Armies of content developers are packaging research results, expert opinions, and success stories into papers, podcasts, videos, and events… all of them rich with hard-earned insights. But does all this content fuel business development efforts? Does it help your sales executives educate customers struggling to make good decisions and get results?
In our work with marketing teams — particularly those trying to connect to an executive audience — we often find there is a disconnect between content creators and sales professionals on the front lines who want tools that help strike up meaningful conversations with clients and prospects. It is not for lack of quality or ideas, but rather a problem of actionable relevance. As one seller at a large technology company put it, “In reviewing a recent study we published, I found it difficult to find the key messages to share with a CIO, which is my target client. The study reported the data rather than spelling out our point of view on actions, outcomes, and next steps for someone like my client to take.”
Actionable relevance matters now more than ever. Executive buyers come to the table more educated and informed, with a desire to get value even more quickly. The same seller commented, “C-levels are becoming much more savvy and we need to be better prepared for a much deeper level of conversation.” It behooves content marketers to present information in a way that hastens deeper conversation and ensures that all of the value embedded in the content is available for the taking.
Stand in the shoes of your users
As you design and develop your content pieces, think about the focus from the perspective of a seller, a client rep or even one of your own executives. Could that person tell a succinct story from what you have laid out? Would the story summarize the output — without lengthy review or deep analysis — into an elevator pitch that spells out what someone should do differently based on the content? If not, take the time to extract the relevant story line for each audience and package it clearly.
Think off-ramps and guideposts
Particularly for major reports, key events, and lengthy videos, consider creating a conversation kit. Content creators can provide a set of tools, summaries, highlights, and explicit paths for action — all of which help your colleagues maximize the value of the content when speaking with clients and prospects.
For example, you can consider creating:
- An interview guide for sales to discuss findings with a client
- A spider chart that plots a client’s position relative to its peer universe for a few key indicators
- A reference guide of key experts for sales to share with clients so they can follow up on key questions that arise from the research.
We also recommend creating what we call “off-ramps:” mapping out defined activities or actions to take with the client based on the findings or observations at key junctures in the piece. For example, say your team prepares a report about getting business value from the cloud. In the section where you talk about best practices, you may include a customized section that benchmarks the client relative to high performers (and allows your sales team to have deeper, more meaningful conversations). These extra tools designed specifically for internal sellers help to scale the impact of the content and extend the life of your ideas and investment.
As an example, Karla Bousquet, Director of Client Executive Marketing at IBM Corp., shares IBM’s approach to leveraging high-level event content: “A critical component for our C-suite events is helping client reps engage more effectively with the content during and after the event. Our teams package summaries, help to identify related next steps, link case studies, and map the event content themes to potential paths forward to help our executives take action with clients.”
Co-create for relevance
Take time to engage and involve clients in your thought leadership development. As you work to extract meaning and relevance from your ideas and output, test them with clients. Set up a thought leadership review panel, conduct interviews to source ideas and share findings, and test assumptions and talk through their perspective on what actions to take based on what you created. If you take the time to define the conclusions and actions together with a subset of your trusted clients, you improve the value and usefulness of the content… and your clients will usually evangelize the output to others.
Heather Higgins, Strategy and Analytics Marketing Leader for IBM Global Business Services, recently saw the power of client co-creation firsthand. The GBS team was in the process of finalizing the output of a global research effort and decided to share the content with a group of key clients as part of an advisory meeting. The feedback changed the direction of the final piece.
Higgins explains, “We went in thinking the content was close to final, and received a set of specific comments and thoughtful reactions that helped us understand what resonated with our clients and what did not. We got clear direction about how to make the output more useful to our clients, and therefore more impactful for us.” Higgins stressed the importance of the shift to earlier collaboration when it comes to content. “We used to share results after publication. With this piece, we started to involve a few clients in research design, and then tested the output with a group of client leaders. Going forward we will continue to look for opportunities to bring clients earlier into our thinking.”
Extract, extract, extract
Just like the executives with whom they are trying to connect, sellers have busy schedules and short attention spans. Keep a rigorous focus on boiling down the most relevant findings and recommendations, and be sure to make these accessible. If you make it easy to see what to do based on your ideas and insights, you will find your content in constant use.
Remember that great content is only half the battle. For content marketing to engage customers and prospects and bring about new business opportunities, it needs to provide a platform for conversation and action. Building an explicit bridge to relevance ensures that your content investment will have more impact and value.