I’m a huge fan of education-based content marketing for helping you sell your professional services. Unfortunately, the most visible examples of successful content marketing are larger B2C and SaaS companies. This is unfortunate because those companies profit from an approach that just doesn’t translate well to the small B2B professional services firm like the custom software development shops who are my primary client.
I’ve written and spoken at length about the problem with trying to map the B2C content marketing approach to the small B2B services firm. The TL;DR is this: trying to write a blog article every week or two sets most people up for failure because the more able they are to produce great content for a blog because of their skills and insight into your clients, the more likely they are a key player in the company and therefore too busy with billable activities, so unless you can and will fire them for failing to write, it will fall to the bottom of their TODO list. And if you’re the firm’s founder, I’d bet money you’re too busy running the show to be directly involved in producing content marketing too.
The ideal content marketing approach for a B2B services firm would:
- Do a lot to build trust in your prospects before you have a sales conversation with them so that the sales conversation quickly leads to a high profit proposal.
- Reliably generate leads via opt-ins to your email list.
- Automatically send relevant, targeted, high-value content to list subscribers once a week for 12 to 18 months so that when they are ready to evaluate vendors or buy services, you are top of mind for them.
- Be comprised of the following types of content:
- 40% teaching your peers
- 40% teaching the person who authorizes and funds hiring you how you can make their business/business unit more profitable or more efficient
- 10% demonstrating how you’ve done the above for other clients
- 10% pitching your entry-point services (see below for more details on these numbers)
- Be easy to produce content for.
- Serve as a great call to action (CTA) for an educational event like a podcast guest appearance, lunch and learn, or a talk to a local business group.
I have a specific approach I recommend for addressing many of these requirements. I call it an educational resource center. It does a fantastic job of addressing requirements #1, #2, and #6 above while making #5 more do-able.
I did not invent the educational resource center concept! Other people are doing it. I’m in the process of building my own on generating leads. So let’s start by looking at some existing examples of very good educational resource centers in this 19-minute screencast:
Here are the examples I walked you through in the screencast above:
- http://marcusblankenship.com/become-a-great-manager/ (built by PMC)
- http://predictablerevenue.com/outbound (this is literally a bunch of links to blog posts and other resources wrapped in some contextual information to frame it and give it a logical sequence)
- http://elementalselenium.com (this is very light on the presentation but heavy on quality content and speaks to what 1 guy can accomplish. Dave built this by committing to publish one well-researched, useful tip each week for a year. As a result, he does very well in SEO for Selenium and related long-tail keyphrases.)
- https://lesschurn.io/saas-churn-university (really nice simple, usable navigation)
There are several important ways that an educational resource center differs from a blog:
- The resource center is a comprehensive treatment of a single specific topic. For this reason…
- Individual blog articles are not dated.
- Navigation of content is more like an online book and less like a time-ordered feed. This is often accomplished with a custom-designed index page for the resource center content.
- It is designed educate readers, and so you may sequence the content in a certain way to help do that.
- The secondary purpose of the resource center is to generate opt-ins for your email list, so you may design the resource center content or how it’s presented around reasons to join your list.
- Once you’ve completed the content for your resource center, you’re done. It’s not an item on your weekly TODO list after that. After it’s done you can move on to promoting it and getting a slow steady payback from it in the form of leads, some of whom will eventually become clients.
If you’re going to hire someone to build an educational resource center for you, I’d recommend you set the budget for the project between 1x and 3x your average client lifetime value. Which end of that spectrum you choose depends on a lot of things like your firm’s profitability, risk tolerance, and potential upside on content marketing. But overall, these numbers are pretty conservative.
A home run content marketing asset could lead to 10 new clients a year, getting you to ROI on your content marketing spend rather quickly. A less successful effort might take a year or two to pay you back, but could have a useful lifetime of 5 years and still generate a net positive ROI.
About those 40% to peers, 40% to buyers, 10% success stories, 10% pitching numbers…
They’re arbitrary precision, but they’ll get you in the ballpark you need to be in.
If 100% of your content is for your peers (other software developers, for example), it’s good for your street cred but you’re missing an opportunity to build credibility with the decision-maker or buyer who wants to know how you can benefit the P&L sheet they are responsible for. You don’t want to miss that opportunity!
Likewise, if 100% if your content is for buyers, it’s harder for your buyer to hand your site URL off to their technical team and ask the tech team to evaluate your skill level. That’s why I recommend 80% of your content be evenly split between addressing those two types.
Should you mix and match different types of content in the same index of articles? Probably not. That’s part of the challenge of designing a really good educational resource center. 🙂
The 10% that you dedicate to success stories is also important. That number could be as high as 20% without seeming overly self-promotional. This type of content helps you build trust by honestly explaining how you’ve helped create results for others. If potential clients see their own needs and problems mirrored in your previous clients, it helps them trust you enough to spend money with you.
The 10% that you dedicate to selling your entry-level services is no less important. This part often feels awkward, but it’s super important to show your list that you believe in the value of your services enough to talk about them. I want you to include a small pitch for something paid in the very first email a new reader receives when they join your list. This sets the tone that, yes…. you are here to sell your services and yes… your services are good enough that you are excited to talk about them. Limiting yourself to pitching for 10% says “we are so successful that we are spinning off TONS of valuable content and we don’t need to pitch you that hard because we’re busy.” Your pitch for services should be for a low-priced service to minimize the friction in going from free –> paid.
If you found this article useful, you might want to check out this article on planning a successful content marketing asset.