How to build your B2B Sales Engine, Step-by-Step

In this 4-part series, demand generation expert Mike Vannoy and other content marketing experts (including Paul Rafferty, Jason Myers, and Dave Wolpert) will walk you through the entire process that it takes to build a cohesive marketing and sales process. 

Whether you’re new to content marketing as a demand generation engine, or you simply need to close the loop on what you’re already doing, this course will meet you where you’re at with videos, articles and step-by-step instructions.


Let’s get started!

Part 1: Content Marketing 101

Let’s start with an important statement…

"The main purpose of content marketing in B2B is to generate leads and provide intelligence on those leads so that sales people can have consultative conversations with prospects. Branding is a secondary benefit, but it is not the goal."



Today's Course Outline

Today's all about the fundamentals and why you're using content marketing in the first place.

  1. What's the difference between branding and demand generation?
  2. Why B2B Sales people need help from marketing.
  3. How many leads does your sales team need?
  4. How to generate a content development process that maps to the new sales cycle.

1. What's the difference between branding and demand generation?

Once upon a time, branding was an indispensable part of a company’s success in B2B sales. Marketing budgets spent on bold logos, memorable slogans, pricey sponsorships and colorful presentations were all devised for a simple overarching purpose: to get sales in the door. 

These days, buyers aren’t returning phone calls from anyone—great branding or not. They go online to do their own research, compare prices and features, and make purchases. Search engines are the new outlets for information, and sales has less influence with these top-of-funnel shoppers.

To make B2B sales today, you have to have a variety of content, distributed in a variety of ways, to create and deepen the awareness needed to bring buyers closer to the sale.

READ: Why Perfect Branding Isn’t Enough to Connect With Buyers

2. Why B2B Sales people need help from marketing.

With directives from above to grow revenue through sales, groups as varied as marketing, products, human resources, and even sales itself will rally to find ways to support the sales team. 

Under this enormous pressure to increase cash flow, much of these sales enablement programs have been misguided—and the result is an onslaught of uncoordinated, inconsistent content. 

Sellers need to understand their buyers better to be able to engage, and they need to tailor their marketing approach to the individual buyer. 

So how can a sales rep communicate effectively with a buyer about whom she has very little information?

The answer is: She can’t. And that’s where sales enablement in the form of lead intelligence comes in. 

READ: How Content Becomes A Sales Conversation

3. How many leads does your sales team need?

In order to reach your company's sales goals (and their own quotas), your sales reps need to receive a certain number of leads every month. These leads can't just be names from a purchased list, either—your marketing strategy should do a lot of the work to qualify them and make sure they are ready to engage with your sales reps.

Obviously, there is no universal magic number of leads. It depends on your business goals, your marketing techniques, and your conversion rates. These things are all easy to calculate, but many organizations don't know where to start.

That's why we created this piece. Download it for simple instructions and a complimentary calculator tool that will help you dial in your company's lead requirements.

READ ARTICLE: How Many Leads Does Your Sales Team Need?

4. How to generate content a content strategy that maps to the new sales process.

The starting point for every content marketing program is the strategy, and to figure out what that might look like, let’s go to the zoo! 


“You want to build your audience when you don’t need them so that they’re there when you do need them. That means thinking about your audience first, and connecting them with the right messaging, at the right time, and in the right sequence." - Sree Sreenivasan, Chief Digital Officer, Metropolitan Museum of Art

READ FEATURE ARTICLE: What Can A B2B Marketer Learn from a 150-Year-Old Museum?

The future of marketing is about finding the right way to tell the right story at the right time. You also can't think of your audience in terms of a massive database, but rather thinking about the right people following you for the right reasons.

You have to think like your audience and participate in the conversation and create a digital experience that is so good that people want to stay connected to your content and keep coming back for more.

Today’s lesson is about how to do that.


Understanding what truly motivates the buyer is by far the most important component in creating a content marketing strategy.

  1. Building a better buyer persona
  2. Inbound Versus Outbound
  3. Content Promotion
  4. Landing pages and conversions
  5. Marketing automation and CRM integration

1. Building a better buyer persona

There’s a good reason that all of the seasoned content marketers keep talking about constructing a buyer persona before launching a content marketing initiative: it’s the foundation of every successful initiative. In other words, the more you understand about your buyer’s issues, the more likely they will pay attention when you put out a blog post that speaks to those issues directly. 

