80% of businesses are deploying content across their entire organizations indicates a recent report by Altimeter. From marketing to sales, support to customer success, content is the undisputed fuel for the entire customer experience – regardless of the department responsible for the touchpoint.

This isn’t surprising because all the metrics point toward how high quality content works — visuals increase comprehension and recall as well improve engagement and sharing. For example:

Plain and simple, your organization is dependent on marketing-produced content. Not just for customer acquisition, but for every single part of the customer journey. This dependency has dramatically increased the demand for high quality, original content and it increases the criticality and strategic importance of a consistent, reliable and flexible supply of high quality content.

Conducting the content orchestra

Creativity is at the core of every blog post, social update, case study, video and infographic that attracts and engages our customers. And the creative development process is messy, dependent on unpredictable flashes of inspiration, prone to redrafts and needs the review and approval of increasing numbers of stakeholders. Yet, the deadlines are set in stone.

When you add external freelancers and agencies to the mix who may be working on different aspects of the same campaign along with internal stakeholders or external partners who also need to contribute or approve, the complexity in the process increases exponentially.

We can think about the creative collaboration process as an orchestra of talented, specialized musicians. If just one of the players – creators, agencies, managers and reviewers – lags behind or falls out of tune, the entire piece is ruined. Today’s marketing manager and CMO act as the tireless conductor of this ad hoc orchestra, yet many times, there isn’t a common score from which everyone plays.

This makes it difficult to answer the critical question of will this content or campaign be delivered on time? How will the groups and departments who need this content get access to it? Once launched, how is it performing and are changes or adaptations needed?

Marketing leaders need insights into the creative lifecycle of each of these projects and for many teams, it’s almost impossible to get their answers without significant non-creative administrative make-work. This is why fixing the marketing content pipeline is so critical to the success of any business. Fortunately, the world of sales provides an example of what can be done to solve the problem.

The sales force awakens

More than 10 years ago, most sales organizations faced similar problems with the sales pipeline. Needing visibility into how deals were progressing in order to forecast whether targets would be met and to know where more resources were needed, sales leaders invested heavily in ops and admin roles.

These poor souls spent their time running around collecting data and summarizing it in spreadsheets so their sales leaders could analyze and decide. This was all much to the chagrin of the sales reps who were now required to provide information and perform actions that deviated them from the path to hitting their quota.

The success of the new generation of cloud-based CRM tools like Salesforce had a lot to do with the fact that their sole purpose was not to benefit the sales leader. Instead they were built around features like automated drip outreaches and account renewal notifications that quickly became mission critical to individual reps and motivated them to feed the system with quality data.

The sales team no longer needed to spend time “reporting” about the work, they just worked. Sales Ops could spend less time nagging and more on the valuable work of forecasting, while leaders had the oversight they needed and even more. They could invest resources in new revenue-producing heads vs admins who focused on reporting.

In the jungle, the content jungle, the pipeline sleeps tonight

Today, it’s unheard of for sales teams to not have a system like this in place. It’s simply how high-functioning organizations keep the sales pipeline flowing. Yet the marketing content pipeline remains in that dark obscure place in which sales existed more than a decade ago. As with reps, forcing project management tools with top-down benefits on creative teams isn’t going to work. They just end up resenting the pain of extra admin that gets in the way of them doing what they do best: creating.

Fortunately, marketing leaders can look to the transformative CRM services as a model to solve the content pipeline problem. The key is to find a way to solve real, on-the-ground problems creatives face every day. And some of the biggest issues happen to occur in the area with the most company-wide crossover: creative collaboration.

The way most creative teams collect feedback on work, update new versions and get final approvals is hardly worthy of the term “process”. Ask which tools they use for review and approval and you’ll likely get a long rambling answer that includes email, consumer storage apps, niche collaboration tools designed for specific media and good old-fashioned drag everyone into a time-suck of a meeting for an hour.

As inefficient as that is for iterating and improving on creative work, it’s a disaster for pipeline tracking. With so many sources of truth, there’s no way to know what’s actually going on.

A purpose-built creative collaboration app that is intuitive, accessible and deals with a broad range of media types addresses problems of collecting accurate creative feedback and approvals. Now the creative team is providing data and updates on project progress and therefore the overall state of the content pipeline simply through doing their work more effectively.

By mimicking the approach of the successful sales CRMs, marketing leaders can help their creative teams get content to market faster and open a window onto that hitherto hidden content pipeline. Then content will truly be king.