Twelve months earlier, I was unaware of content marketing. I was fortunate to come across few friends and later some real experts and learned how to market meaningful content. I tried to build upon their experiences. Being CRM development and salesforce automation company ourselves, we looked at how we can leverage open-source tools to make our content marketing most meaningful and effective in getting new business deals.

This article details our experience and approach in a step by step manner. The best part is that we use a integrated solution on top of free to use applications (at least to a certain usage). I am hoping that this article helps some of you as well.

Background  and Growth/ History

Traditionally our marketing strategy has been to do good work and wait to get referred by existing customers. During our initial year this actually worked and we were growing at a tremendous pace as our base was anyways small. Though word-of-mouth is undoubtedly the channel with maximum conversion rate , we learnt that one cannot totally rely on this alone. In software industry, sales cycle is usually long and conversion rates are low, it is of utmost importance to generate a good volume of prospects and run them through the sales cycle. This lead to us explore various alternatives.

The moderate to low impact marketing alternativesSolution Implemented for Anachini

The above lead us to try our hand on multiple options available. The first was paid press releases.Priced at around $ 99 a piece, we sincerely hoped that it would yield us leads in a short span of time. However, it was very disappointing to find that press releases only help you to strengthen your credibility. Post this we tried our hands on Bing Ads and Google Adwords. The results were moderate to low. Whereas Bing Ads lead to Zero lead generation, Adwords helped generate low volume of qualified leads. However the cost per click (CPC) was very high and we had to abandon the paid ads after burning close to $8,000.
On a hindsight, this failure may be due to our inexperience or may be our segment was too competitive.  I would seriously advice small business owners to take help of real experts if you want to spend your money here. These two things taught us one thing for sure – It is unfair to expect results without putting in effort and that too in a consistent manner.

Decision to start content marketing

As I put it earlier, I was lucky to get advice from friends and professionals in and around my business circle. I also came across blogs of some of the thought leaders on the web. Before starting the content marketing I made a small plan around the resources that I had in order to market. I found the following resources really helpful in the long run.

Case Studies – I realized that our success stories were limited to us. We went ahead and weave a complete picture around background, business issues, solution implemented and how it actually helped the company.

Prospects  – We were lucky to have all the prospects and their inquiries in our SugarCRM instance. This gave us a sizable list of prospects whom we could market our content to. Best of all these were validated and relevant audience. For those of you who rely on getting getting contact us information directed to your emails – tough luck. Get started and implement a basic CRM for yourselves.

Linked in connections – I often hear that linked-in is the channel which works the best for a B2B company. However this got really validated when we found that most relevant traffic coming from linked in. In fact significant proportion of the prospects mentioned that they saw our post on Linkedin.

Google Contacts – Many of the useful contacts where in my Google mail.  With the option to export the contacts, I was able to download and filter meaningful contacts in an excel. This served as a base for building further connections.

Building Content Marketing Plan 

business requirementsWithout having  plan, it is difficult to success and very easy to lose track. While this is plain simple truth, hardly anyone follows a rigorous content marketing plan.  While building new content is easy, there are already interesting contents on one’s website that have been underutilized. Following is the way I went about it.

Plan for new content – We listed down the usual business problems that companies wanted to overcome via typical CRM development / Implementation.  We made concrete plans around the same and came out with a content release calendar with a 5 week rolling plan.

Identify Under-utilized assets – Creating new content takes time and effort. However there were many assets that we had but rarely talked about / shared on the social media. Out of this some of the important ones were – our case studies, reusable / industry specific solutions like this CRM solution for recruitment / staffing company. Of course, we had re-do graphics and put together the story in a much better manner to get any juice out of this. This task was distributed among the content marketing team.

Join Relevant Forums / Communities / Groups– I spent a lot of effort identifying and joining different groups on Google plus, Linked in and Facebook. Twitter hashtags should also help, but so far I must admit it didn’t get much business results for us as yet.

Software side of things 

We got together and carved out  unique solution integrating the following solutions for ourselves. These integration made our lives much simpler and set things to go in auto-pilot mode for us so that all we needed to do was to concentrate on creating good and relevant content and responding to the inquiries in a prompt manner. Before moving to the integration details, let me list down the software tools below.

SugarCRM  – One of top enterprise class CRM solution available for small and medium enterprises. This was no surprise as we do consulting on this platform and have built quiet a few revenue generating solutions on top of this. We used this to be able to automate our proposal making, tracking sales funnel and having a complete history of prospects and the communication with them.

Wufoo – Wufoo forms can be integrated with ease on any website. Not only are they elegant but they can really help to streamline your lead capture. The form that you see on the right hand side are created using this website. Strictly speaking Wufoo is not free but a basic free of charge account gives 3 forms which was sufficient for my needs.

MailChimp – MailChimp is a great solution for sending email campaign. Again a basic free account gives 2,000 contacts and 12,000 emails per month. You may soon see value and may not mind spending $10 – $15 per month for their paid account.

We invested time and energy into making the three systems work in tandem and ensured that we build our audience and entice them with new offerings and value added services. The primary aim was to become the brand which could be recalled whenever these people had any requirement for the kind of work that we do.

3 free software helped

The results and the learning

Before I say anything, I must acknowledge that over and above monetary / tangible gains, the entire exercise has helped me connect with a high number of influencers, like minded people and service providers across the globe seeking advice, sending their inputs and requesting to participate in their respective forums. Moving to the hard core gains, I was able to increase my lead generation on an average by 45% month on month for the last 6 months. However following are the key learning which you must understand before you jump-start  your own content marketing.

a. Conversion rates drop when lead volume increase

If you have traditionally relied on word of mouth referrals alone, prepared for reduction in conversion rates.This is very evident as in the earlier case you have a valid person looking at buying something from yourself.

b. Lead Qualification can save time and effort

Always check and validate your leads before you invest time and energy on the same. Certain key attributes to be checked are intent to buy, budget and clarity of what are the requirements and whether it matches you offerings.

c. Get volume ready by using Automation and Workflows

Higher lead volumes mean more work. Get volume ready with workflows and automation techniques (example automatically generate a proposal document from a CRM application or CRM can alert you when one of your team members generate a proposal worth more than $50,000)

d. Lead Nurturing and constant engagement is crucial

People take time to buy. At times they chose to go along with someone else and return back. Therefore leads need nurturing. The best way is to capture their attention by sending them updates in terms of your new content and value added offerings.

e. Content is the king

What you write matters the most. The entire revenue impact depends on how frequently and to what extent you connect with the audience. Consider this as parallel to your facade of your shopping mall. If shoppers don’t like it they won’t go inside and see what you are offering to them.

f. CRM solution help in monetizing your content marketing efforts

Whereas it is important to get visitors. You need to capture, understand and react to inquiries. A salesforce automation tool has features that you help you track and spend your effort on those inquiries which ensure maximum result. Irrespective whether you are a team or a single business owner, a CRM solution is a must for you.

I sincerely hope that my experience helps some of you in defining your marketing strategy for 2015. You may want to share your experience / comments / feedback by replying to the post. I will look forward to hearing from you.