By Robert Rose published June 2, 2010

A Quick and Dirty Way to Segment your B2B Content Marketing

If you’re a B2B marketer you’ve inevitably heard sales say things like this:

“Yeah, we’re getting leads from all that content you guys in marketing are writing – but they’re all tire kickers.”

Or (my favorite): “We don’t need more leads. . . we need better leads.”  What now?

You want to be able to address these questions from sales with answers that are really specific. For instance, wouldn’t it be nice to be armed with this kind of info?

  • What kind of leads is Google PPC (or any tactic I’m tracking) delivering? Are they early tire kickers or last-minute shoppers?
  • At what stage in the funnel are most of my content marketing leads dropping in?
  • Which content is resonating best with what part of the funnel? For example, is my “How-To Guide” being used more at the beginning of the buying cycle – or rather to justify putting our company on the short list?

How do you get the answers to these questions? Map your content to your buyer personas by sales stages.

While you can—and at some point should—go through a more comprehensive content mapping and segmentation exercise, this two-part post promises a quick and dirty strategy. Done well, this process–which shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours–will give you an extraordinarily effective and quick method to answer these questions and look like a content marketing genius to your boss or your client.

This first post walks you through how to map your content to the the buyer persona and the sales cycle. The follow up post will give you tips on how to use this content map to plan for additional content and measure what is and isn’t working so you can answer those questions for sales.

Step 1: Develop buyer personas

Before you get started, you need to have buyer personas. If you are looking for more specifics on buyer personas , there have already been a couple of posts on the Content Marketing Institute that dug  into the specifics: Keith Wiegold had a post about thinking about more than demographics and yesterday Chris Moritz provides some good links to get more info. You can also check out some great resources at Savvy B2B Marketing and at David Meerman Scott’s web site.

You need one persona for every group you are marketing to. For instance, if you’re in charge of marketing for a technology company and your Widget-Integration-Management-Program (or WIMP) Solution is marketed to the Director of IT and the CFO at financial service companies, you would have two WIMP buyer personas: a Director of IT at a Regional Bank, and the CFO at that bank.

Step 2: Understand your sales funnel

You’ll also want to have your sales team’s funnel handy. These are the stages that a lead goes through on its way to being a customer. It will look something like this:

Raw Lead > Opportunity > Qualified Prospect > Customer

Step 3: Build your content segmentation grid

Now, let’s build your content segmentation grid. You’ll do this along two axes. The first axis is the personas, and the second is your sales funnel.

For this exercise we’re going to assume that once your persona is a customer, you stop marketing to them. This isn’t something I would recommend, and there’s a whole other set of fun exercises to go through for that. But that’s for a different post.

Once you have your grid, start filling in the cells. What goes in the cells? Well, that’s where you start identifying your inventory of content. So your grid might ultimately look something like this:

Content Segmentation Grid

One thing you may notice in this example is that most of our content marketing is focused at the top of the funnel. This is almost universally common, so don’t worry if this is true for you as well. We almost always start a B2B content marketing strategy by focusing on awareness and education, which is almost inevitably at the top of the funnel.

One benefit of this exercise is that  it very often points out that your content marketing is either very light or very heavy on one stage or one persona.

Once you are armed with your content segmentation grid, you are ready to start developing content and measuring what is and isn’t working. I’ll take you through those steps in my next post. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, what questions do you have about content mapping? Let me know in the comments.

Author: Robert Rose

Robert Rose is the founder and chief strategy officer of The Content Advisory - the consulting and education group of The Content Marketing Institute. As a strategist, Robert has worked with more than 500 companies including global brands such as Capital One, Dell, Ernst & Young, Hewlett Packard, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Robert is the author of three books. His latest, Killing Marketing, with co-author Joe Pulizzi has been said to “rewrite the rules of marketing”. His last book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing, was called a “treatise, and a call to arms for marketers to lead business innovation in the 21st century.” Robert is also an early-stage investor and advisor to a number of technology startups, serving on the advisory boards for a number of companies, such as DivvyHQ and Tint. Follow him on Twitter @Robert_Rose.

