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What is the impact of content marketing on your sales cycle?

What is the impact of content marketing on your sales cycle?

The core objectives of any marketing strategy are to raise a business’ profile, improve awareness or reputation amongst an audience, and ultimately, create more leads. The right content can play a huge role in achieving all of these goals, particularly when supplemented with social media amplification to ensure the widest possible reach.

However, many marketers fail to take into account the day-to-day realities of the sales cycle when creating content. This can lead to a disconnect between what a business is publishing online and what is the most useful material for a sales team.

To avoid this, it’s critical to understand how content marketing should connect to your sales strategy.

This relationship can then be used to create blogs, social media posts and other material for each stage of the cycle, in order to give sales reps an edge when it comes to getting a deal over the line.

There are very few significant sales processes that take place without prospects doing at least a small amount of online research first.

How does content marketing relate to the sales cycle?

The impact of content marketing on your sales cycle is perhaps best described as ‘symbiotic.’ In today’s digital world, where huge volumes of information are easily accessible online, there are very few sales processes that take place without prospects doing at least a small amount of research first. As Curata puts it:

“Before a lead ever speaks to a sales rep, he or she has likely engaged with content on one of your channels. Your prospect has likely taken a visit to your website, read an email, seen your posts on social media or experienced your brand through any number of channels.”

In fact, the link between content and sales enablement continues far beyond first contact, with certain pieces of material coming into play at various stages of the sales cycle. For example, a potential buyer isn’t necessarily going to view a ‘how-to’ guide when first visiting your website, but after considering a purchase and speaking to a sales rep, they may decide to explore how easy a certain product is to use, before committing to a purchase.

This symbiotic relationship makes it all but impossible to separate a company’s marketing efforts from its sales team, and it’s therefore a good idea to see the two as closely connected, rather than tangentially related. With this perspective, it’s much easier to understand what type of content will best supplement the sales cycle. This all comes back to our old friend, the marketing funnel.

funnel

The marketing funnel is sometimes referred to as the ‘sales funnel’ and the fact that these two terms can be used interchangeably reinforces just how closely the two processes are connected. Regardless of whether you’re using traditional sales techniques or content marketing, here’s how the objectives of each phase break down:

  • Stage 1 – Awareness and interest: This is where a potential buyer becomes aware of your product or service, and begins to gather information.
  • Stage 2 – Consideration: Gathering information is known as the consideration phase, leading to either a positive or a negative decision.
  • Stage 3 – Purchase: A positive decision is a purchase, while a negative decision results in prospects leaving the sales funnel or returning to the top.
  • Stage 4 – Retention: The funnel doesn’t end with a purchase, and instead the retention phase ensures repeat business and business advocacy.

So, let’s take a closer look at each of these stages, and how content marketing should connect to your sales strategy throughout the process.

It’s vital for the content that prospects come across in the discovery stage to present your business in the right light, and guide them on to the next part of the funnel.

Stage 1: Awareness and interest

This first stage of the sales and marketing process is sometimes referred to as the ‘discovery’ phase. This is where prospects first become aware of your business and, hopefully, gain an interest in your product or service. There are all sorts of ways that this discovery can happen. Some prospects may stumble across your website via social media or a Google search, while others may be recommended to you by a previous customer, or through event marketing.

In any scenario, it’s vital for the content that prospects come across in the discovery stage to present your business in the right light, and guide them on to the next part of the funnel.

It’s always best to keep top-funnel content marketing as informative as possible. This will present your business as an industry leader that knows what it’s talking about, but without pushing a sale before a lead is anywhere close to converting. Taking an informative approach with your blog posts and other content will ensure that by the time a sales rep talks to a prospect, they’ll already have a good understanding of what your business is all about, but won’t have been bombarded with ‘salesy’ messaging that can be a turn-off at the top of the funnel.

Stage 2: Consideration

The consideration phase of the marketing funnel is where your sales reps and content marketing really need to go to work. After discovering your business, a prospect in this stage of the sales cycle is wanting to know how your product or service will help them solve a particular problem, and why they should choose your business rather than a competitor.

To achieve this goal, it’s important to move away from the top-level informative content that works during the discovery phase, and instead provide detailed case studies, testimonials and whitepapers that clearly demonstrate value. As we explained in a recent article about mid-funnel content here on the Castleford blog, this part of the sales cycle is arguably where content marketing can add the most value, by shortening the consideration phase and guiding a lead towards a decision.

This content may be distributed directly by sales reps (either by email or even physically as ‘leave-behind’ documents), or it may simply be located on your website for prospects to find themselves. Either way, without this material, it’s that much harder to nudge a lead over the line and convince them to convert.

Stage 3: Purchase

While the bulk of most content marketing strategies is designed to guide a prospect to the point of purchase, it’s still important to have the right material available for sales reps to help leads over the final hurdle.

Unlike earlier on in the process, the type of content that works best at the bottom of the funnel is likely to be a bit more subtle, such as a well-designed conversion landing page, rather than a showy whitepaper or eBook. The goal here isn’t just to convince a prospect to buy, but rather to make the process of buying as simple and clear as possible.

It’s also a good idea for marketers to liaise with sales teams when creating bottom-of-the-funnel content, as the most valuable material here will be anything that answers the final questions a prospect has before committing to a purchase. That could mean producing a blog outlining the adoption process of a service, or perhaps a simple FAQ page that answers the most common questions about a certain product.

Stage 4: Retention

Last, but certainly not least, the final stage of the sales and marketing funnel is retention, sometimes referred to as ‘advocacy.’ The objective here is to continue a relationship with customers even after they’ve made a purchase, in order to encourage repeat business and build loyalty.

Sales teams can do this by forming long-term relationships with their prospects and staying in touch after the point of sale, and content marketing can also be an effective tool at this stage of the funnel.

One of the best examples of this is marketing automation, and email automation in particular. By sending out regular emails to customers (both prospective and current), your business will remain at the forefront of their mind, helping to solidify the relationship and build long-term trust. The content of these emails could be as simple as outlining upgrades to a service, or could go further and offer special deals on new products.

Either way, the objective is to not just retain business, but foster a feeling of loyalty that ultimately leads to advocacy – bringing in even more leads in future as your customers guide new prospects to the top of the funnel.

Try to create an overarching approach to the content marketing process that includes input from both marketers and sales reps.

In conclusion

Because it’s so difficult to separate content marketing strategy from the sales cycle, it’s vital to create an overarching approach to the process that includes input from both marketers and sales reps.

Opening a dialogue between these two teams makes it far more likely that each will understand what the other needs to achieve their goals. By doing this, prospects get the content they are interested in at the exact moment when they want it, making their journey through the sales funnel far smoother and faster, while also improving the overall chances of conversion.

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