It’s the End of the Funnel (And I Feel Fine)
Tracy Staniland is VP Corporate Marketing at Asigra, a cloud-based data protection software company based in Toronto. We caught up with Tracy to talk about how B2B marketing and the sales funnel have changed over the past decade and the challenges and opportunities B2B marketers face in the new era of content engagement.
Tracy, you’ve just returned from Content Marketing World 2015. What insights did you bring back from #cmworld and what’s one thing we get wrong about content marketing?
As marketing professionals, we’re often guilty of pushing out our content in one big convulsion that, I hate to say it, is like a bad bout of projectile vomiting. When we have something new, we put it out there to everyone all at once using all our channels simultaneously. We put it on our blog, issue a media alert, shout it out on social media and email our prospects and customers – all in a brief burst of hyperactivity. If we staggered our distribution strategy, we could get a lot more longevity and value out of our content. It takes a lot of time and resources to produce quality content, so getting a longer shelf life out of it is pretty important.
Do marketers pay enough attention to content distribution?
I don’t think they do. The key is not so much ideation – how you’re going to write that next eBook, how-to guide or blog post – but having a distribution plan from the very beginning: What channels are you going to use to reach the right audience and what communication cadence will you follow? Instead of doing it all in a very compressed period of time, maybe you post the content on your blog in week one, socialize it widely in week 2, schedule a paid placement to promote the content in week three, and so on. Then you might relaunch the same content asset all over again in 60-90 days to reach a whole new crop of prospects that are just beginning their buying journey.
But isn’t the freshness of the content important?
Sure, but it’s easy to get hung up on continuously producing fresh content. We talk a lot about repurposing content, but we talk less about reinvigorating and redistributing the stuff we already have. It’s a lot easier to refresh an existing piece of content than to be always producing something new from scratch.
Quality content has long shelf life. At Asigra, the best content assets we have were originally published 2-3 years ago. They’re educational top-of-funnel assets that are key to our market differentiation. We’ve updated and tweaked these pieces over the years to get more mileage out of them, but they’re still relevant and they continue to convert and be well received by our buyers.
What about the sales funnel? How do Marketing and Sales talk about the funnel in your organization? Do they see it differently?
When I’m in meetings with Sales, we don’t talk about the traditional sales funnel at all. We talk more about what conversations we’re having with prospects and where we think we are with a certain account. We all understand that buyers today don’t move from stage to stage in the buying journey in a linear fashion – far from it. They flow freely in and out of the buying cycle. That’s why we need to be constantly communicating, educating and influencing. Our buying cycle is long. On average, it’s 6-12 months; for larger organizations, it can be as long as 18 months. So the buyer’s research phase might last 5-6 months. You’ve got to always be nurturing if you hope to reach your prospect on the day they’re doing their research.
Do you ever hear that line from Sales, “The leads are crap”?
We don’t. Two years ago, we built a new lead development and qualification process with well-defined lead scoring thresholds. The process puts marketing at the first stage of qualification and our Biz Dev team only gets marketing qualified leads. This means someone has had a conversation with the individual first to gauge interest and time to purchase. We’re not handing over a name to Sales; we’re handing over a sales-ready lead that is BANT qualified. And Sales can always accept or reject the MQL. With this process, we avoid the black hole that leads can fall into where they just sit and go stale, and we don’t get into those kinds of conversations about the quality of leads.
Tracy, I’m not sure if you know this, but Asigra was one of our first customers going back almost 3 years now. What problem were you trying to solve when you invested in the platform?
We were initially drawn to the visual aspect of the PathFactory (formerly LookBookHQ) content experience as a way to make our content stand out. People today are time-starved and information-overloaded, so the more “snackable” and easy on the eyes you can make your content the better. When we think about improving the content experience, often we talk about the format of our content, but how and when you deliver it is really important too.
We produce a newsletter for our partners and customers. That’s where we first started using the PathFactory platform to make the storytelling more visually attractive, dynamic and appealing. With our first PathFactory newsletter, we saw an immediate spike in email open rates. As we went along with PathFactory content tracks, we saw a steady increase in readership, more opt-in subscriptions, a higher volume of click-throughs and more content consumption as measured by LookBookHQ’s engagement metrics. We also received positive feedback from our customers and our partner community. Since then, we’ve since been using LookBookHQ for a lot of different demand gen initiatives and the results have been equally impressive.
