Let’s buck a trend in marketing and stop talking about the buyer’s journey.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not bashing it. It’s a holistic approach that focuses on the buyer’s process rather than any internal processes — and that buyer-centric approach is really beneficial.
But salespeople tend to focus on the sales funnel, which also makes sense: There’s not much they can do until the prospect gets into the funnel.
To be good sales partners, marketers must understand how they affect the sales funnel – even if their view encompasses the broader journey — and incorporate it into their thinking about the buyer’s journey.
The buyer’s journey starts during the education phase, which they encounter well before the sales funnel.
Marketers create pre-funnel thought leadership content to boost awareness and attract buyers. Based on the personas they’re targeting, marketers often deploy buzzwords and broad ideas both specific enough for those personas but still wide enough to grab many leads.
And they’re often shooting themselves in the foot.
Buzzwords Aren’t Enough
Think of the number of buzzword-compliant thought leadership pieces or videos you’ve seen recently.
- Industry 4.0
- Smart Cities
- Internet of Things (IoT)
- Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
You’ve probably read tens of thousands of words and watched hours of videos on these topics in the last few months, all under the guise of thought leadership.
- Presented something unique about an issue?
- Raised an issue you hadn’t considered a problem that could be specifically solved by the company that created the content?
- Highlighted concepts you remember because you learned that a specific company addressed them?
- Offered content memorable enough that you remember the name of the company?
Some companies like megavendors and the largest consulting firms want to eat the whole enchilada on a major IoT project. If your company is smaller – a software vendor that specializes in high-scale streaming analytics for the IoT, for instance – then you are a part of the solution.
Trying to create buzzword-compliant thought leadership that describes the entire problem wastes time talking about things that are important, but outside your scope. Now you’ve begun to educate on behalf of the megavendors.
Using a broader scope has implications for your sales funnel, too:
- Your content consumers won’t be prepared for the kind of conversation your salespeople want. You may have piqued their interest by talking about the big picture, but they’re left out in the cold by your salespeople, who are focused on what your company can do.
- You’ll inadvertently set up your salespeople to fail in the conversations that you’ve lined up for them. Their job is to sell software or services, not to have general conversations about all technology topics.
Narrow Your Focus
Consider the difference between these titles:
- The Role of Analytics in the IoT
This could be almost anyone, right? (Search “role of analytics in the IOT” to see how many people it is, in fact.) It probably won’t get much Google juice; it’s about analytics, but we can’t get any sense of differentiation out of it.
- Why Streaming Analytics Needs Scale
This has a more concrete meaning, directing the consumer toward a specific need – analytics at scale – and promises to educate her about this need.
- Contextualizing IoT Data For Better Streaming Analytics
This title also provides concreteness but in a different direction: We’re focused on data that’s used in IoT analytics, not the analytics itself.
All of these are possible thought leadership pieces that talk about delivering real-time insights. (Remember real-time insights? It’s a song about real-time insights.) But what conversations does each title prepare your sales reps to discuss with your consumer?
- In the first case, your salespeople have to be ready for anything analytics-related.
- In the second, they might discuss marrying together Kafka and AI.
- In the third, the conversation could easily move to master data management, graph databases, or other similar topics.
(This isn’t an excuse to talk about your solution in education-phase content, by the way. You’re still supposed to be developing thought leadership, not a product pitch.)
In this phase, thought leadership should raise questions. But topics should focus on what will drive people to consider the importance of your type of solution.
You can create high-throughput pre-funnel thought leadership by encouraging people to ask themselves:
- What if I don’t consider this issue in my business context?
- What are my competitors doing?
- What are the relevant definitions? (Note: Not definitions of big things like “AI”, but of focused definitions such as “contextualizing data for streaming analytics”)
- What are new concepts that were glossed over in big-picture content from other vendors?
- What hidden issues were glossed over in that same context? (These might be land mines for your competition.)
- What are my peers doing and what benefits are they receiving? (Note that this isn’t the time to say how they’re doing it.)
In general, I appreciate concise, visual content with a single purpose in this phase. I want some of it to be ungated. I like it narrowly focused when it’s focused for the right reasons.
Eliminate the Excuses
So why don’t we, as marketers, narrow our focus when we should?
- We don’t realize that we’re being too broad.
- We haven’t thoroughly identified our differentiators.
- We haven’t identified our target personas very well, so we’re not sure what conversations to start.
- We, or our sales compatriots, suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) on getting the most leads possible.
That last bullet point is critical for sales/marketing alignment. Salespeople think they want more leads, and we’re under tremendous pressure to deliver them. You must articulate why (and how) more focused content benefits them and not just you.
Yes, focusing your high-level, pre-funnel thought leadership on what you sell might not appeal to as many people. That’s okay: You’re not targeting just anyone. You’re targeting those most likely to want good, substantive conversations with your salespeople.
And those conversations increase funnel throughput before the prospective client even gets into your funnel.
Next week, we’ll talk about thought leadership content that maximizes sales funnel throughput when the consumer finally enters the funnel – the solution phase. Join us!
Related: Five steps to a content strategy in the new year
Need help delivering that essential pre-funnel thought leadership content? Learn about RTInsights GTM’s services.