How To Track Customer Acquisitions:

Customer Lifecycle, Sales Funnel, and Content Strategy

Check out new in-depth article on Strategic Messaging and on designing marketing campaigns.

This article will walk you through the customer acquisition funnel for SaaS companies. The primary goal is to help you design, analyze, and optimize your customer acquisition process. The secondary goal is to present different perspectives on moving customers through the lifecycle stages and to show how marketing, sales, and customer success teams should collaborate and where each team’s responsibilities lay. Hopefully, everyone will find at least one useful idea to try or to test.

The effectiveness of your customer acquisition funnel can be tracked by metrics that measure leakages when moving prospects from one stage to the other. The process of handing over prospects from the marketing to sales team and from the sales to customer success team presents higher than average risks of losing prospects, missing data, or miscommunication between teams about responsibilities, definitions, and success metrics.

Content strategy is one of the most effective ways for companies to increase the velocity with which prospects move from one stage to the other. As we go through each step in the funnel it will become clear why it is crucial to analyze content strategy from a customer lifecycle perspective. In favor of simplicity, the customer acquisition diagram is missing the reference to target customer profiles, product positioning, and value messaging. These three topics require a separate discussion.

Other pieces that are missing in this diagram are Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and Customer Lifetime Value (LTV). Again, this information was omitted for the purpose of clarity.

The customer acquisition funnel is a process of tracking and monitoring how effective the company is in attracting, engaging, converting, and retaining its customers.

Before we dive into the detailed discussion, let me answer a couple of questions.

Advisories:

1. Will this customer acquisition framework fit my SaaS company?
The Customer Acquisition Framework presented below is just ONE of the ways for a SaaS company to track customer acquisition effectiveness. Obviously, Slack’s customer acquisition strategy will be different from the one Salesforce uses. Companies with similar business models, product prices, and average deal size will have similar customer acquisition funnels. Please adjust and adapt this approach to fit your specific needs.

2. Why create another Customer Acquisition Funnel?
Many experienced investors, founders, and marketers have already written about customer acquisition funnels, SaaS sales cycles, SaaS metrics, and content strategy. Why do we need yet another customer acquisition funnel?

The customer acquisition framework for SaaS companies presented here has some key differentiations that are missing from other writings on this topic (based on my findings). It also highlights how content impacts customer acquisition and why Customer Lifecycle is important to track and consider when making decisions on how to grow your SaaS product faster. Here are some of the best resources for learning more about how SaaS companies design and track Customer Acquisition Funnels:

David Skok 
Customer Acquisition: Maximizing your Funnel
SaaS Metrics 2.0 — A Guide to Measuring and Improving what Matters

Tom Tunguz
Sales Funnel Optimization For SaaS Startups
The Number One Objection In The Sales Funnel

Jason M. Lemkin
The Right Sales Metrics For Your SaaS Startup
Hire the Right Type of VP Marketing

Jacco van der Kooij
How to Scale ARR to $50M

3. Why is this framework missing X?
The goal for this framework is to provide comprehensive information that is easy to digest. My hope is that people working in SaaS businesses will look at this diagram, see things in a different perspective, and then take these ideas and optimize their customer acquisition process.

For example, the content strategy part of the diagram assumes that your company has clear messaging and positioning for your product. In other words, you have in-depth target customer profiles that your team uses to understand each of the different players in the buying process and the customer value they get from your product. Read more on how to create target customer profiles and effective value messaging.


Part 1 — Customer Acquisition Framework


1.1. What is the difference between a customer lifecycle and a sales funnel?

Customer Lifecycle helps companies understand how customers are experiencing your product and what actions they are taking.

Sales Funnel shows internal processes that companies need to follow in order to move prospects down the funnel effectively and efficiently.

The diagram shows that the sales funnel is shorter than the customer lifecycle. For companies that track both, the sales funnel is just one part of the overall customer lifecycle journey.

Sales-centric approach vs. Customer-centric approach

If we only discuss the Sales Funnel part of the Customer Acquisition Framework, it’s easy to forget that customers look at your product differently and there are multiple paths to conversion.

The sales funnel is used by organizations to analyze how effectively they move prospects through the sales pipeline. Sales funnel stages represent a prospect’s current stage as the company sees it. As a prospect moves down the funnel, the probability of closing the deal increases.

