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Marketing Consultant and Chair of the Chartered Institute of Marketing Leigh Hopwood, explores the sales potential of content marketing

People don’t want to be sold to anymore. There are few occasions where cold calling really delivers sales.

The general public, which means business buyers too, are far savvier than they used to be. They like recommendations and use reviews and their contacts to find products and services, and then they want to watch and listen for a while, before you know they are there.

During this time they are already defining what they want, learning from the mountains of information available to them. Then just before they buy, they get in touch…

Content marketing is driving marketers mad! Getting it right is an art and a science, and yes, it delivers sales.

Going for the sales jugular doesn’t cut it anymore

Leigh Hopwood Leigh Hopwood Marketing consultant and Chair of CIM

The need for content

The phenomenon came about several years ago when Google declared that to increase your visibility in search results you needed to have content regularly updated on your website. So the blog was born.

Unfortunately, this resulted in people taking advantage of this seemingly easy approach and produced copy for the sake of having content rather than thinking about what value website visitors might gain. So Google cracked down on them and the algorithm was updated to focus on relevant content.

Things have moved on again, not because of Google. Consumers are driving the need for quality content. Quality being the operative word! Consumers want access to advice and guidance, they want to be armed to make their own decisions. They don’t want to be sold to – they lost confidence in sales people telling them the truth long ago.

With people making buying decisions before suppliers even know they are in the running, content absolutely has its place.

The sales funnel has changed

One way that I describe it is how the sales funnel has changed. There was a time when marketing was responsible for popping sales leads in the top of the funnel and sales would have the task of nurturing those prospects, guiding them through the sales cycle to get them to the bottom of the funnel as a sale. It doesn’t work like that anymore.

These days marketing is responsible for the sales leads in the top and then using content to take people to the point that they are ready to get into the detail and purchase.

Steps to content marketing

Going for the sales jugular doesn’t cut it anymore, so it’s time to build a content marketing programme that gives you quality sales opportunities. Where on earth do you start?

  • 1) Define the objective

    Why do content marketing? Is it purely for brand building so that you are positioned as the quality provider of heating solutions in your town, or is it to nurture those that engage with you (ie they have provided their contact details) through to sale?
    What do you want to be famous for? You may want to be seen as the go-to-company for the latest compliance advice, or maybe for getting the latest tech to market first. If you know what you want to be famous for, then it’s much easier to build your positioning and content aligned to that.

  • 2) Listen to customers

    Understand what your customers care about, what they are interested in and where they are getting their intel. It may be compliance or regulation issues that they must know about or learning about the latest smart tech. Identify some key topics that you should have an opinion, or a proposition, on.

  • 3) Define the message

    Write down, maybe in bullets or note form, what you want to get across to your audience. Think about what you might want to say if you were in a conversation with them. What are those key messages that will get them hooked and listening? Some may choose to use scare tactics, but this is likely to put your brand in a negative light. Consider positive messages that will entice people to find out more.

  • 4) Identify the channel/s

    You could create a lovely blog post, publish it and then find that no one reads it. Find out where your audience is and what they read; are they Twitter users, maybe LinkedIn, or do they read the local free magazine or trade press? Knowing the channel will mean that you can write for that channel to give you the best shot of being heard.

  • 5) Write for the channel

    If you’re writing for Facebook then you might use plain English and make it fun and very personal. If you’re writing for Twitter then you only have 280 characters in which to put across information as well as personality so you need to be very succinct. And if you’re writing a blog for a website, then try making it easy to ready by using short sentences. And don’t forget to add your call to action. Of course, if you’re writing an email then use email best practices widely available online. And please make everything about ‘you’ rather than ‘me, I or us’ – it makes it much more engaging.

  • 6) Plan for the bites

    When your content is released what impact will it have? Whether it’s a one off or a series (the latter obviously being better!), are you ready for people to ask you questions, get in touch, or start following you on social media? Is your sales team informed of the content you’re publishing so that the customer gets a joined-up experience? Are you ready to share more content on social media to keep your growing audience captivated?

  • 7) Publish and measure

    Before publishing, make sure the people that need to know about the content do. For example, you might want to inform sales, customer service, and the senior management team so that they are ready should they find themselves in a conversation drawing on the content you’ve released. Once published, monitor its attraction and engagement levels and measure its success. Learn what you need to do differently next time to increase those levels of engagement, and ultimately increase in sales.

Of course, you could get far more intelligent about it and build a customer journey map that identifies all the touchpoints in the pre-purchase journey and then you write for the channel and the point in the buying cycle where your prospects are. But that’s for another time.

Staying friends

It doesn’t stop there. Apply the same process to content marketing for customer retention. If you’re not informing your customers with the latest thinking and advice then your competition will be, and before you know it your customers have jumped ship. 

It’s not a quick win

Content marketing is not a quick win for increasing your sales leads within days. It can take weeks or months to build a community of people that are truly interested in what you have to say and are ultimately in a position to purchase.

What this approach gives you is credibility, and credibility will bring you new customers as well as help you keep your existing customers. And isn’t that what business is all about?

Leigh Hopwood, is Marketing Consultant at Redd Marketing and Chair of the Chartered Institute of Marketing