Author: Brent Lollis, Founder and President of Creative State, a digital strategy firm based in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

For B2B sellers, content marketing and inbound lead generation have been game-changing trends. They allow companies to target their buyers more precisely and effectively, and also lead to efficient and scalable campaigns, that can target multiple levels of decision-makers at once.

As with all exciting concepts, though, the devil is in the details. The concept of content marketing might be simple, but the execution can be tricky. If you create the wrong kind of content, or distribute it to the wrong audiences, then it’s easy to end up with an expensive and time-consuming process, that doesn’t yield any real-world results.

To avoid falling into those kinds of traps, there are three principles that can keep you on track and engaging the right types of buyers. If you’re looking for a definitive guide to B2B content marketing, here’s what you have to do…

Know Who Might Be Reading Your Content

Most pieces of web content used to be directed at “decision-makers.” These tended to be business owners, CEOs, and others with the authority to approve deals, write checks, and sign agreements.

More and more, however, organizations are dividing these responsibilities in a number of ways. For one thing, they are bringing bigger investments (like the ones made in B2B sales environments) before groups and committees to gather a number of informed opinions. Likewise, they are delegating research and information-gathering tasks to lower-level employees. So, the first person who reads your content might not be the one who ultimately gives a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.

In an age of boundless information at our fingertips, it is estimated that the average B2B sale takes 22% longer to complete than it used to. Some of that may come down to the sheer volume of choice that’s available, but much of it can be attributed to the fact that there are now so many people making various decisions at different levels within your prospects’ companies.

...you should be aware of the different audiences who might be reading and consuming your content.

Knowing that, you should be aware of the different audiences who might be reading and consuming your content. Recognize that they have different levels of understanding, and unique motivators that compel them to move forward with you, or turn their attention elsewhere. Then, structure your content in a way that makes it easy to read for all of your decision-making groups.

Organize Your Content into Sales Funnels

There are lots of business owners and executives who mistakenly believe that content marketing comes down to having more pages and materials on a website. While producing more content is generally better as a rule of thumb, the way that content is organized matters a great deal.

To get the best results possible, you need to inform prospects first, and persuade them second. That means attracting their attention with blog posts and social articles, then following up with downloadable reports that stoke their interest, and emails that call for some kind of follow-up action.

Sales Funnel

This idea of a sales funnel is a simple one, but it works. Consider that B2B marketers with blogs receive 67% more leads than those who don’t, and that white papers and e-books account for nearly two-thirds of B2B lead submissions. B2B customers give you their interest first, their attention second, and their business only when they are convinced you have what they need.

Make sure every piece of content you produce fits somewhere in the sales funnel, and leads toward the kind of outcomes you’re looking for. Otherwise, you’re just posting material for the sake of putting it online, and that isn’t going to help you, or your prospects.

Use Content to Let Your Prospects Qualify Themselves

There is actually a downside to implementing a strong content marketing campaign. Namely, that many of the visits and inquiries you receive might not be a good match for the products or services you have to offer.

How pervasive is this issue? According to Marketing Sherpa, a full 73% of B2B leads are not sales-ready. If you let them, they’ll take away time from your sales team and distract you from more important or profitable marketing efforts.

Marketing Sherpa, a full 73% of B2B leads are not sales-ready

The solution is to ensure that your prospects qualify themselves as they move through your content marketing sales funnel. Make it clear in your informational materials what kinds of businesses you work with, how you can help, and what organizations aren’t right for you. By mentioning budgets and constraints outright, you will make it easier for researchers to tell if they fit into your business plan.

Content marketing represents something of a quiet revolution for B2B companies, allowing them to do much more, with much less. But, unless you can adhere to a handful of important principles, you could easily find yourself wondering why you’re producing page after page without seeing an influx of new leads.

There are people who want to read more about your business. Keep in mind their distinctive perspectives and interests, create a sales funnel that works, and then let them qualify themselves before they contact you. That’s a proven path to success, that you can follow again and again.

The Takeaways

  • B2B content marketing has many different audiences within the organizational chart.
  • All content should be arranged in a sales funnel that is aimed at producing leads.
  • It’s important to let prospects qualify themselves before contacting you.

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