Are We a Right Fit for Your Content Marketing Requirements? Here is How to Decide

Are We a Right Fit for Your Content Marketing Requirements? Here is How to Decide

Last year, we had to decline a few work requests simply because we knew things wouldn’t work and these customers would ultimately churn out.

We know that we cannot give results to every company. That is why we are choosy about whom we work with.

After working with some clients, we now know our sweet spot. In this article, I’ll discuss in which situations and to whom we can give results quickly and with the highest impact. 

There are mainly three things on which we decide if we want to work together.

  1. The people
  2. Shared vision
  3. Industry

But let’s start with a fundamental qualifier before we talk about that. 

We are Focused on B2B SaaS

There are a few qualifiers, like, are you a B2B SaaS company? If not, then there is no question of engagement. We solely work with B2B SaaS companies. 

We are a B2B SaaS content marketing agency.

We don’t work with B2C, non-SaaS, or e-commerce companies

Over the years, we have specialized in B2B, which is very different from marketing to B2C. 

  • The key difference is the average order/contract value. To make sense of content marketing in the B2C space, you need tonnes of customers/users, which requires a mass volume of traffic. Those could be gained by writing a lot of basic ‘top 10 tips’ or similar listicles. Focussing on the number of content pieces you churn out results in compromising quality.
  • Having consumers as your target audience means visual content like images or videos is better than long-form articles. 
  • Other marketing channels, like paid social ads or Instagram, can better fulfill your objectives.

Thus, working with B2C means slowing down on the B2B side.

Similarly, eCommerce startups don’t require the long-form articles that we do. They are mostly consumer-oriented. 

Such businesses also require mass production of content to gain significant results from SEO. Paid channels give immediate results. 

For example, a writer on OkCredit (a credit account management app for shop owners and their customers) has produced over 500 posts in just one and a half years. That is ineffective in the B2B space. 

First, these are technical topics that require a good amount of research to understand. The target audience is senior-level people, like directors, VPs, and the C suite. Furthermore, they have good expertise in their field. So, the articles must be written more in-depth in order to be helpful for them. 

Top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) content will be sufficient for B2C. So, this content can be created by beginners or freelance writers.

This is not possible for most B2B companies. It’s not practical to find, hire, and train so many writers at scale while maintaining quality. 

For example, see the kinds of articles on a B2B enterprise app, Zluri. 

These content pieces can’t be just outsourced to any writer. 

The writers should have experience in the field to understand the technicalities. And since these in-depth content pieces require a lot of research, you can’t produce more than 5-6 content pieces in a month.

We don’t work with services-based companies

We don’t work with service-based companies because it requires in-depth expertise in that service to write about it. For service-based businesses, we think either subject matter experts (SMEs) should create content, or you should get someone in-house.

There are two reasons for this:

  • Every service business is unique in a way. You can’t write stuff based on research alone. The SME or in-house person would be aware of that uniqueness and would be able to articulate it better than someone coming from outside.
  • They know the industry from the inside. They can talk with customers, conduct webinars, etc. because they are in regular touch with the target audience. 

For example, let’s say you are a law firm for mid-size businesses. Since the order value would be significantly higher and your clients would choose you for your expertise, writing the typical ‘top 5 tips’ like articles for law firms wouldn’t help. This type of content can be created by anybody and doesn’t help you generate any real business. 

We are not saying that service businesses can’t work with agencies. But it requires a huge time commitment from the company’s SMEs and salespeople for this relationship to work. Currently, that is not our focus.

Should We Work Together? This Question Boils Down to 3 Questions

Content marketing is a very collaborative process. Thus, we like to work as an extension of marketing teams, not as a third-party vendor agency. 

It requires active participation from our clients’ end as well. 

There are three key engines to running smooth content marketing operations: 

  1. Content: We take care of content strategy, ideation, and creation
  2. Technical changes on the website: Need help from developers 
  3. Promotion: We take care of on-page SEO and need your help to amplify the distribution

1. The People: Who do we work with (decision makers)

Because it determines the nature of our working relationship, we are picky about who we choose to work with. 

