These days, it’s hard for marketers to avoid the term “content marketing.” The practice is being discussed at conferences, in online groups and forums, and at networking events. But what does content marketing mean and why should your organization adopt it?
In a nutshell, content marketing is delivering the right information at the right time to prospects and customers. It’s what can set your company apart. Let’s walk through a fictitious scenario that helps illustrate the value of content marketing. (Note: this post is quite long but worth your time if you’re trying to understand how your content can play a strategic role in engaging and converting prospects.)
A typical scenario…
Susan is a 45-year old working in a small but growing law firm. As is common for employees in a 50-person company, she wears many hats, serving as both the accountant and HR manager. These days she’s feeling overwhelmed trying to keep billings straight in her spreadsheet – and it’s cutting into the time she needs to spend developing an employee training program. She assumes there’s a better way to manage billings and asks the firm’s owner, Margaret, if she can look into it.
Margaret gives her the okay but says she only has three weeks to figure it out – she can’t afford to have Susan distracted by this task for long. She also tells Susan that she doesn’t want to spend much money on this and that it needs to be easy to install and use. After all, Margaret’s nephew, Mark, provides IT support for the firm on the side and his availability is never certain. This last comment leaves Susan feeling a bit stressed – she’s not technically savvy and Mark is on vacation for the next two weeks so she won’t be able to ask him questions. She hopes it won’t be hard to figure out everything needed to make a decision.
The research process begins
As a first step, Susan jumps online and conducts a Google search on “law firm billing problems.” The top results are a story in a major newspaper about a well-known law firm that was found guilty of double billing its clients and a description of a conference session that will cover typical billing problems in law firms and how to resolve them. Susan wishes she could go, but the conference is two months away. Plus, it costs $695 to attend! The third search results catches Susan’s eye. The link reads “How Law Firms Can Save Time and Money Managing Billings“. She makes a note to check it out, but first clicks on the link below that pointing to an online forum for legal firms.
Reaching out to peers
Once on the forum, Susan takes a quick look at the discussion categories and is pleased to see one on “accounting.” She starts exploring the discussion threads and soon finds one about billing issues. Many people are talking about the firm caught double billing its clients. Susan jumps in and asks if anyone can recommend a better way to manage the billings in her firm. A few people chime in about their own daily pains in accounting, and one mentions that he’s heard about a software product. He thinks the company offering it is called Abacus but can’t tell Susan much more.
Running into a dead end
Susan does a quick search on the company’s name and finds its website. At first she wonders if this is the same company mentioned in the forum. She sees nothing about billing software for law firms. In fact, it’s not clear what this company does. The home page says the company provides “cutting-edge, integrated solutions that help companies leverage their assets for maximum ROI.” She clicks on the Products tab and sees a long list of meaningless product names. She’s about ready to give up when she notices a link to something called a white paper titled “Abacus: The Leading Billing Software.” She clicks on the title and is taken to a registration form asking for her contact info, including company name, her name, her title, phone number, email address, and when she expects to make a purchase. She can’t believe she has to fill all that out just to read this! In fact, she’s not positive she wants to read it since she knows nothing about it except the title.
Finding what she needs
Frustrated, Susan goes back to the search results on Google and clicks on “How Law Firms Can Save Time and Money Managing Billings“. Susan is taken to the website for a company called Make Your Case with a link to the full article. The article describes just the types of issues that Susan is dealing with, and points to research conducted by a reputable law school that highlights the potential problems associated with billing issues. The article even references the recent story about the law firm that got into trouble over double billings. Clearly this company understands what Susan is dealing with and is on top of the latest happenings. At the end of the article, she’s invited to sign up for a 30-minute webinar exploring these issues in more depth. Because she’s feeling pressed for time and doesn’t need more convincing about these issues, Susan doesn’t click on this link.
But she’s interested in the other links: to case studies showing how other law firms have benefited by using this company’s billing solution, and to a one-pager explaining how the solution helps solve the most pressing billing issues. Susan clicks on the link to the case studies and is brought to a page showing the stories categorized by law firm size and different billing issues. She chooses one that most closely matches her situation and sees a one-paragraph overview explaining the law firm’s scenario and a bulleted list of how it benefited from the vendor’s solution. She decides to download the case study for further reading. At the bottom of this page, she sees the same link to the one-pager about the solution and clicks on that. Again, she’s taken to a page that summarizes what’s in the one-pager and decides to download that too. At the bottom of this page, she sees a link to a 5-minute demo and clicks through. The page explains that the demo explains how easy it is to use the software for billings and what’s required to get up and running with it.
