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Content Marketing Tips for Lead Generation

When I started at Cognism, I had two questions about leveraging content marketing for lead generation:

  1. How to align with sales to create a repeatable B2B marketing engine?
  2. How to leverage content to generate leads that actually convert into revenue?

I didn't have a clue where to start.

But since then and through A LOT of trial and error, I’ve managed to get some answers.

In this article, you’ll get my findings from the first 2.5 years at Cognism. And I'm going to share with you the same process I went through to create and promote content that generates revenue.

That is actual mulla, cash money or heaps of dough and not just MQLs!

Scroll 👇 for the good stuff.

This blog is based on a speech given by Liam Bartholomew, Cognism’s Global Head of Demand Generation, at B2B Marketing Expo 2021.

Know your ICP | A content-first strategy | Optimise, optimise, optimise | One team, one dream | Key takeaways

See Liam's full speech from the Expo - press ▶️ to watch!

Step 1 - Know your ICP

I had to start somewhere and assuming that most of you will probably know your ICP and have a handle on this, please feel free to skip forward to step 2.

However, if you’re sitting scratching your head at the acronym ICP, then I suggest you stick with me.

ICP stands for your “Ideal Customer Profile”.

I describe it like this:

Your ICP is a comprehensive description of your perfect customer; the kind of customer that can find massive benefits from your product or service, while also being able to give you enough value in return to make your business profitable.

In short, your ICP is your best possible customer. The customers that are most likely to sign up, but also the most likely to stay, and get the most out of your product.

And before you can create content or generate leads from it, you need to know exactly who is in your ICP - and who isn’t.

Why? Because having a handle on your ICP means you can:

  • Create truly targeted campaigns.
  • Begin to learn where your audience hangs out, and therefore what channels to use.
  • Can create content that delights and engages.
  • Build brand awareness where it matters.

How do you define your ICP? Well, we’ve written a whole book about that, you can check it out here.

Now, once you’ve defined your ICP, you may come out with something looking a little like the below:

Ideal Customer Profile

This is where we ended up a few years ago. It provided me with a clear set of “Green” industries that we knew we wanted to create content for and to target.

The “Amber” industries were those we could focus less on and test. And finally, the “Red” industries were ones that we could exclude from campaigns.

It may seem narrow, but when you have limited resources you want to focus all your attention where it can move the needle the most.

Top tip:

Review your ICP quarterly, so you don’t create self fulfilling models. Some of those red industries later became green, and vica versa.

Step 2 - A content-first strategy

Once you have your ICP locked down, you can really focus your content strategy on what it should really be about...

GIVE YOUR ICP WHAT THEY WANT!

Research and find out exactly what your ICP is reading, talking about and keeping them up at night. And then create a lead generation content strategy to match it.

How do you go about researching and planning?

  • Speak to your customers - organise interviews at events and for case studies etc.
  • Look at search volumes for associated sales terms.
  • What is your ICP talking about and interacting with on social media? Look at LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc.
  • Join the communities your ICP are in - Facebook groups, LinkedIn, Reddit, Slack, Discord etc.
  • What are the influencers in your space talking about?
  • Listen to your outbound sales calls - demos, discovery calls etc.

Here’s an example of how we do it:

Content strategy
We search for the hashtags on the right on social media, and these help us to find influencers in our industry.

It allows you to find those writing and talking about the topics you know your ICP is interested in.

Once you’ve completed your research, you can start creating authoritative lead gen content at scale, and with this you can begin to hijack the conversation.

Example:

We know our sales audience loves cold calling and our marketing audience loves demand gen.

So we team up with some of the best influencers in our space to create authoritative content that we know they’ll love!

Chris Walker has started a movement in demand gen, and similarly Josh Braun has in sales development.

Chris WalkerJosh Braun

Our prospects want to hear from Chris and Josh. More importantly, they trust them.

So we’re going to give them what they want and at the same time, show our prospects that we want to hear and learn from Chris and Josh too!

These were some of the most popular webinars we’ve ever hosted. And it's provided us with loads of content that we can slice, dice and promote even further - especially since the content is delivered by voices that carry in our ICP.

It’s also important not to forget about BOFU (Bottom of funnel content).

And we’ve recently been focused on becoming really good at it.

