At the heart of content marketing lies a simple premise: stop interrupting customers with sales messages and instead encourage them to choose you with valuable content that really gets to grips with their core challenges.

Of course, this often doesn’t come naturally to traditional marketers used to plugging key sales messages at all costs. In fact, the balance between valuable content and weaving in commercial messages can be something of a high-wire act. So what’s the best approach? 

The 80/20 rule

Some content marketers recommend following the Pareto principle (or a simple 80/20 split) when balancing informative content against sales messages. However, such hard and fast rules are usually unhelpful.

If you see content in such black and white terms, sales messages tend to be crowbarred in – often at the wrong moments or in places that feel unnatural. Your audience may simply skip over these ham-fisted segments or calls to action, or be put off by them entirely.

Sales messages should never be a required part of good quality content, nor should they be clumsily shoe-horned in later. Instead, content and commerce should flow together seamlessly – and that’s as much about process as prose.

Look at the challenge, not the solution

The best way to walk this tightrope is to focus on the customer challenge, not your solution. By basing content on your prospect’s needs, it will be far harder to overload them with sales messages.

Remember your aim is to help customers make informed purchases and solve their business challenges, not to pitch products. You need to create content that understands who prospects are, what they want, their position in the buyer journey and how they found your business to begin with. Building customer personas based on their needs, behaviour and influences should be a core part of your content production process.

Yet, melding this focus on customers with your commercial objectives is often easier than you might think. After all, any product or service you’ve created should have been designed to solve a specific customer challenge. Better still, your business almost certainly has the right to claim some credibility here: most brands are experts on at least one area, that’s why customers pay for their products and services.

If you’re steering too close to commercial messages, the warning signs will be clear: Do you have fully-fledged customer personas? Are you talking more about your business than the customer’s? Are you presenting calls to action rather than actual solutions?

Avoid information overload

Once a prospect is in your sales pipeline, it’s even more crucial not to bombard them with sales messages. To convert prospects into leads, and leads into customers, you must deliver personalised and valuable content at the right moments. Marketing automation tools should be used to support a personalised and strategic approach, not just spam more content to more people, more often.

Nurture programmes aren’t an opportunity to shove sales messages down your audience’s throat at every turn; prospects need to move through the buyer journey on their terms, not yours. No one likes to receive three sales cold calls in two days because they downloaded one whitepaper. Instead, prospects must be carefully nurtured before being passed over to Sales with both appropriate content and follow-up engagement.

The right balance

Ultimately, content and sales should work together in your business. Compelling content can capture a steady stream of marketing-qualified leads for sales reps to follow up on, as well as keeping them up-to-speed with the latest industry trends, challenges and customer interests.

When Marketing and Sales are both aligned to the same customer personas and buyer journey, the two needn’t conflict and the benefits can skyrocket: compelling content can fuel new leads, as well as help sales reps close the deal. Better still, the messages coming from your business will be consistent and compelling.

Have you found the right balance between content and commerce? Let us know what you’re doing and what worked for you:

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