3 Ways to Derive Actionable Sales Insights From Content Marketing Data

Nearly all businesses these days are aiming to build content marketing strategies that enable them to “rise above the crowd” or “be heard above the noise.” Whether they’re succeeding or not is anyone’s guess. The trick with content marketing data is to know how each dataset feeds into the bottom line.

As we ring in 2020, talking about the importance of content marketing and why every brand should be doing it is a record that has been broken for quite some time.

Nearly all businesses these days are aiming to build content marketing strategies that enable them to “rise above the crowd” or “be heard above the noise.” Whether they’re succeeding or not is anyone’s guess. What’s for sure is that branded content campaigns are yielding copious amounts of big data about customers and their behaviors. Whether it’s web traffic, conversion rates, or engagement levels, the trick with content marketing data is to know how each dataset feeds into the bottom line.

With so much data being created and collected every day, it can be very difficult and overwhelming to translate this information into sales insights. In fact, one of the biggest challenges marketers face is associating content with revenue:

marketers' top challenges
Credit: MarketingCharts.com

So how can you show ROI from content marketing without letting your head spin from data overload? Let’s find out.

1. Unify Data Streams

Data collection is only getting more complex as sources and systems continue to grow. Depending on how far-reaching your content strategy is, the data streams that relate to your sales regime won’t always yield black and white answers. Therefore, market research data, customer data, and pretty much all company data should be unified in a single ecosystem. This will let decision-makers spot key trends that tie directly into the bottom line.

For example, you need to know things like the content channels that are bringing in the strongest leads, the common threads among your most profitable customer profiles, the types of content that get the most engagement, where your referrals are coming from, and so on.

Marketers these days are growing increasingly dependent on the constantly-growing number of data sources. The major tasks at hand involve monitoring, analyzing, and finding benchmark performances for each campaign.

Until recently, it was a huge (and expensive) effort to develop tool integrations that aligned content marketing data sources in ways that boosted the sales process. Thankfully, AI-enabled business intelligence and CRM platforms allow businesses to efficiently analyze their data streams. One such tool is Salesforce’s Einstein, which can unify company data to identify new audiences, deliver sales projections, create in-depth customer profiles, and even automate storytelling.

Salesforce Einstein
Credit: Salesforce.com

AI-based content platforms are designed to score touchpoint information to discover patterns that help determine which leads are likely to convert. They can create associations between varied data sets, such as website engagement and publicly available demographic information, for example, and turn these into stories.

The way you set up these stories determines which datasets you will unify, and how your content or CRM platform will evaluate the information for predictive purposes. For instance, you might want to use a story to maximize potential earnings from a particular product. This could involve data sets related to engagement rates, lead nurturing, landing page conversion, and so on.

The more data you feed into such a system, the more precise the predictions you’ll be able to make. AI and machine learning are enabling data scientists to apply a combination of predictive analytics and meta data management to business. This lets marketers anticipate changes in consumer behavior and the impact of macroeconomic trends on business.

2. Identify Snags in the Buyer’s Journey

Making a sale in B2B requires way more than flashy advertisements and bold promotions. The modern buyer’s journey is typically made up of three key stages: Awareness, Consideration, Decision.

buyer's journey
Credit: HubSpot.com

Ideally, each stage should work as a vector to ultimately produce sales.

While it’s easy for marketers to design content marketing strategies to play to each stage, the parts that tend to get overlooked are the transitions. In other words, how well does your content bridge the gap between one stage of the buyer’s journey and the next? This is perhaps where data provides the most valuable insights related to sales.

Funnel visualizations can reveal patterns in regard to where people drop out or delay the progression through the buyer’s journey. Using this data, businesses can refine their transitions and work to eliminate the major roadblocks. Some simple metrics to start out with are bounce rates, session duration, and conversion rates of your landing pages — all of which can be tracked via Google Analytics.

google analytics behavior flow
Credit: Google Analytics

For example, let’s say you run a SaaS company and your Awareness stage content (blog posts, e-books, podcasts, etc.) is doing a fantastic job in getting traffic to your Consideration stage content on your website, which includes landing pages to sign up for a webinar or download a white paper.

However, you notice that the bounce rate for these pages is very high (around 95%) and the time on page is only a few seconds. This is a good indicator that there is interest, but the transitions from your Awareness content aren’t giving people enough information or motivation to convert. Therefore, it might be time to re-examine content at the transition point (email invitations to the webinar that you send to people who’ve read your blog posts or subscribed to your newsletters) or add more information to your landing pages.