How do you measure the effectiveness of your content?
Currently, we look at open rates and conversions in Marketo and we also track impressions and social shares. For content where PathFactory is the destination, we analyze PathFactory content engagement metrics to see what people are reading or viewing and how much time they’re spending with our content. Right now, we’re in the process of integrating PathFactory’s content engagement data with our Marketo-powered multi-track lead nurture program to give us more visibility into how our buyers are consuming content along their path to purchase.
How are you using the data?
If we see that a particular piece of content isn’t working, we’ll drop it from our nurture track. We’ll also tweak the story we’re trying to tell by rearranging the placement and order of the content assets. PathFactory makes it easy to bring assets up in the order or shift them around to enhance the buyer’s journey through the content.
What’s one piece of commonly held content marketing wisdom that you take issue with in real-world practice?
I’ve heard different content marketing experts say that you need a full-year editorial calendar. I don’t understand how any company can do that today. Things change so fast in the marketplace that you have to be flexible, opportunistic and ride the wave. Sure, I could try plotting out my content development schedule 6 months in advance, but I know that it would be subject to change without notice.
You’ve been successfully marketing technology since before the term “content marketer” came into vogue. How has content changed over your career?
Ten years ago, most of the content we produced was product-centric: Data sheets, product white papers, and so on. If we made a video, it was a product video, but most B2B marketers didn’t focus on video back then because video production used to
be a high value proposition. We’d hired a pro videographer, cast models and spend money on makeup and wardrobe. We forget how good we have it today with the ability to produce high quality video at a much lower cost.
So the technology has come a long way, but marketers are also a lot smarter. They think through editorial calendars, topics for content, distribution, cadence, channels and how to create quality content that has impact and longevity. When we used to create a video, the goal wasn’t anything more sophisticated than wanting it to “go viral.” We weren’t considering how that video fit into our broader content strategy or how it was helping our company meet its business goals.
What has the rise of the content marketing meant to your business?
Content today needs to be a utility for your audience. The goal is to share your knowledge and expertise to help prospects solve problems. And that word “sharing” is important. We used to think of content solely in terms of conversions: We’ll give you this amazing piece of content, but first you have to fill out our form and agree to be marketed to. Sure, we still need conversions, but we gate content way less than we used to. We still gate some high value assets like white papers, guides or third-party assets, but we keep the form really short. Rather than ask for every detail upfront, we use progressive profiling to gain more intelligence over time.
Perhaps the biggest change has been the tone of marketing content. B2B marketers used to write in that kind of dry factual “textbook” voice we all remember from college. Today, we’re not afraid to show some personality in our content and we try to be snappy and entertaining as well as informative.
What advice would you give a B2B marketer today?
Become the influencer. Today your content is your brand. You need to positively associate your brand with high quality content that’s genuinely valuable to the market you serve. And when it comes to what your content looks like, don’t be afraid to think outside the box.
Can you give a real-world example?
Peer review sites like G2 Crowd, Trust Radius and IT Central Station are kind of like Yelp for technology. Our buyers increasingly rely on them when they’re looking to purchase software. We’re active on a peer-to-peer community called Spiceworks that has 3.1 million IT professionals. We noticed that a large percentage of the community was REALLY into bacon, so we listened and launched a Bacon Guide to coincide with World Backup Day (yes, there is a World Backup Day).
The guide was filled with recipes and fun facts about – you guessed it – bacon. The response from our audience on Spiceworks and on social media was terrific. Content marketing luminaries Jay Baer and Ann Handley both mentioned the Bacon Guide online or in a presentation. The Twitter campaign reached over 200,000 unique accounts with over 250,000 impressions and 70+ tweets. In total, we had almost 350 people download the guide.
What’s bacon have to do with Asigra or cloud backup? Not a thing, other than that we listened to the community and responded to their pork passion! It’s really about knowing your audience and giving something back once in awhile.