Content Marketing for B2B & SaaS start ups

Mr Michael Tan
Jan 30, 2016 · 13 min read
Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

I remember a time before content marketing ruled online.

I’d come from a B2C background, promoting everything from ringtones to racehorses, and I was very comfortable driving quick sales via search, affiliates, landing pages and analytics plus optimisation. Sure, content was king, but a lot of discussion around content was related to SEO, rather than content as a marketing tool itself.

It wasn’t until I started working in B2B that I realised how important content was. I saw that key differences in the way B2B and B2C buyers purchase made content marketing particularly powerful.

For example:

  • It’s not just one person buying in a business. Most significant purchases require a group of stakeholders’ approval before it can be finalised. And content is great for educating customers.
  • B2B buyers tend to be less cost focused. Instead, what their peers and competitors are doing can be a strong motivator, and content such as case studies and testimonials is a great way to establish social proof.
  • The B2B or SaaS buying cycle can take a (very) long time, with multiple touch points through the journey. Content and marketing automation can magically nurture prospects through their journey
  • Many SaaS start ups have high CPAs that need to be amortalised over the customer’s life time. Once content is produced, you can keep using it for both nurture and acquisition.

There’s tonnes of content about content marketing (surprise eh) available, so I’ll focus on why it matters for B2B SaaS start ups.

But firstly, here’s how we use content marketing at Expert360.

  • Lead generation. We produce high value content that we know clients want to read. We promote it in channels where prospects like to hang out, and ask them for their email address before we share it with them.
  • Build the brand and establish credibility. Investing in forward thinking content has helped get us press coverage, build our brand and drive sales. Pretty awesome stuff for a start up.
  • Close sales. People don’t really think of sales collateral as content marketing, but it is. We produce content specifically designed to help close sales.

And this is the framework we use. It starts with a thorough understanding of our target audience and iteratively develops content based on data and feedback.


Method

1. Start by understanding your customers. All of them.

If B2C marketing is like asking someone out for a drink, B2B marketing is like asking someone to marry you. It’s high stakes. You need to pass the friends test. You need to ask the father for their approval. You’re formalising a relationship.

In B2B marketing, it’s often a group of people (eg procurement, management and finance) within your target client company who are responsible for deciding to work with you. They’ll each have their own motivations and not only that, their objectives might be diametrically opposed (eg, IT values proven tech, marketing wants the latest tools).

For example, a typical B2B sales process is that you find someone who believes in what you do and wants to buy. But to close the sale, you need to convince their peers, get buy in from senior management, budget sign off from finance and navigate their internal processes.

A great way to solve this is to imagine that your marketing to each of these segments individually. You need to understand what Accounting Alan wants vs Marketing Mary and how you tailor your message to both.

Start by making a list of all the people (or roles) involved in a typical transaction. Then, sketch out a persona for each of those relevant parties.

Here’s what you want to get to:

That gives you a basis for planning your content. You’ll internalise these personas and they’ll be your first filter when considering content ideas.


2. Model the buying cycle and map customer insights.

Now that you’ve a static persona for each of your stakeholders, you need to start modelling the buying cycle. Each of your buyer persona’s requirements, motivations and concerns will shift as they learn more about your product or service and move through the buying process.

Map out the buyer journey for each of your key stakeholders and model their motivations and objections at each step. The idea is that if you understand their deepest concerns, you can create content that will preemptively address those concerns and unclog the sales funnel.

Start by sketching your each of the relevant customers’ buying process in low fidelity.

  1. Use big boxes, like Awareness, Engagement, Activation (or purchase) and Repeat / Referral. You can add in detail later.
  2. Make a note of the status of stakeholder is at each step.
  3. Write down what your goal is at each step, or what needs to happen before they move through.

For each buyer, you’ll end up with:

Now start to add more detail. You want to get verbatim quotes and questions from your personas at each of those steps that you’ve identified. Over time, you’ll able to fill in detail and build a more robust model. Here’s a few great ways to get started:

Talk to sales

Sit down with your sales team (or think about this yourself) and identify what typical questions, concerns or even thoughts your customers would have at each stage. Speaking to the sales team can very really valuable because they have a lot of experience with many customers and can aggregate themes.

Listen to live sales calls with customers

If you can, listen to live sales call. Listen to a variety of calls, with multiple stakeholders at a variety of companies and at different stages of the buying cycle. The more variety, the better. Carefully record all the questions they ask.

Speak to customers

Simply talk to your customers! Ask open ended questions and listen.

Once that’s done, it’s time to review your notes and tease out the themes, or key insights for each stage. Listen to the questions or comments your client makes and try to aggregate themes or insights.

