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The Role of Content In An Account-Based Marketing Strategy

by Doug Davidoff | May 27, 2019 2:00:00 PM

content-marketingFew things are as misunderstood as content. In many ways content, and by extension content marketing, experienced a rebirth with the creation and mainstreaming of Inbound Marketing and the growth of marketing automation. As an executive shared with me many years ago, “Don’t spend money on marketing automation if you don’t spend a multiple of that on the content to use with your automation.”

In an Inbound Marketing context, content is a critical linchpin for the dominant Inbound tactic - search engine optimization (SEO). Content, laced with keywords, enabled people to find you. The more (good) content you created the more traffic you gain and the more leads you’d generate (at least that’s what the theory says). In a world where SEO is important, identifying the most important role for content generation and utilization is pretty easy.

In our work with companies that work in more highly defined industries/verticals selling fairly large ACV solutions, we’ve noticed that their approach to content is still being driven by the same guideline and expectations. But, it’s not effective.
Here’s why:

  • If you’re executing an account focused/account-based strategy, then website traffic should not be a primary metric.
  • When selling to a highly defined, targeted market, you are selling to a niche, which means search traffic often gives you the wrong signal about content effectiveness.
  • With an Inbound approach, content that generates traffic enables you to identify potential customers who fit your profile and have needs you can solve. In an account-based strategy, you don’t need to identify prospects because you’ve already identified them (and if you haven’t, then please stop saying you’re implementing account-based marketing). Inbound Marketing solves the lead identification problem.

Account-based marketing programs are most effective when your Ideal Client Profile (ICP) makes it fairly easy to identify those companies that fit that profile. This typically means that you’re marketing and selling to (at least) mid-market companies. These companies increasingly have more complex buying processes that you must navigate.

As a result, you have a fundamentally different problem to solve with your content. Instead of identifying prospects, you must initiate engagement and persuade multiple audiences within your identified companies. Who is engaging with your content and when they are engaging becomes far, far more important than how many are. (Please note, I am not saying who and when don’t matter when executing Inbound Marketing specifically or Content Marketing generally, I simply stating that the prioritization and weighting shifts significantly in account-based strategies.)

What’s more, as the size of your ICP increases, so does the likelihood that consensus-based buying processes (intended or otherwise) becomes your biggest barrier to generating quality sales opportunities and making high-quality sales. Inertia and complexity build to become a black hole for demand generation efforts. The good news is that content is a powerful tactic to address these barriers.

The Role of Content

  • Capture Attention of your targeted personas
  • Rally Support around your idea
  • Champion Change within the organization that you are targeting
  • Lead to Your Solution by delivering insights
  • Spread the Message Internally
  • Focal Point for Socializing & Consensus Building

The 3 Jobs to be Done

At Imagine we take a Jobs to be Done (JTBD) approach to just about everything we do. We don’t like to look at content through the lens of creating content. Instead, we prefer to hire content. When we hire content for an account-focused strategy there are three OKRs in its “job description”.

1. Pre-Suade

When you study how people make decisions and realize how the real buyer’s journey unfolds you realize that decisions that lead to purchasing solutions begin far earlier than most realize and that we are all actually unaware of the real stimulus that leads us to pay attention to some items while ignoring (or simply being unaware of) other things. Robert Cialdini, the author of the book Influence, calls this phenomenon pre-suasion, and it’s one of the most valuable things your content can do.

Presence in the Epiphany

Let’s face it. It doesn’t matter how powerful your brand is, how good your product is or how big your company is; the vast majority (like 80% or more) aren’t thinking about you, your company or even the issues that your solutions address today. They’re far too busy dealing with far too many other issues for you to be on their mind.

Welcome to the Epiphany. Your content’s mission (should you choose to accept it) is to be relevant when you and your solution are not. This means that you must create content that is focused on the issues that customers wrestle with on an ongoing basis, even if that topic isn’t directly related to what you are trying to sell.

Key Metrics

  • Target account views
  • Target account visitors
  • Target account time
  • ICP content engagement
  • New target contacts generated

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Seed & Stimulate Insights

There’s likely a missing persona in your strategy. (You have done personas, haven’t you?) The Initiator is that person/people, independent of title or role, who is always on the lookout for new and better ways and has the credibility/authority to get sh!t started. They’re likely the ones that everyone goes to in order to “bounce an idea,” or “get a take.” They should be the focus of your early journey content, with the ability to seed and stimulate your insights.

Key Metrics
  • Target account revisit rate
  • Target account submissions
  • Target social interactions
  • Cross organization engagement
  • Target time on site
  • Target email engagement

2. Initiate

It’s possible that a right-fit company currently wrestling with a problem that you can help with will view a piece of content from you and think, “Holy Cow! Where. Have. You. Been. All. My. Life!” They may then go to your website, jump on your chat and request a demo or sales call as soon as possible. Anything’s possible.

I will say, however, that I wouldn’t bet my company that this will happen frequently enough to achieve my growth objectives. The next job for your content is to initiate action that leads to better opportunities for your sales team.

Generate/Stimulate Qualified Conversations

The biggest mistake, and the reason for so much disappointment around nearly all forms of content marketing (a recent study from Heinz Marketing and ON24 found that less than 10% of marketers say their content marketing is effective), is they expect it to do too much. Content rarely “sells.” What it does do, however, is to create great leverage and acceleration for those that do.

Key Metrics

  • First Interactions
  • Meaningful Conversations
  • New contact engagement from target accounts
  • Connect rate
  • Advance rate
  • Email engagement
  • Opportunity creation

3. Sales Enablement

The world is too complex and too noisy to rely on sales interactions alone to drive the velocity your business needs to sustain meaningful growth. When you add the growing role of consensus-driven purchasing to the mix, it’s damn near impossible. Our research shows that the lack of effective content utilization negatively impacts the economic value that salespeople can create by 33 - 50%.

Your content should directly aid in making more sales.

Make Sales Efforts More Productive and Increase Capacity Without Actually Increasing Capacity

Whenever a salesperson needs to do something, they create a problem for their company. A salesperson can only take one action at one time. This is a significant constraint/bottleneck. So if you want two actions at one time and you only have one salesperson, you also only have one choice - hire another salesperson.

I’ve learned that sales organizations suffer from what I call the stadium problem. If I wanted to build a football stadium for a popular team I need to choose between two metrics to decide how big to build my stadium (and by extension how much the stadium would cost me). Do I want to build my stadium to serve the average daily attendance or to serve the maximum number of people I’ll be able to attract to the stadium on approximately 8 Sundays?

If a sales organization wants to be able to have 50 sales conversations at 2 pm on Tuesday, they’re going to need 50 salespeople do it (even if they don’t have the demand to have 50 quality conversations every other hour of the week). This is what leads so many organizations to hire more salespeople prematurely and why the myth that to grow more sales you need to hire more salespeople is so prevalent and engrained.

And this is where your content can become your most powerful and most valuable method. For example, the length of a sales cycle is a very common metric used to judge the efficiency of sales organizations. However, a more valuable metric is the time spent on a sales opportunity. The more time you can free up for salespeople, the more time they’ll have to do the things that only they can do. In my world, that’s the #1 job for content.

Key Metrics

  • Opportunity creation
  • Pipeline velocity
  • Cross organization content engagement
  • Target account content utilization
  • Hidden influencer discovery
  • Sales time per sale
  • Win rate
  • Deal size
  • Margin

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