Content marketing is an extension of your sales process.

Content marketing is a broad term that can describe everything from television shows to email campaigns. For someone working in this space—hello, that’s me!—this makes content marketing exciting and interesting. The variety makes each marketing mix unique and opens the door to a huge swath of creative potential.

For clients, the folks deciding whether or not use content marketing, that same broadness can be confusing and crippling. Many times, when there are so many things that you could do, the response can often be to do nothing. Analysis paralysis, feeling overwhelmed—however you describe it, more choice is not always a good thing.

At its heart, content marketing is an extension of your sales process. It fills in the gaps, allowing you to have conversations you might not be able to have in person and to create a more well-rounded brand experience. Without content, a prospect has limited access to what makes you you. A basic website might say a bit about your work, but depth is hardly the strong suit of a modern, mobile-friendly website. So, a prospect learns about you when they actually talk to you.

Even if you have an hour for a first meeting, the slickest salespeople can only scratch the surface of what that much experience means for a prospect. That hour is a brief glimpse, briefer still when you consider that much of a first meeting (and even a second or a third) is also comprised of prospects talking about themselves. Some of my clients have been in business for decades, and it’s almost unfair to ask them to leave out huge stretches of their knowledge, but that’s the nature of traditional sales.

Content marketing gives you the opportunity to showcase the depth of your brand and your expertise by making you, and your ideas more accessible.


Content Marketing Gives You Wings


In the retail world, a brand like Red Bull wages a shelf-placement war to be sure, but think about the fraction of a consumer’s life that is actually spent in front of cooler, trying to decide what beverage to buy. It’s such a tiny part of a day (let alone a month or a week), yet it would look like the most important. After all, that moment is when the consumer actually buys the product.

Red Bull, instead, is a content marketing machine. The Red Bull Air Race or the Flugtag or downhill speedskating or dropping a man from space don’t generate immediate profit, but they are entry points for the brand. They give consumers a chance to learn what the brand is about, the ideas and feelings and emotions that Red Bull represents.

That way, when a consumer is at a gas station staring at a cooler, that 10 second pause before they make a purchase is informed by potentially hours and hours of brand experience. If the consumer ends up liking the product, that choice to drink Red Bull can go as far as to being a part of a consumer’s self-identity, spinning a powerful retention loop where drinking Red Bull is about more than purchasing an energy drink.


“But I’m in Sales, Not Energy Drinks”


Retail brands like Red Bull are easy to champion as examples of what good content marketing can accomplish for a business. They are flashy, have big budgets, and cater to younger demographics. That can sound like a world-away from the salesman or saleswoman chasing down B2B prospects and trying to schedule first appointments.

It’s different, but it’s not that different.

Think about the thought leaders in your space or some of the business personalities that you follow. I promise you, by the very virtue that you follow them, that they are using content marketing. They have books. They record videos. They host webinars. They post on social media. They probably have very strong opinions on issues that matter to you and your business, and when they say something new—regardless of the medium they say it in—you listen.

Hell, Shark Tank is a masterpiece in content marketing. Not only did these top investors find a way to tell the world that they are top investor in an entertaining way, but they found a way to demonstrate their expertise while at the same time bringing worthwhile start-ups to them. Their reputation grows, which means all aspects of their businesses benefit, from deal-flow to sales.

B2B content marketing is powerful at a range of scales. Whether you’re running a television show or posting blog articles, content gives you a chance to engage and influence the market—and that means impacting your prospects as well.


Content Marketing Touchpoints


How you use content marketing depends on you, your business, and your brand. As we’ve discussed, the number of content marketing tactics you can employ is vast, but what are the basics? When I work with clients, I recommend the following:

  • Start with retention. What are you doing to keep your current customers or clients engaged? You might consider using email and social media marketing to stay top of mind with your fans and to give them worthwhile excuses to share your work with their friends and colleagues.
  • Look at lead nurturing next. It takes a significant amount of resources to get a prospect in your pipeline. What are you doing to nudge those prospects forward if they weren’t ready to make a purchase when you first engaged? In retail, abandoned cart marketing has become a huge revenue generator. In the B2B world, you should think about email marketing, webinars, events (possibly), follow-up calls, and social media.
  • Build your platform. Your sales process likely covers what makes you different from your competitors, and you probably have a treasure trove of rants and passionate opinions that you rarely get to talk about with prospects during the actual sale. Blogging or podcasting is a powerful way to share these insights to current and future clients, and it gives prospects a way to learn about you outside of a sales meeting.

Every stage of the sales funnel is an opportunity to leverage content in new and interesting ways. These three pieces, however, will likely give you the greatest return for your efforts at the onset. From there, use what you learn from your prospects and customers (how they react, what they share, what they talk to you about) to grow and build your content platform.

With this approach, when a prospect is sitting with you an hour (your equivalent of standing in front of a cooler choosing a beverage), you can leverage potentially hours of influential content to win the sale.


Photo by JD Hancock. Used with permission under Creative Commons License.