The Role of Content Marketing in B2B Sales
Some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had during my career as a content marketer have been with members of the sales team. A lot of times, these interactions happen serendipitously. I ask a colleague how their day is going and hear about a challenge they encountered on a demo. Next thing I know, I’m creating collateral to help them out.
When done correctly, content has a huge impact on the sales process. It can be used to generate and nurture leads in automation campaigns, as well as help salespeople better engage with prospects.
The qualifier is when done correctly. Marketing often operates in a silo, causing the content we produce for our friends in sales to slightly miss the mark. I’ve always felt that it shouldn’t be that way. Involving sales in the content marketing process obviously results in better sales content. And when content helps close a deal, we can show leadership that content marketing works.
Where sales content goes wrong
Us marketers create content for every stage in the buying process. The problem is we often take a marketing-centric approach to all the content we produce when sometimes a sales perspective is needed.
Content for lead generation
Take lead generation content, for example. It’s the content marketer’s job to create e-books, whitepapers, checklists, etc. that capture contact information via a form.
Yes, it’s a top-of-the-funnel function, owned by marketing. However, we tend to shoot from the hip when determining what to write about and who we’re writing it for. While keyword research and SEO fundamentals help us come up with blog topics, there’s too much speculating when planning lead generation assets.
Before you start writing downloadable content, you should first create marketing persona profiles—or overviews of the different types of people your sales team interacts with and the challenges they experience.
There is a lot that goes into building thorough and accurate persona profiles. Start by connecting with your sales team and finding out who they speak with on demos and the problems prospects are hoping to solve. Then interview a handful of customers and group the information you collect based on job titles. Now you’re ready to create downloadable content that will appeal to the different people your company sells to.
Mid-funnel and bottom-of-the-funnel content
Quite frankly, marketers focus too much on top-of-the-funnel content. It’s often the easiest and most interesting content to write. And because of sales exclusion from the content process, we can be unsure of what mid and bottom-of-the-funnel content should cover.
Maybe you’ve experienced the following scenario: Your team is a few months into the content marketing journey. The blog is updated weekly and you have a few e-books in the resources section. Now it’s time to expand your efforts so you nurture all those leads you’re generating. But no one is exactly sure what to write about. And when you finally do produce that collateral, the response from the sales team isn’t as enthusiastic as you hoped.
Again, you have to involve sales in content planning and understand the different conversations they’re having. As you brainstorm content topics, group your ideas into these three buckets:
- Top-of-the-funnel – Build brand affinity by establishing your company as an authority in the industry/profession. Content can cast a wide net and shouldn’t be product-focused at this stage.
- Middle-of-the-funnel – Provide a high-level overview of your product and its benefits/differentiators. At this stage, you’re introducing prospects to your software and they’re starting to consider purchasing it.
- Bottom-of-the-funnel – Get prospects across the finish line by responding to specific questions or needs. Now prospects are ready to buy and content should resolve any hang-ups they have.
Tearing down the wall between content and sales
Any good marketer is familiar with content’s role in the sales funnel. However, the challenge is crafting an applicable strategy consisting of relevant content for each stage of the buyer’s journey. Let’s go a level deeper and explore sales content concepts and examples.
Mid-funnel content: Don’t be afraid to write about features
Some content marketers are averse to writing about features. It’s the top-of-the-funnel mindset. We think being overtly promotional will turn a prospect off. What we’re really doing is failing to serve the prospects who are open to learning about what our product can do. The people who are aware of their challenges and know there is a solution in the form of software.
There is a way to write about what your product does without rehashing feature page content. The key is to tell a story about the benefits your software brings to its customers. Provide specific and interesting examples of how your product solves your personas’ challenges. Here are a few examples from SaaS brands that excel at content marketing.
- Help Scout – What is a Support Ticket and Why We Don’t Use That Term
- Sketch – From Sketch to Screen — how Blake Stevenson created our Ambassador art print
- SurveyMonkey – Storytelling with data: How to turn survey data into compelling narratives
- Officevibe – Why We Cut The Annual Performance Review: Compensation Edition
The examples above represent excellent mid-funnel content. The writer is respecting the prospect by presenting real solutions to their challenges. There is no dancing around the takeaway. In a straightforward yet compelling way, they’re saying this is how our product can change how you work for the better.
That is the purpose of mid-funnel content. Demonstrate you understand the prospect’s challenge and introduce them to your SaaS product as a potential solution.
Bottom-of-the-funnel: Use content to close the deal
Once a prospect is familiar with your company, has engaged with mid-funnel content, and is close to making a decision, the right content can be the nudge they need to say “yes.”
The nice thing about bottom-of-the-funnel content is it doesn’t necessarily have to be optimized for search engines (although, branded search queries are helpful). The prospect has already come to your site, likely multiple times. And unlike mid-funnel content, brainstorming topics and framing a thesis doesn’t require a creative approach. You can respond to the persona’s challenges by simply stating what your product does. There is no need for marketing-speak.
The caveat is bottom-of-the-funnel content has little room for error. It must have the exact solution to the problem that is preventing the prospect from saying yes. Even if they find the content compelling but their problem persists, the content has failed. Here are some outstanding examples of “close-the-deal” content:
- FloQast – Determine the ROI of Cloud Accounting with Our Free Calculator
- Insightly – Insightly CRM meets artificial intelligence
- Pipedrive – How to Effectively Sell Your Boss on a Brand New CRM
It’s worth noting that bottom-of-the-funnel content doesn’t have to be in text-form (remember, SEO isn’t a huge concern). We’ll wrap up this article by looking at a few types and formats bottom-of-the-funnel sales content can take:
- Product comparison sheet – Outline how your software stacks up against a competitor.
- Features guide – Go in-depth on the functionality of a specific feature prospects care about.
- Best practices guide – Cover how users get the most out of your software (this content is also beneficial for current customers as it aids in engagement and retention).
- Case studies – Share how notable companies use your software and the benefits it brings to their businesses.
- Product updates – Write blog posts about new features or updates to demonstrate that your software is constantly evolving.
- How-to webinars – The presentation version of a feature or best practices guide where a product expert demonstrates the power of your software.
- Feature overview videos – Short videos that cover a specific feature instead of going in-depth like a webinar.
An end-to-end content strategy
Even though it’s called “content marketing,” the activity spans the entire business. Content for lead generation is important and accounts for a large part of a content strategy. However, sales content is where the tactic pays off. Produce great mid and bottom-of-the-funnel collateral and you’ll be able to show content marketing is a positive ROI channel.