Why do some people fail at B2B content marketing? It’s simple. They don’t follow the 5 keys to success.

What are the 5 keys?That’s what’s covered in the following post.

Below you’ll find proven techniques, strategies and ways to have more success in building and implementing your B2B content marketing program.

1. KNOW THE THREE DIFFERENT PHILOSOPHIES TO GUIDE YOUR B2B CONTENT

You’d be surprised how many people get into content marketing without a deep understanding of how to be successful. Why does this happen?

Probably because most content programs start as small experiments. People have some success; what happens next? They want more.

Then what happens? More people in their company see what’s happening and want in on the action. Instead of fulfilling endless requests for content, you need to understand the three philosophies for getting into B2B content marketing in the first place.

Here they are…

 1 – Customer Centric (100% focused on customer needs)

2 – Business Centric (starts with a business problem)

3 – Brand Centric (long-term brand building)

Does your company have to choose one approach? No. You can definitely switch things up. However, don’t make the mistake of using all three approaches in one piece of content. Why? You’ll find yourself serving different objectives and spinning your wheels.

And more importantly, your customer will see your content lacks purpose, which leads to a lack of engagement.

To help bring these three different approaches to life, I’ve provided a sample vision statement to think about when creating a piece of content.

You’ll quickly see how each approach is unique.

Customer-Centric Vision Statement

“We’re creating this content exclusively to build trust and goodwill with our customer. We do this by helping them with [INSERT THEIR PROBLEM]. Once we’ve earned their trust through content, they’ll be more open to working with our company. We’re not using content to explain what we do or how we can help, that comes later. This is all about genuinely understanding their problems and being the person to help solve them (without mentioning our products and services).”

Business-Centric Vision Statement

“We know what it takes to close a sale and need B2B content to advance the customer relationship. We’re using content to demonstrate our expertise, better explain what we do and show examples of how we’ve helped other companies. Once our customer sees our content, they’ll be more likely to buy from us.”

Brand-Centric Vision Statement

“Beyond helping customers with solutions, our business serves a higher purpose. We use B2B content marketing to bring the stories of our people life and make a real impact. This content isn’t about hitting a quarterly number, it’s about standing out from the crowd and building a human connection with our customer.”

 


2. KNOW THE FIVE MEASUREMENT APPROACHES

Measuring B2B content is tricky. Why is it so hard? There’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

Throughout the years, I’ve used several approaches to measure impact. Is there a perfect approach? No. That’s why you need to choose the best one for your situation.

When thinking through the following five options, you need to understand your company culture and sales structure. Why is this important? If one of the methods below isn’t a good fit, you won’t get any traction. What should you think about as you review these?

Think about ease of implementation, resources, infrastructure and speed of results you’ll see.

Approach 1 – Media Equivalency

In simple terms, media equivalency is the cost you would have paid to generate the same number of impressions. This approach can be quickly implemented.

Why? You don’t need any infrastructure or technical resources.

Here’s an example: Napoleon’s Delicious Bass Company generated 800,000 impressions on LinkedIn last month.

If you executed a paid LinkedIn campaign to reach the same target, you would have been charged a CPM of $14.

Since you generated 800,000 impressions, that’s equivalent to $11,200. (800,000 / 1,000) x $14 = $11,200

What are the advantages of this approach?

  • Quick way to demonstrate the value of B2B content marketing.
  • Anyone in the company can understand the math.
  • You can change the CPM to reflect what you perceive as a fair value.
  • Complements your company’s existing model (if you have one).

What are the disadvantages of this approach?

  • Tends to be dismissed by companies that reject the value of paid advertising.
  • Might encourage your team to “game the system” by generating more impressions.

Approach 2 – Lead Generation

How do most people track success? By capturing leads.

In exchange for providing helpful B2B content, you ask for contact information. These leads are then handed over to the sales team who will nurture them until they become real customers.

Ideally, you’ll use a CRM like Salesforce, Marketo, or HubSpot to manage the entire customer experience.

But it doesn’t stop at lead capture. You can now follow your potential customers when they interact on your website or in emails you send them.

Knowing this engagement is great insight into what they need, and how much time you should invest in individual leads.

What are the advantages of this approach?