For example, a company may know they have a 30% probability (based on past sales) of closing a prospect once they reach the opportunity stage. They use this probability when doing sales planning and modeling. If they currently have $500,000 in opportunities, then they have a potential for $150K in closed business.

NOTE: If you are doing sales planning, you need to take into account the average time it takes to move a prospect from the opportunity stage to the closed stage. Using the example above, if it takes an average of 60 days to close an account after it becomes an opportunity, the company can forecast a revenue of $50K net 30 and the remaining $100K net 60.

Customer lifecycle is a framework that puts the customer at the center of the process and looks at how they move along the buying process. It provides insights on customer’s actions that identify an increased probability of buying your product.

For companies that have a freemium business model, the customer lifecycle funnel is more important than the sales funnel. A great example of this is Slack, which offers their basic service for free, but converts free customers into paid customers by offering additional features. Obviously, a sales funnel with MQLs and SQLs isn’t tracked at Slack since their bottom-up approach to customer acquisition eliminates this need.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the higher the product price, the more emphasis companies should place on monitoring sales cycle. For example, Salesforce’s free trial isn’t as useful as Slack’s since their product is too complicated and needs significant resources to be integrated. Therefore, following the internal sales funnel makes more sense.


1.2. Customer Lifecycle Funnel

The Customer Lifecycle is often drawn as a circle, but in this case we use a vertical representation to make it easier to visualize the relationship between the customer lifecycle and sales funnel. There are six stages the customer has to go through in order to “complete the circle”. Each transition between stages corresponds with a direct action that customer has to do or achieve. Think of this process as different levels in a video game.

To become a visitor, somebody needs to visit your company’s website. When they submit a form or sign up for a free trial, they become a prospect. Prospects then become activated users when value is delivered or a certain level of usage is reached.

Let’s quickly go over each stage.

Customer Lifecycle

Visitor
Visitor is a very broad category that includes everyone who lands on your website. In theory, every visitor is a potential customer (not really). When a visitor signs up for a free trial or downloads something (e.g., case study, ebook, etc.), they become a prospect.

Action required to move to the next stage: Conversion

Prospect
A visitor becomes a prospect once they convert on a website. A prospect is a potential customer who has expressed interest in the pains, solutions, products, or materials related to your company. The contacts on a list that your marketing team might buy from a third party are not prospects since they haven’t actively expressed interest by sharing their information nor have they been qualified by your sales development team.

Metric: Conversion Rate

The conversion rate, in a sense, tracks the effectiveness of your website and content. Overall, the conversion rate for your website is a more generic metric (and can be ignored), but the conversion rate for free trial and product signups pages are more explicit and actionable.

Action required to move to the next stage: 1st value delivered

Activated User
Not tracking user activation during the initial signup or a free trial is one of the most common mistakes SaaS companies make. They are focused vastly on getting customers into the product that first interaction with the product becomes an afterthought. Tremendous resources are spent to get prospects in and even more resources should be allocated to designing the first experience and getting prospects to the aha-moment when first value is delivered.

The primary goal after getting a prospect inside your product is to activate them by delivering the core value unit for the first time. You entice the prospect to reach your pre-defined activation level.

As discussed in The Cost of Poor User Onboarding, Slack user activation happens when a team chat reaches 2000 messages.

Other examples of user activation goals:

  • Subscription billing: connecting your payment options or bank account can be used to activate a user.
  • Platform connecting farmers, distributors and chefs: activation can be tracked when a first order is placed.
  • Airbnb: an activated user could be a new visitor that saves their first listing.
  • Lyft (yes, I’m rooting for the underdog!): an activated user could be one who connects a credit card to the app.

You get the point.

Metric: Activation Rate

The activation rate is a ratio to track how effective the company is in delivering first value and designing the first experience with the product. Activation rate simple shows the percentage of prospects who actually activate their free trial and received a first value unit.

Action required to move to the next stage: Customer Paid

NOTE: It can be extremely challenging for a SaaS company to use a third party onboarding solution. User-onboarding is such a critical step that it’s almost impossible for someone outside of your company to design a product that perfectly meets the needs of your customers. Your product team needs to own it.

Customer
A user or prospects becomes a customer as soon as he/she pays. Your team’s next goal is make this customer an active one. Two questions you want to ask your team:

  1. Do all of our customers use our product regularly?
  2. Are they happy with how much value your solution delivers?

Metric: Daily / Weekly Active User Rate
Action required to move to the next stage: regularly use product

Active Customer
Your customers can pay for the product but not use it very often or at all. An active customer is one that regularly uses your product and therefore receives value and installs habits of using your solution on a regular basis. SaaS companies need to identify what usage correlates with high Lifetime Customer Value and a higher renewal rate.

