Marcus Sheridan knows a lot about the value of content. He saved his pool and spa business using it and has gone on to be a sought after international speaker on the value of content marketing and content strategy. I remember reading his story years ago when content marketing started to gain acceptance as a viable marketing strategy. So when I saw he was doing a session at the HubSpot Inbound Conference, I decided to drop by.
How to create content that sells
Sheridan's session was called "Content that Sells - 7 Essential Steps to Massive Results and ROI." In it, he said that most content doesn't sell or generate revenue. Of course, that's what marketers need their content to do to prove to management their programs are worth maintaining. So what does Sheridan suggest you do?
Always start with a sales-first approach. Sheridan said that leadership and sales must be involved with content from the beginning. If your answer to the question, "how much content would sales want to integrate with their sales process right now" is little, then you have a problem. If sales don't see the value in your content to share with their prospects and customers, then you have to question if you're producing the right content.
Start at the bottom of the funnel and develop content your customers would care about. Most marketers start at the very top of the funnel (awareness), and according to Sheridan, it's wasted effort. Sheridan referred to the "Big 5": Cost, Problems, Competitor comparison, Reviews, and Best. If you create content that addresses these topics, you're moving in the right direction.
For example, you might think writing about cost is hard to do, especially if your product or service has multiple tiers and can get a little complicated. But if you explain how cost works and why the answer is "it depends," you provide information that helps with the decision process. Sheridan also suggested explaining the marketplace to show value. Sheridan wrote a book a few years ago called "They Ask, You Answer" (he updated it in 2019), about openly talking about problems customers have before they become a concern. His idea is that if you talk about the issues upfront and address them as best you can, your content will rise to the top of search results, and you help customers make the right decisions. The point of the Big 5 is that you want to become the trusted voice people go to to find the information they need.
The third thing you need to do, said Sheridan, is to make Sales part of your Marketing team. They are the subject matter experts and should be the ones on camera, he said. Sales teams must understand how today's buyers have changed and how to think like them. I've noticed an uptick in the use of videos in SDR emails that help engage with potential buyers.
The next three are all about how to best leverage content:
- Create a dedicated learning center on your website instead of a simple blog ("be the Wikipedia of your space").
- Integrate content into the sales process.
- Let people in sales and across the company know what content is available to use (what's new, what's getting results, what's ahead, and so on).
Finally, he talked about the need to measure content ROI to show that it is driving revenue. If you don't measure, then you don't understand what content is working and how to create more of it.
Most of what Sheridan talked about sounded to me like sales enablement. Understanding what content Sales need to integrate into their processes is essential. Addressing the Big 5 topics is key for sales. Getting salespeople in front of the camera can work if done well. I've talked about the role sales enablement plays in marketing strategy before, and I see the two teams tightly integrated to make it work.
Building a learning center is more of a traditional content marketing approach. It should include a mix of product-focused content and thought leadership style content, but it's also useful to Sales.
I think my key takeaway from Sheridan's talk is that content marketing is just as important as ever, but that it's also evolving to support more than an audience-based thought leadership strategy. I think this evolution is necessary. Marketing does spend a lot of time understanding the customer, but so do Sales. The two need to work closely together to understand the kind of content that they need to produce. And Sales need to integrate more content into their processes that is not product-based. They need to nurture their relationships, and content is a perfect way to do that.