It sounds so easy. Just pay a monthly sum to an agency and have them produce content and manage your social media without you having to lift a finger.
Unfortunately, this model became outdated years ago. Posting a few short, SEO optimised articles every week is not even the bare minimum, so how do you compete?
While most are embracing content marketing, few are successful. I believe the solution is to bring content and social in-house instead of outsourcing it to an agency.
In this article, I will discuss why you should aim to build an in-house team to manage your content. You will learn about:
- Why a lack of content leads to lower sales and retention
- How content helps your sales team close more deals
- Why great content requires true subject matter expertise
- Why your content needs a strong and differentiated perspective
- Why succeeding with content requires need flexibility, quality, and frequency
- How social media is becoming a skill, not a job that can be outsourced
- Why outsourcing only seems cheaper on the surface
Lack of content leads to lower sales and retention
Most companies have a very inefficient sales model where big sales departments rely on outbound sales or referrals to find and win new business.
I am not against outbound, but it is an approach can expensive and inefficient when trying to scale as it is done by growing your sales headcount instead of focusing on giving your existing salespeople more qualified opportunities to work with.
Most B2B companies say that their sales cycle is long and that sales are not able to connect with buyers at the right time. This often results in losing business.
However, the issue is not that the sales cycle is long.
The true issue it is that salespeople do not have the necessary context and insight into which prospects are actively researching and showing buying intent right now.
Companies who are reliant on outbound are often sales-centric, not customer-centric, meaning they are misaligned with how buyers actually buy.
Consider your own behaviour when buying products or services.
You are probably using Google or social media to do research and follow the people and companies that interest you and that you find valuable.
You hate getting that phone call or email from a salesperson that pitches you something you do not need, and who cares more about reaching their quota that month.
Most salespeople hate this process as well.
Salespeople need to show management that they are doing a lot of sales activities such as cold emailing, calling prospects or cold prospecting.
However, they know that most of the time they are reaching out and talking to prospects who are not interested or who do not have the need for your product.
Doing new sales this way is very hard in the long run, and I believe this is a leading factor for why salespeople quit and look for job opportunities at other companies.
According to Gartner, once a salesperson has left, finding and training a new one can take up to 6 months. How can you approach new business development in a way that helps the sales team close more customers, get a higher compensation, and motivating them to stay?
By building a web presence that drives qualified traffic, creates awareness, and generated sales opportunities, you will have a more efficient sales model that better aligns with how buyers buy and helps sales perform better.
Buyers prefer to find information on their own. To align with how buyers buy today you need content that aligns with their interests and stage of the buyer journey.
Too few companies invest enough time and resources into the content. As a result, they don’t get a lot of inbound inquiries from qualified prospects who are actively buying.
Content is especially crucial for companies with long sales cycles and high-value deals. Instead of having your salespeople use ineffective sales methods to find prospects who are not actively buying, invest in content.
Instead of having an oversized sales team that uses ineffective sales methods to find prospects who are not actively buying, invest in content to see your sales cycle shorten, reduce your customer acquisition cost, increase your close rate, and align sales and marketing.
Content helps your sales team close more deals
A lot of companies approach content because they want to attract traffic from Google or social media, but have you considered the importance of content in the sales process?
When it comes to distributing content, most people think about search, social media, or paid channels. However, sales can also be a channel.
Gartner calls this buyer enablement, which is “the provisioning of information that supports the completion of critical activities necessary to make a purchase.”
There are multiple ways to approach buyer enablement, but by assigning “homework” to a prospect in the sales process, the more educated the prospect, the faster the sales process, and the higher the close rate.
Content can be used to determine fit and commitment, making sure the prospect is well-educated about your solutions. Content is one of the best closing tools available to you, but you need a lot of educational content to make it work.
A writer needs to work together with the sales team to create content around typical questions and objections that your salespeople get in a sales call.
The content writer can then create a repository of links in a spreadsheet or an internal wiki with relevant content that salespeople can easily access.
