B2B Tech firms: 2 words that could make or break 2016 revenue goals

If you’re a high-growth tech firm that crushed all your sales numbers in 2015, you can stop reading.

As an advisor and consultant to several large and midsized B2B tech firms, I work with CEO’s and senior executives who are under tremendous pressure to find growth. Many of them express great frustration with long sales cycles with uncertain outcomes, high customer acquisition costs, and the lack of engagement with prospects. Most continue to use very traditional methods, and some rely heavily on the influencer/advisor community to “find” opportunities (the influencer community has its own set of challenges: they look to tech firms to “bring them in” on opportunities). The result is rapid commoditization, with costs of client acquisition escalating for tech firms, and clients none the wiser about the true differentiators among the firms they are evaluating.

Fighting this decade’s battles with last decade’s weapons

Today’s dance between enterprises and many tech firms is a parody where clients look to reduce all vendor offerings to a common baseline (with assistance from advisors), and vendors are happy to engage in response mode, answering all the questions and dutifully complying with rigid RFP guidelines.

The problem here is that neither party is getting the best value from the transaction since information gathering is pretty much restricted to the duration of the formal evaluation process.

Fortunately, there is one approach that could solve the problem for both sides. Content marketing.

In an environment where B2B buyers complete over 60% of their research through online and secondary sources before making the first contact with potential vendors, the imperative could hardly be clearer for tech firms. Tech firms need to focus more on “being found” as opposed to trying to find their clients. Enter content marketing, a term that has been gathering support for the past few years, and gained validation when The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) voted Content Marketing the word of the year 2015.Programmatic, transparency, and storytelling were close behind, although in my view all of these terms are closely linked to content marketing.

Here’s the good news:

  • Content marketing is a relatively new discipline among tech firms. Most are doing a pretty poor job of it, so anyone who does anything worthwhile is creating distance between themselves and the competition.
  • With the emergence of a new class of economic buyers who are business executives with technology budgets, there is an incredible opportunity to inform and educate that can create much stronger engagement levels and break out of rigid and formal selection processes.

Now, the bad news:

  • Content marketing isn’t particularly effective today. According to research by the Content Marketing Institute, while over 80% of B2B firms engage in some form of content marketing, less than a third consider it to be effective. Worse, nearly half don’t even know what successful content marketing looks like, leave alone how to compute an ROI on it.
  • B2B tech firms struggle with content marketing today. The primary reason is their obsessive focus on direct sales and their low tolerance for the agonizing uncertainty of putting a piece of content out there through an email campaign or the occasional blog post and waiting for the phone to ring.

Content marketing can provide gratification (but more like delayed gratification)

For those whose jobs and careers hang by the thread of the next quarter’s sales targets, content marketing isn’t going to save you. So you can stop reading at this point if that applies to your situation.

  • Like corporate branding effort, content marketing takes time to deliver results. We’re not talking decades, of course, but we’re not talking the next 2 quarters either.
  • Content marketing requires patience and sustained effort. It’s isn’t about slapping together a piece of sales collateral disguised as a “white paper” and blasting it to a thousand email id’s with the hope that clients and prospects will be so blown away that they can’t wait to call you and buy your product or service.

Content marketing, if done right, will deliver more meaningful engagement with your clients and prospects, will deliver more qualified leads, and will create stronger brand value for your firm — however, it has to be done in a sustained manner. In short, it is about constant improvement, not about a time-bound milestone.

In our work with tech firms over the past couple of years, we have seen several best practices that translate to content marketing essentials. Here are a few:

  • Content strategy: this is key to success — it has to be documented, just like an annual sales plan, and needs to align directly to business goals for your firm. Many firms confuse this with an editorial calendar which is not the same.
  • Senior leadership buy-in: the most effective programs are undoubtedly those where the senior leader or CEO believes in marketing in general, and content marketing in particular. Among other things, it creates funding for the program.
  • Quality and quantity: Content that aligns consistently to growth themes, is created on a regular basis, and is thoughtful and informative, can develop more engagement from prospects and clients than a thousand cold calls and email solicitations. At the same time, a single blog buried deep in your corporate website is not going to make any difference whatsoever.
  • Distribution and amplification: If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, it didn’t happen. Content has to be distributed across multiple media, and amplification requires multi-purposing content to suit multiple formats i.e. twitter, Linked In, blogs and so on.

Content marketing principles are just as important for enterprises as it is for tech firms. In healthcare, for instance, providing information is a huge part of building trust and engagement between patients and caregivers. Many CIO’s I work with use content marketing to highlight the work of the IT function and gain recognition in media as a means to get the attention of internal as well as external stakeholders.

We are just at the beginning. 2016 may be the year we all look back and agree that we decided to commit ourselves to content marketing.

Originally published at www.linkedin.com.