I recently had the extreme pleasure of sitting down with Marcus Sheridan of The Sales Lion. Marcus is one of the very best content marketing trainers in the country, and we discussed what it’s like to get started with Content Marketing.
Marcus shared the story of his first company, River Pools and Spas. He saved the company from going under by applying content marketing strategies. It made such an impact, that he has since spent his career helping other companies do the same.
Because Marcus realizes that just getting started with content marketing can feel overwhelming, he suggests beginning with the “They Ask/You Answer” concept.
They Ask, You Answer Concept
To apply the concept, take science out of it, and instead just ask yourself how many questions you’ve gotten over the years about what you do and what you offer, and determine how many of those questions are answered on your website. He says you will most likely find out that fairly few of them are. The philosophy behind “They Ask/You Answer” is that if someone were considering your product to solve a problem, what questions are they asking themselves? This translates to what people are searching for online.
Marcus also went on to give some examples people are likely to ask when considering fiberglass pools: what’s the difference between concrete and fiberglass pools, what’s the cost difference, what’s the best patio to put around a fiberglass pool, etc.
He also said the first thing people are most likely to ask about is cost, but stated that many companies are afraid to address price. However, this is an important place to start since it’s most likely the most common question being asked. Marcus added that people are not searching online for “What are your rates?” so it’s important to be specific. You need to write in the same way that people are asking/searching for information.
With respect to cost, I asked Marcus just how specific we needed to be. He told me that that at a minimum, we need to talk about what brings the cost up/down. The more specific you can get, the better. What scares business owners is making pricing available online. What scares consumers is NOT finding your prices online. The bottom line is that you will be leaving a ton of money on the table if you don’t address this issue on your site- because someone else in your industry is.
It’s Called A Blog Not A Brag
I think Marcus’ most quotable sayings just might be “It’s called a blog, not a brag!” What does he mean by this? You need to write for your customers- not for yourself. Marcus pointed out that we see this in all facets of life. You know those people who try to appear really smart when they give a presentation, but the harder they try, the more stupid they look? It’s the same thing when applied to digital marketing, so approach it from a teacher’s perspective, and you will receive respect and admiration from your audience. The moment you become Mr. Cool Guy or an intellectual superior, you will lose your audience. Marcus emphasizes, “The Content Merits What it Gets.”
Sometimes it feels like ideas can dry up, so I asked Marcus for advice on how to generate other topics. He said to start, have everyone in your company; from interns all the way up to the president, to list the top 5-10 most common questions they’re asked. – On a side note, I personally also pointed out that Gini Dietrich has lots of other good info on blog topic ideas and you can check her out here.
How to Generate Content
Get the Sales Team Involved
Marcus added that as things are moving, get the sales team involved on a daily basis. This can generate a lot of great content. If a company has 10 sales people, find out how many emails each person sends out each day. Now, how many of those address a question, worry, or need? Let’s just say that each person sends 20 emails a day, and 2 of those answer a question, you’re looking at 20 blog posts that otherwise would have died on the vine.
Have an internal email set up for BlogIdeas@CompanyX and Bcc it whenever anyone in the company answers a question. The marketing team should have plenty of topics soon! The questions that are asked over and over can be identified, and written about in longer blog posts or e-books. Marcus pointed out that an unbelievable number of potentially great blog posts are just going into thin air every day, and that by simply adding a Bcc to the marketing department, millions of additional revenue could be generated every year.
Marcus encourages companies to have the marketing team sit in on every sales meeting. The fact that companies have separate sales & marketing meetings is a travesty and needs to end. Sales and marketing teams need to be in constant communication, to streamline their efforts and build a better company.
How to Get Organized
I asked Marcus to give people who are just getting started some advice on organization, once they’ve accumulated ideas. He said that a lot depends on the size and scope of the company. He suggests prioritizing the questions on a 1-2-3 scale. 1 being the most urgent questions, that you get all the time, should get right to the top of the calendar. 3 being nice questions, but not asked often, can be addressed last. This should help organize the content you are going to attack first, and determine which ones will have the greatest impact on your company. The whole point of content marketing is to drive leads, produce sales, and qualify people who contact you. At the end of the day, it’s about revenue and you can’t ever forget that. Don’t start with the fluff questions, or the easy ones, begin with the questions people are asking that indicate they are clearly ready to buy- like cost based questions.
