Social Media Strategy, B2b Social Media

5 Ways to Deliver B2B Marketing Content that Sells (Without Sabotaging Sales)

Guest post by Carmen Hill, Social Media and Content Strategiest for Babcock & Jenkins, an integrated B2B marketing agency in Portland.

Could giving away too much great content actually sabotage sales? As unlikely as it sounds, this is exactly the concern that recently came up in a discussion about B2B content marketing.

There’s always a risk that prospective customers will take the information you give them and then use it to buy from your competitor instead. But the bigger risk is that they never find you or consider you in the first place, especially when 70% of the buyer’s journey is complete before they ever contact sales (SiriusDecisions).

Here’s one more thing to consider: 95% to 99% of people will bail rather than fill out your registration form. And of those who do register, the majority will not provide a correct phone number.

“Sales cannot step in and educate your audience until the audience is willing to hear from sales,” says my colleague Eric Wittlake, senior media director at Babcock & Jenkins. “Based on these figures, somewhere between 98% and 99.8% don’t want to hear from sales even though they’re interested in your information. You need to let the content do the selling.”

Here are 5 ways to do just that while ensuring a smooth handoff to sales when buyers are truly ready to talk to them.

1. Talk to sales early and often

This not only assuages any concern that you’re stealing their thunder, but also gives you the inside skinny on what buyers need to know before buying your products. What questions do they ask? What objections do they raise? What content might get you in the door ahead of your competitors?

2. Get your stories straight

Marketing and sales may not be telling the same chapters of a story, but you are reading from the same book. Be sure to follow a consistent narrative that deepens over time and leads to a happy ending.

3. Identify the “pivot point” when sales needs to step in

At a certain point in a complex B2B purchase, you absolutely need a sales rep or sales engineer to meet with the buyer and scope out the right solution for their specific needs. Tag content that might indicate strong interest or intent to purchase and include a compelling reason for prospects to share their (real) contact information and/or agree to a meeting. For example, the next step for someone who uses your online product selector might be to talk to a sales engineer for a customized configuration or ROI report.

4. Make it easy to take the next step

Don’t ruin a good story with a lame finish. Provide a simple stepping-stone to the next stage of the buyer’s journey—and remove the friction. No one wants to fill out a long registration form with a bunch of questions a telemarketer or sales rep will ask again anyway. As Ardath Albee notes in a recent post, “The way in which online dialogues are transitioned into 1-to-1 sales conversations can either keep your prospects’ buying momentum moving along or stop it cold.”

5. Measure and share success

Once you’ve mapped content to each stage of the buyer’s journey, use a Web analytics tool such as Omniture to track how well it performs:

  • Is your audience responding?
  • How much time do they spend watching or reading your content?
  • Do they click through to the next level of information?
  • Does a prospect that engages with a particular asset eventually buy something?

Ultimately, the best way to answer the question of whether or not your content is giving away too much (or not) is to directly map that content to pipeline revenue or closed sales.

How much information do you think a buyer should get to see without talking to sales? How do you or your clients strike the right balance? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

(Babcock & Jenkins is a Convince & Convert client)

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  1. says

    carmenhill Great list, congrats on guest posting here, and thanks for the quote! I like the idea of the pivot point, where you move from a more anonymous relationship to directly connecting. I just hope companies will empower the audience to identify the pivot point, and not attempt to ‘force’ it before the audience is ready to share their information.

    — @wittlake

  2. says

    Thanks for the article Carmen, you provide some great information. However, our company uses forms throughout our website to capture lead identities and we get about a 9-10% conversion rate of people filling them out each week. In addition to this, out of the 9-10% that come in from forms, have a conversion rate ranging from 6-15% of going from a lead to a customer – depending on the form and whether or not its from PPC (Google).

    Not only are forms working for us lead capture-wise, but we’re also building our email list for future promotion. All our leads are put into specific marketing funnels depending on how they contacted or reached for our services/content – they’re being warmed-up properly to turn into an eventual customer.

    We’ve never tested removing forms on any of our free content, I’m not sure that we’d want to as we’d lose quite a bit of leads every week. Have you come across any tests or studies that show a higher return or customer conversion rate by removing forms?

  3. bellenoelle says

    @carmenhill @MaureenB2B @Ferris Stith @Wittlake

    Re: gating and goals, I’m a fan of ‘the first one’s free’: Offer a good gate-free download and promote a gated (and perhaps meatier) one. Good for when you’re bridging awareness/lead cap goals. Hook ’em, then book ’em.

  4. says

    @carmenhill Do you have any stats regarding people not providing accurate information, such as phone number, on registration forms? Anecdotally, I’ve noticed the opposite, that people are mostly honest on registration forms when exchanging for free content.

