This is the second in a three part series on how professional services firm Sales Benchmark Index has made the transition from traditional outbound marketing like cold calls to a content-driven marketing approach using blogs, twitter, ebooks, and videos. If you haven’t done so, read the first installment Professional Services Firm Grows 50% through Switch from Outbound to Inbound Marketing.
Subject matter experts
I love the approach Greg Alexander, CEO of the company, has taken to building content. Since Sales Benchmark Index is a professional services firm with smart subject experts, they needed to create an environment to channel the expertise into the creation of blog posts, videos, and longer form content assets like ebooks.
"We heavily explored the use of contractors and agencies and went so far as to request work product samples from them," Greg says. "What we found was very, very talented writers, smart people, great art directors and all of those good things. But they just really couldn't grasp the details of what it is that we do. So the content they were producing was too generic. It wasn’t relevant enough to our audience, so we decided to build internally."
Greg's "internal agency" includes three staff: a full-time editor who manages an editorial calendar, the production schedule, and determines media channels; an SEO expert to increase the likelihood of the content getting found in search; and a copywriter, who works with subject matter experts inside the firm. "But the actual writers, the contributors of all the content are the subject matter experts in our company who are working with our clients," Greg says.
Interestingly, the subject matter experts at Sales Benchmark Index are organized by buyer persona. I always recommend this buyer-centric approach yet very few companies organize around buyers, instead focusing on the product lines they offer rather than the personas they sell to.
"It was a difficult transition for us," Greg admits. "We used to be service offering focused. In fact the entire company was organized that way to where we had P&Ls by service offering. I had to break that because I agree with your philosophy. It was a painful transition and it took us some time to get there."
Greg also does what I recommend everyone do—he not only developed buyer persona profiles, but also named his buyer personas. At Sales Benchmark Index there are nine buyer personas, and there are two people from the firm assigned to work with each one and to create content for them.
"For example, we have a persona called 'Big Company Mark', Greg says. "Big Company Mark is the chief marketing officer or the VP of marketing. We have two individuals in our firm who have been serving the chief marketing officer in the B2B environment for many years, even prior to joining our company. They were the ones who actually constructed the buyer persona, so they understand what their needs and challenges are. For example, one of our service offerings is lead generation. But we didn't want to just write about lead generation because that was very much an inward out perspective. We found that people really don’t care about us. They care about themselves. So if you can write about lead generation through the eyes of the chief marketing officer inside, say, a telecommunications company or software company, it resonated more. So that's how we have the teams organized."
Developing compelling content
When it came time to start writing, the team started with a blog. They worked with HubSpot to deploy the HubSpot marketing platform to host the information.
"It started slowly," Greg says. "Our early blog posts probably weren't our proudest moments. But then we started to build interest and get subscribers. Soon everybody in the company saw the success and wanted to participate, so we began posting to our blog every day."
In a nod to real-time marketing, the company blog is actually the homepage. This is a terrific way to showcase company expertise and also to surface content for SEO purposes. "Our best asset is our blog," he says. "So we thought, why not put that on the homepage? That really helped." In a world where so many organizations treat their homepage like the cover of a brochure, having blog posts that update daily occupy that valuable real estate is excellent real-time marketing.
One thing I particularly love about the Sales Benchmark Index home page is how the blog posts are organized in an index that is both buyer persona based and also market problem based. Brilliant! This means potential customers can find exactly the posts that are created for them.
The team at Sales Benchmark Index also creates long-form content including an ebook targeted to newly promoted VPs of sales Promoted to VP of Sales: The Year One Toolkit. "That's done extremely well for us," Greg says. "It was a heavy lift for us to put it together. But it has created over 4,000 leads for us so far this year. We also launched a monthly webinar series with one of our subject matter experts and a Q&A session. We've gotten about 1,000 attendees per month for that."
Greg is personally active on Twitter with his @GregAlexander feed having nearly 35,000 followers. The company feed @makingthenumber is over 30,000 followers and many all the subject matter experts in the company have their own personal Twitter accounts. "We ask our people to be active on Twitter and we’ve seen significant increases in our follower count," he says. Greg says LinkedIn is the most effective social platform for the company, even more important than Twitter.
With all these successes, I wanted to know what didn't work. "Facebook was a total failure for us," Greg says. "We gave it a college try, invested a lot in it. In fact, I was so frustrated that I hired a consultant to help me with it, somebody who explored all the possible options for us. Our customers and target audience did not want to engage with us there. But we tried. That’s our approach, throw a wide content net and let the process of elimination consolidate around the areas that worked out well."
In tomorrow's post, I'll discuss how Greg measures success and provide his advice to other CEOs on how to get started with a inbound marketing content strategy.
Disclosures: Greg and I serve together on the Eloqua board of advisors, which is where we met. In addition, I am on HubSpot advisory board and serve as Marketer in Residence at HubSpot.