It’s remarkable to me how stubborn our brain can be when it comes to abandoning an old notion and replacing it with something new.
For generations, business growth has been led by sales. But today, it’s led by marketing.
That’s a hard pill for many salespeople to swallow—as well as senior leaders at sales-led organizations—but it’s self-evident when you observe how purchases are made.
First, it was the consumer sector (B2C businesses), where self-service via websites like Amazon displaced brick-and-mortar stores—glorified salesrooms—for almost every conceivable good or service.
Now, it’s the B2B sector, where end-to-end digital processes for researching, evaluating, and purchasing goods and services are rapidly displacing in-person information exchange at trade shows and meetings.
Marketing is the process by which relevant, helpful information is published in places that prospective buyers (and existing customers) want to find it.
Marketing is the process by which buyers’ questions get answered
Marketing is the process by which buyers’ questions get answered.
Often, a salesperson is still needed to help close gaps, customize the offering, dot the I’s, and cross the T’s. But there are few sales to be had unless marketing has led the way.
However, I’m not here to talk about salespeople (or marketers) stubbornly clinging to the idea that growth is still led by sales.
This post is concerned with businesses that are failing to grasp what marketing-led means.
This is another way of asking: What’s the point of content marketing?
The content many companies publish is dedicated to showcasing their product or service, its features and benefits, and how to take advantage of this month’s special offer.
Their website is a digital catalog, with calls to action aimed at purchase-ready prospects.
Does that sound at all salesy to you?
The paradigm behind that sort of marketing is the same one that dominated sales-led businesses: Always be closing.
The primary goal is to increase conversion rates and hit a revenue target.
It’s a sales-led wolf in marketing-led clothing.
A better paradigm would be: Always be helping
A better paradigm would be: Always be helping.
Effective content marketing seeks to help prospects and customers find the information they need to move smoothly through their buyer’s journey—from problem awareness to solution evaluation, to making a purchase that’s right for them, and on to implementing the solution and realizing the value they anticipated.
At most points along that journey, the features and benefits of your product or solution are irrelevant.
Yep, read that again. Irrelevant.
The questions your prospects are trying to answer sound something like:
> Is this a challenge worth solving?
> What would it be worth to me if I could find a viable solution?
> What possible solutions exist, and how should I compare them?
> Which of the available solutions (including doing nothing) should I pursue?
After they become a customer, they will be asking:
> How do I implement this solution most effectively?
> Has anyone encountered this issue before and, if so, how did they resolve it?
> What else can I do with this solution to generate even more value?
> What complementary solutions might I consider to improve things even further?
Yes, features and benefits will play a role in their evaluation of possible solutions and their decision about what to purchase.
But, unless they find answers to all those other questions, they’ll never reach that decision point—or they’ll be disappointed when the solution fails to deliver the expected value.
The key to publishing content that addresses a relevant set of questions is to first understand what questions your prospects and customers are asking.
This takes three steps:
1. Identify the target audience.
2. Understand their needs and wants at each stage of the buyer’s journey.
3. Identify the information you can share that addresses their needs and wants.
The process I recommend for this is called buyer’s journey mapping.
It’s a time suck and takes a coordinated team effort but, if you put in the work, you’ll be equipped to publish content that engages and helps your prospects.
And guess what? If you publish that sort of content—rather than the salesy stuff we discussed earlier—you’ll be in prime position to win mind share, which converts into market share as those prospects continue their journey.
Sounds like a mountain of work, right?
Covering all the questions your prospects and customers might ask will take effort
There’s no doubt that covering all the questions your prospects and customers might ask will take effort.
But there are three pieces of good news: the answers already exist in your team members’ heads; you’ve already captured some of them in usable materials; and, once you’ve built up a library of content, you won’t have to rewrite it very often (just when the answers become stale or obsolete).
The even better news is how this will position your business relative to the intransigents who persist in pushing out digital sales material as if it’s all that matters to a buyer.
You will stand out—the aspiration of all successful marketers.
The first moral to my cautionary tale is: Don’t get stuck in outdated paradigms.
When you see the world around you changing—as it has done in so many ways during the digital transformation (both before and after COVID)—question everything that your team is doing.
Old ways of working won’t immediately break down, but more agile competitors and new entrants will rapidly overtake you if they are quicker to adopt new ways of working.
The second moral is: When you say you put the customer first, actually do so.
Marketing is about helping prospects find information and use it appropriately to make a buying decision that’s right for them.
If your website and other marketing channels are nothing but adverts and catalogs, touting the shininess of your newest object, don’t be surprised when visitors bounce and leads fail to materialize.
Seek to understand what your buyers need and want, then publish content that speaks to those needs and wants—whether or not it mentions your product’s features and benefits.
Always be helping. The closing will happen if you do.
Finally, the third moral is: Do the hard work that it takes to deliver effective content marketing.
It’s easy to be fooled by social media pundits touting get-rich-quick schemes that will fill your calendar with appointments and your inbox with red-hot leads.
There’s a fool born every minute, as the saying goes, so let the pundits hoodwink fools.
You’re smarter than that.
Successful marketing requires hard work, takes time, and isn’t cheap.
Do the hard work of explaining this to your team, conducting deep customer analysis, figuring out the right questions to answer, prioritizing and gradually developing the content, and then publishing it where your audience will find it.
Your conscientiousness, diligence, and persistence will be rewarded.
The hoodwinked fools might see a few quick wins, but their gains will be short-lived—and the pundits will have disappeared into the ether to rebrand themselves.
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Image credits: Adobe Stock