Not everyone you reach is a prospect – but, who cares?

Richard Hadler13/12/2018

Just a fraction of the people your content reaches will actually be in a position to buy from you. Knowing who they are is the first step to delivering personalised content that guides them through the marketing funnel.

Let’s get one thing straight right now: most of the people who engage with your content aren’t viable prospects.

Just because someone reads a few of your blog posts, doesn’t mean they want to know more about your products. More often than not, they won’t even have any direct influence on their company’s spending decisions. They may not even be from a company you want to sell to.

The thing is, that’s really nothing to worry about. Building relationships with secondary (and even tertiary) audiences can be a valuable part of the marketing process. But, generating leads with content marketing needs a more targeted approach.

B2B sales is about quality over quantity. We’re not selling fizzy drinks here. You can’t just go up to people in the street and expect them to want what you’re offering. That’s what makes a genuinely qualified and sales‐ready lead so bloody valuable!

Yet, analysis of hundreds of B2B companies from CRM firm Implisit shows that a typical business takes 84 days to convert just 13 per cent of its leads into sales opportunities. After that, it takes 18 days on average to convert an opportunity into a deal, but only 6 per cent of opportunities end up closing.

Of course, the success rates at your business may be different. But, the point remains that handing over the wrong leads to your sales team will only water down your close rates.

In any given company, a handful of stakeholders will be involved in making purchase decisions – and content plays a crucial role in shaping their opinions about your company.

Research from Demand Gen shows that 80 per cent of B2B buyers will engage with three or more pieces of content marketing before they ever speak to a salesperson. What’s more, 95 per cent trust that content when evaluating a company and its offering.

So, none of this means that content marketing doesn’t work. But, it does mean you need a system in place to distinguish between potential buyers and people that just like hearing what you have to say.

Today, we’ll help you decide what that means for your business. Getting this crucial element of your strategy right will determine how you should distribute your content for maximum impact.

As you’ll see, you need to understand how best to reach the different stakeholders that might be involved in a purchase. Then, you need to develop bespoke journeys to nurture your relationships with key decision‐makers until they’re ready to speak with sales.

Reaching the people you need to influence

Every B2B sale is unique. Your salespeople can often be pitching to huge companies with untold layers of bureaucracy. And, the people who make the decisions will vary from account to account.

It’s impossible to know exactly how decisions are made at any given company before you reach out. So, when it comes to creating and distributing your content, it often pays to cast the net wide to reach everyone that could potentially influence the outcome of a purchase.

As Thomas Freese points out in Secrets of question‐based selling, you will often need to influence several different groups to make a sale.

“Focus on everyone who can influence the outcome,” he says. “When multiple players are involved, it’s unwise to focus on any one individual in the hope that they alone will determine the outcome of the purchase.”

That means developing personas for all the key stakeholders at your target organisations. These should include the pain points each of them is facing to guide your content creation – as well as information about how they consume their content to guide your distribution strategy.

Not only will breaking your audience down in this way help you create personalised content and distribute it through the right media channels, it will also reveal the specific journeys you need to take each stakeholder group on.

While your ultimate aim might be to persuade key business decision‐makers to buy from your business, convincing other audiences like end‐users or journalists to evangelise about your brand can be important steps along the path to achieving this goal.

Of course, distributing your content to engage such a broad audience can be a challenge. You’ll likely need to combine a range of owned, paid and earned media channels to do it effectively.

Start with a centralised content hub and promote that content through owned channels like social media and email newsletters.

From there, use targeted paid campaigns to extend your reach and build your audience. Running paid campaigns on social media can be highly effective. But, paying to promote your content in respected media titles can also be great way to quickly reach a vast audience of company decision‐makers.

Certain businesses will even be able to use their proprietary research or innovations to secure coverage for their brand and executive suite in the trade and national press.

With the right media mix, you’ll be able to drive traffic to your site and cultivate a loyal following of stakeholders from your target organisations.

That said, your sales team may still only want to speak with a few contacts from a very specific group of companies. So, you will also need a plan for identifying key prospects and nurturing your relationships with them until they’re ready to have a sales conversation.

Closing more deals with content marketing

Generating leads with content marketing is like darts – it requires a more targeted approach.

When clients tell us that their content marketing is a bit ‘hit and miss’, that generally means their targeting is wrong. Sometimes they’ll score a bullseye, sometimes they’ll miss the board entirely. Sometimes they’ll share the right ideas with the right people, sometimes they won’t.

If that sounds at all familiar to you, taking the time to refine your content distribution strategy could significantly increase your returns.

That said, it’s always true that some of the people you reach won’t fall into any of your target audience segments. Even the most targeted distribution strategies in the world don’t get it right all the time.

At the same time, the vast majority of B2B buyers want to read multiple pieces of content before they speak with a salesperson. And, each buyer’s content needs will evolve as they progress through the marketing funnel.

That’s why lead nurturing has become such a hot topic in B2B marketing. You must understand the processes your clients go through when researching your offering to provide them with content that meets their needs.

There are lots of shapes your nurturing process might take. The key thing is to have a defined path for guiding prospects through it.

On top of that, you need a system in place to ensure that the people you feed into your nurturing programme are genuine prospects that are worth pursuing. And for that, you need data. Lots of it.

When a prospect reaches the stage in their journey where they’re ready to talk to sales, they become a ‘sales qualified lead’. But, there will likely be several other checkpoints earlier in the marketing process you need to measure to track their progress along that path.

Placing data capture forms at key points in the marketing funnel is one tried‐and‐tested solution to this challenge. Newsletter signups, gated content downloads, requests for proposals and more can all be signs that a buyer is ready to progress to the next stage of their journey.

All this information will enable you to deliver personalised content experiences to potential customers. The more you can refine and improve this process, the more efficiently you’ll be able to convert the leads your campaigns generate into promising sales opportunities.

Start by ensuring you’re targeting the right audience segments with the right content, then create personalised nurturing content for key prospects at each stage of the buyer journey.

The bottom line here is that the best distribution strategy for you will depend on your strategic goals. Content marketing can do more than just one thing.

Reaching a mass audience is great for building awareness and engaging stakeholders that can influence key decision‐makers. But, generating qualified leads requires a more targeted approach. Generally, the best content marketers will have a strategy for both.

Not everyone who engages with your content will be an ideal prospect, but that’s no bad thing. The secret to success lays in picking those key stakeholders from the crowd and nurturing them efficiently through the customer journey.

Key takeaways

  • Understand the different audiences you need to reach and tailor your distribution strategy to their preferred content channels.
  • Not everyone you reach will be a prospect, but that’s fine! Content marketing can help with a range of business goals.
  • Use data to pick out ideal prospects and create content journeys that nurture them through the marketing funnel.