“It literally doesn’t matter what business you’re in, what industry you operate in, if you’re not producing content, you basically don’t exist.” – Gary Vaynerchuk
As providers of outsourcing services, you’re selling a big-ticket item. Whether software development, IT management, call center, or back-office services, you’re closing five, six, or even seven figure contracts. Big-ticket sales require a direct, outbound sales approach. These are not sales you close with an online shopping cart and a “buy” button.
Today, this is not enough. It’s not enough to just have a sales team making outbound calls, sending outbound emails, and working the conference or trade show floor. To succeed in today’s world, you have to establish authority through content.
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Everybody has become, or has the potential to become, a publisher. The good news is that you no longer must own a newspaper, a television station, or a radio station. The internet has given everybody the potential to have their own platform. As a result, millions of people have taken advantage of the opportunity to produce valuable content that attracts an audience and establishes them as an authority.
The internet has enabled small players, with little to no resources, to compete with and beat large, established players with millions of dollars in the bank. This opportunity is available to you – right now!
But establishing authority through content is not just an opportunity – it’s a necessity. It’s the price of doing business.
Marketing guru Gary Vaynerchuk’s quote, listed above, is worth repeating, “It literally doesn’t matter what business you’re in, what industry you operate in, if you’re not producing content, you basically don’t exist.”
Now, before you get scared that you’re going to have to become a content-producing machine, publishing blog posts every week or even every day, don’t worry – I won’t ask you to do that (unless you want to take your content production and to the next level with a media company approach).
Creating “authority content” doesn’t require publishing weekly or daily – it just requires creating valuable content that establishes you as an expert in your field.
As Brian Clark, Founder and CEO of Copyblogger said, “It really boils down to the demonstration of expertise through delivery of valuable content . . .”
Why Authority Content?
Why do you need authority content? What, apart from the fact that “everybody creates content,” is the benefit of authority content?
Accelerates the Sales Process
Authority content provides the proper context for your sales efforts. If you’re seen as an authority, you’re more likely to have your emails answered and your calls returned.
Authority content is also a great way to start a sales call. Consider the difference between a competitor who cold-calls or cold-emails a prospect requesting a meeting, and then you email or call the same prospect, but this time you offer a book you’ve written (or better yet, you send a printed book to the prospect, and then follow-up with a phone call).
Who is more likely to get an appointment with the prospect, especially if they’re an important prospect from a large company? You, of course!
Helps With PR
Another reason why you should produce authority content is because it’s a great way to generate PR. You get an opportunity to be mentioned in the press. Imagine you’ve published a report with findings from original research that your company has conducted. This report will help you get responses from journalists and writers for magazines, newspapers, or high authority blogs looking for original content to publish.
That was the case with Infochimps when they were performing a business model pivot. I explain this case in detail below.
Helps to Generate Leads
Along with your outbound sales process you must also have an inbound sales process. Key to that is generating leads by getting prospects to subscribe to your email list. The best way to get prospects to raise their hands and subscribe to your email list is to provide some sort of incentive. Marketing guru Jeff Walker calls this an ethical bribe in exchange for their email address. A piece of authority content, whether it’s a downloadable PDF, access to a private video, or a “free + shipping” book, provides a perfect opportunity to generate leads.
Something to Share on Social Media
Companies are always looking for ways to get more followers, more shares, and more engagement on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media. Your authority content, especially if it contains information that teaches something that people really want to learn (a complete guide to topic “x,” or a free course or tutorial), then people will want to share that more than some promotional piece of content.
Offers for Paid Advertising
One of the best ways to advertise, especially if you’re using some sort of pay-per-click advertising like Google AdWords, Facebook ads, or LinkedIn ads, is to advertise a piece of authority content, and not advertise your company or services right away. This is especially true if your service is very expensive and projects last anywhere between six months to two years.
Your advertising will be more effective if you advertise a book you’ve published, or a free report, some sort of webinar, or “free training.”
Types of Authority Content
There are certain types of content that lend themselves more to providing the authority you need to attract customers than others.
For providers of professional services, which is what most outsourcing companies from Latin America and the Caribbean offer U.S. companies, one of the best pieces of authority content is books. In fact, Lee Frederiksen, CEO and Founder of Hinge Marketing, a firm that specializes in marketing for professional services firms, believes that every consulting company founder or CEO should write a book.
