Content and CRM: How the Content You Share Can Shape Customer Relationships
The content you share with customers and potential customers makes an enormous difference in the way prospects see your business and the degree of confidence and trust they have in you, both before and after the sale. The cynics say CRM is about feeding the sales machine, and while this is important, it really sets the stage for what CRM’s really good for --  building relationships and extending the customer lifecycle. Nothing helps in doing this better than sharing knowledge that helps your customers succeed.

My current title is director of content marketing, and for the better part of a decade I've been focusing on CRM. It’s a great confluence of topic and title, because whether businesses are willing to admit it or not, these two areas are inextricably linked. 

Content Marketing is More Than Lead Generation

Smart content marketing does a few valuable things. Traditional marketers may say it generates leads. That’s a gross simplification -- it can generate leads, but it’s useful in other ways that go beyond the tactical.

First off, it can establish your company as experts in your field. When you work in a market where there’s a lot of customer confusion, content marketing offers you a chance to be the company that makes the light bulbs come on over customers’ heads by cutting through the noise. That’s why pieces of content that are explanatory at a basic level -- the 100-level material that’s not that exciting to those within your company -- has a lot of value. It shows you understand what you do, but it also shows you can make it understandable for others.

As your content becomes more technical or more in-depth, you’re building a relationship with the readers or viewers. You don’t do this by selling at them; instead, you arm them with ideas that help them solve their problems. By doing this, you become a trusted partner and a go-to source for advice – even before the customer has purchased from you.

Some say this is a wasted effort if it doesn’t result in leads immediately. My response is that not every reader is going to be ready to buy now -- don’t gum up sales with those “non-leads.” However, they’re likely to buy sometime in the future. If you start building the relationship now, and you prove your expertise, and you help them by sharing knowledge, when they are ready to buy you will already have mindshare. It’s a short game -- some people will investigate you immediately -- but it’s also a long game. And your long game gets better as your library of content grows.

Content for Post-Sale Engagement 

Once you’ve sold to customers, the next objective is to keep them and deepen their relationship with your business, especially if you sell through a subscription model. Content is critical here, too -- it keeps customers engaged with you and your products and makes it less likely that they jump ship.

Although the emphasis on new sales in many sales and marketing operations means content for existing customers gets less priority, that’s a mistake. Your customers can benefit from content specifically about your products and services and the best ways to use them more than your potential customers. Doing this also ensures that customers know that you’re continually developing and improving what you sell and you’re working for their success. And, sometimes, tangentially-related business issues affect customers ability to succeed. If you can provide suggestions and ideas that help them address those issues, their success may help your product or service succeed, and you are more likely to keep them as a customer.

Sales doesn’t get left out of this equation. As you build your content library, you’re also providing sales with a library of material to help at key points in its sales efforts. It’s vital that sales staff knows what content is in your arsenal so that when prospects have questions about a topic they can respond immediately with knowledge they themselves glean from the content, and can share that content with the prospect.

Keep the Reader in Mind

Well done content is great in building relationships with customers. But it can only achieve its potential in the right environment. First off, you need a commitment to excellence in that content. Readers want value and you have to deliver it, or they won’t invest their attention in the next thing you ask them to read.

Next, you need to make it easy for readers to get to it. A lot of marketers park all their content behind registration. Since pressure on them to generate leads is unremitting, it’s understandable why this may be so. But again, the value of content isn’t limited to lead generation -- and locking it behind a registration page that readers may not fill out limits its reach and its value. One alternative is to put certain types of content -- white papers and more in-depth material -- behind registration for a finite time before placing it on the company’s website or knowledge center without requiring registration.

Perhaps most critical is a commitment to a content strategy that makes sense for readers as well as for the business. Each piece of content should be seen as a chapter in the story of your customers, their problems and how they can solve them. While adjustments to your editorial calendar may be necessary to address temporary pressing needs, don’t let those adjustments take your eyes off the story you’re telling and the fact that the main character needs to be the reader, not your business.

This is counterintuitive to a lot of old-school marketers -- giving things away, writing without putting the emphasis on what’s being sold, and focusing more on the customer’s problems than the seller’s solutions. But if you take the relationships you have with customers seriously, you want them to be successful. Successful companies buy, and they’re more likely to buy from you if you helped them achieve that success.

Title image by RTImages (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read more from Chris in Managing Indirect Sales Channel Relationships: CRM Falls Short