For this partnership to work, the right people should be involved from both ends. We have discussed in detail in another post who all are involved in running content marketing operations

Importance of senior leadership

In that post, we discussed the importance of involving someone from the leadership team, like the founder, CMO, strategic head, etc., for the content marketing operations to run smoothly.

Therefore, we always want to involve startup founders, senior executives, or experienced marketers in content marketing strategy—and sometimes operations.

  • Without them, this becomes like a project going very slowly. 
  • Non-marketers cannot take decisions timely. 
  • Things don’t get done because junior executives don’t have much decision-making or budget authority.

Leadership buy-in: MoEngage does a great job at content marketing. Akshata Kamath, its content head, says, “Ravi (founder and CEO) has had a clear vision of content from the beginning.”

Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.

With senior executives involved, things move faster. 

As a result, you get good outcomes.

Here are key reasons why, when working with us, the involvement of founders, senior executives, or experienced marketers is a must. 

Strategic decisions in content marketing require a holistic understanding of the overall business strategy

Since the leadership team has a business context, it results in quick decision-making. Content marketing strategy is a subset of marketing strategy, which is itself a subset of business strategy.

Founders can make decisions quickly, even if they are not from marketing backgrounds, not just because they have the authority but also because they are aware of time wastage due to delayed decisions.

They have experience, help clear bottlenecks, and solve hurdles

Content marketing is a highly collaborative process. There are a lot of interdepartmental dependencies. 

We all know how interdepartmental dependencies can slow down a project. But the experience of senior leaders in the company helps them navigate hurdles—either through authority or diplomacy—when we need help from other departments.

Such as when

  • We need to source information from other departments, for instance, people from the product team
  • Need the time of people from other teams, for example, salespeople 
  • We need them to do something, such as modify the website design

In one instance, working with a client in our early days, it took them over a year to change the content management system. 

Since the point of contact was a junior person, though he agreed with our suggestion personally, he couldn’t get the changes made by the developers. He didn’t have the authority to direct the developers to make the changes. 

Someone from the engineering department was controlling that decision, and he/she decided not to change it because it was a hassle for them.

The person from the engineering team would not have ignored the request if it had come through someone from the leadership team.

They have the art of delegation, which juniors don’t

Most of our customers hire specialists for our expertise. So, we do most of the heavy lifting. We take care of end-to-end content marketing, from strategy and ideation to creation and distribution. 

We have found that our engagement with senior people is generally smoother than when working with junior people. 

Leaders know why they have hired us. They know the art of delegation and generally lead the project by giving directions, not prescriptions.

On the other hand, junior people create hurdles by focusing on irrelevant or small things. They don’t know the art of trust. 

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with prescriptions, but it’s the kind of engagement we don’t want to have. 

Best case scenario for us

In an ideal scenario, we would like to work with a person from the leadership team who has a marketing background. They ‘get marketing.’ 

Even if they have no hands-on content marketing experience, there are good chances that they understand it. 

Someone with marketing experience understands different marketing channels and how content marketing fits into the overall marketing strategy. 

They know that content marketing is a slow channel that gives compounded results in the long term. So, they plan to use other channels, like cold outreach, paid advertising, etc., for short-term results till the organic channel picks up. 

Ultimately, they can get the best from us

2. Shared vision: Do you have a Content Culture?

We want to work with startups that have content baked into their culture. If you have a content culture, the content operations would be very smooth. You will get great results. 

For building a content culture, we need to do three things: Align on goal. Align on strategy. Have a smooth information flow.

Are we Aligned on the Goals? 

We often see content marketers focus on the wrong metrics, like pageviews, bounce rate, time spent on pages, etc. 

Many believe that improvement in these metrics means content marketing is working. 

However, these metrics don’t align with most early-stage startups’ growth strategies. When we talk with seed and series A stage founders, they have clear milestones in terms of annual recurring revenue (ARR) for the next stage.

Therefore, we want to be accountable for the business value (ARR). Not vanity metrics. Not improvements in bounce rate. Not an improvement in time spent on pages. Certainly not the number of blog posts we create in a month.

We measure our performance in terms of our contribution to the pipeline.

So we track these metrics

  • User sign-ups
  • SQLs we generate
  • Demo requests 

This is because these metrics have business value—and are closest to the revenue that any marketer can help you with. 

