Whether you’re sales or marketing, putting out content is a never-ending task, a mountain with no peak.
With so much competition across, it takes more and more effort to creep into the brains of your audience. You need to target your niche, answer questions; you need to tell a story. Above all, you need to apply the process.
This article talks you, the reader, through ideation, creation, and then iteration of content. It teaches you exactly how to thread a story through your brand and how both sales and marketing can be part of that process.
Good content starts with a good idea. Ideation is the part of the storytelling process where we decide what our story is going to be about. It starts by understanding who wants to read our story and what they’ll learn from it. A detailed buyer persona helps us find out what gets our customer base going; what makes them tick, what they might need, and what they presently face.
We get the best results when both the sales and the marketing teams’ content is based around the customers and their desired outcomes. The first thing we do to get them working from the same page is identify our Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). We can’t do this without a shared effort from Sales and Marketing running customer development and jobs-to-be-done interviews.
Alex is the boss. Their primary concern is growth and making money. As the great overseer of their company, they are primarily concerned with productivity and automated reporting features for our product. The content and outreach we target to them offers an oversight of those features and exactly how they’ll work in their specific industry, whatever that may be.
Before understanding which topics our audience needs us to cover, we need to decide which mediums our audience is present on. Do they prefer to listen to podcasts, or would they rather read an article? Videos are the way forward, right? Social media is the here and now, but Alex is a bit on the older side, so do they even use it? Educational? Aspirational? Entertaining?
With so many questions, the obvious thing to do would be ask.
In an ideal world, we’d have a direct line with our customers at all times, they’d be our friends, confidants, and double-agents. They’d be willing to give every nanobyte of data to us.
But the truth is that we don’t live in an ideal world. One-to-one calls to help us get to know our customers, their preferences, and their behaviour are few and far between. Because of this, we add content-delivery questions to the discovery calls between SDRs and potential customers. Afterwards, that data should be kept in your CRM system, making it much easier to analyse the data and segment your outreach for different content types.
One-to-one calls are not the only source of getting content ideas. Here are some of the ways of designing topics.
Get into your customers’ worlds
We need to put ourselves into Alex’s shoes and immerse ourselves in their world. We’ll attend the webinars they attend and listen to the podcasts they listen to. We’ll become part of their business communities and we’ll track what those communities are talking about, what fears they have and challenges they face. Eventually, we’ll build our content around that.
Act on processes and business goals
While the way they get there might be different, the goals of each team are ultimately the same. That is, to fill in the pipeline and get leads through the sales funnel. Use content to get them there. Look at where bottlenecks are in the funnel, and wonder why that’s happening. Depending on the funnel stage, develop either marketing content or sales enablements to fill the gap.
Alternatively, you can think from the perspective of the North Star metric that your company set for the current time period. One of the easiest ways to align your sales and marketing teams is by having them follow that metric. That is, to have one guiding gauge for how successful your content is at any one given, dedicated time.
If your North Star metric for this quarter is overall website traffic, then it’s important to focus on the creation of blog content that showcases a problem that your audience shares. If your teams are guided by a drive to increase in-product activation, both teams should focus on sales cadence and onboarding content.
Speak to your customers
Your SDRs, sales, and customer success managers run tons of calls with potential and current customers. In a similar vein, use the questions that customers ask your teams as a basis for the content you create. After all, those are the questions that they most need answers to. That’s why sales calls, demos, and catch-ups are so valuable to your business.
During the calls, expect prospects to ask a lot of questions about business processes, your software functionality, and the results it helps to accelerate. These are exactly the questions that you can build your content plan based on. Give all that information to the marketing team to turn into relevant, engaging, and accessible content.
Analyze existing content
Analyze existing content that your audience is most interested in. Keep a keen eye on which pushes more traffic towards your website, generates sign-ups to receive more, gated content such as newsletters, and which gets shared and starts conversations on social media.
Look at your email stats, open rates, and click-throughs to figure out what piques their attention; look at the devices they’re opening emails on to optimise content. Drive your content plan with topics that resonate with an audience and their problems; create bottom-of-the-funnel content that addresses it. Know what works and forget about what doesn’t.
After understanding the aim of your content, unmasking its core objectives, and having a full grasp on who your audience is and how they consume our content, it’s finally time to sew a narrative to it. The only way to do this is through creativity and brainstorming; getting in a room, throwing ideas at each other, and seeing what sticks.
Eventually, you should be able to translate your story as one sentence, a tweet-sized paragraph, and a longer article-sized piece respectively. The concept of storytelling can feel abstract. Here’s the medium-length form of the company’s story I work for.
It starts with the idea, it’s got personality, and it solves a problem:
“The lightbulb came when I was talking to my friend over a beer. He was paying $3000 per year for a CRM that he barely even used. They had to get engineers in to install servers and then spent weeks changing their processes and then training their staff on how to use it. Everything was so complicated. We needed a CRM system that works the way you see your business, not the way somebody else sees it. We needed simplicity and clarity.”
To make the process of content ideation straightforward, it’s better to create a shared content ideation calendar where your both sales and marketing teams can add story ideas, prioritize it, score validity, and shortlist topics to be covered.
At the ideation step, it is not necessarily to focus solely on SEO and keywords. If you put efforts into content distribution, you can get much faster and visible results while sharing your content among various channels instead of waiting while it starts ranging high on Google.
With a brain full of ideas from the ideation phase, the content creators roll their sleeves up.
