Ah, the simplicity and magic of marketing automation to drive the lead-to-revenue process:

Step 1: Insert contact information in the database via form fill submission.

Step 2: Automatically send email to contact every X days for X days.

Step 3: Automatically pass to a salesperson to call and close once contact opens or clicks on X emails.

Voilà! Done deal. Closed the sale.

If only it worked that way. Unfortunately, more times than not, it doesn't.

Though it's easy to get excited about technology and the promise of marketing and sales transformation, here's the reality: 85% of companies that have adopted marketing automation don't use the full potential of their investment, according to the BtoB 2013 Marketing Automation Study.

The primary reason? Lack of content.

A Shift in Focus

Marketing automation is simply a collection of code designed to automate specific tasks that allow users to track and communicate with prospects at any given time in the buying cycle.

All those bells and whistles are impressive, but the technology doesn't engage the prospect, the content that it dispenses does. To advance leads through the buying cycle, converting lookers into buyers, marketing automation requires engaging content.

To reap the proclaimed benefits of marketing automation, marketers have to shift their focus from technology to the creation of personalized, segmented, and customized content matched to customers' needs.

Content Marketing Is Hard

Feeding the content beast is a full-time job. To do it right requires the creation of buyer personas, a content marketing strategy, content gap analysis, and a commitment to the ongoing creation of relevant, buyer-nurturing content.

If it seems a bit overwhelming, that's because it can be. Which is why some marketers use marketing automation for little more than glorified email marketing, sending the same non-personalized email blasts to every lead regardless of buyer persona, product interest, or stage in the purchase cycle.

Sound familiar?

Time for a Change

If you are nodding in agreement as you read this, know that there are steps you can take to become more relevant in your communication with prospects and begin to apply the full power of your marketing automation technology.

One of the first things to do is to conduct a content assessment or audit to identify nurture gaps in the buying cycle. That assessment can be a tedious and time-consuming exercise, but the ROI can be substantial.

Remember, the goal of the content assessment is to be able to ensure you can provide the right content at the right time across the right channels to the right audience.

Seven Steps to Get You Started

If you're feeling a bit overwhelmed at the thought of this project, take a deep breath and know that you can start small and refine your content strategy in phases.

With that in mind, consider the following seven easy-start steps to get your content engine revving.

1. Start with the prospect, lead, and customer in mind

Ultimately, your business is driven by the person who needs or wants a service or product similar to what you are offering. Developing buyer personas to understand what attracts, engages, and motivates your target audience is the first step in the content assessment process. If you don't know what you need, you won't know what you're missing.

2. Map the buyer's journey

Understanding the path your prospects will take to go from lookers to buyers is the second step in the process. In the B2B world, the agreed-upon stages that buyers will travel through are Awareness, Consideration, Evaluation, and Decision—along with a series of corresponding questions they will be asking at the various stages.

If you've identified more stages based on existing prospect/customer data, you're ahead of the game. Now, open a simple spreadsheet and label the columns with the stages you have identified. Be sure to include a couple of questions they'll be asking to ensure your content provides answers.

3. Classify the type of content you'll need

In converting lookers into buyers, not all content is created equal. Start with the basics and label the following content categories as rows on your spreadsheet: e-book, whitepaper, blog, webinar, video, infographic, case study, customer testimonial, research report, and online article. If you feel like adding some spice to your content, include a couple more rows for comic/cartoon, concept/content visualization, and animated presentation.

4. Begin filling in the blanks

In this initial assessment phase, the goal is to identify what content assets you already have and then map them to the stages of the buyer's journey that you have identified. Before adding the content to the spreadsheet, make sure you ask yourself, "Does this content answer the questions my buyer will be asking at this stage?"

As you map the asset, be sure to include a title, date of creation, and URL in this first phase, so you can easily refer to it as you later refine your content strategy.

5. Identify and mind the gaps

Once you've completed the spreadsheet, it's time to identify the gaps between the content you have and the content you need. Initially, it's more important to make sure you have addressed all stages of the buying cycle rather than building quantity in one or two steps. Mind the gaps and highlight the areas in need of fresh content.

6. Rinse and repeat steps 2-5

This initial assessment has provided you with a solid foundation to begin building your content strategy, but it still needs work. Take what you've created here and replicate the spreadsheet for each buyer persona you identified in Step 1. Why? Because although the majority of B2B buyers may travel the same path, the reasons they do so can be quite different. You want to personalize the content as much as possible to address the individual needs of each type of buyer.

7. Get busy creating content

Remember that engaging, relevant content goes a long way in building the foundation for lead-to-revenue success. Identify and fill the nurture gap in your buyer cycle, and reap the rewards of marketing automation.

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Stop Focusing on Automation and Take a Look at Content: Seven Steps to Get You Started

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image of Peter Baron

Peter Baron is principal of Carabiner Communications, where he acts as a senior-level consultant, offering advice to clients on product positioning and harnessing the latest market trends. He is also a lead contributor to The Connector blog. Reach him via info@carabinerpr.com.

Twitter: @peterbaron