How to run a full-funnel content strategy that drives traffic and sales
When you're at the center of your company's content strategy, you can feel trapped between the need to feed sales at the bottom of the funnel and drive traffic at the top. How do you serve both of those masters?
Editorial Director, Speaker, Host of 'Content Lab' Podcast
November 9th, 2020
How to create a full-funnel content strategy
Hire a dedicated content manager to oversee and own your content creation
Establish a revenue team with key players from your marketing and sales team
For the first 2 to 3 months, publish 3 pieces of assignment selling content per week
Starting at 3 to 4 months, publish 2 pieces of assignment selling content and 1 piece of traffic-driving content per week
Starting at 5 to 6 months, scale to 2 pieces of assignment selling content and 2 pieces of traffic-driving content per week
Starting at 7+ months, scale to 3 pieces of assignment selling content and 2 pieces of traffic-driving content per week
The right content in front of the right people at the right time will (over time) help you close more deals faster. That's the general promise of content marketing, and it sounds like a pretty solid one. (I don't know about you, but I like content that makes money. It keeps the lights on and I stay employed as a content nerd.)
But in the world of business blogging, content marketing, inbound marketing, They Ask, You Answer, or whatever you want to call it, you can often find yourself in a "chicken and egg" situation.
"I'm also supposed to be creating traffic-driving, top-of-the-funnel content based on keyword research, right? And that doesn't come from the sales team."
"Then there are the content pillars I'm supposed to be building — again, based on keyword research — to connect everything together."
"But under the revenue team model, all of my content ideas come from the sales team, who typically don't request traffic-driving, top-of-the-funnel content."
When you're at the center of driving your company's content strategy, you might find yourself beating your head against your desk, praying for sweet release, as you try to reconcile those seemingly contradictory marching orders.
How can you be focusing exclusively on the needs of sales while also publishing content that gets you found online by ranking highly?
If you do start with just assignment selling content, how do you integrate traffic-driving content into your strategy? And when?
And when do you start to think about content pillars and historic optimization content strategies?
If these are questions you're struggling with right now, stop drafting up that overly dramatic "I just can't even today" Slack or email for your bosses, because I've got you covered.
In this article you're going to learn how to run a content strategy that pulls on both sales and traffic-driving needs, as well as the volume and scaling details you need to know if you're just getting started.
First, let's rip off a quick (important) band-aid
If you have somehow stumbled onto this article and:
You don't have a content manager at your company whose sole focus is to be the owner of your company's content creation efforts; and/or
You are only willing to publish content once a week.
You are going to struggle mightily with what I'm about to lay out.
For our newest digital sales and marketing mastery clients, we make it pretty clear right out of the gate that you need to get to two to three written pieces of content published per week. You should never deprioritize the quality of your content, of course.
However, quantity does also matter, as it will allow you to rank faster and close more deals faster. As time goes on, I'd say then that two-to-three weekly content publishing range should evolve to three-to-four — and then five per week, but more on that later.
Finding what is seemingly a piece of valuable content where (sad trombone) it becomes quickly apparent that the author assumes I already know certain concepts and terms.
I don't want to create that experience for you, so I want to get you up to speed on a few terms I'm going to be throwing around a lot in this article.
Assignment selling is the act of sales pros actively using educational content (written, video, etc.) throughout the sales process.
As an extension of that, assignment selling content simply refers to content that has been explicitly created by sales for use by sales. These topics are developed from content brainstorms with sales teams, based on the questions they receive during the sales process.
They Ask, You Answer is a universal approach to inbound and content marketing, wherein you obsess about the most pressing questions your buyers have. Then, you establish yourself as the #1 teacher in your space by creating content that answers all of those questions honestly and thoroughly.
A revenue team is made up of key players from marketing and sales, with the single goal of driving revenue. The revenue team is responsible for the sales-focused content brainstorms that will fuel the creation of assignment selling content:
Watch: What is a revenue team?
If you don't have a revenue team formed at your company, that's OK. I'd recommend it, but you can also get started without one.
You brainstorm, you plan, and you produce. The production pipeline, especially if you're doing both video and written content, is complex all on its own:
For example, at IMPACT, we have two different Trello boards to govern the production stages of our video strategy and our written strategy. Still, no matter how your content strategy evolves over time, that super simple, three-step process is how your content strategy will run from here to eternity:
Once more with feeling, it will always be this simple.
