Bredin Report: Using content to make sales

Content can have a significant impact on sales, but SMBs report that vendors can do a better job of creating assets that really speak to their needs.

In a recent Bredin survey of 500 small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs), one in three respondents reported making a purchase based on content such as management tips or advice. The likelihood to make a purchase as a result of advisory content increases with company size: 67% of companies with 100 to 500 employees respond to content, compared to 45% of companies with 19 or less employees and 32% with 20 to 99 employees. Content helps with retention too, as 62% of SMBs say it influenced their decision to remain a customer.

Even though content can be a powerful sales motivator, it still falls short of SMB expectations. For example:

In a recent Fastcast, Luen Tanner, Global Engagement Product Lead, SMB, at Microsoft 365 shared how the company is using content to engage prospects at different points in the sales cycle.

More focus on owned and organic channels

To reduce its reliance on paid channels like advertising, Microsoft is focused on better leveraging both owned and organic channels. A crucial piece is figuring out the right mix of free and gated content on its website.

“There’s a lot of content out there and a lot of competition, so we’re trying to heavily weight the value and the quality of what we’re putting out,” says Tanner. “You have to make sure you provide something valuable enough that people will want to share their information to view it.”

Most effective content

What type of content works best depends on the goal. For acquiring new leads and driving demand gen, Microsoft starts with things like blogs and free articles. Then, as people start to share their information it can start to really engage them with things like webinars and podcasts that will help people understand how a product can help their business.

Microsoft has found that anecdotes from customers and business partners are a nice way to validate what they offer to prospect. But, case studies alone don’t perform as well. “We’ve tested assets where it was only stories from customers but found that you need a balance of facts, data and education,” Tanner says. “Then, you can back it up with insightful customer quotes.”

Tips, tricks and management advice are table stakes in today’s world, and can draw people in to start the conversation. But brands have to offer content with more value to distinguish themselves when trying to generate demand, such as demos, quotes or webinars. “We’re shifting our focus to more value-added content that people would expect to provide their information for,” she notes. “We have a research asset coming out that we see the value in gating, to provide a value exchange.”

Impact on the sales funnel

Not surprisingly, over the last year, content related to remote work has been particularly popular. This resulted in a significant spike in lead volume, says Tanner. But, as Microsoft qualified leads, they saw that much of the interest was coming from people who may have already been customers and were looking for tech support to use tools they already had.

“We definitely track all the way through the funnel, looking at standard performance metrics, like clicks and downloads to see what themes are resonating,” she notes.

The influence of content on the end purchase is also tracked, to see what truly made a difference at each stage. There isn’t a lot of conversions from thought leadership content, because it’s not meant to convert someone.

Typically, free trials have driven a high volume of new business. But, says Tanner, content often drives larger deal sizes, with those higher volume sales coming from bigger companies. “These people tend to do more research and spend more time looking at content before deciding to make a purchase.”

Talk to your sales teams

If you want to create content that will lead to conversions, talk to the sellers who interact with customers on a daily basis. “They’re the first people who will see what content is working and can give you insight on what people are asking for,” says Tanner, who also advised aligning content with the keywords people search for most. “It seems like a no-brainer but it’s surprising how many people miss that step.”

Need help engaging SMBs? Bredin can help you develop high-value content to boost SMB awareness, brand perception, leads, conversion and revenue. We can also conduct quick-turn, actionable market research to provide insight into your audience’s content preferences, or to generate data for use in high-value content and PR programs.

About Bredin

Bredin was founded in 1991 by America's foremost small business expert, author and syndicated columnist Alice Bredin. From its beginning, Bredin was designed to be a breed apart: 50% research consultancy, 50% creative agency, 100% focused on SMB. Based in Somerville, Mass., Bredin helps Fortune 500 companies understand, reach and retain SMB customers through timely, targeted research and award-winning marketing programs.