Let's put today's information explosion into perspective. Google chairman Eric Schmidt reports that five billion gigabytes of information were created between the dawn of civilization and 2003. Now, that amount of information is being created every two days.
That megatrend has substantial implications for marketers. With so much information crowding our lives, we are forced to make decisions about what we listen to and what we ignore. Buyers have learned to do the same: they tune out messages they don’t want to hear and independently research the information they do care about. The sales team used to be responsible for educating buyers. Now, buyers self-educate using search engines. Their first impression (and, oftentimes, a snap judgment) is now made based on information found through your website.
B2B buyers are typically 60% of the way through their buying journey before they contact you. With the rise of what is being called "self-serve sales", your sales team might not have any influence over the buyer’s decision until it’s too late—however, your marketing has tremendous influence. That’s why it’s vital that your marketing strategy and lead generation efforts are focused on priming buyers during their self-education process, so that when they reach out to your salesperson, they are already interested in what you have to offer.
The Importance of Marketing and Sales Alignment
All of your marketing efforts—from messaging and identity to design and development—are focused on one thing: engaging prospective clients. A strong foundational set of marketing assets are essential tools for finding, engaging, nurturing and converting sales leads.
When so much of the buying decision is being made based off of your digital presence, it is more important than ever before that marketing and sales functions being aligned. When we work on marketing plans for new companies, one of our first questions is always, “What needs do your salespeople have?” We want to know what collateral, content, and other marketing assets your sales team find themselves needing when talking to prospective customers at every stage of the funnel—and then we want to provide them with the absolute best, most strategic materials that speak to a market-focused brand narrative.
This approach may seem like common sense. However, for many companies, one of the biggest obstacles in successful lead generation is aligning marketing strategy with sales needs. When lead generation is not a joint effort between your marketing and sales teams, you risk spending a lot of resources and energy on efforts that don’t ultimately result in good, quality leads. In B2B companies particularly, harmony between sales and marketing can result in a shorter sales cycle and clearer ROI. According to this interview with director of marketing Jeremy Boudinet, his sales software company sees "leads that come from online marketing materials close about 25% of the time, and leads that come in from sales—without the help of marketing—close at a rate of 1.5%."
There’s no question that a prospect who has discovered your offering themselves during the initial research phase will be more likely to convert. But how do you capture their interest and communicate your brand promise before you even meet them? It all starts with content. Since customers today research their options so early in the sales cycle, content marketing takes on the education role that used to belong to sales. Content marketing’s role in sales in to help push potential customers through the sales funnel—before a salesperson even knows who they are.
It All Starts with High Value Content
Strong content puts you in the room with a prospect before you even meet them. White papers, industry-based emails, case studies, blog posts, webinars, infographics, videos, podcasts—the list goes on and on. Whatever its form, great content is absolutely essential for ushering target audiences into the sales funnel and promoting lead generation. It places you within conversations that facilitate introductions to the brand and positions you as an expert on the subject matter.
At its essence, content marketing is soft selling. It produces moments of discovery, builds relationships, establishes rapport, and offers assistance. We know that your potential customer is doing their own research. Content marketing meets them where they are and provides them with exactly the information they’re looking for, at the exact moment they’re seeking it.
When creating content marketing assets, it is helpful to think about how content can help answer customers’ questions and concerns along each step in the customer journey. From the top of the sales funnel to moments right before the close, make sure that you have content that assists your sales team throughout the conversation.
You have a product that meets a very real and current felt need in the marketplace. You know that buyers are looking for the solution that you can uniquely provide. Lead generation tactics like content marketing and establishing a strong web presence are tools to help you communicate your solution to the marketplace.
Lead generation efforts create demand for your product, engages your target audience, and drive inquiries that will lead to sales conversions. If you keep your sales team’s needs in mind, establish a strong digital presence, and provide content that answers your prospects’s questions, the results will speak for themselves.