READ: How to Build a Better Buyer Persona

2. Inbound and outbound defined

The phrase "inbound marketing" has been frequently thrown about, but it's not necessarily understood, especially when it comes to the difference with "outbound marketing." Building your B2B Sales Engine requires the use of both inbound and outbound tactics to not only attract the right audience, convert, and nurture until sales ready. 

READ: Inbound Marketing Explained

3. content promotion

Many organizations have a false notion that they can simply buy an audience by spending a few hundred dollars for tens of thousands of followers. But the problem with that approach is that they're not real, and they disappear. Building an audience requires the mindset of a publisher, or a media company. Once you start building engaging content with some consistency, then you can keep them coming back for more.

So buying lists is not a great strategy for audience building. 

READ: MOZ's Beginner's Guide to Content Marketing--Chapter 7

Promotion is the step where most companies fail at content marketing. They either think their job is done when they've built it (but no one comes) or they put it on their social channels and wait for the accolades (and conversions) to roll in. Heads up: unless you're incredibly lucky, they probably won't (at least without a little extra effort from your team).
That's because the Internet is a crowded place. And while your content might be amazing, there's still a lot of content out there waiting to be discovered.

4. Landing Pages and Conversions

Increasing web traffic without a thorough conversion strategy is just branding and awareness—and as we mentioned before, that's not going to be enough for your sales people to hit your revenue growth targets. You must convert the anonymous traffic into leads and nurture them until they're sales ready. That's where the landing page comes in. 

READ: Finding the Hidden Money in Your Content Strategy

PART 3: Using content in the sales cycle

“You want to build your audience when you don’t need them so that they’re there when you do need them. That means thinking about your audience first," Sree Sreenivasan, Chief Digital Officer, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Line about this part

  1. What is lead nurturing?
  2. What is lead intelligence and why it's useful for sales
  3. Recommended process for vetting leads
  4. How to design a sales playbook.

1. What is Lead Nurturing?

When a suspect takes an action indicating interest in your company—such as by clicking on an email offer, downloading a piece of gated content from your website, or registering for a webinar—most companies would classify the suspect as a marketing-qualified lead (MQL). That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a viable sales prospect or ready to buy. They may not be ready to even talk to a salesperson, and that's where lead nurturing comes in. 

Until leads that come in are "sales ready", you should be continuously supplying them with a series of emails that prime them with useful information and help keep your company top-of-mind. That way, when a salesperson does reach out, the MQL is ready to have a productive qualification conversation. With each successive email touch, the chance that the prospect will be ready to buy (from you) increases.

READ: Lead Nurturing: The Power of a Drumbeat

2. What is Lead Intelligence and why it's useful for sales 

It used to be that a good sales rep could walk in the door of the business, meet the prospect in a conference room, shake hands and see around the office. An experienced sales rep could read eye contact and body language and would pretty much know the challenges that the business faced.

Sales people also knew the questions they were going to ask the prospect in order to identify pain and offer solutions. If they asked the first question and it bombed, the sales rep could pivot instantly to the next question until he or she found an area that their solution could address. 

When trying to establish contact in the digital world, all of that goes away, especially when trying to establish contact solely by phone or email. They simply don’t have the opportunity to identify what these high probability pain points are—unless they can be identified by the content that has been consumed.

In the context of digital marketing and demand generation, lead intelligence is the sales rep’s ability to predict high probability pain points that a prospect may have before trying to establish contact so that they may have a more fruitful consultative conversation. 

This is a primary role for content marketing programs in the B2B space, especially when an outside sales force is being deployed to sell a complex product or service. In many cases, there is not a likely search term that can be optimized or purchased, so the content that marketing produces needs to give some type of intelligence to the sales rep, or the rep is simply making a cold call.

READ: B2B Content Marketing Strategy Should Focus on Developing Lead Intelligence

3. Recommended process for vetting leads

The sales conversation does not happen by itself, or in a vacuum. It is the marketing department’s responsibility to enable both ends of this conversation: It must make content available to engage and inform potential buyers on the prospect side of the conversation, and it must arm sales reps with lead intelligence and engagement tools on the sales side. 

Prospects tell you a lot about who they are and what problem they’re trying to solve by which content they choose to engage with. If you pay attention to these digital cues and use them to offer a prospect more engaging content, you may just nurture that prospect to the point of readiness to talk to one of your sales reps. Nurturing content aimed at the needs of specific buyers during specific stages of the buying process is how marketing enables the prospect side of the sales conversation. 