But the brainstorming part is where things get tricky, right?
That's the problem we identified at the start of this — and it's the most common problem every content strategy owner will face. You have folks jockeying for priority in that brainstorming piece. You have sales with their assignment selling needs, and you have marketing with traffic-driving needs.
How do you balance them?
Step 1: Start with sales (first 2 to 3 months)
Whether you're just starting out or pivoting on your current content strategy (because it's not working), your beginning point will always and forever be with sales. That means, of your three pieces you're publishing per week, you should be focusing on meeting the assignment selling needs of your sales team.
"But Liz, what about traffic? Are we just going to ignore traffic? That just feels wrong."
Trust me, the battle-tested, proven way to produce content that immediately starts generating revenue is to create content your sales team can leverage right away to close more deals faster. Moreover, if you weren't creating content before (or you were creating fluffy content), trust me... you need to spend time focusing exclusively on sales first.
Get all of those bottom-of-the-funnel blog articles they need written. Film all of those bio videos and product page videos and so on they need from what we call The Selling 7. Create the buyers' guides they need to make prospects more likely to sign on the virtual dotted line.
On top of that of all of that great content you're creating, however, phase one isn't just about production; you're building brand new habits.
You're also building a strong foundation in this phase
Right now I'm working with a health coach, because I want to get in shape and live a happier, healthier, longer life. But in week one, I didn't start eating completely different, working out four times a week, tracking my calories, and never eating bread or cheese again.
Instead, the first week was just about me nailing going to the gym three times a week and trying a few new things. Only now in my fourth week are we talking about tracking my calories. We still aren't integrating a lot of changes into my diet, and I'm still not going four times a week yet.
What you're doing with your company right now is very similar. You're producing already, yes. But you're also building a new, healthier "content lifestyle" that will last.
You're training your organization on the power of content. You're testing your processes. You're building the operations infrastructure to support a new role (if you're a new content manager), a new velocity (going from none or one pieces of content per week to two to three), and a new culture (inbound as the way of doing business).
You're not going on a "crash content diet" where you try to do everything at once or find a ton of short cuts. You need to see that part of the benefits of this stage is not just the content itself, but the good habits you're establishing for the future.
Step 2: Start playing with (not in) traffic (begin at 3 to 4 months)
Once you start getting comfortable and your sales team is getting their content needs met, you can begin to carve out one of your articles for demand generation needs. And when I say demand generation, I mean creating demand for what you do through educational, traffic-driving content at the top and middle of the funnel.
So, in addition to meeting with your sales team, you'll want to meet with a business leader or group of business leaders who knows what your demand generation needs are. For example, this person at IMPACT is Kristen Harold, our director of demand generation.
The traffic-driving content calendar from demand generation is developed on a monthly basis, instead of weekly and biweekly.
When Kristen and I meet, ahead of developing that monthly editorial calendar for traffic and demand generation, we discuss:
What virtual events are coming up?
As a company, what services are we building we want to drive demand for?
What other business needs do I need to focus on or nurture?
From the topics we discuss, I am able to develop a keyword-focused, traffic-driving educational content strategy that we then layer on top of our revenue content strategy.
This second phase is transitional
By this point, you've spent at least a quarter building good habits and creating a ton of sales-focused content that will keep your sales team happy. You're empowering them with what they need to sell and close. In fact, at a rate of three pieces of written content per week plus videos, you should have somewhere in the neighborhood of up to 38 blog articles published, along with approximately 33 videos. (Go you!)
Still, you don't want to suddenly make a major pivot in your strategy. You're still adapting to your new, healthier digital sales and marketing lifestyle. So, you're going to take one-third of your strategy and carve it out for your traffic-driving and demand generation needs.
Again, now you're standing up a new process with new players (potentially). Instead of going full-steam-ahead, you start with one per week.
Step 3: Scale up your content production (begin at 5 to 6 months)
If you have a dedicated content manager, this step up in production won't be a massive disruption to your order of operations.
