Measuring content marketing’s return on investment in B2B companies can be a complex calculation, especially if your solution is expensive, requires committee-based decisions, and has long and unpredictable sales cycles.
Because of the high volumes of content required to address all of the high probability pain points for everyone involved in the decision-making process, combined with the timing of where they are in the buying process when they consume that content, there’s no easy formula for calculation.
Whew! Even that explanation was complicated!
Phrased another way, tracing the process all the way from when someone consumes your content to getting a deal is tough to measure because there is no single touchpoint, and the process is different every time.
For example, your latest deal could have started three months ago when you sent out a newsletter with several informative, third-party articles. That was followed up with salesperson’s voicemail and email that garnered a meeting. Determining that the prospect was qualified and motivated, it turned into an opportunity that was funneled through the sales process and closed.
But what you didn’t realize was that one of your executives had lunch with an executive of their company a year ago, and that gave you the brand recognition to get the newsletter email opened in the first place!
The point of content marketing in B2B is to collect actionable sales intelligence on your prospects at every stage of the buying process and attempt to replace the one-to-one conversations that salespeople used to get more readily. Those conversations now have to take place digitally—by people consuming your content and responding with interest.
Deal attribution can be measured, however, but you can’t use the same metrics that a B2C company does, which mostly measuring increased traffic to your website and what percentage converted.
It’s not that those metrics aren't important in the B2B world, but from a marketing perspective their targets are much more homogeneous.
For B2C companies, if someone types in something like “buy goPro Camera” as a marketer, I really don’t need to know much about that person, if anything. The focus is very narrow for “Buy GoPro Camera” and therefore, you might be able to compete for that term set.
And because it’s a $399 product and not a $399,000 product, you’re probably only dealing with one decision maker as a buyer versus a large committee where you have to worry about the high probability pains.
B2B sales cycles are a much more complex business problem to solve as they are exacerbated by geography, industry, and so on. But instead of concentrating on traffic increases and conversions, you need to know more about who is consuming your content, where they are in they buying cycle, and how to be a resource as they move down the funnel.
That’s what we mean by actionable sales intelligence, and it’s created over time by using your content to collect information on your prospects and tie it to their lead record in the CRM. Sale intelligence includes information such as:
- Who is involved in the decision? (What are their roles and what is their buying process?)
- How far down the sales cycle are they?
- Have they just started looking for a solution or are they down to vendor selection?
- How committed are they to solving the problem?
- Are they even qualified to buy from you in the first place?
So because SEO is much more complex calculation for B2B than B2C, you have to think about web traffic and conversions differently, and in accordance with the overall sales process.
1. Increased web traffic. Because there are so many other touch points to many people over a long period of time, I wouldn’t sweat so much about attributing organic search results with a direct impact on deals. But we certainly do want to know how many unique visitors you’re generating month-to-month and where are they coming from. Google analytics can tell you a lot of this, including whether your traffic is coming from organic search and what the terms that they used to find you. And, a steady increase in traffic over time is a good indicator that your content is getting out there and ultimately creating some buzz with your prospects.
2. Conversions into marketing qualified leads (MQLs). Ultimately, conversions that turn into revenue are what you’re trying to measure. But the first step is converting them into a marketing qualified lead. This will tell you who is consuming your content, and with a nurturing track, you can begin to collect information on them for Sales. There’s still some marketing guess work here, such as: what is driving that conversion? Was it a value-added offer in a blog? Did they read a newsletter article? And it’s not just conversions from web traffic either.
3. MQLs converted into Sales Accepted Leads (SALs). From all of the leads that marketing generated, how many are you able to convert into conversations? Generally, SALs meet a low level of qualification, enough to generate a sales conversation.
4. SALs converted into Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) or Opportunities. This is where the consultative sales process we know and love takes over. Once the appointment has been set, the salesperson can now run their sales process, qualifying the leads and turning them into opportunities for closing.