Metric: Renewal Rate / Churn
Action required to move to the next stage: Renew / Upsell

Loyal Customer
When a customer renews or signs up for additional features (e.g., extra seats or API access), they become a loyal customer.

Metric: Net Promoter Score / Referrals

The customer lifecycle helps you understand how customers experience your product and company. It’s a customer-centric approach in which customer action drives the funnel.

Takeaways:

  • Each stage that a customer goes through is preceded by a specific action.
  • Effectiveness of each stage needs to be tracked and optimized with conversion metrics.
  • For products that have free trials, it’s crucial to track ‘Activated Users’. This metric is an important checkpoint for measuring intermediate steps between the ‘prospect’ and ‘customer’ stages.
  • Companies need to know how often customers use their product/solution and how much value they derive from it.
NOTES: Buying decisions for larger companies are rarely done by one person. Because of this, the “Customer Lifecycle” refers to everyone (i.e., whole account) involved in the purchase and use of the product, not just one manager or one end user.
A company can request case studies and referrals from a customer as soon as it make sense. Make sure that the customer receives consistent value before asking for a case study or referrals. The customer should be at least an active customer.

1.3. Sales Funnel

Whereas the customer lifecycle is driven by customer actions and tracks how they experience the product and company, the ultimate goal of the sales funnel is following specific actions, processes, and workflows to track and optimize the sales process effectiveness.

Questions that your sales funnel has to answer:

  • How does your team prioritize leads?
  • How does your team nurture prospects?
  • What prospect actions correlate higher with closed deals?
  • How long does it take for your SDR team to reach out to leads that reach a qualifying lead score?
  • How long is your sales cycle?
  • What metric best represents efficiency of moving prospects from one stage to the next?
  • When and how do your teams handoff prospects in the funnel?
  • Do you have an onboarding plan?

Let’s take a closer look at the sales funnel.

Sales Funnel

Leads
Leads can enter the sales funnel from outbound and inbound channels.

Outbound leads are leads created by Sales Development Reps (SDRs) by carefully targeting accounts that may have never heard about the company. Outbound email outreach is still one of the most effective tactics for generating outbound leads. Cold calls, direct mail, sending messaging on social media are all part of the outbound channel.

LEARN MORE: get everything you need to know to start outbound sales for your startup with Steli Efti’s ebook — “The Ultimate Startup Guide to Outbound Sales”.

Inbound leads are leads created when prospects submit information in exchange for an asset (whitepaper, case study, etc.) or signs up for a free trial.

NOTE: In account-based selling approach where SDRs pre-qualify accounts before initiating an outreach prospects that showed interest can be assigned to Sales Qualified Lead (SQL).

Action required to move to the next stage: filtering bad data, enriching inbound leads

Two things usually happen after lead data is entered in a company’s database whether it’s marketing automation or CRM: 1) filtering bad data; 2) enriching incoming leads with more information using 3rd party solutions. (insert your ad here — just kidding :) )

Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)
Not every lead is created equal so it pays to have some sort of lead scoring system that correlates with the historic probability of closing a deal.

Lead nurturing campaigns help companies communicate with prospects. Educational content is a great way to nurture leads. Drip campaigns, newsletters, and webinars can help your marketing team qualify leads and understand when they are ready to discuss their specific problems with you. As soon as prospects hit a certain lead score they are moved to the Sales Qualified Leads stage.

LEARN MORE: In some cases MQL could be completely abundant. Tom Wentworth makes an interesting point about this in his article “Why I’m Killing the Marketing Qualified Lead”. My take on this subject is this: if your average deal size is large or your solution can’t be self-trialed by customers, then generating leads using marketing assets can still be effective. But if you are selling a self-serving solution like Slack, Dropbox or Google Apps, then you can drive customers directly to your product and skip lead forms. However, you still need to find a way to nurture and prioritize people coming through your product gates. Another interesting take on this topic by David Cancel and Dave Gerhardt from Drift — “Why We’re Throwing Out All Of Our Lead Forms And Making Content Free”.

Action required to move to the next stage: Lead score reaches the level needed to be moved to the SQL stage.

Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
At this stage, a sales development team conducts lead qualification. The qualification process depends on your target audience and it should provide your sales team with enough information to establish the level of pain or interest that the prospect has.