  • Hard to dispute since it clearly shows the number of generated leads.
  • Allows you to optimize customer experience over time.
  • Measures the ROI of various pieces of content (e.g., “Content X generated 150 leads for us last year”).
  • Provides a data driven framework for your future marketing efforts (e.g., “We’re not doing this again because it didn’t drive any leads last time”).

What are the disadvantages of this approach?

  • Requires investments and resources to put everything in place.
  • Requires salesforce to follow up on leads.
  • Takes time to set up the infrastructure.

Approach 3 – Market Research

This is a pretty straightforward approach. You can use this as a one-off research initiative or tie it into your company’s existing research.

If you happen to be doing any NPS work, this is an ideal question to slip into that survey.

Simply send out a survey to your customers and ask what they think of the content you distribute through social media or email.

The results will usually generate statistics that help to demonstrate the value of content marketing.

For example, you may learn that 74% of all research respondents find your content marketing highly valuable.

What are the advantages of this approach?

  • Feedback collected directly from customers backs you up when rallying internal teams (e.g., “Our customers told us they want this”).
  • According to research, asking customers for their opinions creates long-term value (the customer feels valued).
  • If you have direct access to the customer database, you can quickly implement the survey.

What are the disadvantages of this approach? 

  • Depending on the structure of your sales team, some may be resistant in handing over client contact information (if this is the case, consider asking them to send out a link on your behalf).
  • If you don’t have direct access to customer information, it can take a while to get it. The head of sales needs to champion this, otherwise you may spend months building your list.

Approach 4 – Salesforce Feedback

This is a quick, down-and-dirty approach. You send a five to ten question survey, which should come from the head of sales.

Ask if they think the B2B content provided is of value, and what their customers have said about content over the past year.

You can also use this survey to generate new content ideas since the salesforce is great at understanding what’s happening in the marketplace.

What are the advantages of this approach?

  • Low-cost initiative.
  • Helps build a relationship with your internal team.
  • Generates new content ideas.

What are the disadvantages of this approach?

  • Sales leadership may not want you to engage their team (e.g., “My team is too busy”).
  • Feedback from the salesforce might be more about what they want vs. actual customer needs.

Approach 5 – Test And Control Groups

This is the most complex methodology for measuring the value of content marketing. When implemented, it can generate awesome results.

The essence of this approach is splitting an audience into a test and control group.

Group 1 receives all the outbound B2B content marketing while Group 2 receives nothing.

What do you do next? Compare the incremental lift between the two groups. This approach only works on outbound marketing efforts.

After all, you can’t stop someone from seeing your B2B content on social media, or if they frequent your website.

What are the advantages of this approach? 

  • It’s a scientific, data-driven approach that is hard to dispute.
  • Helps you rally the CFO in getting incremental investments.
  • Identifies the true incremental value of B2B content marketing.
  • Effectively shows the value provided by marketing to the sales team.
  • Sets up a test and learn culture that will optimize over time.

What are the disadvantages of this approach?

  • You need talented resources to help set it up the right way.
  • Requires the right infrastructure.
  • Takes time to run the test.

 


3. CHOOSE A B2B CONTENT CREATION APPROACH THAT WORKS FOR YOUR BUDGET AND CULTURE

Many say creating content is hard – ever wonder why?

It’s because most people don’t fully understand how much talent is required throughout the process.

They also don’t know about different ways of creating it.

Here are five ways to create content, each with its respective advantages and disadvantages.

Option 1 – Build An In-house Team

If your company plans to make a 2-3 year commitment, building your own in-house team is highly recommended.

You can start with a 3-4 person team (with the assumption that the team can execute both online and offline work).

You’ll need a writer, designer and someone who can monitor and analyze performance.

Later, you can put in additional resources, such as a video editor or motion graphics specialist.

What are the advantages of this approach?

  • Being able to hire the people you want.
  • Cost-effective if you have lots of consistent work.
  • Total control over the team’s focus.
  • Enjoying flexibility in change of B2B content schedules.

What are the disadvantages of this approach?

  • Having to make a long-term commitment.
  • You need to put someone in charge of recruiting the team.
  • You need to pay for benefits, office space, ongoing development, etc.
  • It’s hard to evolve the team if you need a new specialized function.