In one of his blog posts he wrote, “’Our management team has read your book, and it really reflects what we would like to do… so obviously you are already at the top of our short list.’ This is pretty much verbatim the opening line of a phone call that I received from a well-qualified prospective client last week.”
Frederiksen went on to explain the prospect wasn’t even on their database of target accounts. He hadn’t even heard of the firm.
Books are great because of the packaging, especially if you have a paperback or hardback version of your book. You can have the same content spread out over twenty-five blog posts, but if it’s published in a book, it has more prestige; more “caché.”
The book Software Without Borders was the key that helped Steve Mezak turn his company, Accelerance, the firm he created to help U.S. executives outsource their software development, into the success it is today.
In the book, Mezak provides CIOs and directors of engineering a roadmap to outsourcing software development – while positioning himself as a leader in the space, and helping to shape the criteria for how outsourcing providers are chosen. In other words, the book educated U.S. software development executives in how to become an Accelerance client, positioning Accelerance as the only solution to a company’s outsourcing needs.
Marketing automation provider Hubspot benefitted from publishing the book Inbound, co-authored by co-founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah. The book helped Hubspot coin the term “inbound marketing,” and turn it into one of the most popular internet marketing methodologies today.
Now the term, inbound marketing, has become the de facto B2B marketing approach, and is intimately tied to Hubspot software through their authoritative book, as well as their popular blog.
Another marketing software provider, ClickFunnels, co-founded by marketing guru Russell Brunson, has benefitted by publishing two best-selling books: Dotcom Secrets and Expert Secrets, both authored by Russell Brunson.
Brunson uses both books as the front-end to attract every prospect through their sales funnels.
Reports, also referred to as white papers or eBooks, are the next type of authority content. But this is not the typical type of free report. The type of report that constitutes authority content is original research introducing new data into the marketplace of ideas.
New research is especially important when trying to establish authority with C-level executives in markets that are very data-oriented.
In 2013, Big Data provider Infochimps used this tactic to successfully pivot their business model and attract a completely different type of prospect. Originally created as a seller of data, they quickly realized companies would not spend money to obtain data, since so much of it was available for free. They were stuck with high capacity servers designed to crunch petabytes of data. They realized there was a better market opportunity offering their excess capacity as “Big Data-on demand” providers.
Their target market changed, so they had to acquire a completely new set of prospects. Their VC firm and board of directors had given them an aggressive timeline to attract hundreds of new leads and clients in their target market, leaving Marketing Director, Amanda McGuckin Hager with the task of achieving a very aggressive goal.
Partnering with the SQL Server Worldwide User Group (SSWUG), McGuckin Hager and her team surveyed SSWUG members, almost all of them database administrators, to gain intelligence about the state of big data and to identify the market opportunity.
McGuckin Hager said they commissioned the study to confirm their assumptions about big data and the cloud, but were surprised to find that most database administrators were not interested in the cloud.
What they did discover was very revealing: “Nearly 55 percent of big data projects fail.”
They published the study in a report entitled CIOs & Big Data: What Your IT Team Wants You to Know. It was the first report of its kind providing never-before-seen stats and insight into the big data phenomenon. They also produced an infographic to support their findings.
To give the report a push, McGuckin Hager hired a PR consultant, Jeff Salzgeber, to promote it. Describing him as an “old-school” PR pro who worked the phones, Salzgeber convinced some of the most prestigious publications to write stories about the research.
The report’s findings became some of the most cited research in the big data industry. In fact, the sentence, “. . . 55 percent of big data projects fail” has been quoted repeatedly by high profile publications such as Forbes, Computer Weekly, and the Wall Street Journal. It produces 641,000 results in Google searches.
They were also able to increase their in-house database by 94%, and their opportunity pipeline by 358%.
What lessons can we extrapolate from the Infochimps experience?
There are a few that are easy to duplicate, and some that require good timing:
Produce original research. Producing original research is a great way to establish yourself as an authority in your industry. You’ll add value to your audience while distinguishing yourself from the millions of “me, too” content creators.
