The end. Is this the making of a good story? Would you read on? Would you engage the plot and get to know the characters? Would you become so invested that you’d skip meals and sleep to pursue the next scene? Content is critical to every client engagement your marketing will discover and nurture. Content is the catalyst that makes inbound marketing work. But that’s not to say that all content is equally powerful at enabling your sales qualification funnel.great_content_isn't_about_me

Recently I wrote a blog about begin with the end in mind. In a number of recent engagements at our inbound marketing agency, clients seemed to take that advice to the extreme. They wanted to begin by making large investments in bottom-of-the-funnel (BOFU) offers. One client had a well-thought-out list of 12 detailed qualifying questions that had to be answered on a form to enable a download of an amazing market research study that differentiated their firm from all the competition. Anyone who happened to come to their site and who was ready to answer all those questions and who was interested in that content was going to be a sure-thing qualified lead… but your marketing is back to behaving like outbound marketing instead of inbound marketing… looking for needles in haystacks.

Don’t laugh… You’ve probably worked hard on some of these deal-closing, swing-for-the-fence offers yourself. Online product demos, 30-day free trials, consultation offers… our inbound marketing agency has a few of these… perhaps you’ve seen our free website checkup?  You can’t wait to stick this offer in front of a prospect because you just know they will react exactly like you do and see this offer for the deal clincher that it is. But did you ever stop to consider how many of your website visitors are ready to start a 30-day free trial the first time they get to your site? They don’t even know you… and you don’t even know them… and you’re pitching a free trial or a consult with the CEO… really? What about your top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) offers? … the get to know me before you pop the question content that catalyzes relationships and powers online marketing automation.

What does all Great TOFU have in common?

Top-of-the-funnel offers aren’t brochures. Or case studies or whitepapers. Top-of-funnel offers are not about your business. Great TOFU offers are problem-solving downloads or video content that appeals to as many people who have your target buyer persona as possible. Begin the story of your offer with information that people will share.

Your prospects who go to a search engine are first and foremost looking for solutions to a problem they have. Nobody (except your own marketing staff) fires up Google hoping to find your product brochure. Imagine opening a book where the author wrote the entire first chapter telling you how great a writer he is. Would you read the second? Would you share that book with a friend? Think about how you use a search engine. … find: self aggrandizing brochure on lead generation …that doesn’t happen and your prospects aren’t looking for you that way either. To be found by your prospects, create content that solves a problem for your targeted buyer persona.

For example, if you’re selling building fire safety systems to facilities managers, then you should create content explaining how to solve a common building fire safety issue they face—without talking about your product or your brand.

If you do this correctly the people who find your content online, and find it valuable, will share it – without you lifting a finger or spending a dime. That’s cool!

You Can’t Skip TOFU and go Straight to the Dessert

Think about why we call your marketing qualification process a funnel. Why is the top larger than the bottom? If little or nothing goes into the top, what comes out the bottom? The answers to these questions seem self-evident, but it’s easy to get so focused on the content that just precedes the result you want, a qualified sales lead, that you forget how important the top of your funnel is. You can’t nurture and qualify leads that don’t exist. Even with the most advanced marketing automation software, your 30-day free trial isn’t going to convince all the people, who didn’t start your sales process by giving their name and email address, to buy! When you create more top-of-the-funnel offers, you will increase the number of visitors to your website who choose to become prospects and eventually qualified leads because they’ve come to know your value proposition (and you’ve come to know them) through your content and offers. More TOFU offers mean:

  1. More prospects have the opportunity to be nurtured and qualified for your powerful bottom of the funnel offers
  2. More prospects become familiar with your brand, even if they don’t get beyond the top-of-the-funnel
  3. More people who you never suspected would become leads and eventually qualified sales opportunities, now have the opportunity to do so

When it comes to inbound marketing, more activity is better and top-of-the-funnel offers are the best way to generate that activity.

Great Marketing Automation Runs On TOFU

A marketing department that isn’t generating leads isn’t doing its job. That’s never been truer than right now. What’s different today is that old brochure-style website you believed (because you couldn’t prove it!) that people used to research your product, isn’t worth its hosting fee if it’s not generating leads for you. The same also goes for your public relations, newsletters, ad campaigns and tradeshows. If these activities are not designed to generate leads, and aren’t generating leads, they shouldn’t be part of your marketing.

The obvious solution for many schools, businesses and non-profits is to simply invest in marketing automation software, like Hubspot. That’s a great start, but if a visitor to your website doesn’t convert, then the best software in the world isn’t going to help you achieve your goals.

So what do we do with the amazing 30-day trial offers and the ground-breaking market research? Absolutely use them! But at the right time in your story, after a lead is qualified and ready to appreciate that offer the way you do. The only reliable way to ensure that visitors to your website convert is to create valuable, shareable top-of-the-funnel content. Begin your story with content that’s more about your prospect than it is about you. Make it something your prospects will share. That first conversion is the only way to take advantage of your marketing automation software to nurture a prospect to the point that they’re ready for your great bottom-of-the-funnel offer and deliver truly qualified leads to your sales team.