The BANT framework can be used in qualification process. The BANT stands for Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeframe.

NOTE: We need to also mention that if a company sells a complex solution or multiple people are involved in the purchasing process (decision maker, influencer, end-user), then a good qualification process will identify the goal and value points for each party involved in the buying process. Decision makers in two different companies might look to solve two different problems and your account executive will have more ammunition if the SDR can identify these differences.

Action required to move to the next stage: The SDR qualifies prospect using BANT approach.

Opportunity
When a lead passes all the necessary qualification parameters, it becomes an opportunity. The SDR will schedule a demo between the prospect and account executive.

It’s a very useful practice to assign a dollar amount based on the projected deal size for every opportunity. Doing this will help the SDRs to be become more skilled at qualifying and targeting outbound accounts. It’s also a good idea for account executives to prioritize opportunities based on deal sizes.

The account executive gives a demo to the prospect and setups a guided free trial. Getting customers to agree on specific metrics to measure the success of a free trial can increase the probability of closing and reduce the length of the sales cycle.

Action required to move to the next stage: Completed demo or guided free trial.

Proof of Concept (PoC)
The higher the deal size, the more important the proof of concept becomes in the sales process. For fully self-serving products, it’s easy to show a demo and give full access to the solution for a prospect to play with. But what if your product requires integration with third party data platforms?

Since setting up a trial period for a more complicated product requires extra resources from your team, the account executive and the prospect should agree on how success will be measured and what the potential deal size will be if the trial is deemed a success.

For technical products, a sales engineer can be brought into discussions with prospects.

Action required to move to the next stage: Negotiation and proposal delivery

Closed
This is the funnest stage of all. The customer sends the signed proposal and pays for the first invoice. You ring the sales bells while everyone celebrates with champagne. But the real work actually begins now. The customer success team needs to train and fully onboard the customer so that everyone on their team can access your product.

Action required to move down the funnel: product setup

Onboarding
The customer success team (CST) leads the onboarding process by training customers on how to use your solution. In some cases, the solution will have different user roles and multiple levels of access which complicates the onboarding.

Some companies run weekly product training webinars for all customers. During these sessions, the CST can walk the customers through the most common user path and showcase new features and changes to your product.

Individual training with your customer’s inside team can be very effective. The onboarding process never truly ends. The top tech companies realize that a happy customer is cheaper to maintain than acquiring new ones. A top CST will schedule monthly or bi-weekly meetings to review customer’s metrics and check whether the product is fully meeting their needs.

Action required to move to the next stage: Training completed

LEARN MORE: Lincoln Murphy has a few great articles on customer success and onboarding. He is an expert on customer success.

Renew / Upsell
The effectiveness of your customer success team is measured by renewal, upselling, and churn metrics. Typically, the customer success team starts the renewal conversation about 2–3 months before the annual contract is set to expire. But as we discussed earlier, if your Customer Success team communicates regularly with your customers you probably don’t have to worry about setting up a separate meeting for this. Your CST can bring up a conversation about contract renewal on one of the touch-base calls that it has.

Churn Rate — the annual percentage rate at which customers stop subscribing to a service.

LEARN MORE: Tom Tunguz wrote an interesting post on how ServicesNow tracks churn.

The sales process should be designed in a way where each stage identifies where the prospect is in the sales cycle and has specific deliverables that must be met before advancing to the next stage. By monitoring metrics of conversion on each stage, you can focus on ways to increase your sales effectiveness while building strong customer relationships, which lead to higher renewal rates.

LEARN MORE: This sales funnel is a simplified example. I want to remind you that this framework is not meant to be used as a cookie cutter solution. I highly recommend Jacco van der Kooij’s book “BLUEPRINTS For a SaaS Sales Organization” for a more detailed and in-depth analysis.
Also, we need to mention “The Sales Acceleration Formula” book by Mark Roberge as the best resource to understand HOW sales processes, goals, and workflows are changing depending on the different stages of the company.

Part 2 — Optimizing For Customer Acquisition


2.1. What Are The Most Common Leakages In Customer Acquisition Funnel?

Have you ever watched track and field relays? Take a minute and watch the women’s 4x100 final at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

What was one of the most important parts of this relay? I’m sure you already knew this, but the critical part of any relay is the baton handoff.