Another thing you should do, especially if you have a team, is identify who your subject matter experts are- the ones who know enough to actually speak to specifics. Then, determine what communication style is for that person. You can’t force someone to be Victor Hugo if they are not Victor Hugo. If you have a culture of content, but not everyone wants to write (Marcus pointed out that only 10% of people in companies like to write). Figure out who is great on camera, and keep in mind that you can always interview those who aren’t crazy about being in front of the camera or writing. Let people communicate in a medium that they are comfortable with- it will highlight their strengths.
Returns on Investments
We discussed when companies should realistically expect to see a return on their investment of money & time. Marcus said the first step is to define what “it’s working” means to your company. Does it mean that your salespeople can more clearly communicate answers to questions, because they’ve had to produce the content and work on their answers? To Marcus, this is an example of a victory, because these people have actually become better at their jobs. Is success quantified by the fact that the videos you’ve created are now being used as part of a sales process, one that prospects see before they meet the sales team, therefore building trust, shortening the sales process, and increasing close rates?
These are all victories, and need to be considered when judging success and your return on investment.
With regard to the return in relations to generating traffic, leads, and sales, Marcus says the factor is 2-fold.
- The type of content are you producing. Is it fluff (questions that just don’t move the needle) or is it buyer-centric (buyer based questions, like costs, problems, and comparison based questions)? If it’s buyer-centric it will work faster, if it’s fluff, it’s gonna take a LONG time.
- The rate that you are able to produce the content. Marcus calls it the “law of compound information.” The law of compound interest pertains to how much and when one begins investing. If you start investing $100/week at 20 yrs old, you will have a lot more money when you turn 60, than the person who begins investing $200/week at age 30. Timing is everything, and in this case, the sooner you get started, and the more consistent you are, the better. Marcus says the magic formula is 3 pieces of content a week if you want to be world class. And in 3-6 months, you will definitely start to see the needle move.
Marcus said amplification is great, but in some industries, it’s hard to do. Some industries aren’t very social. Companies need to ensure that titles are designed, from an SEO perspective, in a way that will be searched. There are lots of social platforms, so it’s best that you pick one to be great at, and spend time on those platforms that are going to produce the greatest results. But Marcus also added that “At the end of the day, everyone should produce text-based and video content, that is a law, that is where it all starts.” – As a side note, my personal experience has been that you must amplify in some fashion to truly get the most bang for your content buck, and I have found a way of doing that in most every industry. I’m not wanting to disagree too much with Marcus, as he is an amazing expert in this space, but I have seen that pretty much every company and every industry has employees on Facebook, and with the targeting options available, you can get your content in front of the right eyeballs. And a great person to learn a ton from is Jon Loomer on all of this.
As for milestones and goals, Marcus says people should be paying attention traffic, leads & sales. He added that he’s not just talking about more leads, but better leads. Again, at the end of the day, it’s about revenue, and you never lose sight of that. When I asked what people could expect, when it comes to budgets, he said that it was a hard question to answer. He has seen small companies who dedicate themselves, and kill it. He has seen bigger companies with all the resources in the world stink up the joint by creating false obstacles (i.e. all these other “initiatives”) and completely disregard digital marketing. However, he has also seen larger companies that are still “Digital Davids” who are quick & nimble. Bigger companies need a content manager or someone who owns this piece of your business. There is a cost, but it’s well worth the expense if you can do it in-house. So, while it’s hard to give a dollar amount, the bottom line is that you must invest some of your money in content marketing.
I ended our meeting asking Marcus with some advice on using outside agencies to create content, instead of keeping this task in-house. He said that the great thing about working with an agency is that you are going to get tasks completed, and see results, but those results can be somewhat limited because agencies work under parameters, but with companies that want to produce tons of content, an agency can be the most powerful tool you have. Marcus said that no matter what the decision, if you, or an outside agency will be producing good content, the company’s team must be involved. At the very least, your company should be supplying an agency with content ideas and common questions. Your content must be aligned with the look and feel of your company.
And never forget that it’s about quantity AND quality!
In late 2009, Sheridan started his sales, marketing, and personal development blog—The Sales Lion, and has since grown The Sales Lion brand to be synonymous with inbound and content marketing excellence while being featured in multiple industry publications, including the New York Times where he was referred to as a “web marketing guru.”