    Again, I don’t have scientific data and would curious to see some. Thanks!

  5. says

    @Andrew_K_Kirk @carmenhill Andrew, Techtarget has published some stats on this specific to the IT market. Willingness to provide accurate information is falling year over year, and the information you ask for matters. Email address is still likely to be accurate, most people in their survey say they do not provide accurate phone numbers consistently.

    I wasn’t able to find their research quickly this morning, if you reach out to Techtarget, it is part of a tracking study they have been publishing with Google.

  6. carmenhill says

    @Andrew_K_Kirk Here is some past research that @wittlake has shared with me: A Knowledge Storm survey published by Marketing Sherpa in June 2008 showed only 38% consistently provide accurate phone numbers and nearly half don’t even provide an accurate company name. []. In a 2009 study specific to people who respond through search, only 21% were willing to provide an accurate phone number. Not sure of the source on that one. It sounds like Eric has even more recent numbers from TechTarget. For more insights on this topic, you might want to check out his blog post, “That’s John Doe to You.” []

    It’s always great to get data to back up our hunches. If you come across additional stats, I’d love to hear back from you. As an aside, I’m in the minority of people who provide mostly accurate info on reg forms EXCEPT for the phone number. That’s because I do a lot of research and download a lot of content. Even when I indicate that I have no project, no budget, no purchase authority and no influence, I inevitably get a phone call from sales. Irritating.

  7. carmenhill says

    @OnlineBusinesVA Glad you liked it. I’d be interested in your thoughts on what good benchmarks for social media success would be in this context. Thanks!

  8. HotSpotPromo says

    Great article. Thanks. Personally I hate leaving a phone number because I dread being hassled to death by sales calls. I’ll leave a “catch all” email address and then if I know I want to move ahead with someone, I’ll give them more valuable contact information. In my mind, a site has to earn the right to get close.

  9. carmenhill says

    @HotSpotPromo Thank you! I think you’ve succinctly articulated the reason most of us are wary of sharing our real contact info before we have a relationship with a company we want to engage with. I especially like that last bit: “a site has to earn the right to get close.” Consistently offering relevant, useful content is a great way to earn that trust.

  10. ginarau says

    @carmenhill @Wittlake @Andrew_K_Kirk We know that 76% of consumers (at B2C sties) claim to give false information during the registration process – but we don’t have that yet for B2B. Now that we (at Janrain) offer B2B social sign-in options like LinkedIn and SalesForce, I’m sure we’ll update our research but I haven’t seen that figure for B2B. The number-crunching geek that I can be is curious to see what that data looks like.

  11. carmenhill says

    @ginarau @Wittlake @Andrew_K_Kirk Gina, I look forward to seeing what you find. We’ve been very interested in the possibilities that social sign-in options could create. In regard to the SalesForce sign-in, in particular, I can definitely see the value for B2B marketers, but not so sure about the person signing in. Would love to talk more!

  12. StephanieTilton says

    Great post, Carmen! I’m a firm believer that marketers should find ways to reduce friction in the research process or risk losing prospective buyers who simply click over to a site that makes it easier to access content.

    As a follow-up to Eric, here are stats from research conducted by Google and TechTarget in 2009 (The Google/TechTarget Behavioral Research Project: Search Behavior of IT Buyers Online During the Purchase Process).

    “Almost 50% of users withhold accurate information because they are doing early stage research and aren’t ready to be contacted. 84% are concerned about unwanted phone calls.”

    In 2009, Spiceworks conducted an informal survey of its community of IT pros to understand how they respond to registration forms in front of white papers. Turns out that the IT buyers who share their information obviously don’t mind doing so, but do mind when a vendor then calls them repeatedly. Spiceworks also found that more than 75% of respondents simply refuse to sign up for white papers that require registration.

    And it’s a bit dated, but in 2007, MarketingSherpa and KnowledgeStorm found that tech buyers will lie on registration forms:

    While every company needs to find the right formula for itself, it’s only logical that folks early in the research/buying process will be averse to handing over lots of info (it’s why the dating analogy comes up so frequently around this topic — you shouldn’t expect someone to tell you everything about him or herself on the first date). It’s also why methods such as progressive profiling and social sign-in options are gaining mindshare.

  13. carmenhill says

    @StephanieTilton Stephanie, thanks for sharing those stats! If we put ourselves in the shoes of the person doing early-stage research, it’s easy to understand why they might be wary of handing over contact info. As HotSpotPromo noted in the previous comment, “I dread being hassled to death by sales calls.” On the other hand, if you’ve been providing great content all along (with no strings), sales contact could feel like a logical next step in a long-term relationship.

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