2019’s Must-Haves for a Scalable B2B Content Marketing Strategy
January 8, 2019 | Elizabeth Rivelli
B2B buyers are empowered, and they know it. They expect personalization throughout their shopping experience and useful information via multiple touchpoints, not fluff or sales talk. They know they have a dozen different business solutions to choose from, each of which is only a few clicks away.
Meeting the needs of a single B2B buyer like this is a challenge for marketers and salespeople, but that’s just the beginning. We also have to adapt to a larger number of B2B stakeholders. According to The Harvard Business Review, the average number of people involved in a B2B purchase is around 6.8.
Our own research indicates that 6.8 people could even be on the lower end of the spectrum. It’s not uncommon for a company with a thousand employees to have a buying committee of ten or more people.
While the challenge of meeting the needs of all those people is daunting, a marketer who understands modern B2B buyers doesn’t have to worry. And when you arm that marketer with the right information and the right tools, they can often beat even the most aggressive demand generation goals.
We regularly see marketers develop impressive—and impressively effective—B2B content marketing strategies that complement demand generation efforts. But to pull it off, they have to master one key thing: scalability.
Why Scalability is Crucial to B2B Content Marketing Success
B2B marketers have gotten considerably better at content marketing in the last few years, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement when it comes to scalability. Less than one in ten B2B marketers say, “we have developed a completely systematic approach to producing, managing, and distributing content.”
So, why is scalability such a big deal? Scalability, at its essence, is the solution to the quality-versus-quantity problem so many content marketers struggle with. Here’s how Dan Trefethen describes its importance:
“The goal behind almost every marketing effort is scalability. Every a/b test, experimental campaign, and content process usually has the bottom line goal of , ‘how can we optimize a best result and then repeat that for the most audience reach?’”
But here’s the challenge: We have to publish content that’s high quality if we want to stand out—really great content is the single best way to overcome content shock. At the same time, we also have to create enough content to keep our audiences engaged. And we have to create content that is personalized enough to meet the needs of different personas.
Every person on that buying committee has to receive content that speaks to their concerns. What a CFO needs to know is very different than what a marketing coordinator needs to know, though they will both have input on the final buying decision. Creating that much content at that level of quality is a tremendous amount of work. And this is where scalability comes in.
If there are predictable and proven systems for everything—from audience research and content ideation, to content approvals, promotion, and when to hand a lead off to sales—then work gets done faster. Fewer mistakes are made. Every step of the process is more likely to be successful.
B2B content marketing can be a beautiful thing when all the parts work together. It’s why so many marketers have chosen to invest in content marketing, rather than just using short-term, outbound marketing tactics. Here are the five components of a successful B2B content marketing strategy that can make your vision a reality.
1. Tools to Understand the Changing Demands of Prospects
It’s extremely difficult to hit a target you can’t see. In the same way, if you don’t know what your prospects want or expect, then it’s all but impossible to give it to them. This is why understanding your audience is so essential.
Of course, having the right tools alone isn’t enough to guarantee success—but it sure does help. Successful B2B content marketers were nearly twice as likely to say their “organization’s content marketing technology/proficiency is expert/advanced” compared to average marketers. And they were more than 13 times as likely to say that compared to the least successful B2B content marketers.
So yes, having the right tools will help. A lot. But how, exactly, can you figure out what your prospects want to know, and where they’re looking for this information? Here’s where your peers are looking to get those answers:
Note how few B2B marketers are using “other techniques.” That’s interesting because it means the list of audience research techniques above is all there really is. It’s those tactics, and not much else.
So, you might be able to find a competitive edge if you can discover new ways to learn about your audience. Through interactive PDFs, for instance. Or by using quizzes and assessments to identify exactly which subjects a particular prospect is interested in, and tailoring that content for them accordingly.
2. Content That’s Aligned with Phases of the Buyers’ Journey
Pop quiz: What’s the easiest way to tell the difference between a strategic content marketer, and somebody who’s just pumping out “random acts of content?”
It’s how well their content is distributed across the buyer’s journey. Marketers publishing random acts of content tend to overload the early stages of the buyer’s journey. They also tend to create too much content for just one type of persona.
Content marketers with a documented strategy—and a strategy they’re following—will be disciplined about creating content that truly nurtures a prospect from lead to repeat buyer. They’ll know the buyers’ journey paths of their target audience, know the personas most likely to influence a sale, and build their content according to that structure. It sounds easy, but “68 percent of B2B organizations have not identified their funnel,” according to MarketingSherpa.
However, developing a content structure like that is definitely worth the work. In fact, successful B2B content marketers are three times as likely as unsuccessful marketers to say they, “craft content based on specific points/stages of the buyer’s journey.”
3. Accurate, Timely Data and Insights into Content Engagement
If you know what your audience needs and expects, and you’re creating content that meets those expectations and moves them toward a sale, you’re a long way down the road to success.
But things don’t always work out the way we expect. That fantastic eBook that you thought your CMO personas would love, that would move them closer to seeing a demo? What if they’re not reading that eBook after they’ve downloaded it? Or what if their engagement with all your other content tends to fall off after reading that eBook?
In other words, what if you’ve got a piece of content that isn’t doing its job? This is why having accurate and timely analytics data is critical. We have to know who is engaging with our content, and how they’re engaging with it. And we have to know if engagement is actually moving them toward our ultimate goal: the sale.
If you’re not getting that information, you’re working with a content program that’s basically a leaky bucket. Potentially, a very leaky bucket. For more ideas on how to troubleshoot content engagement problems, see Victoria Hoffman’s post, “3 Reasons Why No One Is Sharing Your Content.”
4. Smart Lead Qualification
Eventually, after some careful nurturing, some of your B2B prospects will start to look like probable buyers. So, is your job done? Is it time to pass them along to sales? Most likely not. Because “61 percent of leads deemed ‘sales-ready’ never become prospects.”
Think about that. It means that more than half of the leads marketers are referring to sales don’t ever even become prospects. Not customers, not repeat customers: Prospects. No wonder salespeople tend to complain about the quality of leads they’re getting.
Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for that. Marketers need to do more to qualify our leads. We need to stop, “confusing interest with buying intent,” as Kirsten Lyons writes in her blog post, “Fixing the Sales-Ready Lead Problem with Better Nurturing.”
Just because somebody downloaded a whitepaper doesn’t mean they’re worth sales’ precious time. So, kick your game up a notch and add another element to your lead nurturing: Qualifying leads.
This can be as easy as asking people if they intend to make a purchase soon. Or asking them if they have the budget to be able to afford what you offer. Whatever you do ask, run it by sales first. They know how to qualify leads better than anybody. It’s literally their job.
5. A Documented and Proven Workflow
The scalability we mentioned before referred to the big pieces of B2B content marketing strategy. Here, we’re talking about the nuts and bolts of your editorial process. Everything from how you capture ideas, to how you prioritize those content ideas, to how you evaluate the performance of content after it’s been published needs to have a pre-defined, documented process.
A standard operating procedure like this makes everything work more smoothly. It allows every team member to know their role and their responsibilities. It also makes outsourcing work far easier and makes training new staff easier, too. That’s one critical element of scalability, you know—how well you can expand your content marketing team to add new members.
Because once you get all these pieces to work, you’re going to get results. And you’re probably going to be given more budget. So, what are you going to do with it? See how you can create content experiences that convert.