Go up, you risk losing yourself in the noise. Go down, and you will find yourself getting crushed under heavy weights. 

Note that if salespeople are required to close the sales, marketers cannot be directly held accountable for sales. It’s the job of salespeople to convert those leads into paying customers. 

Getting alignment on content marketing strategy

Our core strategy is to start selling products within the content while providing value. 

If you want leads to be tracked as content marketing KPIs, it requires us to agree on a few basic things:

  1. Topic ideation – see how we prioritize topics
  2. Give a soft demo within the posts – show the product in action with screenshots, screencast, mockups, etc. 
  3. Show how the product solves the problem better than other solutions, be it direct or indirect competitors

The basic idea behind creating product-led content is to weave the product contextually into the topic discussion. 

Our approach toward topic ideation is to help people with problems that our product can solve. When we choose such topics, we are able to reach the right audience at the right time—when the prospects are looking for solutions to their pain points.

Soft demo within the content pieces: Since we talk about the product when the readers are deeply engaged in the article, the product appears as a natural solution to their problem.

Another strategic alignment is to be willing to show product screenshots in the content. 

Nailing your positioning and messaging first – In order for your content to generate leads, you need to nail your marketing fundamentals first. 

If you have issues with your positioning and messaging, all the traffic we bring will go in vain, because we would not be able to convert them.

Not nailing the positioning implies other issues, like no product differentiation. Thus, we cannot show the customers how your product solves the problem better than other solutions, whether direct or indirect competitors. 

Smooth Information Flow – Provide us access to information

We are not a good fit if you can’t give us access to the rest of your team. We don’t get consumer insights if we cannot talk to sales, customer support, customer success people, developers, or product managers. 

As we discussed earlier, content operations require a high degree of collaboration of the content marketing team with other teams. 

Creating quality content requires inputs from sales, customer success, customer support, product, other teams, and SMEs.

These teams can help the content marketing team with

  • Refining your content strategy 
  • Sharing topic ideas
  • Building better arguments
  • Providing customer stories
  • Better backing for your claims

In the absence of these inputs, we are limited to just market research.

Read this article for the difference between market research and consumer research. Market research is external. Consumer research is internal

For example, we want to be in regular touch with salespeople because they know precisely what problems customers face. Salespeople know the objections of prospects before buying. 

By knowing the customer’s objections, we address those objections in your content. So, when they reach your sales, their basic objections are handled.

Talking with salespeople also helps us choose the right topics for content. 

The right topics will help you attract in-market audience (people who are ready to buy the product.) 

You attract the wrong type of footfall on your website with the wrong topics. You will face the following problems:

  • Wait for weeks or months before converting the traffic 
  • You need to chase them, even if you get the leads
  • It leads to uninteresting content 
  • You are at a competitive disadvantage

Furthermore, your salespeople get a headstart. They don’t need to explain what your product does, your key value proposition, and what makes you different. Thus, your sales velocity and close rate are higher.

Likewise, we talk to customer support and success because they are also in touch with paying customers. Talking to product and engineering teams helps us to understand your product’s unique benefits. 

Access to data: Note that this information is also available at various places, like call recordings, CRM, and other conversations with your customers. Further, we ask for access to the following accounts: search console, google analytics, and support and sales data. 

3. The problem statement you are solving

Content marketers spend a lot of time researching content. They spend countless hours reading articles, watching videos, and talking to people. Without an interest in the topics they are working on, the created content quality would be poor. 

In fact, this is the main reason why we see such boring and nonsensical content on the internet. All these articles are written by writers with no interest in the topic they are writing about.

If your folks in your content marketing team don’t connect with the problem statement you are trying to solve, they will never perform well.

Thus, we only work with clients where we: connect with the problem statement, like to work in those industries, and want to talk to those personas.

Industries and target audiences we like to work with

We enjoy working in certain industries. 

In my childhood, I was least interested in studying; instead, I would spend most of my time playing cricket. I was astonished by cricketers because they used to get money for playing.

Though I didn’t pursue my goal of becoming a professional cricketer, when I work in the industries of my liking, it’s a similar feeling.

This is also a key part of our hiring process. When we hire different people on our team, we check if their interests match what we do. Since they work on the topics of their interests, they perform very well. 

