There's an increasing number of companies - both large and small - that are putting more muscle into their content creation efforts - and that's a good thing. With this increase in content creation activity comes a challenge - to effectively connect the content to the appropriate stage of the sales process in order for it to have the greatest impact in generating incremental revenue.
In order to provide some context, let's take a look at a graphical representation of the typical purchase funnel.
Let's focus on the dark blue area of this funnel, which represents the stages a prospective customer travels through in their decision journey. By focusing on creating content that is relevant to a prospective customer based on where they are in the decision process, you can do a better job of tailoring both the format and the messaging for each stage.
Let's assume that you're a B2B company selling software to accountants. If you have prospective customers in the recently aware stage of the decision process, you really shouldn't be pushing a free trial to prospects at that stage because they don't know enough about you to justify the time to download, install and experiment with your software. In the early stages, you'd be better off making them aware of how your solution solves their known problems or alerting them to the fact that these problems likely exist within their own organizations.
A free whitepaper outlining the steps to detecting the specific problems your software solves is more appropriate in the early stages. The emphasis is on education, which is necessary throughout the entire decision process, but it's critically important in the early stages. Trying to "close too early" happens just as frequently online (maybe even more so!) as it does in the real world. First establish the need and then you can relate that need to your solution.
It's very easy to over-complicate the description of your sales process and that tends to stifle creativity in developing ideas and content for each stage. A better starting point for most businesses, especially the ones who've never formally defined their sales process, is to consolidate the decision stages into three main areas: Awareness, Evaluation and Purchase.
Below is a screen shot of a simple Content Matrix spreadsheet I created and used for our fictitious accounting software company. (If you want a copy of the spreadsheet to edit for your own purposes, you can click on the call to action button at the bottom of this post.) The goal is to come up with as many questions prospective customers might have for each stage of the decision process. Then formulate your answers while considering two things:
1. Your titles - focus on the keywords your potential customers are using to find the type of product/solution your provide.
2. Content format - what's the best way to deliver your message - keeping in mind ways you can repurpose content from one format into another.
I recommend gathering your sales and marketing team to collaborate on building out your content matrix. Marketing can provide insight on the assets they already have in inventory and the sales team will be instrumental in outlining the questions coming from the field at each stage of your sales process.
If you're a smaller business and you're wearing the sales and marketing hats, think through some recent transactions you've closed and go back to some of your best customers' initial purchases and map out your content plan with those in mind.
Remember, start simply and then build this out as you experiment and learn how your content is impacting prospective customers. You'll be surprised how fast this process can develop once you get the hang of it.
I highly recommend two additional resources on this topic ( I used both in my background work on this post):
1. A fantastic blog post from my good friend Corey Eridon at HubSpot. You can find that post right here.
2. A great post from Barbara Gago of Left Brain DGA. This post is on Content Marketing Institute's site here.