For B2B marketers, qualified leads look like the panacea for every corporate campaign. The thinking goes that if you deliver leads to sales, then you’ve made your company more money and justified your budget in the process. Data backs up this perception: Content Marketing Institute (CMI) recently came out with their B2B Content Marketing 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends—North America report, and 85 percent of respondents called out lead generation as the most important of content marketing goals.
The question is, have B2B content marketers paused to wonder if they’re aiming for the right goal?
Not only is lead generation the big objective for content marketing, most brands are using content as the main component of their lead gen strategy. Corporate Executive Board says 90 percent of B2B marketers are linking the two together. They note an interesting stat, though: Sales departments rank marketing-driven lead generation last in effectiveness among all marketing efforts. That’s a sobering realization. If content marketing is dedicated to drumming up leads, but sales doesn’t want anything to do with those leads, is B2B content doomed to fail?
If lead generation isn’t a realistic destination, how should you be measuring your content? The answer lies in the nature of content itself. What separates content marketing from traditional marketing is that there’s value in the content independent of any underlying product messaging. There’s nothing “sales-y” about good content marketing. So tying sales goals to a discipline that’s about “creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content,” according to CMI, isn’t going to work.
What should you measure content marketing against instead? Interestingly, 82 percent of B2B marketers working at enterprise companies (1,000+ employees) surveyed in the CMI report from before said engagement, before anything else, was their most important goal. This metric is a more natural fit, simply because content consumption happens much earlier in the buying cycle. CEB reports that B2B buyers are 57 percent of the way through the purchase decision before they start talking to sales. When the customer is looking at your content, they’re not ready to be converted into a lead. They’re trying to gather intelligence—they’re engaging with your brand.
Engagement can mean different things depending on your medium. Engagement is easy to measure on social channels (particularly on Twitter and Facebook), but you might have a harder time determining engagement on a blog (do you measure traffic? Repeat visitors? Time spent on site?). There are many approaches to measuring B2B content marketing more effectively, as shown in this list from Dun and Bradstreet, so finding the right mix based on the tactics you’re employing is important. The good news is almost everything B2B content marketers are doing is digital, and that means there’s more to measure. Plus, the digital nature of content allows for you to switch measurement strategies. If what you’re measuring isn’t working, take a lesson from Silicon Valley—you can fail, just fail fast. And then learn from the mistakes. Good measurement is an evolving project.
Setting new goals doesn’t mean you should abandon lead generation efforts with B2B content marketing. Lead gen is still a proven way to monetize content, and in some companies, selling just one new piece of business can pay for an entire marketing campaign.
Leads from content should happen organically—if lead generation were really your number one goal, then you’d be a salesperson. The perceived ineffectiveness of marketing leads, as that CEB study points out, is a real hurdle. I still remember my first experience getting a lead from a B2B campaign. It was from a postcard mailing that I had sent out five years ago. I was so excited, I personally walked the lead down to my sales leader’s office and handed it to him like a trophy. He politely took it from me and placed it on his desk. I checked every day for a couple weeks—that piece of paper never moved. No one ever followed up on it. The truth is, many sales people carry a dim view of marketing-driven leads because so few have worked out in the past.
Content marketing-driven leads, though, are a different animal. There are two main differences to a content marketing prospect versus a standard marketing prospect:
So, your sales team may need to be re-trained on how to handle these leads if they aren’t used to them. If you’ve created great content for prospects to digest, then these potential customers may know a lot more than sales is expecting. And if you’ve tracked all the information that you can—from using social listening tools to reporting email/web page view tracking—then you’re able to put together a much fuller picture of who these prospects are. Sales is going to have very different conversations with these leads than they have in the past.
Dispensing with lead generation as the top goal for B2B content marketing may be a difficult discussion to have with management, especially at companies where sales and marketing report up through the same leaders. It’s a worthwhile discussion, though, and it will help free you from unrealistic expectations. More importantly, it will help you realize what your true purpose is as a content marketer, too. Those of us who get to work in this new marketing discipline have a responsibility first and foremost to create great content that helps our audience learn something new. If we do this well, customers will find it. They’ll engage with it. And the business results will come.
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