If you are in any of the following industries, we can be a good content marketing partner for you.

  • HRTech, like recruiting software, ATS, talent assessment, employee engagement, learning and development, onboarding, and performance management solutions. Note that rewards and recognition and payroll are something that we don’t want to do. 
  • Sales, like sales engagement, sales automation, revenue operations, conversation intelligence, pipeline management, contract management, demo enhancement, etc.
  • Enterprise software, targeting IT, HR, finance, security, etc teams.
  • Cloud security tools, CSPM, CNAPP, CASB, CIEM, etc.
  • Products used by product folks, like use onboarding and product analytics software
  • Most of the products selling to startup founders
  • Target audience: startup founder, marketer, HR, IT teams, CFO

We don’t like working in the following industries: real estate, legal, manufacturing, etc. 

Timing? What’s the Best Time to Work With Us? 1

Now if you check all the above three points. The next question is, what is the right time to work with us? 

We can create different values at different stages of the startup.

We Are Launching Our Blog for Our Customers and Team Members

We Are Launching Our Blog for Our Customers and Team Members

The reason we are starting this blog… We started operating at the beginning of last year, got a few clients via referrals, and were happy. 

We Never Wanted to Start This Blog

We never intended to create a blog, at least for a few years. These were the main reasons behind this thinking:

1. Our goals were different (not customer acquisition)

A blog takes a huge amount of work to give the intended results—for most businesses it’s customer acquisition. But our business goals were different. We were not focused on acquiring customers. Instead, our focus areas were hiring great writers, training our team, and streamlining our operations. We never wanted to be (and this still applies) a full-scale digital marketing agency. I have tried many agencies while working in-house and was never satisfied working with full-service agencies.  They do all sorts of stuff, from copywriting, content writing, running paid ads, influencer marketing, video marketing, and whatever you can bucket under digital marketing. But they did not have expertize in any. So, we wanted to be a specialist in B2B SaaS and wanted to be the best at it. We wanted the same from our team members. So, there was a huge focus on building our core team. We started a specialized agency because we wanted to focus on and deliver revenue-based results to clients.

2. We didn’t need tons of clients

We convinced ourselves by saying that content marketing was not required for our business model. You need a blog when you want to have continuous streams of highly qualified inbound leads, which you could convert to customers. That was not the case with us. I knew that we would only be working with a few clients. So, I thought I didn’t need a blog for customer acquisition.  We (me and my business partner) were happy with only a few clients. Neither did we have the bandwidth to handle more clients. We knew that as a specialized agency, we didn’t need to play the volume game. Instead, we wanted to focus on a handful of clients whom we could make successful. We wanted to do what we loved to do and what we were good at.

3. Other channels were working for us

We were getting referrals through our networks–much more than we could handle. As discussed, we didn’t have the volume required to make sense of content marketing. We just needed one client every few months.  After working with us for a few months, our clients also started sending startup founders and marketing heads looking to get started with or improve their content marketing our way.  So, it made little sense to do content marketing. Instead, we could grow based on word of mouth and through referrals.  This is the same advice we give to seed-stage startups: focus on 2-3 channel marketing channels. Most of the time, these channels are cold outreach, paid advertising, and content marketing.

But Then We Got Into a Few Issues

We were working with a few clients. Many of our clients were getting great results but a few were not.  Since we had expertise in B2B SaaS content marketing, we thought we could give results to any B2B SaaS company. But we were wrong! Things we had taken for granted when working in-house and when working with successful clients can stall work. Consider these examples from the clients where we couldn’t deliver great results: 

1. Low priority for the leadership team

The founder never showed up after the first few meetings. This in itself is not an issue. But in one case, it translated into us not getting the necessary support to do our job.  Our suggestions were not getting implemented.  They had assigned a single point of contact (SPOC). So, initially, we thought it to be good. We weren’t required to talk to many team members inside their company. Instead, we could ask this person for whatever information we need, and he would provide us. But this guy didn’t have the authority or skills to get things moving inside. So we will discuss something in the meeting, and the same things will come up again during the next meeting. Whatever we decided during the meeting was stuck at the same stage month after month. Whatever help we needed, we wouldn’t get. For example, if we said we need to talk to product, support, or salespeople, they would say okay, and nothing happens. Or sometimes, if we say we need the product or CRM or access or any other account, we might not get a response.  Ultimately, we couldn’t get customers’ insights. Even if they give any information, it would take weeks or months for small details, killing the whole momentum.