For example, if your clients are consistently asking

  • “How do my competitors use you?”
  • “What guarantees do you offer?”
  • “What’s your cancelation policy?”

The insight might be that they are worried about their job. They might be interested in your product, but the risk to their career is what’s blocking them from progressing with you. What they really want to hear is reassurance that they aren’t making a mistake.

I find it useful to put it into a table.

Keep doing this until you have mapped the major objections each of the stakeholders have at every stage of their buying process.

Where does content marketing fit in your B2B or SaaS marketing strategy? Let me know in the comments, or enter your email to get the latest posts and updates.


3. Come up with content ideas that address buyers’ concerns

Take each of those deep customer concerns and start brain storming ideas, or content themes that would address them.

For example, if you feel that buyers are particularly worried about the risk to their reputation if they engage you, you need to come up with justification statements.

Continuing our example above:

Pro tip 1 — Test your justification statements to make sure you have the right ones. Have your sales team try different justifications with real clients to see which resonant best with prospects.

Once you have a group of justification statements that your comfortable with, start brainstorming ideas on how you can translate it into content. This takes the “What you say” into “How you say it”.

Categorise your content ideas into medium. What should be a blog post? What should be a whitepaper? Should you build a cost calculator? Remember, the same theme can, and should be represented in lots of different medium.


4. Planning your content

Start with an editorial or content calendar. It’s just a table, with weeks or months along the top (the columns) and personas, content types or topics along the left (as rows). It’ll function as your production and delivery schedule.

You can produce it in any format you you like, but I personally prefer Google Sheets, because it’s collaborative and you can roll back version to see what’s changed.

Take a holistic view of your content strategy

Start by thinking about the big picture. Think about the order in which readers will consume your content. For example, if you have an upcoming hero piece of content scheduled, you might start with teaser infographics, blog posts and tweets in the weeks leading up to build interest.

Organise your content strategy around key product launch dates, events or major campaign launches

Add an additional row to your content calendar and include external dates that may impact your content calendar. For example, major holidays, or related industry events. Also include any projected launch dates for new product features.

Give yourself time to produce content

One of the most useful benefits of having a content calendar is that you can account for how long you think a content piece will take to produce, and schedule accordingly.


5. Producing your content

The next step is to work out how to produce it. You will most likely use some combination of:

Creating it in house.

It’s a huge advantage if you have internal people dedicated to producing content. Not only will they know and breathe your brand, but they’ll also be able to speak to your sales and operations teams to collaborate on content production.

Outsourcing to a third party.

There’s loads of marketplaces which will help you produce content, from cheapo written work (eg fivver) to high cost videos ( visual.ly) and in-depth, high value content from Expert360.com.

Get interested third parties to produce content for you.

If you happen to be a marketplace business, you may have a bunch of potential content creators in your supply side. They maybe be willing to produce content for you in order to boost their own personal brands.

Curating third part content.

Another option is to add value by curating other people’s content. Keep track of what others in your industry are saying (set up a bunch of Google Alerts) and add your own commentary. Share this with your followers.


6. Distribute your content

Good content marketing not only includes making amazing content, but making sure it’s discovered by your target audience. While you can rely on Google to pick up your content and drive targeted traffic, SEO shouldn’t be your only channel. Especially in B2B marketing, or if your product is genuinely innovative because your solution may not be something that customers even know to search for.

So that means you need to proactively get your content out in front of your prospects, no matter where they are.

Pro tip: Think about “atomising your content”, or reframing content into different formats. For example, if you’re creating a research report, you could leverage that one piece of work and create an infographic for Pinterest, a series of Tweets or a blog post series.

Your own channels, but focus on email.

Start with your “owned media”, ie space you control, like your website, your blog or your emails.

We split email into two categories, “evergreen” (timeless content, eg a post like this), and “Ad Hoc” (content with an expiry date, eg commentary on the latest news). We use our marketing automation platform to distribute evergreen content to segmented prospects via nurture streams, which are simply a sequence of emails. Basically, every new person who joins our list gets added to the start of a nurture stream and slowly work their way through it, until they eventually consume all our content.

For nurture streams, it’s critical that content is evergreen, because you don’t really know when an individual content piece will be consumed, whether it’s today, or in four months time.

Pro tip: Another great benefit of developing evergreen content and starting all your subscribers on nurture streams is that you don’t waste any content. Every person gets every piece.

Ad Hoc emails are the opposite to evergreen content in that they are very time dependent. Examples include your fund raising announcement, or your commentary on what’s happening in current affairs today. For this content, we craft batch emails that get sent to all relevant subscribers once only, then that content piece is discarded.