BOFU content is often super boring. Like, really boring. And it doesn’t have to be. What I've learnt is that you can create BOFU content that doesn’t just educate and show intent, but is also fun and engaging.

Example:

We know our ICP is keen to find out about their Total Addressable Market (TAM). And they love information on how to get direct dials.

Now we could have created BOFU content that explains how to calculate your TAM. Or a product sheet with how many direct dials there are inside the Cognism platform.

But we know that no one reads that stuff. Because it's B-O-R-I-N-G.

So we created a TAM calculator, where prospects have limited access to the Cognism platform. They can use the calculator to get a measure of their TAM and derive some valuable insights from it.

And when it came to direct dials, instead of bigging up the volume of dials on our platform, we looked into why our ICP wanted them.

And then we created an eBook about it:

“Call me on the office switchboard...said no one ever!”

By making it more engaging, fun and focusing on pain points, we see higher engagement rates and downloads while also educating our prospects on our product.

LinkedIn ads

Step 3 - Optimise, optimise, optimise

Now that you have the content created, how do you get it in front of your audience?

At Cognism, LinkedIn has always been a winner for us. B2B sales and marketing influencers spend a lot of time there.

This may be different for you, and you’ll need to focus on testing and optimising in the channels that your prospects spend their time in.

But in this section, I focus on the testing and changes we made on LinkedIn to maximise cost per lead (CPL) to get our content in front of as many prospects as possible.

Example:

This is a LinkedIn ad that we used when we started out. In fact, this was one of our best performing ads at that time.

Cold Calling LinkedIn Ad
Not all of it was bad; we landed on some good learnings from this advert.

We learnt that controversial statements did well, and often lead to discussions in comments, increased downloads and a lower CPL.

We also learnt that the use of emojis in the copy improved its performance, and that calling out the audience, like “Hey salespeople!” or “Marketing leaders!” also decreased our cost per lead.

However, the problem the advert had is that it’s like any other. It was the same creative as everyone else, a picture of the whitepaper, with long copy at the top and the name of the eBook.

It doesn’t stand out enough and there’s no value upfront.

We’ve all been suckered into downloading something from an advert like this, only to hand over our details in return for an eBook that contains nothing new.

Waste of time. And now someone has my contact details.

So we switched to providing value upfront. Below you’ll see a quick comparison from one our first attempts at this new style.

LinkedIn Ad Comparison
The results are clear. The better looking conceptual creative didn’t perform as well as the more boring creative. In fact, the more boring creative on the right provided targeted leads that were $10 cheaper than the conceptual creative on the left.

But why?

The creative on the right gives value upfront.

If you don’t know these ABM steps, then obviously you’re going to get something out of this eBook. You know what it’s going to include and cover.

It also generated discussion in the comments as people debated the steps. And as we had learnt previously, engagement and comments helped to lower the CPL.

So we settled on a creative style that provided value upfront. And then we started to tweak the audiences.

We know from the ICP we carved out, that we did well in SaaS and Tech. So we devised a specific campaign, with personalised messaging and content, that spoke to SaaS sales leaders.

This led to some of the best results we’ve yet had.

SaaS Sales Ad

And when we applied all our previous learning (emojis, calling out the audience, providing value upfront, provocative statements etc.) we saw incredible engagement on the ad, with 107 likes and 11 comments. This improved the ad’s performance and lowered our CPL.

Once you’ve compounded all the results from your experiments, you can double down on them and let the content leads roll in.

We applied the same process to audiences, using the following ideas:

  • Segmenting by industry.
  • Using CRM data – e.g.: closed-lost opps.
  • Prospects that had downloaded previous content/clicked on lead gen forms.
  • Website retargeting audiences.
  • Video retargeting audiences.
  • Segmenting by lead score or grade.

Step 4 - One team, one dream

The final piece of the puzzle is turning your golden, super-popular lead-generating content marketing into cold hard cash. And this is where sales and marketing alignment is crucial.

I’m extremely passionate about this part, because I believe it can be done easily with some pretty simple rules and determination.

Rule 1 - Call yourself a revenue team

It may sound simple, but it's effective. It means that sales and marketing are united as one.

There is no divide. Marketing opportunities are as important as outbound sales opps, because we’re all one team - focused on one goal, which is revenue.