2. No design and developers support 

In one instance, a client was using ‘Strapi’ as Content Management System (CMS). It was chosen by their developers.  There is a good chance that you are hearing this CMS name for the first time. When we first heard they were not using WordPress as CMS, though we were a little surprised, we advised them to move to WordPress. We reasoned that by moving to a popular CMS like WordPress, we don’t need to depend on developers to make small changes.  WordPress has a big community. That means, if we are stuck anywhere, we could easily find information and tutorials on it. Further, it has a large number of plugins to implement functionalities that would otherwise require developers’ help. And they agreed with this request. Since the blog had very few pages, we thought moving to WordPress would take 1-2 weeks. Many weeks passed—and then a few months. But it was never done.  Note: WordPress is our choice for CMS. Since we want to move fast and do things quickly, we want to work with a CMS we are familiar with. You could also use any popular and marketer-friendly content management system, like Webflow. We are not against using Strapi. However, Strapi is not for marketers; it is targeted toward developers. When you look at their website, this is exactly what they claim to be: developer-first.
Strapi Homepage

 The result was that there was always a dependency on developers that have no interest in making changes to the website for marketing goals. As a result, we could not even make basic changes like changes in the meta description and page title.

This has given issues like bad on-page user experience, unoptimized URLs, and high bounce rate, leading to a poor on-page SEO. Since the blog design was poor, the website had many technical issues like duplicate titles, short or null meta descriptions, 404 pages, etc. 

All these technical factors could have been sorted in one go by moving to WordPress.

3. Duplication of work

In another case, we created a content piece that the client didn’t publish for many months. Then, they themselves created this content and published it. The reason for not publishing our content was not that it was poorly done. This was an issue of coordination between what they were internally doing with what they were getting from us. Remember, we always make sure to plan this out, but we don’t have any control over what a client does without informing us. This duplication of work only leads to money wasted.  This was a serious issue, which caused a lot of heartburn for us.  But I find it funny as well. First, you hire us to do the job; when we create something, you don’t publish it. Then, you work yourself to create an article on the same topic. Why did you spend money on us if you had to do it yourself?

4. Not publishing on time

You probably would have heard many things about the significance of shipping products. 
  • Done is better than perfect.
  • Shipping is a feature. A really important feature. Your product must have it.
  • The longer you go without shipping the product, the more likely you will never ship the product. – Naval Ravikant
  • If you aren’t embarrassed by the first version of your product, you shipped too late.
The same holds true in content marketing. Though it seems obvious, we see it across almost all the clients where the results are not great.  We faced this issue only with almost all of our clients, even successful ones. In one case, we were begging the clients to publish our articles, but they were not doing it.  They didn’t even publish 50% of the articles we had created. Thus, they were missing out on all the leads they would have gotten from non-published blog posts. It’s not hard to imagine the difference between getting 50 vs 100 leads.

The Lessons Learned

Many times the main reason why content marketing fails is not that the strategy or execution is flawed. It is because startups are not aligned with the nature of content operations. Since there is a dependency on many things, it is bound to fail without proper stakeholders’ alignment. We want to work with people and companies that have similar visions to ours. The blog will also help us removes misconceptions about content marketing. This will help us give more ROI and faster results. We learned these lessons the hard way:

1. For the content marketing operations to run smoothly, alignment on strategy and execution is a must 

The strategy we use for startups getting started with content marketing is something we called is going after ‘in-the-market audience’. This means targeting those prospects who are very close to buying the solution that our clients sell.  As people shortlist products and compare them just before making the purchase, our strategy necessitates talking about our client’s products and their competitors. We discuss this with our clients in the initial meeting before starting the work. But one of our clients asked not to publish it once we created one such article. They told us they don’t want to mention their competitors on their blog.  So, we got on a call with them and explained again why it was necessary. They agreed with our reasoning, and they published it. But after a few days, they unpublished it.  Even after unpublishing the article from their blog section, it was not completely unpublished. It was accessible via the post URL.   Within a few months, it was indexed by the search engine, and we were ranking number 1 for many bottom-of-funnel keywords. Finally, it was taken down by them, but for the short period the post was live, it gave us leads.

