The Power of Content Marketing and Customer Centricity: 5 Takeaways from SiriusDecisions Summit Day 2

May 26, 2016

If the first day of SiriusDecisions 2016 Summit was all about account-based marketing, the second day took a deep dive into content marketing and customer-centricity. Various speakers at the event presented these two interrelated topics as crucial keys to winning new business, generating more revenue, and — in general — succeeding as a marketer.

Read on for five takeaways from Day 2 of the Summit to see how your own marketing can generate more effective content that is more focused on customer needs:

Good Content Won’t Become Great if Your Team (or Prospects) Can’t Find It

Content sits at the heart of everything we do in B2B marketing. B2B selling is highly dependent on content as well. B2B organizations invest roughly 50 percent of the marketing budget into content. Content is our lifeblood, and yet organizations seem to lack the ability to evaluate its effectiveness. According SiriusDecisions’ Senior Research Director Ross Graber, 83 percent of companies plan to increase investment in content this year, 0 percent fully understand the return. Shocking. There must be a better way.

One area of improvement Graber proposed we could improve upon is content activation. “The thing about unfindable content it that it’s also not going to be used,” he said. And since 65 percent of content never gets used, it’s time to re-evaluate our distribution approach.

In order to optimize, your organization needs to train teams on where to find content and how to use it. We should also be sharing deeper insights about content performance so we can improve. Finally, conducting regular content audits can help you fill gaps in prospect and customer needs.

How Winning Salespeople Use Content

SiriusDecisions surveys of B2B buyers and salespeople delivered fascinating insights into what content swayed buyers in the sales process and what content salespeople themselves consumed to prep for sales calls. The bottom line? Content is crucial both for buyers and salespeople in the buyer’s journey. The SiriusDecision research found that 79 percent of buyers found content very or extremely influential in making purchase decisions. Meanwhile, 68 percent of buyers said that their interactions with salespeople were similarly influential. Salespeople who leverage content — particularly early in the sales cycle — were more likely to close deals. In the survey, buyers said they received 22 percent more content from winning salespeople than runners-up. The kind of content that high performing salespeople provided to buyers significantly more often than lower performers included: analyst reports, industry articles, and sales presentations. In its research, SiriusDecisions also uncovered what kinds of content high performing salespeople use to arms themselves for sales calls: call scripts, objection-handling documents, customer industry primers. In the end, the research found that high-performing salespeople consumed 35 percent more content than low-performing salespeople.

Marketers Overlook the Value of the Sales Presentation

Marketers put extreme effort into creating whitepapers, videos, and ads.  But SiriusDecisions made the case that marketing often overlooks the power of the presentations it helps prepare for the sales team. In fact, it’s an open secret that salespeople have “black market slides hidden on their hard drives” they have created to supplement marketing-created sales presentations, which they believe are lacking, said Christina McKeon, Service Director, Product Marketing for SiriusDecisions. The solution? Marketers must prioritize the creation of sales presentation decks, and they must develop these decks with a focus on the customer. The decks, McKeon said, should be built around the three stages of the buyer’s journey:

  • The “why” phase when the prospect is mulling whether a change is necessary.
  • The “how” phase when the prospect has decided to change but is now considering various options.
  • The “who” phase when the prospect is selecting the solution of a particular vendor.

Audience-Centricity Wins Again

While 75 percent of B2B companies don't have an enterprise wide approach to content and issues around content quality, relevance and findability run rampant, there are some companies who are doing it well. ADP was featured as one of the SiriusDecisions Content Strategy & Operations Programs Winners for taking its content strategy from products to people. The company had been developing a lot of content through a product-heavy lense and weren’t seeing the results it was hoping for.

Here’s how ADP turned their content strategy around:

  • Seven months of persona research: Instead of just focusing on customer surveys, they leveraged content from search (What are people searching for?) and social intelligence tools to identify three target audiences.
  • A new inbound marketing strategy: ADP moved away from its single corporate blog to launch two persona-based blogs.

The new audience-centric content is paying off for ADP with increased web traffic and engagement, and new respect for content marketing. Specifically ADP saw 3x blog traffic in just three months, 147 percent open rate, and 20 percent click-through rate on their blog newsletter.

“By the time someone is ready to talk product, you’re either already in the deal or not. By aligning closely with audience needs, we get permission to engage earlier and build relevance for ADP before the purchase journey begins.” — Andy Hilton, VP Communications, Content and Brand, ADP

How Microsoft Embraced Customer-Centric

Microsoft won an ROI (Return on Integration) Award from SiriusDecisions in the category of Demand Creation. Bill Hamilton, Microsoft’s Senior Director, Cloud & Enterprise Business, was on-hand to explain how Microsoft transformed its demand generation approach to merit the recognition. Microsoft, Hamilton said, had to adapt to a world in transformation. The rise of mobile phones and the cloud was challenging Microsoft’s guiding vision of a PC on every desktop. “We fundamentally needed to change,” he said. Microsoft embraced a new mission: “Empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

As part of this change, the company’s cloud business, Microsoft Azure, also transformed itself, particularly its demand generation engine. The Microsoft Azure team noticed that its marketing tactics had different goals and metrics; for instance, the team measured webinars by registrants, emails by open rates, and social media by reach. Did any of these lead to revenue? “We couldn’t really tell,” Hamilton said. So three years ago team vowed to measure these tactic on whether they worked together to contribute to revenue. Hamilton’s team designed the entire system to drive anonymous Web visitors into known contacts and finally into customers. The Azure marketing team built a simple marketing stack that included Marketo, On24, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and LeadSpace.

Using these tools, Microsoft learned that 7.2 percent of its webinar attendees turned into paying customers. The marketing team also learned that prospects with the highest lead scores were 171 percent more likely than average leads to turn into customers. “We started small,” Hamilton said. But with the metrics indicating that the program was working, Hamilton rolled out this marketing approach across the global Azure team and eventually across many Microsoft business units, including Office and SQL. He told the SiriusDecisions audience that this story is far from over, because the Azure team and the rest of Microsoft is continuing to iterate and improve this new marketing approach. “You’re never done,” he said. “You’ve never arrived.”        

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Photo: Ron Cogswell