You’ll need to produce a mix of the two forms, but try and invest more in evergreen content — it’s the gift that keeps giving.

Another often forgotten channel is to get your sales team to share the content. Considering that most of what you’re producing is ultimately a sales enabler, it makes sense for them to share with prospects and clients. The key is to keep them aware of what you’re producing and when it’s best deployed.

Your earned channels.

Earned media is distribution that comes from other parties sharing your content. For example, PR, social shares, word of mouth, reviews or forum mentions. This type of distribution can be very powerful, because it appears more credible coming from a third party rather than yourself. It can be tricky to generate this type of distribution, but it does become easier once you have some traction.

Pro tip — If you had a guest writer produce content on your behalf, ask them to share it on their social networks. A great example we did lately is have some of our members share their predictions for the upcoming year. We consolidated their tips and packaged it nicely and each of the individual authors was more than happy to share it with their peers.

Your paid channels.

Paid media is pretty much old school marketing — your paying someone to distribute your content. In the past, that might have meant TV, radio or newspapers, but today it means content syndication, social media advertising and paid placements.

I’ve found that you need to be careful with paid content. It can be relatively cheap to buy clicks, but often the quality of those clicks is suspect. You really, really need to be vigilant with your metrics and understanding the business impact of each visitor.

One good way of doing this is to make sure that any content your paying to promote has some sort of data capture or next step associated with it. For example, if you’re promoting your blog content on a syndication network like Outbrain or Taboola, then make sure that you’ve got relevant related stories, or a newsletter sign up promo on that piece. Check your stats and see how many people sign up, or explore further into your site. Optimise for bounce rates.


7. Track your performance

Due to the complexity of the B2B buying cycle, it’s impossible to measure exactly how effective each content piece was in moving prospects through the buying journey but there are a few lens you can use to measure the relative performance of each piece.


Consumption:

Google Analytics can tell you basic information about how your content is performing. Remember to measure like for like as much as possible. For example, if you used a content syndication platform like Outbrain to distribute a specific case study, you might find time on page and bounce rate worse compared to your other case studies, but this is mostly likely a result of the less targeted traffic.

  • Time on page — How long do people spend reading that page? The Time on Page report in Google Analytics can be a quick and easy way to see which of your content pieces tend to hold your readers’ attention the longest.
  • Scroll depth — For more detailed analysis, you should always cross reference time on page with how far down your page people typically scroll (look at the page scroll report in Google Analytics, or use another package such as Full Story).
  • Landing page — Filter by New Visitors only and find our how many first timers have arrived via this page.
  • Social media — Depending on your chosen platform, you can often get consumption stats from your dashboard.
  • Emails — At a minimum, track how many people open and click your emails.

User Engagement:

Compared to consumption stats, User Engagement tell you how many people were motivated to take an action based on your content. It’s up to you how you value this.

  • Social shares — How many times is that article shared on social media?
  • Comments / Feedback — An interesting metric is looking at the number of comments each content piece generates.
  • Follows — Social media follows are awesome because firstly, it indicates how great your content is, and secondly, it means you can market to your followers directly. The way this actually works differs by social network.

Sales / Revenue:

To understand the actual revenue impact your content has had, you’ll need a marketing automation system (eg Marketo or HubSpot) connected with your CRM package (eg, Salesforce). Even then, it’s far from an exact science.

  • Gated Content — If you’ve created a brand new content piece that attracts new users, use your lead scoring / CRM package to record how many of those eventually turn into real customers and how much revenue they generate.
  • Non Gated Content (this is really rough!) — If you’re using a marketing automation / lead scoring system linked to a CRM you may be able to attribute actual revenue to content pieces. You look for people who consumed a webpage, downloaded a report or interacted with a content piece prior to purchase. You can then make an assumption that that purchase was in some way influenced by the content.
  • Anecdotal — Ask sales for feedback on what content they think is really helpful in closing sales or convincing customers. Are they proactively sharing particular reports with their contacts? Directing prospects to case studies? It’s obviously not very scientific, but it can be useful in pinch.

Where does content marketing fit in your B2B or SaaS marketing strategy? Let me know in the comments, or enter your email to get the latest posts and updates.


About me

I’m a Growth Marketer based in Sydney Australia. I love working with awesome start ups to help them grow into successful businesses.

If you have any questions, or would like to get in touch… well, get in touch!


Originally published at http://www.mrmichaeltan.com on January 30, 2016.

Mr Michael Tan

Written by

Growth Marketer for Start Ups. Sydney sider. Life long learner. Get in touch: mrmichaeltan.com

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