Yes, you will need to make adjustments, especially if you are the content manager. That said, if you're working and planning purposefully toward the goal of scaling up from the beginning, you'll have spent the last few months building the processes and the good habits you need to make that transition smoothly and successfully.
Again, you will have asynchronous strategy development, with your revenue content strategy updating on a weekly basis and your traffic strategy on a monthly basis.
Also, what you'll notice around this time is that some of the topics coming out of your sales content brainstorms will start to provide more educational, top-of-the-funnel content opportunities, because you've been doing such a great job with the more bottom-of-the-funnel assignment selling stuff.
Step 4: Super-charge your content (begin at 7 months+)
Welcome to your ideal state, where you're back to three days of your week publishing assignment selling content, with the added content icing on your strategy cupcake of two traffic-driving pieces of content per week.
Now, you may choose to step your game up this way, you may not. Personally, I would recommend it, because your content strategy must always be considered a sales initiative. (That's what we teach with They Ask, You Answer, but it's also just good practice generally if you're just going the old content marketing route.)
You'll also find a lot of flexibility once you scale up to five pieces per week. For example, let's say you're doing a great job with your sales content strategy, but you see your traffic dropping. You can swap the balance, so you're publishing three traffic-driving pieces per week without completely wiping out the momentum you have with your assignment selling content.
(And, again, you've been feeding your sales team so much assignment selling content by this point, slowing the flow by one per week won't really hurt that much. Plus, you should still be creating a lot of videos!)
When the traffic-driving push is complete, you can then swing back to status quo of three assignment selling pieces of content per week and two for traffic and demand generation.
Now is when you add complexity to your strategy
With so much content juice flowing, this is also a great time to embrace content pillars within your strategy. At this point, the target keywords for the content pillars you'll want to start building will be abundantly clear, because your content strategy thus far (driven by both sales and marketing) will show you exactly what the most important pillar priorities are.
Moreover, you'll have a ton of previously published content you can tie together for those topic clusters:
Image credit: HubSpot
Meaning, when those pillars are ready to go live, they'll immediately bring you results because the supporting cluster of subtopics are already published. You just need to connect everything together to turn on that big blinking sign to search engines that says, "Hey, we're an expert in this topic!"
If you're optimizing an assignment selling piece, have it count as one of the three assignment selling articles. If it's a traffic-driving piece that's not getting you the results you expected (or it's just out of date), pull it from that two count.
"Whoa, this is a lot to process..."
I know, I've thrown a ton at you in this article. You're either just starting out and potentially feeling overwhelmed, or you've been doing this for awhile and you're wondering how on earth you're going to right the proverbial ship.
Do not panic. I broke the process out into this precise blueprint with manageable phases for this very reason. Getting to the optimal balance of assignment selling and traffic-driving content (and at the right volume) is not a switch you can flip overnight.
So, take it one step at a time:
Start small by establishing a revenue team that holds weekly or biweekly brainstorms. Build those good habits first, they are so critical.
Then schedule process evaluation touch points every other month to see how you're tracking against potentially scaling what you're doing and what needs fixing in your processes.
If everyone is comfortable, pick a "go live!" date with your increased production.
When you're about 30 days ahead of when you're going to take a step into a new phase, put those plans into motion and socialize them.
If you need to delay a week or two, to make sure you scale up on the right foot, do it. But don't delay out of fear.
Just remember, you're in control of how quickly you scale and when, and you need to commit at the outset of what you're building toward. Still, change is scary. Heck, you might even feel resistant at first.
But, from experience, I know it's worth the effort
We went through our own phased approach to balancing our content strategy over the summer, and we've been creating content for years.
As our editorial director, I had to make a lot of changes to "the way things have always been done" to make it work. I had to create a brand new role within my team, completely reorganize who does what on my team, stand up an entirely new video strategy (with new processes), change the balance and cadence of how much we publish and when, and so on.
So, I get it. Trust me, I know it's disruptive and can feel overwhelming.
However, under this new model, not only are we able to hit aggressive traffic goals, our sales team also tells us when we meet every other week how helpful the content is that we're creating. They're genuinely helping them close more deals faster.
And when you have a content strategy like that, earning wins at both ends of the funnel equally... man, there's just no feeling like it. Plus, the bottom-line earnings will make everyone happy.
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