This repository comes in handy when they are following up with a prospect. Instead of "checking in" with the buyer, they can lead with educational content that builds trust and makes it easier to buy.
Great content requires true subject matter expertise
The internet is polluted with content. According to Ahrefs, 90.63% of content gets no traffic from Google. This means that most content is either outdated, not optimised, or probably is just not that interesting to read.
There are tens of thousands of writers who could produce a generic article for your company blog, but only a handful of people who can produce insightful content that gets consumed by your target audience.
Even consultancies as ourselves who focus on specific verticals do not have the same understanding of your customers, your product, or the problem you solve.
This means that content about complicated topics such as:
- The Internet of Things (IoT)
- Cyber Secyrity
- Robotic Process Automation
- Artifical Intelligence
- Machine Learning
- Augmented and Virtual Reality
...can rarely be outsourced effectively to an agency.
When targeting high-level decision makers with years of experience in their field, this lack of subject knowledge will shine through in your content.
Your target audience does not want to read another fluff piece, but insightful content that educates them and that challenges their status quo.
To create unique content that gets consumed and generates more inbound sales opportunities, you need to involve the internal subject matter experts (SMEs) in your company.
Most subject matter experts are busy people who do not have the time to create content on their own. However, you can easily extract content from them.
By mapping out questions you have for them, yo can ask them to record a voice memo answering your questions. Another way is to do a Zoom recording and launch a podcast, then repurpose the audio into an article or micro-content for social media.
By having a regular cadence (daily, weekly, or monthly), a writer can create a first draft that is sent to the SME for review. The SME can tweak the draft and give feedback.
The content can be published in the SME’s name on your company website. This approach can also be used for other types of website content such as product pages or case studies.
Your content needs a strong perspective
In addition to being insightful and educational, your content should also have a strong and differentiated perspective on the problem you solve. Simon Sinek says it well:
“The goal is not to do business with everyone who needs what you have, it’s to do business with people who believe what you believe.”
Content is insightful when someone reads it, but can’t leave without either agreeing or disagreeing with your point of view. Your perspective should force a divide in your audience and invite readers to a battle of beliefs.
Having a strong perspective means that you look at the problems you help solve in a unique way to your company. This perspective might be rooted in wanting to challenge long-held assumptions or conventions in your industry.
Having a strong perspective means that not everyone will agree with you. It will polarise your audience and attract like-minded people, and push away those who would not buy your product anyway. It will help you clarify your audience more quickly and make your audience even more interested and loyal.
If you’re new to the market and facing a lot of competition and incumbents, you need a strong point of view to get noticed. This means that you should be a bit nervous about the response. If you play it too safe, you are probably not adding anything valuable to the conversation.
A strong perspective can never be outsourced to an agency. It is uniquely yours and is something you and your colleagues need to own.
You need flexibility, quality, and frequency
Your goal with content marketing should be to become the best teachers in your market about the topics your audience cares about.
This requires a commitment to publishing a high volume of quality content over a long period of time. You will never succeed with content by doing it just a few months, and this is something that the typical client-agency relationship does not account for.
Many agencies today offer a flat monthly retainer. However, the scope is almost always defined by the amount of hours the agency spends and not on the results they are delivering. Some agencies also use point based pricing, but this is just another way to mask hourly work.
The big problem for you is that this model will put a limit to the output of content the agency can deliver. An agency needs to control their costs by not over servicing, and will usually prescribe a fixed scope of deliverables (i.e. an article or a pillar page) each month or quarter.
However, this will in many cases not align with your content needs. In most cases you will need a wide range of different content types that will change from month to month. One month you will need ten new articles for your blog, and next month you will need to create some collateral for sales.
In this scenario, an in-house writer can be more flexible than an agency by not being locked into a fixed scope of work. There is obviously a limit to the output an in-house writer can deliver , but the output of content will overall be higher as this writer only focuses on creating content for your business.