Other posts by Robert Rose

  • jefflogden

    Could not agree more, Robert. The process you describe is almost exactly what I preach to the clients of Find New Customers. Build the foundation first.

    A deep understanding of buying stages and buyer personas is a critical element of a content marketing strategy. The biggest mistake companies make is by creating content without a map.

    Jeff Ogden, the Fearless Competitor
    President, Find New Customers

  • David Locke

    In a B2C situation, your funnel will be one document deep. But, in a B2B situation, Bly recommends that your funnel be no fewer five documents deep. There is much to do before you have a qualified lead.

  • Robert Rose

    David…. thanks so much for the comment… If I'm understanding what you're saying, I'm not sure I'd agree. I think many times we can wrap ourselves so tightly around having “more” content that we lose sight of the reasons we're doing it. I've seen content marketing work with one document at every stage – and I've seen it work where there are tens of pieces at every stage. Agreed there is much to do before you have a qualified lead – but not all of that work will necessarily fall to content marketing. Thanks again for a though provoking comment.

  • Robert Rose

    Jeff… definitely and thanks for the confirmation… You said in one sentence what it took me three paragraphs to say 😉 Thanks.

  • Robert Rose

    Hi everybody…. Laura Nurzynski had tried to comment on the blog – and she had a little trouble with Disqus – and she and I ended up having a nice email chat…. I thought her comments were right on, so I asked her permission to include her comment and my response here… So here you go…

    Comment from: Laura Nurzynski
    Very good points and a good place to start.

    But another angle to consider is how the appropriate content maps to your buyers “buying” cycle. When we create content at IDC to support our clients' content-based marketing efforts, we first indentify our clients' target audience (buying persona) plus buyer cycle stage (i.e., general awareness/education, preference, purchase and post-purchase; within each stage there are specific tasks or “jobs” you prospects/customers need to accomplish such as, short list creation, business case development, final recommendation and decision, etc.) We also consider our clients ideal outcome or action they want their target prospect/customer to take once they interact with the content or messaging. Once we understand those criteria, we can recommend voice, content format(s), topic, length, etc. to develop compelling content to reach each buyer persona and stage and support the desired goals of the program or campaign.

    Laura Nurzynski
    IDC, Group Vice President,
    Go-to-Market and Sales Enablement Services

    My Reponse to her:

    Your points are so well taken – and really are the “next” step for someone diving into this….. I might argue (especially if I've had a good glass of wine in me first) that in a well-thought out process, what you're calling “buying” cycles should already match your “sales stage” cycles – so that really you and I are just discussing semantics in terms of segmentation….

    But really the meat of what you're talking about is talking about a “goal” (or ideal takeaway) for each and every content piece you're producing. That's really a much deeper exploration of content marketing strategy – and something that I've seen be extraordinarily valuable. And, measured well, starts to give you even more insight (e.g. how many are we getting to that “goal” of each content piece).

  • Gitie House

    Hi Robert,

    Plenty of food for thought. Thanks for the tips.


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  • Heyrobertdavis

    Building on Laura Nurzynski's comments, when we define the buyer-driven process stages, we focus on three things: topic, voice, and format. “Topic” is best thought of, in our experience, as the best way to successfully answer real questions buyers have at that stage of the process. Thinking of the buying process as a series of questions, which constitute “gates” to progress, helps focus content topic on delivering knowledge appropriate to the buying stage. Next, “voice” is increasingly important – that is, do buyers want this message to come from your brand, from a position of 3rd party expertise, or from social/community influencers? A mix is best overall, and with more insight you can get more specific. Finally, and lastly, comes “format.” IDG research shows that format actually matters least in a content-driven buying process, assuming you aren't using forms that are totally off-putting, e.g., a 2-hour video without chapterized entry points.

    In my experience, working with sales and marketing to identify and agree on the questions that constitute each stage (or sub-stage) of the buying process can be a powerful aligning force, getting everyone to realize that buying is a buyer-driven process, and to agree that there are things that need to happen before you can expect to close the sale, today, regardless of where the buyer is in the process.