Happily exchanging contact info for access to a demo
Susan is asked to provide her name and email address in exchange for access. Because she’s been impressed so far with what she’s read – and because she’s only asked for minimal information – Susan fills out the form and watches the demo. She learns that this company offers the solution as both software and something called software-as-as-service (SaaS). She’s never heard of SaaS, but the demo made it clear it will make it much easier for her law firm to take advantage of the solution. In fact, it appears Mark will have to do very little to help Susan get started with this – or to keep it updated with the latest functionality.
Digging into ROI
Having spent a couple of hours on this search, Susan decides it’s time to see if she’s missed any critical messages. She checks her voice mail and then her email. She sees a personalized email from Make Your Case, thanking her for spending the time to watch the demo and inviting her to submit any questions she may have. The email includes a link to something called an ROI calculator, saying this can help Susan prove the value of the solution to her boss. That looks interesting but first Susan needs an idea of how much this solution costs. She replies to the email, asking for pricing for a 45-person law firm. Within 30 minutes, Susan receives a response, laying out pricing for both the software and SaaS options. The sales rep, Dan, invites Susan to call him if she has any questions and also encourages her to check out the ROI calculator. He also offers to help her fill out the calculator.
Pleasantly surprised to see that the solution is pretty reasonably priced, Susan decides to check out the calculator. After all, the better armed she is, the easier it will be to convince Margaret that the money will be well spent. She clicks on the link and is taken to a page where she has to fill in details about the number of people managing billing, average salary for these employees, average number of billings per month, billing terms, and a few other details. She knows the answers to most of these questions but doesn’t know average number of billings off the top of her head and doesn’t have the time to figure it out.
Susan calls Dan, the sales rep, for assistance. Dan says he can give Susan a number based on the average that his company has seen for law firms of her size. He then asks Susan if she’s already started to fill out the calculator. She actually hadn’t because she realized she didn’t have all needed information. He offers to send her a link that will allow her to watch him fill in the numbers online for her. She accepts and he walks her through the calculations. Once the final number is displayed, Dan asks Susan if the value is what she expected. She says she honestly didn’t know what to expect but believes her boss will be happy with it. Dan asks if he can answer any additional questions for her. She says she may need him to talk to Mark at some point about the technical aspects of the solution but that she’s all set otherwise.
Feeling tension with a vendor who doesn’t get it
Susan hangs up, feeling excited about this solution. But she knows Margaret will want to compare this to at least one other solution to make sure they’re getting the best deal. As much as she dreads the thought, Susan revisits the Abacus site. She enters “ROI calculator” into the search field and sees a long list of results, some of which don’t seem related to her search. Finally she spots what appears to be the right thing and clicks the link. Again, she’s shown a registration form asking for a long list of information. She takes a deep sigh and fills out the form, realizing she has no choice since she needs this information. After she clicks the submit button, she’s surprised to see a message saying her request has been received. She wonders why she isn’t seeing the ROI calculator.
Hearing that an email message just arrived, Susan checks and sees a message from Abacus. It says a sales rep will be calling her soon about her request. Annoyed, Susan goes back to work. Near the end of the day, Susan gets a phone call from the sales rep. He jumps right in with a pitch about his company’s solutions and asks how he can help. Susan reminds him that she wanted to use the ROI calculator. Though the rep seems caught off guard, he says he can walk Susan through this. She agrees, but asks him to confirm that his company offers both software and SaaS and asks for the price of each. He assures her that it does, but insists that she should see the ROI calculations first. Aggravated, Susan demands that he share pricing first. He grumbles but relents. Susan’s actually relieved to hear that the solutions cost more than the other company’s. After her unpleasant experience on the vendor’s site and with this sales rep, she has no desire to do business with the company. She tells the sales rep she doesn’t need to see the ROI calculator and hangs up.
The decision is clear
Can you guess what happens next? Susan recommends the Make the Case solution to Margaret because her research process has been painless and the vendor provided all the information she needed – and made it easy to access. The vendor was able to provide the needed information because it had a solid understanding of its typical customers and the information they seek when researching possible solutions. It also made a point of providing value without being pushy about the sale.
Though this is a fictitious – and greatly simplified – scenario, it’s a reasonable model for how your company can set itself up to be the vendor of choice.