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Testing the Follow-up on Content-based Marketing Campaigns: Companies are Falling Flat

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Content-based marketing is on the rise. It’s expected to represent 35% of the marketing budget in 2013, which, according to the latest estimates, is up 84% from 2012.

Companies are having no problem cranking out content-based marketing campaigns — with information aimed at positively influencing a customer in some way — but they seem to struggle with follow-up and nurturing leads.

(Lack of) Follow-up: An Informal Study

I recently conducted a very unscientific test on the follow-up (or lack of) from ten content-based marketing campaigns, from companies that were both well-known and unfamiliar to me. I based my judgment on these criteria:

  • How long did it take to receive a follow-up?
  • How effective was the follow-up e-mail or phone call?
  • How many times did they follow up?
While my little experiment was not statistically valid, it did turn up alarming trends. Simply put, the content marketing process and its alignment with sales is disjoined at best. [Click the following to see more detail on the findings at Unscientific, but telling, test results].

This is how it seemed to work (or failed to work) across the ten campaigns:

  1. The marketing department sent out the content, usually via e-mail.
  2. Once I downloaded the piece, my name went to an inside sales or a telemarketing function that completed a basic, very generic follow-up.
  3. Inside sales typically scored the quality of the lead (BANTT) to some degree; then, if I fit the criteria, I was turned over to the field sales team to continue in their sales process.
That’s certainly not a robust response, or one that will successfully convert a high percentage of prospects into customers. There really did not seem to be much synergy between marketing, inside sales, or field sales. (Consider how close synergy is to energy: when it’s there, it sparks and sizzles; in its absence, it fizzles.)

Playbooks Should Accompany Content-based Marketing Pieces

For content-based marketing to be effective, marketing needs to do more than just produce great content. It has to develop the tools to help sales partners — both inside sales and field sales — become more effective. The marketing department needs to provide a playbook that relates the content piece to the actual sales process and their products and services, providing additional insights and potential dialogues to help the sales force better move the deal along their process. It can be difficult for sales to take something produced by marketing and “own” it. I imagine that this would be like a singer having to sing someone else’s lyrics with passion.

The value of content marketing lies in its ability to build thought leadership, strengthen brands, leverage social media, and optimize keywords for search engines. If a “responder” to a content marketing piece becomes just another part of the typical lead waterfall, then the impact of these programs will be muted and opportunities will be lost. Following this lethargic approach isn’t really content-based marketing; rather, it’s just “get a piece out so we can meet our waterfall KPIs.”

Bottom line? When you are spending more than a third of your budget on content-based marketing, you need this investment to deliver a flow of qualified leads, opportunities, and hopefully closed business. It won’t work if marketing focuses solely on the content piece but leaves the same old generic nurturing process in place.

One suggestion is for marketing to create a feedback loop from inside sales and field sales to learn what worked and what didn’t on your most recent content marketing campaign. Then, when starting the next campaign, build time into the schedule to solicit input from sales. This will give them more skin in the game and a feeling of greater ownership over the content, process, and outcomes. This collaboration will help to create the synergy I mentioned earlier.

Effective follow-up and nurturing are critical for the success of content-based marketing programs and, ultimately, ROI on marketing investments.

What results are you seeing with your content-based marketing programs? if you are a sales person, how effective do you feel they are? Let us know!

Unscientific (but telling) Test Results

These are findings from a very unscientific test of the follow-up of content-based marketing campaigns from ten companies.

1) How long did it take to receive a follow-up?

The initial follow-up from the ten companies varied.

  • Three companies called less than a minute after submitting a download form.
  • Three companies sent an automated “thank you for downloading our paper” e-mail, saying they would call shortly to see if I had any questions. I did not hear from any of them.
  • Two companies sent a personalized e-mail less than two hours later, saying they would follow-up. Neither one did.
  • Two companies never sent any type of follow-up.
For the most part, initial follow-up was pretty consistent. Within the first two hours, 80% of the companies reached out in some manner. With the other 20%, who knows? I may have been disqualified early by not fitting their profile, or they just did not have the capacity or interest to follow up.

2) How effective was the follow-up e-mail or phone call?

The effectiveness of the follow-up, regardless of the medium, is where things started to fall apart for these companies. The three phone calls were very poor and scripted; all were product pitches with no attempt to ascertain what my needs were. On one call, I honestly did not get to say a word after “Hello?” because of the continuous, droning pitch. On another call, the person did try to interact and ask questions but was unprepared for my responses and did not know how to answer.

Here is how part of that call went:

Company Caller: I saw that you downloaded our white paper on X, and I wanted to ask why you downloaded it.

Jim: Well, I am in marketing and the information looked interesting.

Company Caller: Our white papers are good, but did you know that ABC is a leader in the XYZ space?

Jim: Yes, I did. I am actually very familiar with the company. I just talked to my salesperson last week.

Company Caller: (silence) … “Ummm great, well we can provide you with feature X and feature Y.

Jim: I know. I have actually used you in the past. Does that show up in the CRM?

Company Caller: (silence) … No...

Imagine if I were a real prospect; how impressed would I have been with this call — or the company? The caller did not listen well. She continued to push her products, and she had no idea who I was, what my company did, or even that I was already a customer! Overall, she was unprepared and did not make a good first impression.

The e-mail replies were not much better, as this excerpt shows:

Dear Jim,

I hope all is well. Thank you for downloading our white paper. We specialize in A, B, and C and have worked for Alpha, Beta, and Delta companies.

Our expertise includes D, E, and F and we can help.

I did not respond to the e-mail, and one day later I received the following.


I was just following up on my previous e-mail below. Could we briefly touch base in a few days? Please let me know.

Not a whole lot of insight or compelling reasons to continue the conversation. Their follow-up strategy could be summed up in one word: pester. The e-mails felt cold and canned, and there was no personalization to any of the follow-up.

3) How many times did they follow up?

While most of the companies quickly followed up after the initial download, I was actually surprised that only one company followed up more than once. But given the generic nature of the second follow-up, I assume the company relied on an automated response from a drip campaign workflow.

Receiving only one secondary follow-up — just 10% — was disappointing. In some of the best practices of nurturing, five to seven touches are recommended before closing out a lead.

Were these companies too busy and perhaps getting through to other downloaders on the first try? Were they disqualifying leads immediately based on what people were clicking on the webpage? Was the nurturing group just managing volume, moving on to those who responded to the initial follow-up? It’s hard to say, but consistency in a lack of follow-up seems to indicate that most companies rely on a one-and-done nurturing process.

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