I’ve been in the content marketing business for 15 years—longer, in fact, than the phrase “content marketing” has been in the content marketing business. I played midwife at the industry’s birth, delivering content marketing plans for IT businesses before content marketing even had a name. I watched the industry grow and mature.
Every few years, industry gurus announce its imminent death, to much initial dismay and hand-wringing, then relief as the realization sinks in that no, not dead yet. I’ve seen it enough times, and shaken my head at it enough times, and watched the industry long enough to know a false alarm when I hear one. And I’m hear to say, this one is not a false alarm. Let’s take a look.
Where it was once possible for even a small business to make significant headway with a nimble, well-executed content marketing plan, that opportunity is all but gone. With the exception of a few niche technical markets, the internet is flooded with outstanding, useful, highly optimized content targeted to nearly every industry and persona imaginable. The days when a single blog post could readily generate lively conversation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue without a massive publishing house, ad campaign, and social media effort are gone.
Content marketing is no longer a game changer. It’s table stakes, and if you’re planning to put your bid in, you’d better be prepared to gamble against major players with big money to spend. Unless–and here’s where smart content marketers will be turning their eyes next–unless, as I say, you’re prepared to complement your table stakes with a bid on the right horse. The one that will let even the little guys stay in the game.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at Hubspot. A $115 million business built on enabling content marketing (under the name of “Inbound marketing”). They’ve led the way for several years, touting the capability of content marketing for helping the innovative company compete against the “800-pound gorilla.” They haven’t come out and announced the death of content marketing–why would they?–but if you take a look at where they’ve been investing over the past twelve months, the writing on the wall becomes clear:
Sales, sales, and sales. And, if you’re good at reading that writing on the wall, you’d do well to follow where it leads.
For those of us who make our living on content, sales enablement is the next big frontier, the opportunity to make a difference for the businesses we serve. For businesses, it’s the next big opportunity to gain competitive advantage before everyone else gets on the bandwagon and weighs it down.
If content marketing is the table stakes, sales enablement is your opportunity to double down and win big.
According to the latest Chief Sales Officer (CSO) Insights report, sales effectiveness (based on companies meeting their sales revenue goals) is down to a measly 57.1%. This means that more than 40% of companies are not making their sales targets.
That sucks. Sort of.
To forward thinkers, pain means opportunity. And if there’s pain anywhere today, it’s in sales. The success of content marketing has something to do with this. Buyers now are armed with more information than ever before. They don’t even contact sales people until they’ve consumed six or seven pieces of content (on average). The role of the salesperson has changed, and it’s harder than ever for salespeople to differentiate themselves and provide value to buyers. In some businesses, where salespeople used to be nurturers and problem-solvers, they’ve become order-takers.
This is bad news for companies, because buyers who think they know what they want have a nasty habit of looking for the lowest price they can find.
And we, the content marketers, have created this monster.
And we, the content marketers, can defeat it.
To do so, we have to shift our focus from simple lead generation—the battle cry of content marketing for the past five-plus years—to revenue generation. Organizations will do well to tie marketing departments more tightly to sales departments to make them responsible not for leads or analytics (alone), but for revenue generated. Content marketers, meanwhile, must shift their focus to two primary areas:
- Better leads
- Better sales support
If sales departments have one complaint about marketing departments (and, let’s face it, they have more than one complaint), it’s that the quality of leads generated is poor. Marketers, of course, love to complain that salespeople just aren’t following up on the leads generated.
To solve the problem, we have to stop pointing fingers and start working together. Let’s take a quick high-level peek at how one might align content with a standard sales process:
- Prospecting. Marketers can support sales teams by developing content for LinkedIn and other platforms, to help salespeople develop their standing, connect with new prospects, and nurture existing relationships.
- Qualifying Leads. Checklists, ebooks, and other forms of content can support salespeople in quickly analyzing and qualifying/disqualifying prospects, so they can spend more time on high-quality opportunities.
- Nurturing Opportunities. Once a prospect is qualified as a sales opportunity, content in the form of newsletters, press releases, case studies, and white papers can support the salespeople in educating and nurturing the opportunity.
- Closing Deals. The current standard proposal and RFP process inside most companies is a patchwork affair that involves pulling up a recent proposal and editing it to fit the new opportunity, then hoping to goodness you haven’t left another company’s name somewhere inside the proposal. Content providers can streamline and standardize this process by creating modular content that salespeople use to populate proposals and RFPs.
Alongside all of this prospect-facing content, is an opportunity for content writers to create training and other internal resources for salespeople to access on an as-needed basis to help them move through the sales process.
Y’all. Content marketing is dead.
Long live sales enablement.
Am I right or am I right? I’m willing to admit I might be wrong, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Stay tuned for an upcoming series aimed at helping content marketers and copywriters navigate and thrive in the new environment.
Update: I wrote this article on Monday, before hearing the news that one of the great influences in my life, my dear professor and friend, had died that morning. My heart is heavy and, had I known, I would not have had the heart to write this. He, however, showed up for work every day of his life, even the one after his own father died. He was grading papers in the hospital the night before he himself died. If he can show up, then I will as well. Thus, though it is no great Odyssey, I dedicate this article to a man who was a great among men, Kenneth L. Deal. How fitting that I should write about the death of my industry, and its rebirth into something new, at such a time.
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.