A Different Approach to Content Strategy and Justification
B2B content marketers must continually defend budgets and tactics, especially content investments, by proving performance.
This is part of a persistent struggle to raise marketing credibility and awareness of its impact in the business. Too many executives, and especially the sales organization, still don’t see it.
You create and deploy content to many constituent groups and users. They deliver those assets in many ways through a variety of channels and mechanisms.
You work hard to figure out how to track and measure asset performance and business impact. This is not a simple challenge. But content ROI must be proved. Or does it?
What if you change your approach to “proving the value of content”? What if you flip the process?
Knowledge Delivered Strategy Applied
The Knowledge Delivered strategy is explained here in greater detail. This approach to content strategy and planning begins not with the question, “what content do we need to support X initiative”? (A specific campaign, event, product launch, or other tactic.)
This strategy starts with the question: “what knowledge do specific constituents need in order to perform or accomplish a specific and important X?” (An objective, task or customer engagement)
Then, it asks the same question about Communication Support.
This isn’t a nuanced nicety. We’ve discovered this simple shift results in more effective content. It brings greater clarity to content priorities. It informs HOW to create quality content. But it also shifts the ways people consider the value of content.
So, the simple Knowledge Delivered framework and sequence looks like this:
Here’s how it plays out in practice.
Buyers need knowledge to resolve business problems, and make the best decisions to achieve that end.
Sellers need knowledge to know how to effectively engage and support buyers in that objective.
B2B marketing, selling and even the buying process is fundamentally a communication and education-based endeavor.
Effective conversations are at the core of this activity, whether person-to-person or through content. Sellers need communication support tools that helps them prepare for and conduct effective conversations.
Complexity is inherent in B2B purchases that are not repeat or transactional in nature. The “new paradigm” or complex value sale involves many members on the buying team. They have a lot to learn, unlearn, and discuss as they try to reach buying consensus.
Buyers need situation-relevant, insight-based, educational content that supports this objective.
Content is the way knowledge, communication and learning support are packaged and delivered. It’s essential to individual and functional performance, as well as top business results.
To make the right impact content has to be designed and developed “on purpose, by design.” Let’s start referring to this as “Situation-ready Content.” This is a sharper image, that contains the question: “well, is it?”
The Knowledge Delivered strategy defines purpose. It starts with identifying required knowledge. This informs required communication support. This will bring clarity to everyone about what situation-ready content is required, and how it must be designed and developed.
Covey Principle #2 — Begin With the End in Mind
Back to our marketing team who are looking to make a significant impact on the business, elevate credibility, and gain budget for content and other marketing initiatives.
B2B sales people need deep knowledge about many topics, starting with their buyers and how they buy. To effectively engage and enroll teams of buyer stakeholders, they need differentiated insights and knowledge that informs sales conversations.
They desperately need communication support to improve their ability to connect and gain engagement with self-educating buyers who operate in stealth mode. Given the near universal bias against most sales people’s ability to provide value, they need high-value content that delivers insights to help them earn the right to a conversation and meeting.
And here’s the sales achilles that pins urgency for all three: Most sales people are not effective at “creating opportunities” in accounts where no active buying for seller products or services is present.
This accounts for over 90% of target or territory accounts in most industries at any given time. The linked article explains this issue in greater detail.
[This is the same problem marketers have, that this article is addressing. Your buyers, the executive team and sales, aren’t actively asking for, “buying” the kind of content you know is needed. You must “create opportunity” for this, in the same way you can help sales create opportunities with unaware buyers!]
So the different approach, the flipped process is this:
What if marketers help their sales and sales channel organizations identify and understand their need for knowledge, communication support and situation-ready content?
How does this work?
- This begins with a deep understanding of buyers and how they buy. Check. You’ve got this from your persona and buying decision process work.Unfortunately not enough sales organizations receive these insights, or know how to use them well. Sales can also help validate, identify weaknesses, and contribute to improving quality over time.