There are a few tricky parts in the baton handoff process. First, the runner (or sender) has to maintain as much speed as possible before the handoff. The receiver has to time perfectly the moment when to start accelerating — the goal is to receive the baton with as close to top speed as possible. Did you notice anything else when watching the relay?

When the handoff actually happens the receiver never looks at the runner but rather sticks her arm back while runner carefully places baton in her hand. To do it perfectly and to do it right requires practice (and trust).

As with track and field relay, customer handoffs from one team to the other present the highest risk of losing prospects due to lost data, wrong workflow, and poor process.

In the customer acquisition funnel, marketing is responsible for the top of the funnel and hands off prospects to the sales team. The sales team is responsible for closing the deal and then hands off customers to the customer success team. These two handoffs present the highest risk of mismanagement of your pipeline. There is also another handoff that is worth mentioning: the handoff between the sales development rep (SDR) and account executive (AE) happens inside the sales team.

Leakage #1 — Marketing-to-Sales Handoff

The marketing to sales handoff presents classic tensions between marketing and sales teams. Marketing says they’ve created tons of leads and sales complains about the quality of those leads.

Prioritize leads via lead scoring
When a company gets a high volume of inbound leads, the problem for the SDR becomes time management and prioritization. At this point, marketing has to understand how SDR teams qualify prospects and help the SDRs identify potential CLV or opportunity size.

LEARN MORE (updated 7/15/16): John Barrows, a sales coach, wrote a great post “The Sales Handoff” which breaks down the sequence of events between SDRs and AEs after setting up a prospect meeting.

One of the best ways for marketers to prioritize prospects is lead scoring. Lead scoring can be based on a prospect’s personal data such as the prospect’s company based on their email address (e.g., an @salesforce.com domain).

Ensure feedback loop between marketing and sales teams
Furthermore, marketers need a structural way to receive feedback on lead quality from the sales team. This is often overlooked since it is difficult to optimize lead scoring and prioritization without consistent and structural feedback loop coming from the sales team.

Experiment with SDRs reporting to VP of Marketing
Some companies let SDRs report to the head of marketing. For example, the VP of marketing oversees demand generation and prospect qualification which can lead to a more agile and responsive team. It is much easier to agree on requirements for a customer demo than it is to agree on more subjective metrics like lead quality.

Leakage #2 — Sales-to-Customer Success Handoff

The customer success team should have a clear customer onboarding plan.

Bring customer success to the sales process
The more technical the product or solution is the earlier customer success team should be brought up. Technical issues might come up during the sales process and to keep the sales cycle short by being able to respond to any onboarding or support questions it’s beneficial to have the customer success team participate in the sales process.

How to improve the customer handoff from one team to the other?

Agree on definitions
This goes without saying that your teams should use the same definitions. Very often we use terms interchangeably and we assume these terms have the same meanings for everyone. Your customer acquisition playbook should highlight all definitions and terms.

Agree on the process / workflows
Simply draw out your process — if you can’t draw it out you don’t have a process. It doesn’t have to be something overly complicated. Also, include rules, for example:

  • Prospect that hits a qualifying leads score should be contacted by SDR in 48 hours
  • Marketing should always pass “request a demo” leads to SDR immediately
  • Customer must receive an onboarding plan and schedule from your customer success team within 5 business days after the deal was signed

Track, measure, and optimize handoff
How long does it take your SDR team to call a prospect that hits a qualifying lead score? Obviously, conversion metrics from one stage of the other can help identify where handoff creates leakages. Your team can benefit from tracking the velocities mentioned in the previous section:

  • average time it takes an SDR to reach out to the lead that hit a target lead score;
  • average time it takes for customer to set up product;
  • average time onboarding time for the customer.

The most common leakages in the customer acquisition funnel occur when a prospect is passed from one team to another: from marketing to sales and from sales to customer success. Companies need to track how much is going through each stage and what rules guide transitions. Conversion rates track the former and velocity metrics track the latter.


Part 3 — Content Strategy


Infographic by Anna Iurchenko from Stanfy.

3.1. How Content Strategy Drives Customer Acquisitions

Content strategy is the essential part of customer acquisition process. The more you educate prospects, the more likely you’ll close the deal. Educate them about their pains, possible solutions, and how your product solves their problems. Companies with a balanced approach to content experience greater demand and a shorter sales cycle. Educational content improves demand and sales cycle can be shortened by addressing customer’s main concerns, roadblocks, and objections.

