A recent study found only 12 percent of B2B marketers believe they have content marketing engines programmed to target the right audiences. This statistic might make many of us marketers wonder how we get so far off track with our content. Part of the challenge is that we try to engage as many people as we can instead of who we really need to. It can be easy for us as content producers to forget that we want to connect with the decision makers and influencers that the sales team wants to sell to.

So how can marketers do a better job of identifying the customer and providing valuable and compelling content for that customer? The best place to start is with an understanding of the buying process and then getting fully invested in the prospect’s journey. Here are three steps to take in the pursuit of engaging content that converts into real leads:

1. Start with understanding your buyer personas.

Everyone on the customer team (and I mean everyone) needs to be aligned to the same audience – potential buyers that are going to make or influence purchases. The advantage of developing an understanding of the people involved in your buying process is that it provides context for every part of the organization (sales, marketing, customer service, product developers) as to what your buyers really care about. When you document a clear definition of the specific problems you solve for decision makers and influencers, each part of the organization can center their activities on how they help these personas. For the content team, two of the most important aspects to understand about your buyer personas will be the questions potential customers have during the different stages of their buying process and where they go when they need to solve their problems. Your content strategy should map to addressing these questions as they happen along a buyer’s journey, and importantly, answering them in the places that your personas look for answers.. If you think you’re not attracting the right people to consume your content – this is most likely where you may be misaligned.

2. Optimize consumption by aligning your content style and delivery vehicles.

Another important aspect that you need to define for each of your buyer personas is the preferred style, vehicle and timing of consuming content for each customer profile. For example, technical evaluators commonly like to see details without promotional language, while executives may want broader strokes of information with a focus on metrics they care about. Additionally, how the content is best delivered to your personas can also be just as important as the actual content. Some prospects are going to be more invested in a video, Slideshare, or webinar yet others might be more interested in long form content like eBooks and whitepapers. Some might like to receive frequent updates via an email newsletter, while other might prefer to receive a printed eBook sent with a personal note. The point is that a content marketer’s job doesn’t stop with creating a topic or even with writing copy. Truly successful marketing writers think about every interaction point a reader has with a piece, from email subject lines through longevity of the content. Content needs to be tailored per audience – there is no way around it.

3. Expand your success metrics

The end goal of marketing content is to advance the buying process. Content teams often look at metrics like readership numbers, website hits, social shares or minutes on the page to determine which content pieces are most successful. Those numbers are important and great for qualitative purposes in determining how well your content is received, but in reality, the metrics that matter most are the ones that most closely tie to closed sales. Consider adding metrics that better measure how close the readership maps to qualified leads. If you have criteria established for what makes a lead “marketing qualified” or “sales qualified,” add these reporting details so the reader can be identified as having all or some of those attributes instead of the ones that are unknown. This will help build a marketing lead funnel that determines how well aligned your content and community is to your target persona and the result will be a more meaningful metric to executives.

Lastly, remember that even though your content needs to be designed to advance a prospect’s journey toward a sale, you still have to make the content compelling to consume or no one will read it. It takes a tremendous amount of creativity to build content that is informative, artistic, clever, engaging and fun while still supporting the objective of ushering buyers to the finish line. Think of the steps I have noted above as the foundation for your content to make sure you are building exactly what the organization needs. What you do with your content creatively from there is what separates the good content programs from the great ones.