Keep in mind, snags in the buyer’s journey can have much deeper-rooted issues than the example above — all of which can impact your sales numbers. Understanding how your content impacts the success or failure of your customer journey will likely require a great deal of critical thinking (and digging into funnel data).

3. Use Intent Data to Constantly Refine Your Sales Model

The term “intent data” is a buzzword that has been floating around the marketing world for all of a hot second. Intent data refers to behavioral information that gauges a person’s online activity and how likely they are to take a desired action. In terms of how this relates to your content marketing and sales efforts, these insights combine both topic and contextual data.

intent data
Credit: Infer.com

Topic data refers to the level of interest someone expresses about a subject when they search for something on the web. For example, if someone Googles “how to simplify customer service,” and lands on your blog about how to program a chatbot, they are showing some degree of intent. There are generally four categories of topic data:

  1. Anonymous First-Party Behavioral — These are visitors to your website who haven’t taken any action that identifies themselves. It is possible to identify their company by their IP addresses.
  2. Known First-Party Behavioral — These are visitors to your website who have shared personal information by filling out a form.
  3. Anonymous Third-Party Behavioral — These are unknown visitors to other websites with similar content to yours. You can identify them via the topics they browse and track them via their IP addresses.
  4. Known Third-Party Behavioral — These are known visitors to other websites who’ve shared information and whose content preferences are recorded. You can then use tools to measure and capitalize on the purchase intent of a pre-segmented audience.

Now, topic data is more or less useless without the right context. Contextual data revolves around diving into the who of the person taking the action. For instance, if the visitor reading your article on chatbots is a business owner, there is a good chance the person is considering a solution for customer service needs. On the other hand, if the reader is a programmer, it’s very possible the professional is looking for information about how to build or improve a chatbot. In this way, intent data plays a key role in how you define your sales process.

Different types of web visitors will have slightly different views of the buyer’s journey in relation to your business. You need a system that gauges the intent of a visitor from how they interact with your content on various platforms; the insights you glean from this form the basis of how you craft your landing pages.

Intent data lets marketers put the right content in front of the right eyes. Start by personalizing your website to “anonymous” users. Solutions like Evergage can be synced with CRM data and use machine learning to better understand the intent of visitors. It can then draw on a wide range of behavioral insights to help you serve ultra-targeted content.

Credit: Evergage.com

For example, the system can sort visitors by industry and automatically build segments based on key attributes. From here, you can deliver customized messaging that fits into the narrow views of each of these segments.

Next, you should base the processing of inbound leads on engagement. Ideally, this should work to quantify the visitor’s intent based on the manner in which they interact with your content. If someone is looking at your blog section, they would likely fall lower on your lead scoring model. If they are looking at pricing, they would obviously rank higher.

scoring model
Credit: Business2Community.com

Intent data should always play a key role in how you nurture leads and go about making sales.

Over to You

In many ways, the data you get from your content marketing strategy is the lifeblood of your sales efforts. As big data continues to grow at exponential rates, both in size and application, the challenge will always be using these insights to boost your bottom line.

Refining your content strategy is a task that never truly ends. As long as you keep up with what your analytics are telling you, and identify and iron out the weak spots, spikes in sales are always around the corner. Good luck!

How to Consider the Buyer’s Journey, Not Just the Channel

We are obviously living in a multichannel marketing environment, whether we are marketers or consumers. Every conceivable channel is being optimized for marketing, and in a capitalistic society, that is only natural.

Credit: Getty Images by Photo-Dave

We are obviously living in a multichannel marketing environment, whether we are marketers or consumers. Every conceivable channel is being optimized for marketing, and in a capitalistic society, that is only natural.

Someone has to pay for the maintenance of media channels, and marketers want to reach their target audiences through them. Voila! Demand meets supply, and the whole ecosystem is in perpetual motion.

So much so that many marketing organizations are organized by key media channels. The No. 1 reason many datasets are in silos? It is because data collected through different channels are hogged by the managers of those channels.

So the biggest hurdle towards a true 360-degree customer view is not the technology or lack of data, but the fact that interests of different channel managers do not meet in a common place, without heavy nudging from CEOs or CMOs. That is why I’ve been repeatedly saying that the first step towards proper data-readiness for advanced 1:1 marketing is the commitment from the top.

That being the reality, service providers — whether be data compilers, database designers, CRM experts, analytics experts or campaign specialists — must comply with the channel-centric environment, which is unfortunately the source of inadequate 1:1 targeting and personalization.

