GTM Success

Thought Leadership That Maximizes Sales Funnel Throughput: Part I

By February 4, 2020 No Comments
Sales funnel infographic

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. And to give credit where it’s due, that also makes sense: There’s not much they can do until the prospect gets into the funnel.

For marketers to be good partners to sales, they need to understand how they’re affecting the sales funnel – even if their view encompasses the broader journey.

It’s really important for marketers to grasp that fact and incorporate it into their thinking about the buyer’s journey.

The buyer’s journey starts well before the sales funnel, during the buyer’s education phase. Marketers create pre-funnel thought leadership content to boost awareness and draw buyers in. Based on the personas they’re targeting, they often deploy buzzwords and broad ideas in the hope of being specific enough for the persona, while casting a wide enough net to grab a bunch of 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).

I’ll bet you’ve personally read tens of thousands of words and watched hours of videos on these topics in the last few months, all of it under the guise of thought leadership.

How many of them left you understanding something unique about the issue? Something that you hadn’t considered as a problem, and that could be specifically solved by the company that created the content? How many concepts do you remember because you found out that a specific company addressed them? And do you remember the name of that company?

Some companies – megavendors and the largest consulting firms – want to eat the whole enchilada on a major IoT project. If your company is something smaller than that – a software vendor that specializes in high-scale streaming analytics for the IoT, for instance – then you are a part of the solution.

If you try to create buzzword-compliant thought leadership that describes the entire problem, you’ll waste time talking about things that are important, but outside your scope. You’ll be educating on behalf of the megavendors.

And using a broader scope has implications for your sales funnel:

  • Your content consumers won’t be prepared for the kind of conversation your salespeople want. You may have gotten their interest by talking about the big picture, but they’re left out in the cold by your salespeople, who mostly just want to talk about what your company can do.
  • Your salespeople will be set up 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 every kind of technology topic.

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 the need.
  • Contextualizing IoT Data For Better Streaming Analytics
    This also provides concreteness, but in a different direction: We’re talking about 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 kinds of conversation does each prepare for between your consumer and your sales reps?

In the first case, your salespeople have to be ready for anything analytics-related.

In the second, they might discuss marrying up 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.)

More than anything else, thought leadership at this phase needs to raise questions. But they need to be about things that will drive people to consider the importance of your type of solution.

For instance, you can create high-throughput pre-funnel thought leadership by making them ask:

  • 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 getting? (Note that this isn’t the time to say how they’re doing it.)

In general, I appreciate content at this phase that has a single purpose, and is concise and visual. I want some of it to be ungated. I like it narrowly focused, as long as it’s focused for the right reasons.

Eliminate the Excuses

So why don’t we, as marketers, narrow our focus when we should? There are a lot of answers:

  • We don’t realize that we’re being too broad.
  • We haven’t identified our differentiators well enough.
  • We haven’t identified our target personas very well, so we’re not sure what conversations we should be starting in the first place.
  • We, or our sales compatriots, suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) on getting the most leads we can possibly get.

That last one is really important for sales/marketing alignment. Salespeople think they want more leads, and we’re under tremendous pressure to deliver them. You need to articulate to them why more focused content is better for them, and not just for 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 the people who are most likely to want good conversations with your salespeople.

And that increases 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.