Traffic to the blog post

Leads we got to on the blog post

It got us 3 leads with just 171 footfalls from 132 users. That is a 1.72% conversion rate. This is a very good conversion rate. To give you an idea, most blog posts convert in the 0.01 – 0.25% range.  Now, we are very selective on who we work with. We discuss our strategy and working style with our prospective clients in detail and ensure they are comfortable with it before taking on new clients.

2. Founders’ buy-in is required for content marketing to create an impact on revenue

At the seed stage, almost founders’ involvement is a must. It creates a content culture in the startups that make things smoother for subsequent stages. Otherwise, due to its slow nature, content marketing is destined to fail in startups. It requires that the initial runway pick up the speed before content operations take off a company and start giving results. Further, involving someone who ‘gets marketing’ helps move things faster. We have seen that if founders (or something with authority) are involved, things move rapidly. In all the issues we mentioned above, the root cause was that the founders were not involved at all. I’m sure all these problems could have been solved easily with the founder’s involvement. I’m not saying you should get involved in the daily operations. Just being accessible and intervening when required is all it takes. If you are too busy, even meeting monthly just for 30 mins helps clear the bottlenecks.  If articles are not getting published, a single message from the founder will signal it is important, and the person accountable for it will have you publish it. If moving to WordPress is pending for a few months, ask where we are stuck. Sometimes, we are not even stuck. It may be just a priority issue for the person. Now, we only work with startups where there is a founder buy-in. 

3. Keep things simple and don’t track 10 metrics

When starting a new blog, track only a few important metrics: keyword ranking, traffic, and leads. I’ve seen startups struggling with content marketing because they want to do too much in the beginning. They create an ambitious content calendar, make a long checklist to follow, and track 10s of metics. They want to do it perfectly! They make a solid plan that is challenging to execute. Remember, when starting a content marking engine, the only thing that matters is to begin. Once you get the initial momentum, it is relatively easier to scale. Try to keep things as simple as possible. As you will move forward, things automatically get complex. Not keeping things simple also leads to not being able to publish articles on time. If you don’t publish the articles, you will never get the results–traffic, signups, leads, branding, etc. We advise not holding publishing to make minor improvements. Publishing content is very important. There is a cost opportunity of not doing it on time. Our content is very high quality. After reviewing the initial pieces, some of our successful clients don’t review each blog post before publishing.  This is not to say that they don’t review at all, but if they don’t have time, they use our 2 pass review strategy. In the first pass, they skim for major errors. If they spot any major error, we work on it; otherwise, we go ahead and publish it. Then in the second pass, they review it in detail when they have time. By then, it also starts ranking on page 1.

4. Content marketing cannot be totally outsourced 

Marketing, in general, requires a collaborative approach to be successful. You cannot be hands-off with it. Now, growth has extended beyond just the marketing realm. Growth requires the involvement of product, sales, customer support, and success team as well. Since we are not in touch with customers, we rely on the subject matter experts, sales, support, and success team—who have ears on the ground—for input. The salespeople know the prospect’s objections.  Support and support people know what problems customers are facing and how customers are getting value from the product.  Since the product team has built the product, they know how to get the best value from the product.  Not just people, you can help us by providing us access to the right data lying across different tools, like Google Analytics, Search Console, CRM, product demo account, etc.

Our Goals and Expectations From this Blog

In this blog, I’ll share our strategy and working style. So, we would have alignment with everybody who will work with us: our existing clients and team members.  This blog will help us educate our clients and prospects. We believe that it would be easier to work with and give results to clients who reach us after reading these articles. They will know our strategy and working style. Since our customers will understand why we do what we do, small things won’t hold us back as earlier. Things will move fast. Further, we couldn’t take many clients last year due to our limited capacity or their budget limitations. So, we want to share our expertise and give valuable information to those startup founders that want to do it themselves.  I believe these blog posts will also benefit content writers and marketers who will join us in the future.