If you want to grow faster and acquire more customers, you need to publish a lot of content. An agency is often incentivised to spread out the work over a long period of time to keep you as a client, but this will often prolong the time it takes to get the results you want.
Social media is a skill, not a job
Over the last 15 years social media has gone from something only kids do, to becoming a tool for businesses to build awareness, attract qualified traffic, and generate sales opportunities.
This resulted in social media management becoming its own job function, and agencies started offering it as a service to businesses.
Jay Baer writes that the big problem with social media is that it does not scale well. The days of having one or two people manage your whole social presence is gone. To get results from social media today requires a lot of time and resources for multiple people in your organisation.
Another issue is that most of the messaging from companies on social media is not very interesting. Most of the posts you see on for example LinkedIn is self-promotional instead of being valuable for the target audience.
Social media has become ubiquitous, and it is tightly integrated into our daily lives. We use social media to find jobs, express our dissatisfaction with a company, consume content, or read the news.
This means that every employer, across all functions, needs to understand the basics of social media. In other words, social media has become a business skill, just as writing an email or using a word processor.
The smart way to approach social media today is to in-source it. By training your employees on how to use social media, you can unlock their subject matter expertise to leverage the right channels, do business development, or attract new hires.
Outsourcing only seems cheaper on the surface
Absorbing the cost of a content marketer is not a problem if you are an enterprise company with hundreds of employees, but it can seem as a big investment that will not pay off in the short term when you are a smaller company.
Marcus Sheridan, the author of They Ask, You Answer, argues that it is even more important to insource your content when you are a smaller company.
Instead of having to follow the agency’s schedule, you can just walk across the office or have a Zoom meeting if you have an idea for a new piece of content without being invoiced for the extra time spent.
While hiring an agency or finding a writer on Upwork seems cheaper and less risky in the short term, it usually results in generic content that does not give you any return on the investment in the long-term.
Agencies or freelancers are usually pressed for time as they are working on multiple projects at once. With an in-house writer, you don’t have to schedule time with your agency to create more content and worry about your invoice increase because of that extra meeting.
You should also consider what other tasks a content writer can do for your company beyond creating content. Truth be told, a lot of the work that agencies are doing is very simple.
Tasks such as sending a newsletter, uploading content to the CMS, updating a website, publishing a new post on social media, or performing on-page SEO can easily be in-sourced with a little bit of training. It also makes more sense to insource these tasks as an agency will usually slow down the process of executing these tasks.
As an owner of a consultancy, I am not trying to work out of a job. In my opinion, an agency is better suited for getting specialised tasks done more efficiently and quickly than you would be able to do in-house.
Some examples of this are:
- Consulting on your technology stack
- Managing your advertising campaigns
- Design and development of a new website
- Setting up analytics and reporting
- Doing conversion rate optimisation
- Off-page SEO and PR
An agency can also help you to train your sales and marketing teams in a certain skill or tool. If your marketing team needs to learn more about how to produce content or how to manage HubSpot, this is something you can hire an agency for. The end goal is that you won’t be dependent on the agency forever.
An agency should not be an occupying force, but a liberating one that trains your team, creates a solid technical foundation to build on, and offers specialised skills that get you to your goal in less time. As Confucius would say: "Give a man a fish, and you'll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you've fed him for a lifetime."
Outsource your content and be average
You don't get extraordinary results by doing what everyone else is doing. The typical agency-client relationship will not give you the quality or quantity of content you need to build a brand, attract qualified sales opportunities, and win more business.
While your competitors are pushing out volumes of generic content, you can take a smarter, less expensive approach that will help your company stand out.
Insourcing will give your content a unique perspective that your audience will want to return to. You will help sales close more deals faster. You will have a more efficient sales model that makes salespeople more likely to stay at your company.
Hire a full time writer who can learn your industry and build rapport with your internal subject matter experts. You can then use an agency for specialised tasks such as website development, paid advertising, or strategic guidance and training.