I know my post from last year declaring content isn’t king was probably a bit unexpected. After all, I create content for a living. But I think Amber Naslund conveyed the reasoning behind my post perfectly in this post via twitter:
Want to start a business? Content is not king. Cash flow is king. No cash, no biz to make content for.
— Amber Naslund (@AmberCadabra) February 26, 2014
Content is one way to generate leads, it’s not the end all be all. Yes, there are many (many, many) types of content that can be created. No, these alone are not going to be enough to fill your sales funnel and keep it full—especially if you’re a new business.
Content can be a great way to build an excellent reputation and, over time, to get leads to contact you. I’ve seen this work. My website generates leads for me on a regular basis. But this is not a quick method, and I don’t expect all—or even most—of my sales to come through those leads.
In other words, if you need sales RIGHT NOW in order to keep the lights on? Content marketing is not the answer. (Click to Tweet this.)
So today I want to talk about how it’s supposed to work—and how you can use content marketing to enable selling.
Filling Your Sales Funnel (beyond creating content)
First, just for a sec, let’s talk about what a sales funnel is. According to Wikipedia (the authority on these things…) in Management of a Sales Force (12th Ed. p. 66) by Rich, Spiro and Stanton a “sales process” is presented as consisting of eight steps. These are:
- Preapproach – planning the sale
- Need assessment
- Meeting objections
- Gaining commitment
A “sales funnel” is essentially a metaphor for the process of moving prospects or potential sales through these steps.
We use a funnel because you should always have significantly more leads in the early stages than the later ones, since it’s unlikely that every lead or initial contact will turn into a sale. Therefore, you probably need many “initial contacts” to achieve one sale.
Which Steps Can Content Marketing Help With?
Buyers today are increasingly self-educated. In fact, studies of B2B sales show that buyers are often 60% of the way through the sales funnel before they contact a sales person. Content marketing enables selling by helping get them to that 60%.
Sometimes it even gets them further than that—sometimes, if you’re really good, it gets them to the point of actually deciding to buy. But, in many cases, a sales person will still need to step in at some point in the sales process to help facilitate the sale.
Good contact marketing can help capture leads (they come to your website, sign up for your email list, and you can reach out to them…), can do some of the initial approach for you, can help meeting objections before you ever talk to the prospect, and can help keep in touch with a customer as a follow up.
That means a sales person can reach out to a lead with a great deal more information (in many cases already knowing what articles that lead has read and what ebooks he or she has downloaded, which should give them a pretty good idea of the problem that lead is trying to solve).
For some businesses—take a SaaS company like Dropbox as an example—a consumer might be able to go through all these steps on her own, without a sales person.
She has a problem: she needs to be able to use the same documents on a number of devices.
A friend shares a blog post reviewing dropbox, with a comment on how useful it’s been. She clicks through, reads through the content on the Dropbox website, and decides to open an account without having ever talked to a sales person.
For most businesses, however, that simply isn’t the case. Dropbox has done a lot of work to become well known in its niche.
Until you reach Dropbox-like fame, you’ll probably have to do at least some of your sales the old-fashioned way.