Option 2 – Hire An Agency

It’s not shocking when you hear about love-hate relationships with agencies. Why?

Because some are great partners and transparent from day one, while others will say anything to win the job, while only figuring out if they can deliver it later.

Some agencies put too much focus on their own agenda, such as winning awards and creating a name for themselves.

This can cause headaches, scope creep or missed deadlines. Of all the B2B content creation models, an agency is the most unpredictable.

You may experience high staff turnover – expect 10-30% each year.

Additionally, agencies are not known for lean teams. It’s rare to find a two or three-person agency team.

Mid-size agencies usually staff 4-6 people on an account. As for large agencies, it’s not uncommon to have 6-12 people on a team. These extra layers can slow you down and increase costs.

However, when the relationship is scoped the right way, and the people on your account are good, agencies can produce great work. Even though you’re paying a premium when working with an agency, you’ll enjoy the flexibility to stop working with them if you ever have a shift in strategies or budget cuts.

Below are the key things to consider when working with an agency.

What are the advantages of this approach?

  • Agencies excel at conceptual thinking, generating big ideas and creating campaigns.
  • Upon hiring an agency, you can instantly leverage their process, people and learnings.
  • Gaining access to a network of people within the agency, which can come in handy if you need to speak to an expert.
  • It’s relatively easy to find and hire an agency, although the scoping process can take some time.

What are the disadvantages of this approach?

  • High turnover rate.
  • High tendency for the agency to say yes up front, then figure out how to deliver the work later.
  • Agencies usually charge by the billable hour, which potentially leads to incremental fee requests by the end of the project.
  • Prices are different based on the client size or budget.
  • Leadership may be motivated by big ideas and awards, which doesn’t always help the client.

Option 3 – Using A Staffing Firm To Find Freelancers

If your company moves very quickly, engaging a staffing firm can be great as they can tap into local markets.

They might even have candidates that can start in two or three days from when you make your initial request

What are the advantages of this approach?

  • Being able to seek out people very quickly.
  • Staffing firms have insights into what skillsets are needed.
  • Good fit for short-term (e.g., 1-2 month projects).

What are the disadvantages of this approach?

  • Staffing firms take a high percentage off candidates’ fees (sometimes up to 50%) which can leave candidates feeling undervalued.
  • It can be time-consuming when interviewing candidates.
  • Once you find a candidate, the staffing agency plays a minimal role, usually only handling the billing.
  • Having no Account Director to manage multiple freelancers.
  • Possibly attracting freelancers who “need the work” which means they may not have a proven track record.

Option 4 – Finding And Managing Freelancers Yourself

This is an excellent option if you have a lot of freelancer connections and fully understand the creative process (e.g., what freelancers need to create great work). You also need to be good at working with creative people.

You need to understand when to give them guidance, and when to give them the space to create their best work.

What are the advantages of this approach? 

  • You know up-front the person who produces your work.
  • Cost-effective, since you don’t have to pay for the services of any staffing firm or agency.
  • You can bring your freelancers in whenever you need them, and then let them work on other projects.

What are the disadvantages of this approach?

  • Having to manage the team of freelancers on your own.
  • Having to hire more freelancers to scale the team if they hit capacity.
  • They are usually working on other projects, so you don’t have their undivided attention.

Option 5 – Use A Content Collective (26 Characters)

This is a relatively new approach to consider. It blends the agency and freelance models together.

It’s ideal for companies that need content marketing but don’t wish to invest a large sum into building up a team, or signing an agreement with an agency.

The collective option uses an on-demand approach so you only pay when your content is being created.

There’s also a higher level of transparency involved; you know the team that you’re getting and you usually know the costs up front.

What are the advantages of this B2B Content approach? 

  • Gaining access to writers who are subject matter experts in your industry.
  • Being able to scale the B2B content production up or down based on your business needs.
  • No need for long-term commitments.
  • Enjoying transparent pricing upfront so you know what you’re paying for.

What are the disadvantages of this B2B  Content approach?

