular content asset. Keep this simple in the beginning – you can always go back and add stages if your experience indicates a gap.
- Brainstorm with your sales, marketing and customer service teams and catalog the questions that they field on a regular basis as a prospect moves through the sales process to become a customer. Take care to align the questions with the right stage of your sales process.
- With input from the team you assembled in Step 2, formulate the answers to the questions developed by the team. The depth and complexity of the answers will help guide your choice of the content format you use in answering the questions. For example, longer and more complex answers may lend themselves to whitepapers, case studies, video content or a webinar. Shorter answers could be easily addressed in a blog or FAQ section on your site.
It doesn’t matter how you get the content developed – it’s ideal if your internal personnel has such a strong level of inbound buy-in that they want to create it – the bottom line is that you’ll need a content supply that adequately covers all stages of your sales process. For companies lacking the internal resources with which to create content, I’ve found success with a guided interview process that leverages their internal brain trust with an external team of writers to keep the flow of content strong.
Here are a few general suggestions for how you can use content to shorten the sales cycle:
- In a thank you email after an introductory phone call
- Before a follow up call, send content that is relevant to the next conversation
- After a call, a thank you email with content that leads to the next stage in the process
- If the sales process has stalled, send an email with content that bridges back to the last positive conversation
- After submitting a proposal, send an email with content that addresses a point known to cause buyer indecision
A good time to plot out the many situations where content can facilitate prospect movement through the pipeline is once the completed content is cataloged – for example in an Excel spreadsheet. Using the same team involved in creating the content ideas, have them brainstorm the key insertion points.
The most important marker of a Level Three company is their total awareness of the content they’ve created and the presence of mind to use it in almost every possible way in their interactions with prospects. The beauty of this approach is that as prospects interact with the content, their progress through the sales cycle can be tracked and in many cases expedited with efficient and timely use of content.