Feeding the content marketing machine is an endless process, because once you stop publishing, your conversations start drying up. And to make it even more complicated, content development must be high-quality and add value or it will go unnoticed, regardless of how often you post.
Most B2B companies need help from an outsourced content development partner at different stages in the sales cycle, but many companies will fail to produce qualified leads for their sales teams, making it harder to justify increasing expenditures.
So before you outsource content development to a partner, ask these four self-assessment questions that will help you better determine next steps for finding the right resources.
1. Do you need help with a content strategy or do you have one clearly defined?
The Content Marketing Institute estimates that only 32% of B2B companies have a clearly documented content marketing strategy for 2016. If your company is part of this 32%, outsourcing the development is a much easier proposition—find a firm or team of freelancers that can follow your direction and stay within your budget constraints.
If you’re in the 68%, however, and you plan to go outside your company for help in putting together a strategy, the outside firm must go through a strategic process before any content development can begin.
The right partner should have an established process in place for identifying the 7 necessary elements of a content strategy: goals, target audiences, pain points, channels, media, topics, and conversion metrics. They should also be able to demonstrate success with similar clients in the past.
2. Do you have a dedicated content resource?
Most successful content marketing programs have a dedicated content resource, either in-house or through an outside agency. Why?
The content strategist role is similar to that of a magazine or newspaper editor. A content strategist must develop a deep understanding of the needs, wants, and desires of the target audience so that he or she can create an ongoing narrative that addresses these issues through content.
And, most important, that person (or team of people) cannot be pulled in different directions as fire drills occur—they need to ensure that content gets developed and distributed on a regular basis.
The position can be outsourced, especially if it’s a firm that has experience in building media companies, but most companies with robust content marketing programs choose to employ this person full-time, in-house—if they can find a suitable candidate.
3. Do you have measurement platforms in place (such as marketing automation linked with a CRM) to effectively close the loop?
With the prevalence of marketing automation systems like Marketo, Hubspot, Infusionsoft, and more, many companies have bought the cart before the horse.
Inbound marketing is a lot more involved than just creating blog posts, white papers and newsletters—you have to think through the various issues involved with different buyer personas and influencers, and how their issues change depending on what stage of the buying process they’re in.
To fully close the loop, a lead record’s digital behavior must be recorded and stored in a CRM and be viewable at any time. Many firms can help implement this process with the tools already in place—but without them, you’re not achieving much more than branding and awareness from your content marketing program.
4. Do your sales people know how to use content throughout the sales cycle to nurture leads through the buyer’s journey?
Regardless of where a conversation starts (from a salesperson’s phone call or if they downloaded a piece of content and hit the Contact Us button), communication cannot be all in one direction; it’s called a “conversation” and not a “monologue” for a reason. In other words, for that conversation to continue, the prospect’s curiosity must be piqued. So, if they’ve downloaded a white paper, that may or may not be enough to advance the conversation, but you run the risk of losing them if you don’t send them something else.
For example, let’s say that someone downloaded an infographic, and a business development rep calls them and sets an appointment to talk further. When they talk, the sales person sends a link to an upcoming webinar on that very topic, and they agree to talk after. After attending the webinar, the prospect has given the issues significantly more thought and they’re ready to bring others in the organization onboard as well.
Your content strategy should always identify which next steps will continue this conversation. If ever there was a compelling argument for content creation, this is it. Because whether it’s content that you deliver to them through a personal email one-to-one from an individual rep, or it’s content offered through social media, or they’ve read your blog, the prospect must have the ability to navigate through all of your content at their own pace and choose their directions based on their own buyer’s journey.
If this process is not established in-house, or is broken, you may need your content development partner’s help in best practices around lead follow-up and nurturing.