  • The collective is not dedicated to your account unless you have a separate agreement with them.
  • Since members of the collective have various specialties, they often work in different cities, so in-person meetings can’t be guaranteed.
  • They usually don’t work on-site, so you don’t enjoy the luxury of walking down the hall and seeing them every day

4. BE SAVVY ABOUT HOW YOU ROLLOUT YOUR PROGRAM

Managing your budget and working with other departments is an art and science.

Here are 11 tips that will give your program a better shot at succeeding.

Tip 1 – Set Aside 10% of Your Budget to Test New Approaches

A lot of people fall victim to picking up their budget from last year and allocating their money the same way. Don’t fall into this trap. Make sure at least 10%-20% of your budget is for experimentation. You can take this idea to the next level by setting up an innovation fund. If there are ideas you want to test, and there’s enough in the innovation budget, anyone on your team can have access to it. Always encourage your team to take risks! Make sure you cultivate a culture in which failure is an acceptable outcome. There’s nothing wrong with failing in a controlled environment if the stakes are low.

Tip 2 – Consider Cutting Back on Publishing Frequency for B2B Content

In the event your current content marketing efforts have varying degrees of impact, think about cutting down the number of times you publish. If you make a 20% cut of low impact programs, invest that into the other content (e.g., increasing the production value or increasing paid activation).

Tip 3 – Set Up a Co-Funding Model

You’ve probably noticed that more teams are starting to lean on marketing to support their efforts, which is a good thing since there’s demand for more content marketing. However, not having incremental funds can be a problem. I would suggest that at the beginning of the year you proactively share a co-funding model – something like splitting the cost 50/50 – with different teams that might need B2B content marketing. Or, you could say that you’ll cover the content creation costs, but they’ll have to handle any paid activation.

Tip 4 – Use A B2B Content Marketing Collective

A content marketing collective approach is an excellent way to get more bang for your buck when it comes to creating content.

Five reasons you should consider adopting it:

  1. Gain access to seasoned writers who are subject matter experts in specific industries.
  2. Have the ability to scale your content production up or down based on business needs, not the bandwidth of your in-house team or agency.
  3. Access to your “dream team” without having to make any long-term commitments.
  4. Enjoy the ease of working with an Account Director who manages your hand-picked team.
  5. Finally say goodbye to the scoping process no one ever liked.

Tip 5 – Spend Money Earlier in the Year

By the end of Q2, the finance team will know what the end of the year will look like. If the company is not on track, it’s common for them to go through a round of budget cuts. With this in mind, plan ahead any investments that are critical to your B2B content marketing in Q1.

Another point to think about — since marketing budgets can get cut during Q3 and Q4 — is that you can push some of the projects you don’t think are mission-critical to this later time of the year. If you ever need to cut something, these can be your sacrificial lambs.

Tip 6 – Ask for More Money Mid-Year If It Will Drive Incremental Value

Have a meeting with leadership or the finance department and talk about how you’ve identified a new opportunity. Ask for a specific amount of money after showing the return you hope to generate from the initiative. Depending on how other departments have been doing, sometimes they might be able to just give you the money.

Either way, most people do not ask for incremental funds at this time of the year, so leadership won’t have to weigh your request against others.

Tip 7 – Get Your CFO To Agree on a Performance-Based Budget for B2B Content

If your B2B content marketing is all about driving leads and, ultimately, sales, you should consider having an agreement with your finance department about how you handle variable investments. Instead of having a fixed budget every quarter, ask them to have a budget based on performance. This is where you get them to reach an agreement where they would continue to give you money.

For example, as long as you can keep your CPL (cost per lead) to $100, or demonstrate a 50% margin on the products you’re selling, they’ll continue to fund your marketing investments. This can be a very productive arrangement.

It’s also important to note that this approach usually works much better when you can demonstrate leads and sales within a 30 to 60-day window.

Tip 8 for B2B Content – Establish a Decision Making Framework

For marketing teams at B2B companies, a majority of their work is usually dedicated to supporting other departments.

The challenge is that everyone wants to have the same level of treatment for their campaign.

Even though one team may be looking at a 25 million dollar opportunity, the team with a 2 million dollar opportunity expects the same support.

This is when a lot of bad prioritization decisions happen.

Instead of making decisions based upon the company’s incremental revenue, they make it based on internal relationships.