There’s no marketing this and sales that, because it’s one team and we’re working together to achieve a united goal.

Rule 2 - Sign up to a revenue target

Go further than just calling yourself a revenue team. Make sure you’re targeted on the exact same thing.

Don’t hide behind MQLs that will get you nowhere. Marketing should be targeted on revenue too.

Until marketing owns a revenue target, you’ll be stuck in the same revenue Groundhog Day:

Sales: “The leads are rubbish.”

Marketing: “You don’t follow up on them, it's not our fault!”

*Sales misses revenue target.

*Marketing hits MQL target.

The old way is fundamentally broken; to be successful, you need to be on the same page.

Rule 3 - Create a specialised role for inbounds/marketing leads

You need a specialised role for marketing lead follow up.

At Cognism, these are Marketing Development Representatives, or MDRs. They’re salespeople that know the content, how to follow up and can provide a clear feedback loop to marketing.

As a marketer, you can help the salespeople in this role by providing them with details on the content you produce.

This is a screenshot from our MDR content directory:

Cognism Content Directory

It includes all the content our MDRs can follow up on, and short blurb to help them understand the content and talk about it with prospects. This gives them the best possible chance of converting.

MDR compensation can be aligned entirely to marketing targets. That means incentivised follow up on content and direct demo requests - and someone in sales who cares the same amount as someone in marketing.

It’s also important to make sure that the MDR role is a step-up in the organisation. How we manage this at Cognism is that an SDR moves through the MDR role before becoming an AE.

This means that:

  • All AEs have an appreciation of marketing leads and the process behind them.
  • You have only the best SDRs following up on marketing leads.

Rule 4 - Have joint ownership of marketing leads and opps

At Cognism, we don’t chuck marketing leads over the wall. Marketing leads and opps stay marketing’s problem after the handover to sales.

This is bolstered by Rules 1 and 2; if you’re one team with one revenue goal, marketing cannot check out. And that incentivises different behaviour.

Example:

Cognism Marketing writes the email cadences for SDR/MDR follow up.

Why do we do this?

Because the follow up matters and it’s good to work with sales on perfecting that journey. We can also apply all our knowledge of the content, testing and copywriting to their email sequences too.

We own the same strict SLAs, so it means that marketing can hold sales to account. We’ve also built reports in Salesforce to help us keep on top of that.

Below, you’ll see an example of a untouched inbound report. It displays the leads that haven’t yet been actioned by sales, meaning that marketing can chase them up on it.

Cognism Inbound Report

No longer is follow up purely a sales issue; it's a marketing one too! And if sales have a revenue problem, then so does marketing.

Rule 5 - Over-communicate

Put in regular meetings with sales to go through the quantitative figures and get qualitative feedback.

At Cognism, we meet every 2 weeks to go through the marketing leads, Meetings Booked, Meetings Attended, opportunities in the pipeline - and work together on how we can fix and improve different aspects.

Cognism Pipeline

Cognism Pipeline

We also have Slack channels where we can discuss improvements and changes, while also celebrating successes together - tying back into Rule 1.

And importantly, marketing and sales should listen to feedback and act on everything they can control. No more blame games, just both improving what they can fix, for the benefit of both.

Rule 6 - Don’t be afraid to shut off what doesn’t work

If a marketing tactic isn’t working - switch it off.

Lead generation content isn’t always the answer and forcing sales to follow up on leads that waste their time and resources isn’t good for the business. It’s also fundamentally a waste of marketing’s time too.

If the leads don’t convert to revenue, drop it. And instead double down on the content that’s creating leads that do.

Top tip:

Ungate content that doesn’t generate content leads that convert into revenue. Develop an ungated content strategy that drives high intent inbound demand.

Key takeaways

I hope Cognism’s journey provides some food for thought on how to create a content marketing lead gen machine.

As a reminder here are my key points:

  1. Sign up to a revenue target.
  2. Invest in authoritative, popular and relevant content.
  3. Become a scientist - never stop experimenting.
  4. Don’t be afraid to stop something that doesn’t work.
  5. Over-communicate with sales.
  6. Content is NOT just for lead gen.

And if you want more insights delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for Cognism’s newsletters below 👇

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