2. Based on buying process analysis, customer engagement “use case requirements“ must be developed. This is the critical activity that is missing in most content strategies we see today.
This work identifies key engagement “touch points.” It looks at the knowledge sellers and buyers need at each point. This informs communication support that is required to help deliver knowledge effectively at each point. It reveals ways to improve buyer understanding and effectively build consensus.
The important point here is specificity. Everything must focus on each important purpose, specifically.
3. This input must be turned into detailed content specifications for each asset. Content developers need this guidance to understand the focused purpose, context and contentS for each asset.
Detailed content specifications are similar to product feature specifications. After all, content IS a product. This Content Header is a simple example of a much more comprehensive Content Requirements Document we use for this work.
Here’s a principle we’ve found especially effective.
Create and deploy a complete set of knowledge and communication support assets for every primary use case touch point.
It’s not just content that’s required. It’s knowledge and communication support that improves performance in each activity or engagement. Let’s look at some examples.
Sales knowledge —
Sales playbook information is a good example of this type of support. This knowledge includes: stage-specific buyer and seller objectives. It provides background on buying team members, and the questions and information they will seek. It should deliver relevant industry and competitive background. And much more.
Unfortunately, this information is usually stored inside documents. Documents are “managed” inside content, learning or sales enablement systems. This significantly constrains access to and usefulness of this knowledge. Just the friction to have to go and find it can significantly lower usefulness.
When this information can “show up” at the time it’s needed, within workflows and even common applications sales people use, it will be used more with greater impact.
Communication Support —
Both sellers and buyer need communication support. Visual support assets improve message delivery. People “see” or even hear from subject experts. This is especially important when messages or information are important or complex.
For example, communication support includes call objective guideline, checklists to review key points, expected buyer questions, answers to questions, stories and proof points to reinforce answers, and much more.
When you think this way, you’ll shift your thinking about “presentations.” By thinking “visual support to conversations” you’ll identify many, individual visual assets that aren’t delivered as a presentation.
Situation-ready Content —
Most people want in-depth content to review important or complex topics. Sellers need it to fuel business conversations. Conversations and meetings can introduce these ideas to buyers. They need material to review to help their understanding. They need time to consider and reflect in their context. They need help to decide appropriate actions.
As CEB have shown, content that customers can use for internal customer conversations when vendor reps are not present can be some of the most important content you create. How do you do this now?
Content Value — Show More than Prove
When your key executive and sales stakeholders have a better understanding of their need for content, value will precede development, delivery and back end measurement.
Your objective is to help them conclude, “we can’t do our job without this.” They’re demanding things of you anyway. Help them demand the right content.
This is content they need you to create anyway. Sales, and especially your sales channel, is an under-served need.
Consider leads required to fill the sales pipeline. What percentage does your marketing engine provide? How do you help sales develop the balance?
Consider the 5 to 7 buying stakeholders to your buying process. How many do you identify through your marketing efforts? How do you help sales find and engage the others?
Consider the activity and effort required to convert “leads” into actual sales opportunities. Even when initial contacts are available, sales people must cultivate and educate prospects to create a real sales opportunity. How do you help that objective?
The content you want and need to create for marketing initiatives is similar to the content sales needs to improve their performance. It focuses mostly on the same primary audience — customers and prospects. You’re both trying to achieve the same goals, new customer acquisition, expansion into existing customers (often still a new sale), and revenue growth.
For over a decade we’ve watched B2B marketers try to prove content performance and the value of content investments after the fact. How’s that working? Maybe it’s time to help the organization understand the value of content to begin with.
Enroll your sales and channel sales stakeholders in the value of content to them. The Knowledge Delivered strategy lays out the sequence.
This opens new ways to gain and protect marketing budgets. It doesn’t remove the need to improve content tracking and measurement. But it could achieve your primary objectives of elevated credibility, higher content marketing budgets, and greater impact on your business.