With all the technologies available today, why do you think that consumers keep getting similar or conflicting offers from the same organization? It’s because each channel manager acts like she “owns” the names of buyers who touched “her” channel. Let’s just say that is the exact opposite of customer-centric marketing.

Further, it gets even more complicated, as each channel exists not only on different plains, but on different spots on the timeline of customer journey.

What is customer journey? If I make a typical B2C engagement an example (because there are so many versions of this concept out there), it may follow these high-level steps:

  1. Awareness
  2. Interest
  3. Trial
  4. Repeat
  5. Loyalty

If this were for B2B, we may consider “Decision” and “Action” as separate steps, but the general idea of a customer journey is not all that different.

Now, the important point here is that these phases may or may not converge nicely with the “marketer’s journey,” which may look like:

  1. Acquisition
  2. Relationship Development
  3. Retention
  4. Win-back

Clearly, awareness and interest stages are closely related to acquisition; but after the purchase, we are moving into the CRM area from the marketer’s point of view, where cross-sell/up-sell, value-based targeting, various retention and anti-churn prevention measures, and win-back efforts come into play. Some actions go way past repeat and loyalty stages from the buyer’s side.

Now, add all the channels on top of this combination. No wonder there are lots of conflicts among channel managers. Who owns what stage of the game? Maybe that is just a wrong way to approach all of this.

Homework for Marketers

I’d say marketers should start with the customer’s journey first. Not just in the name of customer-centric marketing, but for practical reasons, too. So, list five customer journey phases on the left-hand side on a piece of paper.

Then, let’s write down proper marketer’s effort categories, from acquisition to win-back.

Next to it, put down data assets and technologies that you have available for each stage. You will find that distinctly different types of data and technologies should be applied to each.

For instance, third-party data are important for acquisition and win-back stages, due to lack of behavioral and transaction data. Conversely, to build proper cross-sell/up-sell, customer value or churn prevention models, you will need to use rich transaction and interaction history with your customers. Then of course, technology that you need to employ would be different for each stage.

Then, only then, write down proper media channels that would be best utilized for each stage of your marketing efforts.

For example, in the acquisition stage, where only third-party data and non-transactional data are available, what would be the best acquisition channel for you to employ? Catalog? Postcard? Email? Social media? General media?

For relationship-building and retention efforts, yes, email is the dominant one; but should it be the only one? Let’s not just settle on one channel, just because it is readily available and less costly. If you have all of the rich transaction and response data, why not use direct marketing, with rather fancy catalogs or First Class mail? Surely, with such powerful data, we can build proper targeting models to make those more expensive channels worthwhile.

Turning Marketing on Its Head

The key message here is to reverse the way we think about our channels, and shake the whole marketing ecosystem up.

I got into a heated debate with one of my colleagues the other day about this. Many digital marketers think that the journey begins at the moment a visitor lands on a website or types in a search word (refer to “Customer Journeys Don’t Start on Your Website”).

Before someone magically shows up on some site, there had to be other efforts to raise awareness and pique interest for that visitor. It could have been a banner, billboard, TV, radio, magazine, paper or more targeted media, such as direct mail, catalogs or email. All of those channels play different roles in different stages of both customer’s journey and the marketer’s journey.

Multichannel or Omnichannel concepts have been around for a long time; but to rise above the channel-centric mindset that hampers effective customer communication, markers must be aware of the timeline view, as well.

In fact, as I described in the body of this article, you may have to reverse the whole process, and see it from the timeline view first, and then assign proper channels to each stage. Otherwise, how would you ever escape from channel silos?

Content Marketing: Share But Don’t Overshare

Content marketing is, in large part, a balancing act between your desire to create on-going relationships with potential customers and their desire to get the information they’re currently looking for as quickly as possible.

When we talk about sharing appropriately, we’re not talking about telling your first date about that strange mole on the back of your leg. We’re talking about finding the right amount — and type — of information to share with your friends, fans and followers.

If you give away all of your secrets in your first interaction, it’s going to be hard to keep your audience engaged. And yet, if you hold back too much, you won’t win enough trust to get the second interaction.

Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, such as smaller-ticket items where a buying decision might be made in the course of a single online search. Think office supplies rather than, say, office space.

Beyond those exceptions, content marketing is, in large part, a balancing act between your desire to create on-going relationships with potential customers and their desire to get the information they’re currently looking for as quickly as possible.

You can frequently see this play out in blog posts, for example, where the article itself includes lots of valuable information at at the macro level, but provides the even-more-valuable details only if you download the PDF report by sharing your email address.