The ideation process is only one-third of your content journey. Content creation comes next and it’s all parts original, relevant, helpful, valuable, and shareable. They need to address your niche, fitting your product story within the context of a customer’s lives. To this end, it can’t be copied; you can’t just head to a direct competitor’s website, take it, and rewrite it. Think for yourself. Undergo the process.
Research the structure of the problem
The marketing team needs to be well-versed in the topic they’re writing. If they’re not, it’ll take them ages to research and write, they’ll be stressed out of their mind putting it out, and it’ll stick out like a sore thumb. In the end, the chances of coming away with a content-driven action plan are slim. This is especially true with the recent trend in C-levels and managers creating content. Because they’re mostly ghost-written, marketers are under even more pressure to put across expertise.
Developing expertise takes time and energy and unfortunately, there are few shortcuts. Your best bet as a marketer is to ask for help. Ask your company’s topic expert a brief for the content you’re about to create. State the ICP, the knowledge-level of the target audience, the stage of the funnel the piece is for, and which ideas you intend to include.
Similarly, you can look outside of your company for help. Research the top articles with the best SERP for your target keyword and think how you can make it better. Does it lack visual elements? Are there parts of theory that are blatantly missing? Are there enough actionable tips, examples, and use cases? Does it tell a story that you can’t tell better?
Write the story
Take it one section at a time. Set the scene; the opening line of your content is the most essential part. It’s where people start reading and it’s where their attention starts. If your opening line is bad, it’s where their attention stops. The key is for a reader to know that this content is written for them, and whether it will help them overcome any challenge or solve any problem they currently face. Otherwise, they’ll go find content that actually is written for them.
Example? I wrote a piece about how to create the perfect salesperson’s LinkedIn profile. As you can imagine, the audience was broad. I stated that the piece was specifically for sales in the title, but it’s still too broad. There are so many business models, in so many businesses, across so many industries in the world. The very first line, setting the scene, helped me clear up any ambiguity.
“As a SaaS salesperson trawling LinkedIn, looking for and reaching out to potential clients, life can be difficult. Your problem could be something as simple as a bad profile, and having a good one can be the difference between receiving a reply or not.“
After reading a story-told piece of content, the reader should feel a connection to the writer. They should feel as if they come from the same background, that they have identified the same problems, and would appreciate the same solutions. Similarly, content is actionable if a reader comes away from it with a clear idea of what they should do next in their head. Write in your own, unique style. Use short, sharp sentences and avoid fillers.
Check your content as a team
Sales should check content before it goes out, preferably the same expert who provided us with the idea or the notes we used to write the piece. They mustn’t be shy in providing constructive feedback and pointing out what’s unclear in an article. Offer suggestions for what pops and what doesn’t.
Only through this close collaboration can an organisation put out content that is optimised for its audience. Never have an idea for content, write it, cross-check it, and publish it on the same day. Good content deserves to at least be slept on for one night. It needs clean eyes and a fresh perspective.
Publish your content
Publish your content on the platforms upon which your audience is active. Afterwards, keep an eye on the metrics.
Analysis and iteration
A content audit of existing content helps us to identify where we need to put more work in. In a constantly-changing business world, customer preferences and needs constantly change; the need for our product does too. It’s essential that all of our content is up-to-date in terms of SEO and actual content to make sure our content is evergreen and ever-valuable.
This content analysis always leads to iteration. This is the process of constantly improving it to bump up our conversion rates. We do so by having a finger on the pulse of trends in our industry through social media listening, by watching our own analytics in a dashboard, and split testing of outreach campaigns to discover which work best in terms of numbers.
Our previous team building efforts are invaluable for the iteration phase. Once a week we conduct analysis of metrics together as one team. All in all, there are a tonne of metrics to consider. It’s recommended to limit yourself to the most important ones to avoid overkill.
Example. In the awareness stage, we aim for our content to rank high in terms of SERP. We analyse our positions, the organic keywords that the page ranks for, and the amount of traffic it receives. For the consideration stage, we aim for our consumers to take certain actions, such as sign up for a product trial or get in touch with our Success Team for a product demo.
Ultimately, the metrics we choose depend on the initial goal of content you put out.
- To track relevance of blog content, we look at time-on-page and bounce rate. If bounce rate is low and time-on-page is high, we consider the blog to be relevant.
- To track engagement, we look at the number of pages per user session and the overall traffic and attention a post receives. Product conversions and soft conversions are another indirect indicator of engagement.
- To track visibility, we analyze SEO metrics. The main one is SERP, which outlines the number of relevant keywords a page ranks for.
- To track actionability, we analyse the number of downloads for freemium, gated content. It might not necessarily show how valuable a piece of content is, but it proves trust in our brand name and how valuable they think we are.
- To track sales enablement, we track metrics like the average length of sales cycles as well as conversion rates on middle-funnel stages. Win rate is also a good indicator of success in sales enablements, but also dependent on other variables so can’t be considered as reliable.
At whichever point our customers stop interacting with the content, we iterate it. However, if they churn right at the beginning of our story, we completely readdress the subject area and take it from a different angle. In this case, we can only assume that we’ve not addressed the customer’s pain points correctly and it needs rejigging.
Having a solid content strategy is obviously essential for growth in the modern business world. Again, it’s a process and it’s a process that involves both your sales and marketing teams. It involves learning, creating a story, and then telling it. It involves seeing and understanding your industry and its customers. Finally, it involves doing and then doing again if it doesn’t work.
It’s not easy, but who said it was? Still, it’s worth it.
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