Content Marketing and “Trusted Advisors”

In many larger organizations, professional services consultants and sales folks are trained to become “trusted advisors” to their accounts. To attain this status, account managers need to demonstrate a deep understanding of the customer’s environment and pains and offer valued advice and support.  It strikes me that this is exactly the goal of a great content marketing strategy.

Why? Because Lead Development is Happening Without You

Traditional lead development is a process where prospects are ushered along a path where they are fed increasingly detailed information about a company’s offering until they are ready to make a purchase, at which point they are handed over to sales. The problem with this process however is that people don’t like to be sold to and traditional lead development looks an awful lot like selling. So prospects avoid coming to vendors for information as much as they can, and today, getting the information they need (from forums, blogs, through online networks of their peers, independent review sites, etc.) is easier than it’s ever been.  In many cases, prospects are entering the lead flow process far more sales ready than they’ve ever been, which begs the question – how many opportunities for lead development are companies missing altogether?

The Trusted Advisor Approach and Content Marketing

How do you do hands-off or low-touch lead development?  The same way sales has been doing it through becoming trusted advisors.  Rather than selling to prospects, you help them.

Prospects have problems to solve.  They are looking for information that helps them understand what their options are.  They need to learn the different approaches to solving the problem.  they will need to understand industry terms and possibly some technology that they aren’t familiar with.  They will research best practices and look at how other companies like theirs have solved the problem in the past.  they want to understand how things can go wrong and how to avoid that.

Great content can provide all of the above.  Through blog posts, webinars, e-books, video, customer testimonials and a host of other types of content, marketing can provide truly helpful information that prospects actually want.  This content helps to give you permission to interact with prospects who would otherwise try hard to avoid you until later in the buying process.

This is Not About Products or Thought Leadership

This is not about providing product information.  Like the trusted advisor sales approach, the goal is to first establish credibility by sharing your knowledge and experience.  Once you have proved that you can help a prospect solve their problems, they are much more likely to ask for you help on problems that your products/services can solve and you then have permission to “sell” to them.

This is also not about “thought leadership”.  Thought leadership (in my mind anyway) is more about having an opinion and point of view on what’s happening in the industry that gives people an indication of where it’s headed.  Thought leaders aren’t necessarily “helpful” per se because they don’t generally give you information you can act on today.  For example I would consider Seth Godin to be a marketing thought leader but his books, although exceptionally thought-provoking, don’t give you a roadmap of how to get from where you are to where he thinks things are going.  On the other hand, if you needed a VC pitch template and I gave you one, you likely wouldn’t call me a thought leader but you’d probably find me helpful (and you might come back and ask me for more advice on how to pitch a potential investor).  Thought leadership content is important to demonstrate vision but I don’t believe it’s enough to develop trust with a potential client.

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30 thoughts on “Content Marketing and “Trusted Advisors””

  1. Awesome post!
    I’ve been struggling with out lead management process for the past few months. With our email drip, we see fantastic response on the first touch and essentially nothing after that. I think the issue is that our content is very product oriented but product isn’t the thing that stopping them from buying. The issues are more around not understanding what things they need to focus on, how to evaluate vendors against one another and general bigger issues in the market.
    Question – if the mindset in your company is very product and sales oriented, how do you get them to change?

    1. Hi Justin,
      Thanks for the comment. Helping customers buy is a very different mindset from “selling”. It may not seem like a big shift but often it is. If your company is very oriented around selling features and functions, the shift to creating content that is more helpful but less sales oriented might seem risky I think the best way to move in that direction is to start doing some small experiments and tracking the results. If you can show that something works better than the status quo, it’s easy to convince people to change.
      April

  2. Susan,
    This is on of the first “content marketing” articles that I have read that addresses “customer needs” as the top priority of any content marketing effort. Will I personally am not a fan of the phrase content marketing (B2B marketers have been doing this for a long time without calling it content marketing), I do believe that the social media explosion is putting a new twist on it (so I guess we can expect a new terminology).

    At the most, content marketing writers have alluded to “buyer personas” as relating to customer needs. That’s fair enough at the role level, but with B2B you need to have an account level model as well. And of course accounts can be parts of segments, so you need a segment marketing strategy to boot.

    Regarding Thought Leadership, I agree it’s a squirrelly topic. However I believe that whatever you call your B2B marketing strategy, Thought Leadership should be a key consideration. I go a bit further than you about linking the solving of customer needs to Thought Leadership. In my mind, ‘industry needs” is the domain of Thought Leadership and “customer needs” are the steppingstones to industry needs.

    1. Hi Mark,
      Thanks for the comment. I think that content marketing needs to be all about the needs of customers an prospects. I think great content can be applicable for certain segments and roles. When we get down as far as specific accounts that’s more of a field marketing or sales effort in my mind but that said, I’ve certainly done my share of building content for a specific account.
      With respect to thought leadership, I think you still have to do it and having a content marketing strategy doesn’t get you out of having to deal with that.
      April

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