Imagine how much hard work would be squandered, then, if a sales-ready prospect received a call from a sales rep who knew nothing about her, her company, her role, her industry, or the business problem(s) she was trying to solve by engaging with all that content. It is imperative for sales reps to receive all of the information they can get to build a profile of the lead in order to have a thoughtful, fruitful, trust-building conversation with her about her business pains and the possibility of a solution. 

Many B2B companies have successfully implemented a "middle reliever" in the form of a business development or inside sales rep whose job is solely to nurture MQLs until they are sales ready. They do this by attempting to make contact with the prospect, serve as a resource (funneling appropriate content to usher the prospect through their own buying journey) and set sales appointments for closers when ready (and meet a baseline of qualification.)

READ: Are Your Sales People Still Pitching The Entire Game?

4. How to design a sales playbook

Companies enable their sales reps on this side of the conversation in different ways, but the common thread among all approaches is information. The marketing department scores and qualifies leads before handing them off to sales for further conversation. It also provides to the sales team, in one format or another, information about each piece of content a lead might engage with. (At Sales Engine, we put that information into a playbook. Each playbook outlines for the sales rep which buying persona and business pain a particular piece of content speaks to, along with talking points and sales positioning tips related specifically to that content.)

Ideally, your sales reps should add profound value to the buying experience. The handoff between digital engagement with content and human engagement with a sales rep should be seamless. Buyers are looking for solutions—they want to be influenced. They just want it to happen in a self-directed way. Buyers can only direct and be at the center of that process if the sales rep approaches the sale as a joint effort to find a solution to the buyer’s problem—not a one-sided sermon about how great the product is. 


PART 4: Sales Process improvement and measurement

“You want to build your audience when you don’t need them so that they’re there when you do need them. That means thinking about your audience first,


Line about this part

  1. Sales and marketing department integration
  2. Building content that maps to the sales process from top to bottom of the funnel
  3. What should we be measuring?

1. Sales and marketing department integration

If an MQL is rejected by Sales, what happens to it? Is that person thrown out altogether? Are they maintained in the database as a possibility for the future? Even better, are they deposited into a workflow that automatically feeds them nurturing content relevant to their demonstrated interests? 

According to Gleanster research, “8% to 10% of ‘not yet ready to buy’ leads will probably convert to a sale; others will be lost to the competition or, for whatever reason, decide not to make a purchase. But survey respondents using lead nurturing indicated that, on average, 15% to 20% of the ‘not yet ready to purchase’ opportunities converted to sales.” 
Gleanster, Measuring the Impact of Lead Nurturing on the Sales Pipeline, 2010 

That MQL may not be ready today, but what if she gets promoted six months from now and finds herself with the budget, authority, and timeline that she didn’t have before? If she was outright rejected by Sales, rather than kept in the pipeline and fed nurturing content, you will have lost a deal that you otherwise could have closed. 

Like any sibling relationship, the Marketing-Sales dynamic can be competitive—and even nasty. But with open communication and process agreement, it can be a great example of working successfully toward a common goal. 

READ: Why Sales And Marketing Misalignment Is A Problem That Must Be Fixed

2. Building content that maps to the sales process from top to bottom of the funnel

t’s not hard to develop a piece of content, such as a video, infographic, article or a white paper on a topic that somebody might find interesting. But, if there’s not a natural bridge for a sales rep to use to follow up on the consumption of that content and turn that into a sales conversation, you’re really just creating content for branding and awareness. 

The right approach is to identify the high probability pains that your prospect is experiencing and develop content based on those topics.

  • What are the things that keep them up at night?  
  • What are the business challenges that they face and are trying to solve?  

Once they start to explore your content and make a decision to explore some solutions to problems you’ve so eloquently outlined, your content can take a slightly different tone that is based around the new issues, and that’s when initial sales conversations usually get started.

READ: Combining Content With Sales Strategy -- Where Most Companies Get Stuck

3. What should we be measuring?

As content marketers, there are a lot of things that we can and should be measuring—open rates, click through rates, number of visitors (unique and returning), number of users, conversion rates, number of impressions, social media likes and followers, and so on. 

All of those numbers are important at the campaign level to know how they perform against other campaigns. But none of these metrics actually communicates the overall effectiveness of your marketing when it comes to bottom line revenue increase.

Sure, you may be able to tell that you’ve got a positive ROI on overall marketing spend, but when we have to tools available that truly measure what creates the greatest impact, there’s no excuse for only measuring branding initiatives. 

Ultimately, the only metric that matters is total cost of customer acquisition. From that number, you can work your way backwards to figure out where marketing dollars would be best spent in your situation.

READ: The B2B Marketing Metrics that Matter the Most