By now, most B2B companies are moving in the direction of content marketing to generate leads where their sales organizations have become deficient. The trend has not gone unnoticed to traditional branding, public relations, search engine optimization and social media firms as they rush to retrofit their service offerings to produce content—and they get it wrong.
It’s not that they can’t produce great content—but using content marketing to drive the sales pipeline is much more than generating blog posts, white papers and even video.
So how do you evaluate content agencies? Ensure that they have all six of these capabilities:
1. They understand your sales process . This is a big one, and it requires much more than the ability to generate click-throughs, opens and conversions of content. Most traditional agencies are not going to be accountable to anything beyond the generation of marketing qualified leads—so the disconnect between sales and marketing remains! (Sales is going to say that the leads stink, because they are used to a lead being an active shopper rather than a mere consumer of content). The agency must have an understanding of your total sales process, and that includes best practices for lead follow up and nurturing. Bridging the gap between the creation of marketing qualified leads and sales conversations requires different skill sets from both marketers and sales people. Marketing firms that are used to branding and positioning are most likely not going to understand the complexities of demand generation system.
Ask them if they can consult with you on best practices for lead follow-up and nurturing and how companies they work with turn MQLs into opportunities.
2. They should employ a diversity of skill sets (and not just writers). A content marketing program is much like running a magazine—content must add value to the reader and not promote the advertiser. That means that you need strategic editors (those that decide what content is going to be produced and the angles that need to be investigated), copy writers, videographers, graphic designers and web developers. And they’ll need program managers to manage the process on an ongoing basis.
Ask them what types of skill sets they employ in-house and how those skills are typically deployed on client accounts.
3. They can provide strategic insights about your buying personas. We call it the ideal prospect profile and it requires in-depth research into industries and titles (and influencers) within those industries. All of these have different problems they are trying to solve, and they all need to be communicated to differently with content that “speaks” to them.
Ask them how they go about the identification of your buyer personas and their strategy for getting content in front of them.
4. Knowledge of how to use Marketing Automation CRM integration. Many companies start with marketing automation (they buy Marketo, Hubspot, Eloqua, Pardot, etc.) and got into trouble when they realized how much content is actually required to make them work effectively. All of these tools are great, and they’re expensive. I’ve talked to numerous companies that have bought these systems only to cancel them later because they didn’t know what they were getting into. When used properly however, marketing automation can readily fuel a sales team with an ongoing source of leads. But its more than just creating blog posts—you have to think about what you’re going to send to people that click on the links to nurture them down the path. Your content marketing agency must be thinking about this EVERY time they develop a campaign. All of that information must be recorded and stored in a CRM so that all of a lead’s digital behavior is viewable at any time.
Ask them about how they use marketing automation and how its integrated with the CRM.
5. Closing the loop. Remember when magazine subscriber lists were a great source of prospective buyers? Well, you’re a publisher now, and your database (subscribers) and the detail of information that you collect on them is paramount to the sales process. No matter where the lead comes from (whether it be a Google search, an email you sent to them, or you met them at a trade show) we want to see it documented in their lead history. Sales people want to know the web pages they’ve viewed, links they’ve clicked on, when they started interacting with content, what industry they’re in, what software tools they’re using, and so on. All of these facets should contribute to the lead scoring methodology. Ultimately, your content marketing program will only be as solid as your database and the information you maintain on them. Your content marketing agency needs to advise you on not only the information to be collected, but also the ability to inform your business development team on potential pain points that may develop into a conversation based on the content in any one campaign.
Ask them about their process for collection, lead scoring and whether or not they provide sales play books.
6. Measurement and analytical capabilities that align with the sales process. The best way to gauge the abilities of your content marketing agency is to ask them about their track record for building sales pipelines with their current clients. The agency should be reviewing the analytical data on a regular basis so adjustments can be made. But this entire process is measurable—the days of “half of my advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half” are gone. Once you’ve been engaged with your content marketing agency for a good amount of time (6 months to a year minimum) you should be able to track everything from when the prospect entered into the funnel, how long it took them to become an opportunity and when it closed.
Ask them what their process is to measure analytics and whether or not they have clients you can talk to as references before engagement.
There are no short cuts to creating relevant content anymore—Google has ensured it. Using these six questions in your selection process will help you not only to make the most economical decision, but create the most actionable sales intelligence in your marketing efforts.