As tough economic conditions coincide with a game-changing shift in consumer behaviour, many SMEs are finding themselves struggling to generate well-qualified leads, and in turn, make sales. Not only are these companies likely to lose the battle of matching or topping previous sales, but their working culture also suffers, as marketing and sales departments lock horns in a row over poor lead conversion. If this rings true for your business, smart content marketing may be the solution to your predicament, working wonders to both streamline your marketing and sales operations and boost sales.

The numbers speak for themselves when it comes to the changing landscape of customer behaviour: according to iMedia Connection, 93% of business buyers use online search to begin the buying process, meaning that instead of talking to the salesperson before making a purchase, today’s buyers are doing the due diligence themselves, online.

With consumers more clued up than ever, it’s crucial that companies are capable of attracting and engaging customers at the primary research stage. Informative, useful content, that competes with the digital content your prospects are consuming is the key to doing exactly this and if delivered at the right time, can gradually qualify your prospects without the hard-sell that many buyers find off-putting. What’s more, a smart strategy, marketing automation and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software take the legwork out of nurturing your leads and boosting sales.

The first step should be to use your CRM platform to record all prospect interactions – this is really important, as you can then analyse this data to see which content is gaining initial interest from prospects and which is pushing them further down the sales funnel. This insight can be used by marketing to create content maps for each individual prospect’s journey, whereby the first piece of content acts as a springboard for a unique stream of continual communications. This means that if a prospect reads a blog on your website about, say, dealing with sales challenges, a few days later you can send them a link to a whitepaper you’ve published on the same topic, and so on.

If this sounds labour-intensive, think again: after an initial upfront effort in creating your content, marketing automation software makes distributing it a breeze by automatically sending  out content following the content map in response to prospect activity. What’s more, setting up automated scoring within your automation software will give you tangible insight into a particular prospect’s level of engagement. This awards points based on a prospect’s content consumption, with each piece of content scored according to its influence on the conversion process.  A webinar watch, for example, would have a higher point score than signing up to your newsletter or reading a blog post. Once a prospect accumulates a certain number of points, they are automatically sent to sales through the CRM. This benefits marketing by taking the pressure off, and means that only prospects likely to convert are sent to sales, meaning Sales are no longer wasting their time chasing poor quality leads.

Marketing automation not only sends out the right content to the right prospect, it also does it at the right time – at a certain trigger point – showing the prospect that your company is listening to them and appreciates their interest. At the same time, it facilitates the capture of an unprecedented amount of lead intelligence, giving companies greater insight than ever and ensuring that sales know every last detail about their leads.

A strategy like this also accommodates those prospects who aren’t ready to qualify: undercooked leads are simply pushed back into the marketing pot and are nurtured with a further stream of tailored communications until they are ready to be pushed back in the sales funnel.

Now, the sales department is getting to work only with the hottest prospects and thanks to the intelligence gathered in the nurturing process, they’re geared better than ever towards closing more deals. They know exactly who their leads are, what they’re looking for, when they want it and how much they want to spend. This data can be used to tailor the approach to every potential customer.

After a deal is closed, it’s crucial that your newly-converted prospects aren’t forgotten – tailored communications that provide aftercare must also be integrated into your strategy, to ensure that your customers are getting the most out of their new purchase. This is when you show your customers that they really matter and that their business is valued.

Furthermore, by continually assessing which content is doing the job and which is failing, marketing can establish the most effective way of approaching prospects. Even cold prospects are not redundant, as data on their behaviour enables marketing to improve their communications.

By this time, the blame game between marketing and sales should be over, with both departments working hand-in-hand with a closed loop of information that allows them to pass on customer intelligence and feedback to one another. No opportunity is lost and the business is well positioned to build genuine relationships with customers, while at the same time enjoying soaring sales.