Content helps you convert prospects into customers by answering essential questions:

Why should a prospect care about the challenge you are solving? Why is it important?
Falls under awareness and educational category of content.

At this stage, the main goal is to get people interested in the topic. There is always going to be a portion of prospects that aren’t aware why they should care about the challenges that your solution solves. Research and statistics is a good way to get people’s attention. Awareness content is by definition simple and attention grabbing.

How can you educate the prospect?
Falls under the educational category of content

Now your prospect is aware of the challenges in the industry and it’s time to educate on how to overcome them and improve their job performance. You are not educating them on your product; you are merely educating them on how they can do their job better.

NOTE: the educational category of content on the diagram spreads across all stages of customer acquisition.

Sales of the future will be less about selling and more about education. It will be less about products and more about solutions.

An example of this is a car salesperson. In the past, they sold cars by providing information about specifications. Today, this information isn’t as important since we can quickly access information about any car model. In the future, the car salesperson may be like an individual consultant that helps customers find the right car based on their job or provide plans for using the car.

How can you solve the prospect’s problem?
Falls under the selection category of content.

Your prospects are aware of the problem and you’ve educated them about the strategies they can use or tactics they can implement. Now tell them how they can solve such challenges and how your solution can help the prospect in their job.

NOTE: this part of the story is even more powerful if you have done a positioning exercise and you know exactly how your solution fits current marketplace, trends, and challenges at hand.

Why should the prospect choose you?
Falls under the selection category of content.

Buying decisions for an enterprise is often a complex process that involves a decision maker, influencers, end-users and not all decisions are based solely on your solution and your product. On the other hand, there are many other similar or good enough solutions, from which a prospect can pick. Your sales reps should be well prepared to answer questions about how your product differs from the competition. Again, product positioning is very important. Ensure that your publicly available content addresses common objections and explains your positioning and competitive advantage.

How does the prospect use your solution?
Falls under the training category of content.

As we discussed earlier, getting customers to pay is just the middle of the funnel. The next step is to ensure that your customers derive value from your product or solution on a daily basis. And this is where the training content comes in. Training content should be in multiple formats (visual, video, text). Training content can be created internally by support, sales, product teams or externally by creating a community and shared knowledge base.

Simplified content strategy

Now that we’ve walked through the customer acquisition process from the viewpoint of content strategy, it’s important to remember that content is a key weapon in the company’s arsenal when it comes to attracting, engaging, converting, and retaining customers.

Content is used to educate prospects about their challenges, possible solutions, and how your product solves them. It’s also used to show how your solution is different from your competitor’s. Once customers signs up, it’s important to use content to quickly onboard them and to continue to educate them so they’ll become active and later renew. As you can see, content strategy is an integral part of the custom acquisition funnel.

Takeaways:

  • The common mistake companies make is creating too much awareness content and not enough educational, selection, and training content since it requires more resources.
  • Educational content impacts almost every step in the customer lifecycle and sales funnel. I have a strong opinion that customer education, if not yet, will become indispensable part of every enterprise.
  • While marketing should own content strategy, it is critical to have your sales and customer success teams participate in the content strategy formulation and content creation. As you noticed, content strategy spreads through each step of the customer lifecycle and the sales funnel.
  • We haven’t touched on important topics of how positioning and target customer profiles impact and influence content strategy.

3.2. What Are The Biggest Content Marketing Strategy Mistakes?

There are miles and miles of content that have been written about content marketing strategy. I believe there is just too much of “me-too” content out there, so before you decide to create anything, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Do we have a unique perspective to add to this conversation?
  2. Is the content quality good enough? Are we satisfying the curiosity of the sophisticated reader?

Moreover, there are certain places where you should not look for content, one of them is Google Search. Interviewing your prospects can be a valuable tactic to use when searching for content ideas. Most teams overlook the following aspects of effective content strategy:

Mistake #1 — Content strategy is only for the marketing team

While it is essential that marketing should own content strategy, it’s also critical to involve the whole company and especially sales and customer success to your content strategy and content creation process. Sales reps are hearing the same or similar objections during the sales process and over time they understand how one message can be more effective than other. Customer success teams frequently receive the same questions from multiple customers, so why can’t this information be used in content creation.

One of the most underrated and, at the same time, the most effective ways for company to create high performing content is to use internal customer usage data. If you sell a solution for outbound email automation, dig into your internal data and share data about average response rates, best days to send emails, how many emails it takes to receive a reply, how many steps the average outbound sequence takes, and so on. Your customers will love this and your competitors can’t easily replicate it.

