This post explains how to use a discrete content marketing project to capture leads in an entirely new market sector. Follow the ten steps outlined below to make it happen for your business.
Small businesses quickly become highly specialized – whether you want to or not. Building a business from nowhere means finding the exact person who wants what you’ve got, and putting everything you have into finding and selling to their peers.
In my case, I founded Juro to change how contracts are managed, and decided early-on to focus on in-house lawyers. There were plenty of reasons for this: firstly, I’m an ex-lawyer; secondly, lawyers tend to be the decision-maker when it comes to how contracts are managed in a business.
But while hyper-specialization has its advantages, it can create serious problems too. At some point you might realize your product can also provide value for a different set of customers. So you decide to try to sell to them, but you find that:
- All your current customers are in one industry
- All your marketing efforts aim at engaging that industry
- Your brand only has any reach in that industry
- All your company’s knowledge about customer personas, pain points and use cases is focused on one industry
- All your case studies are in that industry
- All of your network, your influence and your authority are there too
Nobody in your new market trusts you, and research from Salesforce found that 85% of SMB leaders value trust above all else in their relationship with vendors.
While it would be great to painstakingly recreate all of your existing strengths in your new target industry (alongside your original focus area), it would take months, if not years. It would be expensive, both in terms of money, but also in terms of the opportunity cost of pivoting and splitting your team’s focus. SMEs don’t have that luxury.
So without hiring an entirely separate team to pursue the new market, how do you ever run a meaningful experiment to find out if you can open up a new revenue stream? This was a problem we faced at Juro – our value proposition worked for legal customers, but we started picking up the occasional customer in sales. Sales teams – particularly in B2B tech companies – generate and sign high volumes of contracts, suffering pain that we knew could be solved through contract management software. We knew there were sales customers out there for us, if we could only go and find them.
But we didn’t have an outbound sales team. The way a business typically generates inbound demand is to build brand visibility in a sector, grow a marketing database of relevant contacts, and hit them via lots of different channels (principally email and phone) until they’re ready to buy. To do that, you need:
- Enough reach in your chosen industry to get your message in front of people
- Authority, so that people think you’re a company worth listening to
- Sufficient contacts captured to make the small percentage that convert to customers worth it
- Something valuable enough to offer, to make people will give up their contact details
The shortcut that we used to make this happen quickly and effectively was a content marketing experiment. We wrote an eBook, ‘Scaling B2B Sales: how to build a revenue rocket-ship’.
It gave us 500 leads in the first week, numerous prospects and led to closed customers within a couple of months. To write a high-performing eBook, you don’t need a huge team, you don’t need specialists, and you can do it in four weeks. Here’s how.
If you have a customer, a prospect, a friend or an acquaintance who fits the persona you think you can sell to, buy them lunch. Talk to them about their job, their main duties, their KPIs, and most importantly their pain points. Find out what annoys them at work every day. Dig into the processes they hate doing, and identify the other commercial teams they struggle to work with.
Also find out what they read and where they read it – LinkedIn? Trade press? Specialist blogs? In our discovery, we learned that everyone in sales is under immense pressure, and in a B2B environment, any technique that people think might give them an ‘edge’ would land well.
2. Find the Right Topic
Based on everything you learned at lunch, come up with an overarching topic for your eBook. We chose ‘Scaling B2B Sales’ because growing pains seemed to be a universal problem, and it also aligned with our ideal customer profile. With the right content written by the right people, we were confident it would perform well.
3. Find Your Authors
This is the secret sauce to elevate your project from a low-scale experiment to a lead-generating monster. Remember: nobody knows who you are, nobody cares what you think about this topic and you have no authority in this market – so just borrow someone else’s.
Find at least half a dozen thought leaders in your space and approach them to be featured as experts in your eBook. If you have a specific topic in mind, pitch it to them (flattery will get you everywhere); if you don’t, try to get them on a call and feel them out.
Finding and securing authors is like outbound sales – you’ll need to contact a decent number to end up with enough conversions at the bottom of the funnel, particularly if you don’t have much brand recognition. Much like sales, go for the low-hanging fruit first: network introductions, existing customers, and people who are obviously ‘in market’ for some self-promotion. That means people who post a lot of thought leadership and seem to be active in raising their profile, but perhaps don’t have the 10,000 followers that signal they’ve made it.
It’s worth taking a few moonshots too, because you never know who might say yes – and having one super high-profile person on board makes it much easier to secure your other authors. For example, a prominent sales influencer called Justin Welsh spontaneously mentioned a LinkedIn post of mine in some video content. We contacted him, asked him to write the introduction, and he said yes, giving us reach on the West Coast that drove hundreds of downloads.
Make it clear when you approach your authors that you’ll be doing the heavy lifting – the time commitment on their part is very small, because you’re going to …
4. Interview Them
In practice, most thought leaders are – by definition – too busy to be firing off long-reads every few days. They’re busy excelling in the roles that make them renowned experts. So to actually generate the chapters of your eBook, interview them on the phone, record or transcribe it in real time, and then ghostwrite a first draft for them to review, amend and edit.
If you’ve hired a skilled content marketer, they can do the interviewing and writing. If not, hire a freelancer – it’s a relatively easy job for an ex-journalist. In practice, contributors we work with are normally pleased to get a well-written piece of thought leadership attributed to them, for which they only had to give up half an hour on the phone. They make a few edits and turn drafts around quickly. Taking ownership of the authoring yourself, rather than leaving it to the whims of busy people, also means you stay in control of both the quality and the timetable.
