When the quarter ends, sometimes it’s hard not to feel jealous of sales. Sure, they may have spent the last week or so scrambling to close deals, but at the end of it, they can clearly point to the value they created for the company. Their time spent building relationships translates directly to dollars. But when content marketers are called upon to demonstrate the value we’ve created—especially in an organization that relies heavily on sales representatives to close business—it’s much harder to argue for the role we play in delivering revenue.
This is a regular challenge that B2B content marketers in particular have to face, and it’s not a simple one to solve. Sure, there are a handful of things we can do to improve tracking and attribution, but there is also a more fundamental issue at play that has to be addressed: Does your business understand and value the role that content marketing plays in your audience’s experience?
When trying to advocate for the value of content marketing to your organization, one of the first obstacles you’ll face is defining where exactly in the marketing funnel content is supposed to fall.
In the most difficult cases, you’ll find businesses that think of content marketing only as it relates to bottom-of-funnel conversion. While not so common, these cases require you to engage your leadership and sales teams in conversation about how content attracts and nurtures your audience. But this can also be a bit misleading, because good content serves in a number of capacities throughout the customer funnel—optimized content brings in awareness through organic search, while informational content can inform and engage prospects as they consider your brand and eventually convert to customers. Great educational content can even help retain current customers by helping them get more value from their relationship with your brand.
This gets to a fundamental challenge, but also benefit, of content marketing: Excellent content doesn’t just serve a single step of your marketing funnel. It supports audiences throughout every step of their life cycle. This is good in way, because it clearly makes your efforts worthwhile to your business. On the other hand, it makes it much more complex to actually track and measure the exact ROI you’re driving for your brand.
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With a baseline understanding that content marketing serves your brand at every step of the funnel, you can now go about the more difficult task of actually demonstrating your content marketing ROI. There are a few overall approaches to how you can do this.
The most obvious approach is to tackle the problem from an analytical perspective. You do this by essentially asking the question, “What additional tracking or attribution would I need to be able to show that my content is driving results?” This approach typically requires the most technical lift from your team as—depending on what systems you already have in place—you might need to build out new technology or attribution systems.
To simplify this step, it can be helpful to narrow your goal. Trying to track a user from interaction with a piece of content all the way through eventual purchase or conversion can be quite daunting, and it often requires involved tracking schemes. To pare this down, try to focus on building out attribution up to the point of lead generation instead. Being able to definitively point to a portion of your lead population and claim them as a result of content marketing can give you a simple ROI calculation: multiply the number of leads you drove by the average conversion rate of your sales team by the average deal size.
But tracking lead generation alone only tackles half of demonstrating the value of content marketing—and the other half relies on internal perception. If your organization as a whole doesn’t understand the role that content marketing plays, then there’s very little you’ll be able to do to ever demonstrate value from your efforts.
To combat this attitude, look for ways to integrate your content practices with your other teams. In a sales-oriented B2B space, this often mean syncing up with your sales team to understand how your content could meet their needs. What questions do your reps find themselves constantly answering? What topics or areas of interest do their clients tend to stick to? Opening these lines of communication not only gives your team an effective way to come up with content ideas that will truly resonate with you audience, but you’ll also find opportunities to repackage your content in ways that can be used to support your sales reps during their conversations. From here, tracking how frequently content influences a sales opportunity can be a helpful counterpoint to the partial picture painted by direct lead generation alone.
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Given enough time, expertise, and resources, your content marketing team would surely be able to build out a robust tracking system that could account for every customer who ever read your work. But if your business as a whole doesn’t understand the value of the support that your content provides throughout the whole of your customers’ life cycles, then much of this work will go to waste. B2B marketers who start by educating and advocating for the value of content marketing within their businesses first, and then begin the technical work of building out their attribution systems, will meet with much greater success in the long run.
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