Mistake #2 — Not creating a clear positioning and story

The way you position your company and product will drive your content strategy: what topics to write about, what voice to use, what terms and definitions to include in your content writing. Check out a few examples of how top tech companies position themselves to increase brand awareness and recognition.

Mistake #3 — Starting with content before creating target customer profiles

Conventional preaching to start with your target customer profiles is one of the very few approaches to content that the majority of marketers get right. Creating target customer profiles is not just about knowing your customer but also about understanding their goals, daily activities, problems, and values. Using target customer profiles, marketing teams can create a strategic messaging map that will act as a cheatsheet for your team.

Mistake #4 — Focusing too much on awareness content and not enough on educational

If someone says that their content marketing isn’t working, you can be 80% sure that the reason is too much focus on awareness content and not enough truly educational content is developed. High quality educational content is difficult to create, it requires deep industry knowledge. Often marketing does not possess this knowledge and processes aren’t yet built that allows marketing easy and frequent interaction with teams that have this industry knowledge. Since content marketing is usually only a priority for the marketing team, companies should consider incentivizing people to collaborate with marketing on content creation and make this part of the scheduled responsibility.

Mistake #5 — Not taking content distribution seriously

Ensure that your team has a content distribution plan. It is not enough to post something on your website, share it on social media, and include it to your next newsletter. Build a simple content distribution plan that will stretch over 7–14 calendar days. I have discussed this topic in a separate article — How To Improve Your Content Distribution Strategy.

Mistake #6 — Giving up too quickly

There is enough said about companies that give up on content too soon or those that do content marketing just because everybody is doing it and they have to do something.

Questions to ask: How to measure content effectiveness? What metrics to track?

Some companies fall into the trap of thinking that content marketing strategy is something that only the marketing team needs to worry about. Managers fail to understand that we are moving toward a future where enterprise sales and selling are more about customer education and consulting than anything else. With tons of new hot trends in marketing we forget that product positioning and story drives content strategy that builds strong brands. We often forget that it’s less about demographics and more about a customer’s values that drive buying decisions. Quality and not quantity of content is what matters. Even the most amazing content needs to be seeded across multiple resources so that it reaches the influencers that can help it go viral.


Summary

  • Customer Lifecycle helps companies understand how customers are experiencing your product and what actions they are taking. Each stage in the customer journey should precede with a customer action, for example: signup, creating proposal, paying for solution, renewing, and so on.
  • Not including ‘activated user’ and ‘active customer’ stage is one of the most common mistake companies make when designing a customer lifecycle. Tracking activation rate helps you improve product onboarding and 1st experience; while tracking DAU rate help you track consistency of value delivering to your customers.
  • Sales Funnel shows internal processes that companies need to follow in order to move prospects down the funnel effectively and efficiently.
  • Freemium companies like Dropbox, Slack are more focused on customer lifecycle since everyone can sign up and pay for the product. Companies that sell higher priced software that might require a longer sales cycle and implementation are more focused on sales funnel.
  • Content strategy does not end with marketing. Your sales and customer success team should contribute to your content knowledgebase. At the same time, marketing has to plan for content that will be used to convert prospects at the bottom of the funnel.
  • Awareness content type has the lowest impact on converting prospects to customers but more and more we see companies produce mostly awareness and me-too content that is perceived as very low quality.
  • Educational content touches every stage of customer lifecycle and sales funnel — this is by far the most important content category for companies to focus.
  • Handoffs between different teams are an integral part of the sales process. If a customer passes through each stage smoothly (i.e., smooth handoff), they are more likely to sign up for your product. And if the handoff between your sales team and customer success team is also smooth, the customer is more likely to renew.

UPDATE #1: Thanks to Anna Iurchenko, UX Designer from Stanfy, we now have great infographic to visualize customer acquisition process better.

Infographic by Anna Iurchenko from Stanfy.

UPDATE #2 (7/15/16): John Barrows, a sales coach, wrote a great post “The Sales Handoff” which breaks down the sequence of events between SDRs and AEs after setting up a prospect meeting.

UPDATE #3 (9/20/16): New guide on How To Design Lead Nurturing, Lead Scoring, and Drip Email Campaigns is now live!

UPDATE #4 (12/14/16): New article on Strategic Communication: How to Develop Strategic Messaging and Positioning is now live!