Marketing is conceived, created, produced, and managed by marketers, right?
Not anymore. Today, more than ever, it’s a team sport.
It requires understanding, input, and effort from across your organization.
To win requires leaders who understand what’s needed and give priority to making it happen.
Let’s briefly discuss why this change has happened, then dig into what it means for you as a leader—at whatever level in your organization.
When you make an individual purchase—a B2C transaction—you don’t think twice about opening your browser and searching for what you need.
You might Google topics around your need to better understand how to solve it, then research available solutions.
You might jump straight to an e-commerce website, add the product to your cart, and check out.
End-to-end digital shopping experiences are arguably more normal these days than trekking to a brick-and-mortar store to make your purchase in person.
The reasons are many and obvious: convenience, range of solutions from which to choose, ease of making a comparison, speed, cost, and more.
You also avoid the hassle of dealing with other people—from the parking lot to the store aisles to the prowling sales associates.
B2B buyers want to bring the best parts of the B2C shopping experience to their workplace.
Unsurprisingly, B2B buyers want to bring the best parts of that B2C shopping experience to their workplace.
Why should they have to leave the comfort of their office (more on that in a moment) to meet with vendors, whether in a conference room, a showroom, or on a trade show exhibit floor?
Why would buyers depend on vendors to tell them what’s best for their situation when they can research and evaluate solutions online, for themselves?
In fact, why deal with a salesperson at all, if the purchase can be negotiated and completed online?
This trend toward digital buying processes has been creeping through the B2B world since the early 2000s.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck and, like many other aspects of life, changes to the B2B buying experience hit warp speed.
Three main factors helped turbocharge the digitalization of B2B purchasing:
1. Buyers moved from centralized, office-based locations to remote working. In person meetings were stopped. Transacting online was their only option.
2. The great resignation—which might be better labeled the great reorganization—saw many senior buyers transition out of their roles, to be replaced by younger faces. The new cadre of B2B buyers are Millennial and Gen-Z, which means they are digital natives. They operate in a digital first world.
3. To keep business moving while traditional on-premise activities were curtailed, solution providers moved quickly to develop digital solutions. Issues that previously made the digital purchasing experience inferior to in person were largely resolved.
Today, a growing majority of B2B buyers expect an end-to-end digital purchasing experience. This means researching, evaluating, purchasing, and implementing solutions without leaving their desk.
Importantly, that desk can be just about anywhere.
You can’t just roll up to a company’s headquarters and sweettalk your way onto the purchasing floor anymore. Those buyers are scattered all over the country, if not all over the world.
Your company and its products and services must be visible online, where buyers can find them.
This is why B2B content marketing has suddenly become mission critical. It’s the only way to attract, engage, delight, and retain customers in the online, digital first world.
What makes good B2B content?
By my definition, it is relevant, helpful information, presented in an engaging, easy-to-digest format, delivered on the channels preferred by your target audience.
As a footnote in response to the recent furor over ChatGPT, I should add “original” to my definition. AI is an amazing tool for compiling and summarizing information about a topic. What makes great content is adding your own concepts, interpretations, and ideas. That’s thought leadership.
So how does such content come to be?
First, you must understand what information will be relevant and helpful to your audience. That requires a deep understanding of your customer and market.
Second, you must develop and express a unique point of view. That requires subject matter expertise and having an original idea.
Third, you must write or record the content in an engaging format. That requires some combination of writing, designing, recording, filming, and editing skills.
Finally, you must understand which channels your target audience frequents and how to make your content visible to them on those channels. That requires additional customer understanding as well as channel management expertise.
Can all of those requirements be met by your marketer or marketing team?
Perhaps, if you work at a large corporation.
I doubt the marketing team possesses the deep customer understanding or subject matter expertise needed to ace this on their own.
Even then, I doubt the marketing team possesses the deep customer understanding or subject matter expertise needed to ace this on their own.
This is a team sport.
Customer-facing team members must collaborate to develop the customer understanding and identify relevant topics. This involves sales and customer success, as well as marketing.
Subject matter experts, which frequently includes the founder/CEO and other senior leaders, must develop the points of view that will underpin original content. This is a non-trivial effort that will pull them away from other important work. The entire team must understand why it is important for them to contribute to content marketing and then help to shoulder the load while they are doing so.
