How To Map Content to Customer Intent (and Make Your Sales Team Happy)


B2B marketers inevitably hear the sales team say things like this: “Yeah, we’re getting leads from all that content you guys write, but they’re all tire kickers.”

Or this golden oldie: “Your MQLs don’t match our customer profile. There’s no purchase intent.”

Then, there’s my favorite: “We don’t need more leads … We need better leads.”

On the marketing side, the team commiserates about the sales team with complaints like this: “They don’t follow up on all the leads we forwarded. They cherry-pick the best and don’t communicate with the others.”

The situation is difficult.

What’s a B2B marketing leader to do? You dutifully research the best practices for understanding how to get to better, more interested, purchase-ready leads and hit upon a common theme – intention.

How do you determine the customer’s intention in the moment?

You intend to address customer intent

Experts advise marketers to focus on comprehensive content mapping – to ensure content is available at each stage of the buyer’s journey. If you map the content (i.e., tag the content) to the customer’s journey, you can assume the consumer’s intent: A person who downloaded a piece of content is in the corresponding stage of the buying process.

But it never works out that way, does it?

Mapping #content to the customer’s journey often doesn’t get the buyer’s intent right, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Problems abound. It’s weird, I know, but customers don’t move through your buyer’s journey the way you paved it. For example, a white paper tagged as “awareness” can attract a download from a potential customer interested in buying and someone who saw your high-level brand awareness campaign.

What do you do then? “Aha,” you say. “Technology to the rescue.”

You look at how to implement new technology that scores people by the number of content downloads and engagement rates. Then, it should be able to create personalized, automated drip campaigns and more. Suddenly, this intent problem got expensive, hard, and too complex.

Isn’t there an easier way?

Define intent with this low-tech process

You can do the work. This fairly simple (quick and dirty) process lets you segment your audience without needing complex technology.

@Robert_Rose outlines a simple, no-tech three-step process to create #content with the right intent via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Let’s look at each step.

Step 1: Build personas (not too many)

Many people now think developing audience or buyer personas is a waste of time. My experience tells me if you don’t understand your audience, you have little chance of differentiating your content marketing.

You don’t need 15 personas; you need less than a handful. Think about your targeted audience. Think much more about their motivations, interests, and jobs to be done than their demographics.

For instance, let’s say you’re a marketing leader at a tech company that sells a widget-integration-management program (or WIMP) that targets the director of IT and the chief financial officer at financial service companies. You only need to start creating content with two WIMP buyer personas in mind: a director of IT at a regional bank and the CFO at that bank.

Step 2: Map friction and value into the customer journey

Think about mapping the journey differently. Don’t design it as the traditional, linear (or non-linear) path you think prospects will follow. Instead, identify the most appropriate places to introduce friction experiences where customers get sufficient value to continue their journey.

For example, instead of identifying a catch-all step like “awareness,” be more specific. You could create a step to help customers understand why this (your go-to-market challenge) is a problem worth solving.

If you identify a step without corresponding content, you have some content to create.

Once you’ve introduced that journey – and identified the places where you serve those experiences – you can map it to the more internally focused buyer’s journey that will interest the sales team. This internal map looks more traditional and aligns with the buyer’s journey. It might look something like this:

Raw lead  >  Opportunity  >  Qualified prospect  >  Customer

Because this map incorporates internal communication with the sales team to determine the value delivered at each stage, everybody knows the kind of conversation intended for each lead being delivered (or not delivered) along the customer’s journey.

Step 3: Segment content into buckets of intent

I prefer to design for customer intention as early as possible in the content creation process. I segment my B2B content marketing into intention “buckets” or “eye levels.” These include:

  • Inspiration – Content, such as a white paper or e-book, meant to inspire change. It might be industry research or an excellent view of the future based on interviews with subject matter experts.
  • Implication – Content to help the audience understand what deciding to make that change entails. It might be content about how to acquire a type of product or a comparison of solutions in an industry. It might be a client story.
  • Initiation – Content that is all about how to implement the change. The buyer recognizes a change is needed and is considering the solutions. This content explains how that change will be successfully made. It can include detailed documentation or how-to videos. The content answers every question a new customer might have, from procurement to onboarding the new solution.
Design your content for customer intention by segmenting it into buckets – inspiration, implication, and initiation, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Once you have this framework, you can cleverly manage and distribute content. Approach your content titles plainly. For a nose-on example, a white paper tagged as “inspiration” would have the title: The Future of Your Industry – a Vision That Benefits All of Us. Its abstract would pay off truthfully: “This is a paper that inspires us to look at the future of our industry in a way that benefits all of us …”

Anyone who downloads that paper is not a lead to send to sales. Or maybe you send it to sales with the context of where this customer is in the journey so that sales can respond most appropriately.

But that white paper’s role in the buyer’s journey doesn’t have to end there. You can slightly edit it or add a case study and create a second asset with a different title: How ABC Company Made the Case and Implemented Our Industry’s Future.” That white paper works as an implication asset. Someone who downloads that can go immediately to sales with a bit more heat as a lead.

Or the inspiration white paper could lead to a related content asset under the initiate tag: The Detailed How-To Guide To Implementing Our Industry’s Future.” This lead could go directly to the sales team, so they can start helping as best they can.

Better than a traditional path

Sure, you can see some holes in this approach. But it’s better than throwing up your hands when you hear sales make those challenging comments about lead delivery. This framework works as a quick way to shift the burden of using technology to optimize content back to the content creators. It forces you to associate the content’s value with the customers so you deliver the best next step in their journey.

If you can deploy a model like this, adding layers, such as content targeting, account-based marketing, or personalization, is easier than without.

Then you’re not just delivering a few more “better” leads; you’re delivering all the value.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week. 


Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute