Content marketing is the process of “creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience” with the purpose of “changing or enhancing consumer behavior.”* Though the definition doesn’t specify it as such, many people seem to think that content marketing is just a top-of-the-funnel strategy. But when you think about it as a way to engage customers, and not just prospects, you see that it is really a strategy for every stage of the sales funnel.
In most B2B companies, content marketers own at least a piece of the top of the funnel. At times the head of content will own content like blogs, social media, and the company’s online presence and are experts at creating other types of content to help potential customers learn about the company and to build awareness for the brand. But brand awareness is just one goal for content marketing.
As content marketing guru Joe Pulizzi says, companies have different goals for content marketing, including lead nurturing, customer conversion, customer loyalty, and up-selling. If you look closely, none of these is a top of the funnel task. They are all about engaging prospects, transforming them into customers, and building long-term relationships.
Content and the sales funnel
- The top of the funnel is easy to define—the people who are looking for information to solve their problem, who discover a company through the useful content it publishes.
- The middle the funnel is all about turning those prospects into qualified leads. At this stage, the purpose of content is to evaluate a company on a variety of levels and make a buying decision.
- The bottom of the funnel is about turning these leads into customers. And once they pop out the bottom of the funnel as customers, content is still useful in building loyalty, reducing turnover, engaging customers and turning them into brand ambassadors.
Marketers create different content for different needs in the buyer’s journey. Basic information about products or services via channels like blogs or social media fuel and inform the top of the funnel. Proof points and conversion tools like case studies and demos are great for buyers who are farther down the sales funnel. And newsletters and best practices are great for building loyalty and long lasting relationships with customers.
Sales enablement and content
Engaging prospects, transforming them into customers, building long-term relationship are all tasks traditionally handled by the sales team. Which is why content marketing goes hand-in-hand with sales enablement—the process of making sure that the sales team has the right tools to interact and engage with customers. Useful and relevant content is one of those tools.
IDC defines sales enablement as “delivery of the right information to the right person at the right time and in the right place.” So in some ways, it is possible to think about the sales team, and the process of sales enablement, as just another content marketing channel. One that is aimed squarely at the middle and bottom of the funnel, and at those who fall out the bottom of the funnel as customers.
Content and the sales team
Creating content for the sales team to use in their processes is not all that different from creating content for any other channel—the messaging needs to be right for the channel and for the prospect’s or customer’s stage in the buying journey.
The members of your sales team are already having personal, individual conversations with your prospects and customers. In the past, this was the only way customers could get information. Now, because content is much more readily available and customers are approaching sales people with more product and brand knowledge, content created for the sales teams needs to understand how the salesperson adds value. Any content developed or repurposed for sales enablement should build on and develop the relationship, not replace it.
The flip side of the coin for content marketers is that working with the sales team, and paying attention to all stages of the buyer’s journey, lends legitimacy to what content marketers bring to the table inside the company. Content marketing is no longer just about brand awareness or lead generation, but about truly being a strategic part of the customer journey and relationship.