In the marketing world I grew up in, we pushed a lot of messages at people – messages about how great we were and why we were the trusted experts. These days, nearly everyone pulls prospects toward their brand through content marketing. Blogs, white papers, case studies, webinars, videos and a host of other content are all designed to pull prospects into the sales funnel. It’s a cool idea, right?

But I have a confession to make. About a year ago, I had completely lost faith in content marketing. It was apparent that we were giving away our expertise, the years of experience that had empowered us to be a true impact-player for our clients. I was actually okay with that. But I wasn’t okay with giving away our expertise without seeing some form of value coming back our way. I had been pulled too far. Then I started reading about marketing automation. Suddenly, the lights turned on for me. I think they will for you too.

Key Take-Away:

Without marketing automation, the hot prospects who don’t raise their hand immediately are invisible to you. With marketing automation, you see them.

The definition of insanity

Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results – that’s the definition of insanity. That’s how I felt. Sure, we’d develop Guide Books and articles and white papers and webinars and we’d see a lot of downloads. But then… Far too often the sales results were unacceptable. Essentially, we were educating the market for free. Maybe you know what I’m talking about?

It was time to get off that train. So I began searching. What I discovered, in my opinion, is nothing less than the missing link.


Content marketing’s weakness

I have advocated for content marketing for years. We have successfully used content marketing for our company and all of our clients. But it has a major flaw. It runs really hot or really cold at producing “leaning in” behavior. I think of leaning in behavior as the desire of prospects to quickly move through the sales funnel so they can realize the benefits of your service offerings.

We think of the sales funnel as comprised of four steps, for most service companies:

  • Awareness. Prospects become aware of your brand and services.
  • Interest. Prospects engage in serious dialogue, requesting a proposal.
  • Evaluation. Prospects evaluate your proposal against their needs and competitive offerings.
  • Selection. Prospects accept your proposal and move to the next steps.

So the question becomes, what is the relationship between content marketing and prospects moving through the sales funnel quickly? In our experience, and our clients’ experience, content marketing produces a very small number of hot prospects. But the majority of the prospects are far more hesitant and inquisitive. How does marketing automation help?


A scenario

Let’s assume that you produce a solid white paper. It’s about a topic that really matters to your ideal clients and speaks to their goals, opportunities and challenges. It contains insights they don’t already have. You invite only a targeted list to download the white paper – those who fit your ideal client profile. Perfect!

Let’s also assume that one hundred people click-through from your email and download the paper. Now what?

In our experience, and our clients’ experience, one or two people will immediately separate from the pack and want to engage in dialogue right away. But what about the other ninety eight? Were they just tire kickers? What do you do with them?

Sure, you can say you will “follow up” with them, but let’s be honest. Most sales / business development people already have a lot on their plate. They don’t really have a lot of interest in calling on so-so leads.

How marketing automation helps
With marketing automation, those ninety eight so-so leads can be turned into ten hot leads, forty warm leads and forty eight cold leads that maybe shouldn’t be contacted at all. With marketing automation, you can know how to apply your sales / business development resources to realize the greatest revenue return for your company in the shortest time possible. Here is how.

If you have a good marketing automation package, you have built-in lead scoring. This allows you to translate a person’s digital footprint into a score. That score is often comprised of the following:

  • All of the emails they have opened from you and clicked on.
  • All of the web pages they have visited on your site and the number of times they’ve been to your site.
  • All of the registration forms they’ve filled out for everything from your newsletter to white papers, webinars, etc.
  • All of the content they have registered for, like your white paper.

Why does this matter. In our experience, somewhere between ten to twenty percent of all leads who download a white paper are actively interested in the services of the company who wrote the white paper. But they’re busy. They say to themselves – “I’ll talk to them later.” But they never do.

With lead scoring, you get to see who these people are – and reach out to them. While they may not have requested a meeting, they will nearly always take your phone call and tell you why they’re interested. In other words, you get to enter into real sales dialogue with them.

Without marketing automation, these additional ten to twenty hot prospects are invisible to you. Without marketing automation, you are leaving money on the table.


My feelings about content marketing today

A year ago I was dubious about content marketing. I had lost faith. Today my faith in content marketing is completely reinvigorated. But only because of marketing automation. Because of the impact of lead scoring, we are seeing sales funnels grow by more than one thousand percent. Content marketing without marketing automation just doesn’t make sense anymore.