content marketing: know who your prospects areOur first content marketing hack is about knowing who your prospects are. So, do you know who yours are? The best ways to get to know them are to create buyer personas.

Maybe you’re wondering why it’s so important to know who your prospects are for your content marketing strategy? After all, you’re in business, you have customers, and perhaps you’ve experienced impressive growth. Your blog gets decent traffic, you hold webinars, create occasional white papers and have kept up with social media. It’s all good, right?

Here’s the rub: If you are looking to improve on that growth and make it sustainable over time, you will have to know who your prospects are and how to talk to them (not to mention keep them interested!). Especially if you hope to stay top-of-mind when they are ready to make a purchase. And to do that, you need to create very realistic buyer personas to help guide your future content marketing.

Without a proper understanding of who your buyer personas are you run the risk of committing one or more of the following mistakes:

  • Not knowing their true needs and wants
  • Not knowing what role each prospect plays in the overall buyer’s journey 
  • Not knowing what content they need at each stage in the sales funnel
  • Not knowing the most effective writing style, format and call-to-actions

So how do you go about learning who your prospects are so that your content marketing lands more punches and helps your sales team rack up more sales?

Buyer Personas: baby steps 

One way to learn who your prospects are is to obtain as much information on them as possible and start compiling your buyer personas. Start by asking any new website visitor to join your newsletter contact list by installing lead capture software on your website landing page and blog. Just ask for a name, email and company name. Asking for too much info at this stage risks scaring them away. It’s a good start and you will get more information from them over time.

You can ask for more contact details from people interested in downloading a white paper, webinar or other content asset you have featured on your website. Because these are typically middle-of-funnel (MOFU) leads, it’s reasonable that you ask for more information: Name, title, company name, email, and even a few lead-qualifying questions like organization size, specific industry, etc. Just keep in mind that the more fields you have, the fewer the responses you will get as people are generally reluctant to give out too much information about themselves, especially if they are TOFU or MOFU leads.

Talk to your current customers

This approach is often overlooked when creating buyer personas, in part because it’s so obvious that we forget it’s an option. It’s also because the marketing staff in many technology companies rarely have direct contact with clients. Fortunately, you can get some of this information directly from a CRM app. Other details, such as what kind of information they prefer to consume when it comes to content related to your industry, will probably require the help of a sales account manager.

These answers will go a long way toward helping you understand your prospects and deciphering their unique needs. If possible, consider setting up one-on-one interviews with 1-3 key contacts at several different customers to get a fuller picture of who uses your product or service and who was involved in the buyer’s journey and when. Since many larger companies may have more than one person involved in identifying and evaluating purchases, it helps to know who is involved and at what time. It may be that a software analyst helps identify a number of potential SaaS solutions, then presents them to a small committee of peers and a supervisor. Finally, a division head or C-Suite executive may weigh in on the big picture: i.e., does it meet the needs of the company and make financial sense given the allotted budget?

Buyer Personas: the details matter

The key to building accurate buyer personas is to come at it from a variety of perspectives. For starters, follow our point above on talking to your customers and cataloging as much information on the different customer contacts you have. You can also consult your CRM for any notes about customers, including what they bought, marketing information they downloaded, webinars they attended, special notes a salesperson may have taken. Don’t forget to layer in personal demographics such as:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Education level
  • Geographic location
  • Key pain points or issues faced
  • Other pertinent information (e.g., trade or business publications they regularly consume)

Finally, develop as full a persona as you possibly can with the information at hand. To personalize it even more, consider giving your persona a name that is somehow reflective of a specific archetypal buyer persona and tell a story about that person.

For instance, if you sell sophisticated financial reporting software utilizing AI to predict future capital investment requirements for a company, then you may decide to make a persona called Frank the CFO, Carol the Controller and Antonio the financial analyst. Antonio could have been your first point of contact at the client as he may have been tasked with finding a solution to the company’s growing reliance on spreadsheets and homegrown programming. Once Antonio found your solution, he probably shared any information he obtained — case study, product information, white paper — with his boss, Carol the Controller. Perhaps he and Carol signed up for a webinar on predictive analytics and how to build them into the annual capital budget.

Later, once it became clear your company was a true contender to solve their particular capital investment problems, Frank the CFO may done a bit of his own snooping around by downloading a case study, reading a couple of blog posts and scanning some customer testimonials.

At the end of the day, the needs of each buyer persona will vary based on the role they play at a company. Antonio is stuck in the weeds and bears the brunt of the work. He works late massaging spreadsheets and praying his homegrown visual basic coding doesn’t crap out as he struggles to hit the quarterly capex forecast deadline.

Carol is Antonio’s boss and probably pulls out her hair trying to hit the deadline and make sure the manual process delivered accurate results for her report to the CFO. If the forecast is an epic fail, her reputation is on the line.

Finally, you have Frank, who wants accurate reports to ensure he’s not stuck asking for more money from the CEO and Board because his team underestimated the capex needs of the company for Q3. Frank wants to know his team has this process on lock-down and that his negotiations with banks and shareholders won’t be impacted by a bad forecast.

Word to the wise: Have your account manager review the buyer personas to make sure it squares with what he or she has observed when working with the client.

Lead Attribution

Lead attribution continues to be a hotly debated aspect of demand generation and digital marketing in general. When did the client first hear about you and make contact? Was it at a tradeshow booth when a ‘passerby’ picked up a product slick but never left a business card? Could the client have run across a LinkedIn Pulse post made by your CMO then delegated the early research to an intern? In other words, it’s a challenge to know with 100% certainty how a prospect first heard about you and even made first contact.

While it’s far from an exact science, lead attribution does help you zero in on what parts of your content marketing strategy are driving actual leads versus ones that are dead zones. Be sure you add a “How did you first hear about us?” to contact forms for MOFU and BOFU content pieces, as well as ensure your sales staff know to ask it and, if necessary, prod the client to verify the source of the first contact. Most clients may simply respond with, “Oh, the Internet.” The problem with that answer is that there are numerous ways to find a company through the Internet — Google AdWords, referral sites, retargeting, organic search, etc. Don’t be shy about pushing for detailed responses. It will pay off in the long run.

Website Metrics, Analytics and Trends

Google Analytics can be your best friend when it comes to determining how prospects behave on your website. Although it’s not the best analytics tool when it comes to pinpointing behavior of identifiable prospects on your site, it can still tell you a lot about your prospects, specifically what information they tend to consume the most. Your blog is an especially effective content marketing asset when it comes to discovering what topics generate the most traffic and engagement. It’s a perfect opportunity for you to test call-to-actions, develop your brand personality and speak to your different brand personas.

At the end of your research, you will know exactly who your prospects are. You will know what kind of content appeals to each and why. You will know where in the sales funnel they tend to enter and how instrumental each one is in the overall customer journey. Because you know who they are and are speaking ‘directly’ to them, they will find your company relatable, trustworthy and a clear favorite for their business.

To learn more about how to speak to clients, not at them, read installment number 2 in our content marketing series.

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