Experienced professionals must do the writing, designing, recording, filming, and editing—either as members of the marketing team or third-party contractors.
Your content must then be optimized for search engines and social media algorithms—another skilled task, often requiring third-party assistance—then published on relevant channels, monitored, and managed.
Can you see why companies that simply instruct their marketing manager to “do some content marketing” are setting them up to fail?
Content marketing didn’t used to be this way. It was a side dish that accompanied the main course of trade shows, brochures, presentation decks, and branded giveaways.
Most companies that grew up before the 2020s were built around the traditional sales-led model, with marketing playing a supporting role.
Few people beyond the marketing team have any marketing skills or experience, and they take minimal responsibility for supporting the company’s marketing efforts.
A fundamental shift is needed in the way marketing is viewed and supported throughout the organization.
To succeed at B2B content marketing, a fundamental shift is needed in the way marketing is viewed and supported throughout the organization.
This is a major retrofit, not a quick fix.
To make it happen requires leadership from the top. Only the CEO can give content marketing the visibility and priority it needs.
It’s the CEO’s responsibility—together with other senior leaders—to free up resources throughout the organization for content marketing duties.
This includes making it okay for them to deprioritize other work to ensure content marketing gets what it needs.
As with most leadership activities, senior leaders must walk the walk and talk the talk. This means contributing their own ideas and time to content marketing, speaking regularly about its importance (within the company), and reinforcing the ideas that are being published (when speaking in public).
Marketers are predisposed to thinking that resources will always be limited, that asking much of others within the company is verboten, and that self-sufficiency is their most valuable attribute. That’s how things have worked for decades.
As you have already seen, however, this isn’t a pathway to content marketing success.
Marketing leaders must be adept at working up, down, and sideways within their organization.
Marketing leaders must be adept at working up, down, and sideways within their organization—as well as recruiting third-party talent to fill gaps.
Leading up can be an uncomfortable skill to learn, especially if you’ve worked your whole career in a top-down hierarchy.
Nevertheless, the c-suite needs to hear what customers are saying, what questions they are asking, how competitors are acting, and what’s working content-wise in your sector.
Without a strong marketing leader to guide them, your CEO and senior leadership team will be unable to design and support an effective content marketing strategy.
Leading sideways is the next most difficult, reaching across the organization into other departments to pull on subject matter expertise and professional skills.
This is often where close collaboration with the c-suite is needed most, since they can help unlock resources and defuse territorial disputes over people’s time.
Leading down in this context means keeping the trains on the rails and running on time. Successful B2B content marketing requires consistency and quality, which demand processes and accountability. Call it herding cats if you will.
While senior leaders are busy evangelizing and orchestrating content marketing from the top, the marketing leader must be busy operationalizing it throughout the organization.
As a subject matter expert, it’s easy to get in the way of content marketing without trying.
Your deep understanding of the challenges being tackled and the solutions your company provides can make it difficult to see the content trees for the forest.
I’ve heard countless founders and technical experts exclaim, “What do you mean our buyer doesn’t understand that? It’s basic stuff!”
Roll up your sleeves, duct tape your ego’s mouth shut, and start educating.
What will it take for a neophyte prospect to understand, evaluate, and choose the right solution in your market?
What unique insights can you share with them to gain credibility, earn their trust, and make your company the de facto first choice when they’re ready to purchase?
What do you wish everyone in your market would understand that somehow, they just don’t seem to get?
Scribble this stuff down. Record it on video or in a voice memo. Bang it out in an email to your marketing team.
You aren’t the one who will turn those insights and ideas into engaging content—leave that to the appropriate experts.
What’s important is that your expertise is visible to the company’s target audience, and that they benefit from it by acquiring and understanding content your company publishes.
Great teams have three types of leader: the coach, the superstar, and the workhorse.
To succeed at B2B content marketing—a new team sport that many companies are scrambling to learn how to play—requires the same setup.
The CEO is the coach, whether they know anything about content marketing or not (and it’s often worth bringing in a content marketing consultant to support them).
The SMEs and marketing specialists are your superstars, bringing flair and originality to the game and elevating your company’s performance above its competitors.
The rest of the company are your workhorses, taking care of the rest of the business while content marketing does its thing.
It requires intentional, conscientious leadership at all levels to make B2B content marketing work.
I strongly recommend you learn to lead accordingly. And, I’m here to help.
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Image credits: Adobe Stock