Tassilo Chalice (reproduction).

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Building lists, attracting an audience, being showered in likes and follows and comments are all great, but none of that pays the bills. So how can you maximize the chances that your content marketing efforts will provide a measurable return and actual revenue? By paying attention to the details other than the content.

Too often, the focus for content marketers is on content. That’s true even for us at times. Quite honestly, what attracted me to content marketing in the first place was the focus on content. I love creating content, I love consuming content.

But as important as content is, it will not win the day on its own. Here are the steps you’ll need to build the money-making machine you’ve envisioned.

Here’s where you might be expecting something that looks like this 6-step process:

  • Planning
  • Production
  • Distribution
  • Promotion
  • Measurement
  • Review

And that’s good, as far as it goes, but each of these steps runs the risk of remaining focused on you and your process. What’s left out (ironically, given the core concepts of content marketing) is any mention of the prospect and converting that prospect from a subscriber or follower into a lead, from a lead into a qualified lead, and from a qualified lead into a client. In other words, conversion is left out of the equation. Let’s take a look at our process with conversion in mind.

No surprise, we still have to plan, but now our planning goes beyond mapping out a year’s worth of articles, social media participation and other content and aligning it all with the products or services we’re marketing. We have to align our content with our audience’s place in their buying cycle. We have to have a plan for creating the kind of content that is attractive to someone just discovering that what you do even exists, and content for folks far enough along to already know you exist and who are ready to decide among you and your competitors.

An extension of your planning is the actual production of content elements that fit your plan. Do you have the skills and resources on your team to create the broader range of content than you may already have been creating? Or do you need to hire out for areas that you hadn’t included before? (Video is a common area for outsourcing, though depending on how and where you’re going to use video, you may not need to invest in super-high production values.)

Critically, don’t forget about the mechanics of what wraps around your content. Whether that’s a landing page or your social media profile/presence or the sidebar materials in your email newsletter, you have to aim everything toward conversion.

Remember that your audience may be skipping over the front-door introduction that is your website home page and learning about you either deep in your site’s knowledge center, for example, or in today’s Twitter stream or even on someone else’s blog. They have to have immediate access to who you are and the value you can produce for them. This may not be possible on someone else’s blog, but you certainly can make it happen on the digital properties you own.

A focus on conversion doesn’t mean a focus on a hard sell. In fact, for content aimed at early-stage prospects, you don’t want to create any sort of barrier that would dissuade them from engaging. They’re not qualified leads yet so you can’t convert them. No point in even trying – it’s counter-productive.

That changes as you move through the funnel, and moving your audience through the funnel must be the focus.

Even your mom doesn’t visit your website every week. (Unless she’s a majority shareholder …) Nobody else does either. So be sure you’re thinking beyond the blog when you’re planning and producing content. And be sure that the channels you are using are the channels where your audience is already gathering.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve said, “Build it and they will come just ain’t happening on the web anymore” I’d say it even more often than I already do. Those nickels add up.

If you want to see a positive return on your content marketing investment, the majority of your effort has to be in getting your content seen by a broader and broader audience. That gets done “retail” – every business card you and your sales team pick up at networking events and trade shows matters – and “wholesale,” where you use PR and cross-promotion to get yourself in front of a whole new audience.

And don’t overlook the inter-relationship between the type and quality of content you produce and how effectively it can be promoted. Great content – shareable, actionable content – is a whole lot easier to promote than more general content, and certainly more promotable than anything, uh, promotional …

If you want results, you have to know what’s working and what’s not. Even the best-laid plans aren’t perfect and must be improved quarter over quarter. Measure, and if you’re not seeing results, adjust or move your efforts elsewhere. I’m not necessarily advocating for impatience. Some content marketing efforts take time to blossom. But you have to be sure there’s growth even if there’s no tangible results to be seen at first.

Measurement is also where marketing and sales teams should be working most closely together. Sales probably doesn’t care about your marketing metrics – likes and follows and click-through rates – but they would like there to be a transition between your metrics and the metrics they’re using. Lead-scoring metrics are what keep sales teams from wasting valuable resources on leads that aren’t likely to produce revenue. Can your system and theirs be combined? Is there a way to effectively hand off leads seamlessly? This is another critical step in the content marketing to revenue work flow.

It’s almost silly to break Review out separately from Measurement. I mean, why measure if you’re not going to review? And yet, that’s exactly what we see too often in the real world. Slap Google Analytics on the site and then … ignore it. Select an email service provider based on the quality of its analytics and then … ignore them.

Adjust your approach based on what’s working and, as you continually improve your content marketing, you’ll also increase the revenue it generates.