While there is good intent on making individuals happy by providing them with great marketing support, this is actually doing a disservice.

The key is to create a decision-making framework for how you classify different programs. It’s all about proactively coming up with an approach to how you support planned and unplanned initiatives.

Share the formula proactively with people before they come asking you for support.

Here’s an example of how five different tiers would work –

Tier 1 – High profile initiatives the Board of Directors is expecting

Tier 2 – Projects as part of the annual marketing plan

Tier 3 – Unplanned project (Revenue impact is more than $X)

Tier 4 – Unplanned project (Revenue impact is between $X-$Y)

Tier 5 – Unplanned project (Revenue impact < $X)

Here’s how it works: ALWAYS deliver on Tiers 1, 2 and 3; limit the number of Tier 4 projects; and NEVER take on a Tier 5 project.

Tip 9 – Have a Vendor Pre-bill You If You Have an End of Year Surplus

Most companies know how close they are to the original budget with 1-2 months left in the year. If there’s a surplus, it’s best to spend it. Even if you don’t have a project you can kick off before the end of the year, you can have a vendor pre-bill it. Think of it as a gift card you are buying now and will redeem later.

Tip 10 – Pool Money from Other Teams to Pay For a Big Ticket Item

This tip speaks to the importance of working with other departments. Our instinct is usually to work within the budget we’re given. But there’s no reason why we should limit ourselves to that number. Think of a big investment you’d like to make next year, and think about which departments would benefit. This is especially true for large enterprise organizations; some of the larger global businesses I’ve worked for had four to five different teams working together in order to make an investment. The bonus of having everyone pull their money together is the rollout will be easier since everyone has some skin in the game.

Tip 11 – Get IT to Pay for Hardware and Software

This is pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised at the amount of technology investments most marketing teams have made throughout the years. Simply ask your IT department to pay for any technology-related items. Obviously, you’ll need to be diplomatic when doing this. Consider talking to a senior technology leader several months before their budgeting process starts.

From personal experience, technology has always had larger budgets compared to marketing. So, the chances of you getting them to pay for your technology costs are pretty decent.


5. LEVERAGE YOUR EMPLOYEES TO INCREASE DISTRIBUTION AND ENGAGEMENT

Employee advocacy programs have been all the rage the past two to three years. They’re capable of delivering powerful results. But they can be hard to implement, especially in large, complex organizations. Since an employee advocacy program can be challenging to implement for any B2B company, here are my tips for making sure your implementation is a success.

Tip 1 – Launch the Program in Phases

The most important part of your program is to roll it out in phases. Yes, the software is capable of handling a massive influx of people, but it’s not a best practice. Most organizations require time and a lot of hand-holding. Usually, the social media lead for the digital team is in charge of rolling out an advocacy program.

For them, everything is very straightforward, and they may be inclined to move fast. But for most B2B organizations, social media is still new and mysterious. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking everyone will want to jump in and start using the platform.

The good part? Learning these platforms is always easier than people think.

After having worked with several people to onboard them, they usually say, “This is way easier than I thought; I wish I had done this sooner.”

Tip 2 – Identify Savvy Employees

When you start talking about your program, you’ll quickly learn that not all social media skills are created equal. The challenging part is most people will not admit they don’t use or understand social media. They stay silent. If someone has that deer-in-headlights look, or isn’t asking questions, chances are they aren’t familiar with social media.

There’s a certain stigma, especially among older folks, that if they speak up and say they don’t have technical skills, they’ll be seen as inferior. Make sure you’re aware of this phenomenon. And always be there as a coach who can educate and simplify.

If you use LinkedIn’s employee advocacy program, Elevate, there is a great feature which will help you identify the top social media leaders in your company. LinkedIn has something called a social selling index; this is a score assigned to everyone based on a number of factors. LinkedIn has the ability to share this score with you for all your employees, which makes it really easy to identify top candidates for your program.

I also recommend finding one or two senior executives in your company who are savvy with social media. If you can get them on board and actively use the employee advocacy software, the chances of others following them increases the success of your program.

Tip 3 – Spend Most of Your Time Recruiting Socially-Savvy Employees

Let’s start with a healthy dose of expectation: to have success with any employee advocacy program, you’re never going to get 100% of people on board. You’re probably not even going to get 60%, or even 50%. A realistic goal is somewhere between 20-30% of employees participating.

You’ll quickly learn that most companies have employees who fall into three groups: About a third of the people are pretty well-versed in social media and are already sharing content. Start with this group; these are your social media rockstars and influential people.

If you can get them on board, they’ll influence the middle third. Who are the middle third? These are the people on the proverbial fence. They have the skills to do a good job using employee advocacy software, but they’re waiting based on what other people are doing. If you can convert half of this group then that’s a win. Now you’re probably asking what about the bottom third? How do you win them over? You don’t. Don’t worry about this group during the first year of your program.

Give them all of the information and access to training, but the bottom third is not going to make or break the program. Additionally, even if they do sign up, their networks aren’t big, so you aren’t going to see big returns.

Tip 4 – Make Sure You Have Sales and Brand Awareness Goals

Determining success for an employee advocacy program tends to fall into two different categories. Some use it purely to drive brand awareness and engagement. Others are laser-focused on driving leads and plugging those into their new business machine. Regardless of why you’re getting into employee advocacy, both options are pretty straightforward. If you fall in the brand awareness/engagement group, you can easily track a number of impressions like shares and comments.

This is usually rolled up into an overall number. So when you do your reporting, you can say that, “We generated X million impressions this month.” The less controversial measurement approach is lead generation. To do this, make sure your content is correctly tagged for attribution.

Once you know that your lead originated from your employee advocacy program, you can track it through your normal sales automation system. Eventually, you’ll be able to get to a report that says, “Five new customers were sourced through the employee advocacy program… and these clients generated X amount of revenue.” Keep in mind these metrics don’t mean that without the employee advocacy program you wouldn’t have made a sale.

After all, these clients were probably already in the marketplace, and social media helped nudge them along. Don’t always look at this as a definitive number, but more as influenced prospects.

Tip 5 – Share Your Success Stories Along the Way

It’s hard for people to wrap their heads around the idea of employee advocacy. To help them understand, you’ll want to document your success stories along the way. Focusing on new business is always good idea, as it’s something everyone understands. How do you find these stories?

People in the program will often proactively bring examples to your attention since they’re excited that it worked.

The basic story you’re looking for is one where someone shared a piece of content online, and then a potential customer saw the content and was compelled to reach out. It’s really important to look for these stories and share them with executives.

A lot of B2B companies have deals valued at $1 million plus. If you can say your employee advocacy program generated the lead, the program literally just paid for itself.

Tip 6 – Create B2B Content That People Will Actually Want to Share

This one is a no-brainer, but some companies neglect to invest in great content. You’ve got to understand the key premise of an employee advocacy program is that your employees decide if they want to share the B2B content with their personal network. If they don’t think the content you provided them with is high quality, they’re not as likely to share it.

Tip 7 – Make Sure You Provide Third-Party B2B Content

The best employee advocacy programs have a well-balanced approach of branded and third-party content. You also need to be thinking about your employees’ personal brands. Make sure to include third-party content in your curated selection for employees to share.

This type of B2B content is easily sourced from well-known publications like Forbes or The Wall Street Journal. The reason why it’s important to share unbranded content is that no employee wants to look like they are the PR department.

If you ignore this rule, employees are less likely to share branded content over time. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to place about 60% to 70% of content as company branded. The remaining amount should be from third parties.

Tip 8 – Provide an Easy to Digest Monthly Performance Snapshot

Telling the success story of your program is important when you’re in the early stages. Consider putting together a monthly snapshot that goes to key executives and everyone in the program. You want to simplify this report and share basics such as total impressions, total engagement (i.e., likes/shares), media equivalency and leads generated.

Depending on the platform you’re using, you might be able to share additional insights. For example, LinkedIn’s Elevate program provides information on the companies who engaged with your B2B content. They can also provide a list of industry titles that engaged. Seeing these company names and titles makes it very easy for senior management to understand the impact of the program.

 

Interested in other resources? In our 100 Questions To Ask Before Your Kick-Off Meeting Guide, we make sure you’re prepared for your next project.