Work with industry associations. With about 100,000 members, SSWUG was an important factor in the report’s success. Working with an industry association carries the prestige of a third-party endorsement and can give you immediate access to the members who might be a ready market for your products or services.
Don’t neglect traditional PR. In our digital-first world we tend to forget that some traditional tactics still work – spectacularly well. This is especially true as we enter the age of content shock. The “build it and they will come” approach to content marketing is long dead and has been replaced by the need to actively promote your content.
Be at the right place at the right time. McGuckin Hager admitted that her timing couldn’t have been better. Working for a big data provider at the cusp of the big data revolution, and publishing original research with never before seen data points, was either the result of incredible foresight or super good fortune. McGuckin Hager said she lucked into it. But as Seneca said, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. McGuckin Hager is pretty damned good at what she does.
The research report mentioned here is not the end of the story. According to a case study on the website Marketing Sherpa about the Infochimps pivot (which became one of their Top 3 Inbound Marketing Case Studies of 2014), in addition to the report in question, they published content on their blog, produced six technical white papers, one how-to guide, three data sheets, six case studies, nine webinars, and seven event videos.
Finally, in 2013, they were acquired by Computer Sciences Corporation.
Power Blog Posts
Blogging has become one of those “must-haves” for any B2B company. Most nearshore companies who have committed to entering the U.S. market have some sort of blogging program. But most blog posts range between 700 and 900 words and follow a very similar format: Educate readers on a topic related to what they do, usually in a list format.
However, with a power blog post, you’re writing a 2,000 to 5,000 word article providing a thorough, detailed, and authoritative approach to a topic you want to be known for.
For example, let’s look at the typical list-post. A list-post can be lessons or a tutorial, and each list item is a step in a step-by-step approach. It can also be a comprehensive listing of items to inform readers of “The Best of” or “The Top____”.
In a power blog post, however, you would write an enhanced list post. In an enhanced list post, you turn a traditional list-post into a piece of authority content. How do you structure an enhanced list post? Each item in your list is like its own mini-blog post. You not only introduce your point, but you explain in detail how to carry it out, with step-by-step instructions, diagrams, and other details.
You could also write the Complete Guide to your topic, or even a mini-chapter book where, instead of list items, you have chapters.
Are you starting to notice a trend? A power blog post is almost like a white paper or eBook, but published as an extra-long blog post designed to establish you and your company as an authority in your field.
Free Trainings are another, sexier, word for webinars. I use this term as it contains more value for prospective customers. Your prospects would prefer to attend a free training than a webinar. Webinars usually mean they’re going to get “sold” something. Training means they’re going to learn something.
More importantly, the term, “free training,” sets you apart as an expert in your field.
Free trainings are an increasingly popular way to offer authority content, and are a great way to direct paid traffic from Facebook or LinkedIn ads. Use your free training to address the client pain gap we discussed in Chapter 1.
Organize the training into three parts:
- First, address your understanding of the client’s pain, where they are, and where they want to go. Really hammer this point home.
- Then, provide in-depth training on two or three steps that can help them resolve their pain. Really pack in the value. While you’re teaching, make sure to use case studies of real clients who have achieved results using the methods you’re teaching. This is very important for two reasons: it gets them excited that they can receive the same results, and it positions you for the next part, which is where you pitch your company.
- Finally, position your service or product as a way they can achieve even greater results than they could if they were to follow your advice by themselves. Here is where you invite them to set up a meeting with you or with one of your sales executives.
The beauty of the free training is that it has two purposes: it serves as authority content, while at the same time setting you up in real time to make the sale. Free trainings should usually be held live, using webinar software such as GoToMeeting, Webex, Zoom, Google Hangouts or any other webinar platform.
You can also do it as a pre-recorded video training, with you or somebody from your company standing in front of a white board to illustrate the material you’re teaching.
Video trainings using Facebook Live are increasing in popularity, and so far, there are no outsourcing providers from Latin America or the Caribbean using this approach to create content and to sell to prospects.
Finally, you can record the free training sessions and use them as evergreen content on your blog. You can also use it to generate leads by offering access to the video training when prospects give you their email address.
Authority content is a must-have in the arsenal of weapons nearshore providers must use to dominate in their market and achieve 10X the results of their competitors. It’s what separates the serious companies from the also-rans.