5. Nail Your Contribution
By making sure you contribute your own expertise to the eBook, you bathe yourself in the reflected glory of more established thought leaders and build your authority in this new market. In my case, we were writing about B2B sales, and our knowhow centres around getting huge volumes of sales contracts signed and managed in scaling businesses – so that’s what I wrote about.
You might want to write the conclusion instead, wrapping together the thoughts of all your contributors, or set the scene by writing an arresting introduction. But whatever you decide, don’t waste this opportunity to grab the attention of your new audience – make sure you nail it.
6. Find a Cover Illustration
Unless you have a rich and expansive photo library – which you almost certainly don’t – an illustration is the way to go for your cover. You could use a service like Stencil, Crello or Canva to create one yourself; or it might be easier to find a designer on a site like Fiverr to handle it cheaply. Generating something original that you own is much cleaner than using an existing image for which you might need the rights.
Remember this is the first time your company will appear in front of a new market, so make sure your cover aligns with your brand, in terms of colour scheme, font and tone of voice. We used a rocket image for our cover for obvious reasons – not only did we refer to rockets in the title, but it aligns closely and resonates with our target market of high-growth tech companies.
7. Lay it Out
Find an experienced graphic designer to lay out your eBook for you. The more detailed your brief is, the fewer things you’ll need to change and the fewer rounds of amends you’ll need to get to a finished eBook. Call out the subheadings, pullquotes, charts, graphs and image placements you want. Getting an eBook from brief to publish-ready in three rounds of changes is good going; six or seven is more typical, and more than ten isn’t unheard of.
Make sure you include any assets you feel will be useful to your audience, as this is your chance to show them how much you know. In our case, we’d curated a list of the best sales technology, category by category, which was well received and drove decent traffic. So we reproduced this list in full as an appendix for our readers. The bigger the ‘give’ from your team, the better readers will feel about the value exchange of having handed over their data, and the more seriously they’ll take you as an authority.
8. Build a Gated Landing Page
To capture leads, you’ll need a gated landing page. If your business has a marketing automation platform like HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot or Eloqua, building landing pages is straightforward. If not, use a service like Unbounce. You don’t need to be a marketing specialist to build a landing page, and most services have decent support to get yours over the line to be ‘good enough’. Choosing how many fields to request from downloaders divides opinion: received wisdom says that the more fields you have, the more offputting it is to downloaders. But if your content is weighty and lengthy enough, people will be prepared to give their details regardless.
In our experience, asking people for properties like ‘job title’ or ‘industry’ is largely superfluous – if you have their first and last names, email and company name, that’s enough to find out everything else from LinkedIn. One tip is to ask for phone numbers but leave it as optional – autofill in Chrome will populate the field on the prospect’s behalf and they’ll submit it to you anyway.
Test your download workflow thoroughly. It would be a nightmare to capture hundreds of new leads, but either give them a bad experience, or lose their data on the way in. Make sure you’re ready before you go live.
9. Launch it via Your Biggest Channel
To really drive interest from a new market, you’ll need to make a big splash. When you’re ready, use your biggest channel to launch your eBook and pull any lever you can to make it perform well, whether that’s paid or organic. At that point we were driving the most impressions from my personal LinkedIn account (at this point it had more followers than the company), so that’s where we launched our eBook, tagging all our authors and co-ordinating everyone in the company to boost the post.
Don’t forget that LinkedIn’s algorithm punishes posts that link out to third-party websites in the main body of the copy – put the link in your first comment and drive people to it. The first fifteen minutes or so are crucial when it comes to elevating an organic social post – make sure you lean on every single employee to support it.
10. Leverage Your Authors
Remember that you chose external authors to front this eBook because they have more reach and more authority – so use it. If any of them have personal blogs, newsletters, websites or massive social followings, don’t be shy in asking them to share your content – it’s not a lot to ask, considering all the work you’ve done for them! Ultimately success in this project means migrating their audiences into your marketing database – so do everything you can to make this happen.
For us, this process took four weeks end-to-end. We were fortunate in that sales is a fast-moving industry – if you needed to get ten lawyers to commit to a written project, and deliver it, in a similar time frame, you’d struggle. Be relentless in driving this project forward, so it doesn’t wither on the vine and become a time drain for your team.
Once we launched on LinkedIn, with coordinated shares from our authors, the results exceeded even our expectations. We saw 507 downloads in week one, with more than 300 on the first day. In the B2B world, for a 15-person business with no track record in sales, this is huge.
When we enriched the data from our downloaders, we found that around 40% of them were sufficiently senior to be potential sales targets. Once we qualified out unsuitable companies based on size, industry and so forth, we were left with just over 100 prospects.
We used a simple two-step email nurture to see who might be interested, ended up with a dozen or so meetings, and this converted into several new customers and revenue that more than covered the costs within a month. Our hypothesis that Juro could sell into sales teams was proven, without disrupting our main strategy, nor extra hiring or spending significant resource.
The bonus came later, in terms of our SEO strategy. Once the initial splash had died down, we repurposed the eBook into our blog, and started to rank for some B2B sales keywords. This drove an always-on campaign leading new sales prospects to our page to download the eBook; to this date, every week it gives us new leads.
This is how we turned the vague idea that we could grow in a new industry into an actionable hypothesis, an authoritative eBook, and ultimately leads and revenue. If you think there’s a new vertical out there waiting for your product, don’t start small and tentatively wait for results: write a book and make it happen.
Richard Mabey is the CEO of Juro.