The goal is to make clear what your differentiator is — your “secret sauce” — without giving away the recipe. There are two ways to do this.

Demonstrate Results

“Taste this!” is almost always a better way to wow someone with your “secret sauce” (literal or figurative) than detailing the recipe. And even though many prospects will ask about process, you won’t usually want to outline the details in content that can be consumed without any real interaction with your firm.

This is where solid collaboration with your sales team can pay big benefits. Diving into the nitty gritty of the process is a task better suited to your sales team because they should only be dealing with prospects who are much further along in your funnel.

In other words, your content marketing demonstrates results and encourages a deep enough relationship for the prospect to engage with the sales team on process details.

This approach has one additional benefit: it helps avoid the dreaded “free consulting” model of pitching. You know that request: “Tell us what you’d do and how you’d do it.” (With the unsaid-but-understood “So we can find someone else who we can have implement your ideas cheaper.”) That’s no fun — and not profitable.

Content Built for the Buyer’s Journey

Somewhere in between the short-form content and your sales team’s involvement lie things like case stories and white papers, which dive into more detail than a short-form article typically will, but that also offer less detail than your sales team can give.

The value of these interim steps becomes obvious when you think of content marketing — and your content — not in terms of your sales process, but in terms of your prospects’ perspectives. There is different information they’ll be looking for as they begin their investigation, educate themselves about the various options, and establish criteria for ultimately making their decision.

Your content must reflect this so you must create content for each stage in the buyer’s journey and must organize your website into areas with obvious appeal to those various stages. (The fact that you should know the stages by interviewing clients and prospects is another topic entirely.)

Social media content needs to be broader, of course, since it can’t be targeted in quite the same way. Email, though, should absolutely be tailored to stages in the buyer’s journey and, if possible, to individual prospects’ previous interactions and content consumption.

That’s not to say that the occasional “a-ha” moment can’t be very powerful — if you’re fortunate enough to be the in a position to reveal information to a prospect that they hadn’t been considering, and that new information will materially affect their business — you should absolutely do so. Just be careful not to count on that one revelation to win you the business. It may make you the front-runner, but there’s likely still a long way to go, so you’ll want to be ready with additional content as the decision-making process continues.

Which brings us back around to balancing between sharing and oversharing. In addition to the risk of “too much, too soon,” you run the risk of being out of ammunition when you need it most. Always leave your audience satisfied but asking for more.

How to Follow-Up on Webinar Leads: Don’t

The best follow-up to your webinar is no follow-up. Today’s most successful webinars are moving the lead from warm to warmer — right on the webinar. From that moment forward there is no need for 95 percent of what we see today, i.e., follow-up email techniques that are ineffective and just plain awful.

The best follow-up to your webinar is no follow-up. Today’s most successful webinars are moving the lead from warm to warmer — right on the webinar. From that moment forward there is no need for 95 percent of what we see today, i.e., follow-up email techniques that are ineffective and just plain awful.

Jordan Barta of Paychex puts it this way in a recent blog post.

Prospects don’t have “time for you to ask them about their strategy, or if they have questions about your product. They want solutions and innovative ideas.”

So do you even need email follow-up?

What If Your Webinar Did This?

Imagine your webinar closing the prospects. Not on a sale, but instead, on a pre-sale first step that connects with their buying journeys. A step that moves them forward on making the eventual purchase commitment.

What can you literally do for a prospect, right now, that will prove your most costly, comprehensive solution is worth it?

Can you provide a few results in advance of purchase?

Depending on what you’re selling, following-up with webinar leads can be on an “as needed” basis. Because the webinar itself can close prospects on:

  • A low-cost, easy to afford starter product that makes taking action irresistible
  • A “next step” free offer that provides small but immediate, tangible benefits

Coming at the end of your webinar, your “next logical step” may come in paid or free form. The idea is to get customers investing in themselves — in a way that delivers results in advance of a larger purchase commitment.

Thus, your offer (paid or free) should produce near-term gratification. Proof that considering a larger investment is worth it.

Educating Your Prospect Is Not the Goal

Educating your prospect is a weak goal for your webinar. Instead, make your No. 1 goal to provoke action. Encourage prospects to act on a promotion designed to prove you:

  1. understand their problems or goals
  2. have a different approach to solving/reaching them
  3. are more qualified to help than the competition

What’s your unfair advantage? Let them taste it via the webinar and, afterward, a promotional first step. (bringing them toward their goal)

Your webinar’s goal isn’t to educate potential buyers. It’s to show them the better way, make it seem 110 percent do-able. Give them confidence in your better way and in themselves.