B2B salesContent marketinghas become a bit of a buzzword recently. It’s become a synonym for digital marketing and a catchall term for marketing tactics like blogging and social media. It’s also become an essential part of B2B marketing strategies, recent research found that 88% of B2B content marketing spends are to either stay the same or increase in 2013.

For B2B companies, the bottom line is sales. Most B2Bs aren’t interested in becoming a household name brand, or appearing on billboards. They just want to sell their product. Which is odd, considering that same research found that only 43% of B2Bs listed sales as a measurable target for content marketing.

Content Marketing is a Fad

How can we bring these two facts together? How can B2B sales be such a low priority for an area receiving heavy investment this year? The answer may be that content marketing is simply a fad. B2Bs obviously have little confidence in its ability to directly increase sales. The rise in investment may simply be a reaction to rival investment in the same tactic. If the other guy’s doing it you better do it too, just in case.

If that sounds flippant it’s because it is. It’s extremely unlikely that any B2B would invest in something without seeing a potential ROI. So there must be another explanation for the disconnect between the investment and B2Bs’ view on content’s ability to generate sales.

Traditional B2B Sales Process

The answer may lie in the traditional B2B sales process, so lets break that down.

-Monitoring trends Sales guys know their industry, they know it because they research, they speak to clients and contacts and they work hard at knowing what prospects need and how their product can help. They use this research to demonstrate their expertise when it comes to sales calls.

-Talking to prospects Most B2B sales are made after direct conversations between a sales person and a prospect. These direct conversations allow sales people to provide unique understanding and offer real insight. Most sales people will tell you, that conversation sews the seeds of a sale.

-Building contact lists In order to have those conversations, you need a contact list. That means pounding pavement, talking to prospects and networking.

-Making demos The most powerful weapon in the B2B sales arsenal is the demonstration. Having a product that you can actually show to a prospect, allows you to have a direct and practical sales conversation.

That’s a basic overview of the factors involved in traditional B2B sales. In short it’s about identifying and chasing leads and then working them through a sales funnel.

B2B Marketing Content

So where might marketing content fit into that sales process?

-Monitoring trends Research is a huge part of content marketing. In order to create content that engages prospects and demonstrates your organization’s expertise you need to know the industry. Quality research allows you to create content that marks you as a through leader in your industry.

-Talking to prospects Content marketing isn’t just about creating content and broadcasting it. That’s advertising. Content marketing is about engaging with an audience. You create content that inspires conversation and then you get involved in that conversation. The more engaging you are; the more prospects begin to see you as an expert.

-Building contact lists Conversion is key in content marketing. Every piece of content is designed to send prospects towards a conversion point where they download a piece of useful content and join a contact list. Or they subscribe to a blog and join a separate list that keeps them on your sales radar.

-Making demos You can’t make direct demonstrations through content, but you can create videos and write case studies that demonstrate your organization’s capabilities. These online demos can help your prospects to understand your business, before engaging in a practical sales conversation later.

Can Content Marketing Generate B2B Sales?

When you break it down it’s clear why businesses are investing in content marketing. The targets being set for content may range from brand awareness to thought leadership but they’re really just factors in the standard B2B sales process. Factors that could fall under a simple catchall term, like content marketing.

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