If you are an enterprise software vendor, at least half of your marketing programs are likely not making the right connection with your prospects to convert them into customers. On paper you are doing all the right things. You have done the market research and know where your prospects are. You are marketing your latest webinar in the right online forums or advertising your latest white paper by buying the right keywords. You have amassed a large prospect database and are actively marketing to them. You may even have a blog and a social media strategy. But despite all these efforts, your lead-to-opportunity conversion ratio is still below target because your leads are too raw and just not yet ready to engage. You have also recently started a drip nurture marketing program, but even that is not helping.
This article will help you identify the core issue and then suggest steps to improve the effectiveness of your marketing programs.
Why prospects don’t engage with marketing programs
How can your marketing programs engage your prospects better? To answer this question, you have to first think: when was the last time you sat down and paid attention to all the marketing messages that surround you every day? Customers have simply stopped listening to all the noise from the traditional world of marketing. At home, they use TiVo to skip television advertising and rarely notice the ads in newspapers and magazines.
However, when an ad appeals to their emotions, they pay attention. Remember the Apple “javelin throw” commercial at the 1984 Super Bowl? What about last year’s mini Darth Vadar unleashing “the force” on his dad’s Volkswagen? Similarly at work, customers will listen to your marketing messages if you have something that makes them better at their jobs and can be consumed rapidly. This is the essence of the new marketing technique called content-based marketing. Successful software marketing organizations are already using it very effectively.
So what is content-based marketing? According to the Content Marketing Institute, it is:
A technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience. It is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling.
Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they continue to pay attention and ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty. And they do.
The key to effective content marketing is that it must be relevant and valuable to prospects and that it must be bite-sized, so that it can be easily consumed by the busy, multi-tasking professional during his or her already overloaded work day. Even if the content is relevant and important, who has time to listen to an archive of a 45-minute webinar or read a six-page white paper that your marketing organization may be promoting using Google Adwords or in a nurture email campaign?
Unless prospects are actively evaluating products from you and your competitors, they neither have the time nor the attention span to focus on such content. In addition, a lot of bite-sized content from marketing organizations offers very little immediate value to prospects. Who would want to read a two-page case study that devotes the majority of space to the vendor selection process and speed of implementation?
Look at it from your prospects’ perspective – they are busy doing their daily job and barely have a few minutes in a day to take in new information that makes them smarter at their job. During that short “few minutes in a day” window, they have to sort through content from you and several other vendors – content that is more about you rather than them (can you say spam?) and takes 30 minutes to an hour to consume. So, even if they are intrigued and sign up for that webinar archive or white paper, they rarely have the time in their busy workday to consume it. And even if they do, they often find the content too lightweight to directly improve the way they do their jobs.
In either case, your marketing efforts have not succeeded in engaging your prospects to the point that they are ready to speak with your sales representatives. So, how can content marketing address this issue?
Three keys to engaging prospects
There are three things that the marketing organization must do to engage their prospects using content-based marketing:
1. Create content that is relevant, valuable and bite-sized
Good content should make a person stop … read … think … and behave differently. When prospects find your content valuable, they begin to start consuming it more frequently and, in the process, become aware of your solution and your brand. In addition, they also start sharing it with their peers. So content marketing is also at the core of a successful social media strategy.
By adding this highly focused and relevant content to your website, you will also improve your SEO performance and deliver more leads. The challenge most marketing organizations face is that their senior product marketing people – the ones who intuitively understand the customer and are best equipped to create relevant and valuable content – are already very busy. Instead, the people who frequently get tasked with this job, such as the PR team’s contract writers, do not understand the customer’s pain well enough to create content that is jargon-free, relevant and valuable.
Hence, marketing organizations must invest the time to find and engage consultants who are familiar with their space and come from a solid product marketing background. Engaging industry analysts to write papers is not a solution either; such content is only useful at later stages in the sales cycle. Once the right content consultants are on board, you can commission them to produce relevant content at a steady pace, ensuring that your marketing campaigns are always fresh. From my experience, the monthly cost of creating two short content pieces is a few thousand dollars – a very worthwhile investment.
2. Build the right scale of distribution channels for your content
Creating relevant and valuable content is only half the battle. You also need the distribution scale to get the most leverage from your investment. A quick coverage analysis of your internal database will tell you how broad and deep you are reaching within your target accounts and where the holes are. These holes need to be filled rapidly.
If you have not done so already, I recommend a demographic analysis of your prospect base so you know which publications and social media sites your prospects visit, which search terms they use most often, which online forums they trust, and which blogs they find useful. You can use this information not just to align your content offers with the right venues, search terms and banners, but also to develop a sharper trade publication byline strategy (and the right content to go with it).
I find investments in bylines very useful for the following reasons:
- You obtain the distribution leverage from the publication’s mailing lists and readership for your relevant and valuable content
- Your content, along with your company’s URL, appears in an independent publication, giving you more credibility with your prospects.
- Published bylines also make highly valuable sales tools for your sales teams and your channel partners.
I have developed bylines for both large and small software companies and, in every single case, it has been one of the most effective uses of my clients’ marketing budgets. In numerous cases, the publications have placed these bylines in their weekly opt-in newsletters with a subscription list that reaches 10,000+ prospects worth thousands of dollars in free advertising / lead generation.
3. Create a mechanism to build a feedback loop
Good content and a good distribution scale is not enough. The third essential piece of the puzzle is to have the right analytics in place so that you can clearly assess:
- What type of content is more effective for what type of job titles
- Which content works the best and which does not work
- Which campaigns perform the best with what type of content
- Which new search terms are now surfacing your website as a result of the new added content
Answers to the above questions will help you evaluate and refine your content-based marketing strategy on a continuous basis to get the best “bang for the buck” with this approach.
In summary, content-based marketing helps you deliver true value to your prospects by informing and educating them, hence making them better at their jobs. As a result, they begin to pay attention to your marketing campaigns and even start sharing the content with their colleagues. In the process, you get them thinking about what your solutions can do for them, converting them into qualified leads faster.
Anil Gupta is CEO and Principal of The Applications Marketing Group, a consultancy that helps enterprise software companies improve their marketing effectiveness. Anil helps clients with positioning, content-based marketing, go-to-market strategy and sales enablement and at times has served as their interim Vice President of Marketing. He has consulted with over 50 software companies in the past 10 years including Agiliance, Blue Martini Software, CoreMetrics, MarketTools, McAfee, MetricStream, Nimsoft/CA and SAP. Anil previously served as the Vice President of Product Marketing and Strategy for Oracle ERP, Baan, Niku and Broadbase Software.