Ready for a B2B Content Program? 5 Steps to Maximize ROI

Thought leadership is a powerful way for B2B startups to establish credibility in their industry and expand their visibility among their target market. Even better? Blogs are a great place to house thought leadership content.

If your startup’s leaders aren’t writers or don’t have time to write blog posts, outsourcing this work to an agency is a great option. But there's more to a thought leadership–focused content program than hiring an agency and waiting for results.

The most successful thought leadership content programs assign someone to do the following things internally:

  1. Get thought leaders on board
  2. Regularly publish content
  3. Promote content
  4. Measure performance
  5. Iterate 

Sounds simple, right?

On its face, yes. In fact, I waffled for weeks about whether to write this post. Surely, I kept saying to myself, this is not new information. But here’s what I kept coming back to: when we see B2B thought leadership content programs fall short of their goals, it’s almost always because one of these things didn’t happen.

So: here are the five things that will maximize the ROI of your content marketing dollars. Skip them at your own peril!

1. Get Your Thought Leaders on Board

The internet is super saturated with content, but startups can still stand out with thought leadership.

The thing is, that thought leadership actually has to come from experts.

Ten years ago, you could get away with a lot less. A skilled writer could do a lot of research online and fill in the blanks based on their knowledge of your company.

No more.

Today, if you want credibility with decision makers, you have to address acute pain points and areas of growing interest. You need to use the right lingo and know when to define a term.

To do this well and consistently, your content team needs access to experts.

In most cases, that access can take the form of a 30-minute call for any blog that will have an expert’s byline.

Set experts’ expectations that they’ll occasionally need to make time for these calls and for reviewing what gets written. To win buy-in, explain to them how you’ll use content to attract and nurture leads. Bonus: ask them what content they need and add it to the (top of the) queue!

2. Publish

Outsourcing content creation is great if you’ve got a small or busy team.

But even if you outsource the entire process (planning, research, writing, editing, etc.), you’ve got to make time to publish: uploading, formatting, finding and adding images, adding alt text, updating meta descriptions, etc.

One problem we see more than you’d expect is that the busy in-house team (or person) doesn’t budget time to publish. The result: they pay for a bunch of content that never goes live.

This is frustrating. It’s also fixable.

Here’s what I recommend:

Be realistic about how much time publishing takes. Early on in your program – especially if it’s your first foray – it will take longer. As you go, it will get faster. I recommend budgeting at least an hour for the first couple times you publish and thirty minutes after that.

If you absolutely can’t afford this time in your week, ask your agency if they can publish. But keep in mind that your team will still have to review and approve content beforehand.

Again, investing a few extra hours up front to provide feedback to your content team will pay off in a major way: once you communicate what you want, they should be able to deliver polished pieces, meaning you just have to give them a quick read through before publishing.

3. Promote

In content marketing, the “if you build it, they will come” approach doesn’t work.

That is to say: if you regularly publish a blog and do nothing to promote it, you will probably see only a modest increase in site traffic over time.

But if you strategically promote your blog posts, you’ll see much more traffic, along with the downstream benefits that traffic can bring: newsletter signups, form fills, brand awareness, trust building, and so on.

So how can already-too-busy marketing professionals promote their content? Two tactics I’ve seen work over and over:

  1. Have the person with the byline promote the post on LinkedIn (and / or wherever they’re most active online). For best results, ask your content marketing team to write LinkedIn copy the thought leader can copy and paste (or modify) to promote the post. Then share the thought leader’s post from your startup’s account. You may even want to pay to promote the post, on LinkedIn or other socials.
  2. Promote your content via email newsletter. Even if people don’t read every email you send, a newsletter is an excuse to keep your name in their inbox and on their mind – especially helpful if you have a long sales cycle or want to nurture early-stage prospects.

These aren’t the only options. The promotion tactics that make the most sense depend on your thought leaders, your time, and your budget.

4. Measure

Which topics does your audience care most about?

When do they tend to interact with your communications?

What motivates them to take action?

You can learn these things by tracking the performance of your website, emails, and social posts. As you get to know what resonates with your audience, you can do more of it.

Of note: the more data points you have, the more valuable your measurements will be. So making time to publish and promote your content regularly is an essential first step toward gathering meaningful metrics (i.e., patterns across 100 blog posts are more meaningful than patterns across 10).

Not sure how to measure content performance? Ask your content agency to…

  • Collaborate on which metrics to track, based on larger business goals.
  • Set up your website, CMS, and Google Analytics to track those metrics.
  • Report on and interpret performance.

5. Iterate

As you see what performs well, create more of it.

Does your audience stick around for highly technical content? Give them more!

Do they tend to comment on your LinkedIn posts when you’re more opinionated? Sound off!

In a content program focused on thought leadership, inspiring a conversation is one of the most valuable things you can do. As you learn what gets your audience to read and engage, you can do more of that.

But it’s also important to try new things. That might mean new formats (audio, video, social media thread, etc.), new subject matter, new perspectives, etc. As you do, you’ll have that many more data points to guide future content.

Making Time for Content

I’m a runner. I used to run five miles a day at the expense of pretty much every other kind of exercise. But in 2014, I was sidelined for weeks by an overuse injury. I went to physical therapy and learned that if I sacrificed 10 minutes of running a day to strengthen my poor neglected hips and hamstrings, I could keep running (possibly forever, will report back). I made the change and I haven’t been injured since.

All that to say: the time to manage a content program may well be hiding in your day. Setting this time aside proactively to cultivate the credibility and visibility a content program can bring could save you hours of last-minute scrambling down the road.

(And if you really, truly don’t have time for all this, may I gently suggest that you don’t start a content program yet.)