Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Content Gap - Lead Nurturing and Content Creation

Many articles have been written about B2B marketing’s evolution towards a model where marketers act as publishers. As buyers are in control of their own buying process, we as marketers need to facilitate them through education, nurturing, and engagement. The best, if not only, way to do this is with great content that adds value, is thought-provoking, and captures the attention of the prospective buyer based on where he or she is in her buying process.

Typically, buyers progress through stages of a buying process from Awareness, to Discovery, to Validation, and have unique content needs at each stage. Marketers who successfully cater their content to buyers at each of these stages do well in guiding and facilitating a buying process that results in revenue for their organization.

The start and end of the buying process are usually well covered by the traditional alignment of roles in an organization. Most marketers are quite experienced in creating the high level thought leadership whitepapers, educational sessions, and industry webinars that are ideal content for the Awareness stage of the funnel. Similarly, sales teams and product marketers are experienced at creating the “why buy us, why buy now” content that is appropriate for the Validation stage of the funnel, but a content gap is left in the middle of the funnel.

In the Discovery stage, prospective buyers have become aware of your solution category and the problems that you solve, and will likely have heard of your organization. Now, they are beginning to formulate their plan for solving the business pain that you solve, discovering vendors who they should investigate more deeply, and scoping the breadth and depth of the initiative in question. It is in this stage that “best practice” content is often most useful.

Depending on your industry and solution, this usually means content and writing that comes from your services team, subject matter experts, product consultants, designers, specialists, or engineers. These are the people who have the knowledge, expertise, and passion to write about what solutions like yours can accomplish, what the challenges and considerations are, and what others in the industry are doing. This is non-salesy content, but it is a level more detailed than the high level thought leadership that is appropriate at the Awareness stage.

The challenge is that these subject matter experts are not marketers, writers, or sales people. Their objectives, motivations, and compensation plans are not generally aligned with generating revenue, moving leads through a buying funnel, or creating great content that is appropriate for the middle of the funnel. Unless addressed, this can leave a critical content gap in the middle of the buying funnel, and lead to an awkward transition as buyers move from high level thought leadership content to much more tactical sales content without the educational transition of content in the Discovery stage.

Successful marketing organizations recognize this content gap, and find ways to motivate, compensate, and encourage the creation of educational, Discovery stage content by subject matter experts, but it can be a difficult process.

Has your organization identified a content gap? How have you dealt with the challenges it presented?
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
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Mike Gospe said...

This blog post makes an excellent point that all marketers should be challenged with.

Many companies are now taking about having a "content strategy" to address this gap. "Content" refers to information and experiences the prospect values. With that in mind, the key to success rests in investing time to truly understand the customer's buying process, then mapping content to it.

A case in point was offered during a CIO panel discussion at a recent Tech Target event. When asked about what content they valued most during the consideration stage, they pointed to product comparison data -- something that many companies are reluctant to do. (After all, why promote a competitive product?) Their point being that they will find out the comparisons anyway; yet, it would be emmensely helpful to have this data available and offered by product companies. They went further to suggest that one company slamming another would be seen as a marketing attack and would backfire on the company producing such content. And one CIO said that any company who provided helpful "education" on product comparison that was honest in sharing data would be viewed as a reputable company with high integrity. Something that could likely tip the scales in their favor during the decision process.

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Steven Woods said...

thanks for that - great point/thoughts on using competitive info in the middle of the funnel. Very delicate balance for any marketers as it definitely could be interpreted either positively or negatively. Will be interesting to see how it evolves.

Stephanie Tilton said...

Great exploration of an issue that leaves marketers -- and prospects -- frustrated. It gets back to the age-old issue of B2B companies needing to break free of the product-centric perspective and putting themselves in the buyer's shoes. As you point out, it all starts with a deep understanding of the buying process and various stakeholders.

To add to Mike's comment -- earlier in the year, Scott Vaughan of TechWeb polled a group of CIOs about what marketers could do better. Turns out the standard "problem-solution-results" case-study formula doesn't resonate with IT evaluators and decision makers. One element they'd like to see in case studies is a section on "lessons learned" while implementing the solution. Just another example of how marketers have an opportunity to address a gap in the content library, as well as set themselves apart by being forthright about the good, the bad, and the ugly.


Steven Woods said...

great point on the case study format - I would very much agree from my own reading preferences. Much more can be gotten out of a story of lessons learned, than an "aren't we great" story of solving problems flawlessly.
Thanks for sharing,

Christopher Korody said...

This question brings into sharp focus the whole issue of the alignment of sales and marketing. And demonstrates the challenges Steven raised previously about moving from a company-centric sales funnel to a buyer-centric buying funnel.

In my experience a lot of sales repsin technical fields, know an awful lot about the product - a Systems Engineer in many companies is pretty much the subject matter expert...

Because they are in sales, they know how to position their product in the discussion. Yet as the post points out, they don't have the time, incentive or necessarily the communication skills to create this content on their own.

This is something I am conducting a survey on right now.

Feel free to participate:

Kukkie4100 said...

This post answered a question I've been struggling with for a long time: "How can we make our lead funnel better?".

Improving the Decision part is something that I was vaguely aware, however this post made it very clear.

I would be keen to hear what worked for other companies to improve this part.

1 thing I see is that when we get better at marketing automation, we free up time and have the ability to review tactics that will allow us to improve this critical part. Social Media could be very helpful if you can get your customers to speak up about your products.