This is the first of a four-part series on B2B content marketing best practices, highlighting and expanding on points made during the SiriusDecisions Summit last month. The breakout session on B2B content marketing in particular featured a ton of great ideas, best practices and reminders. This series highlights a handful of them, with commentary on each.

Too often, content marketing is driven by the marketing team with an eye towards traffic, SEO and social media value, without considering the direct role great content can have for the sales organization. And that value goes well beyond generating new leads.

If planned and executed effectively, successful content marketing delivers on three specific sales organization priorities:

1. Improve the quality of inbound responses
If your content is tightly mapped to the buying process and the buyer’s journey, your content can more directly and strategically address buyer needs, pain points, and symptoms that provide immediate value to the prospect but also drive interest and activity specifically from those who have a problem your product or service can solve. This is more than just gathering more information about leads in a registration form, or increasing response rates. Great content marketing strategy and execution (no matter what information you collect in a registration process) can deliver to the sales team prospects who have a problem to solve, have an outcome the need to achieve, and have a compelling and/or immediate need to get there. These are good prospects.

2. Gathering more buyer information

Great content builds credibility and rapport with prospective customers. It doesn’t necessarily do this on the first touch, but prospects who have been reading and/or following your content over time will come to trust your organization, and trust what you might do with their information. If you’ve taken the time to create such rich content, the prospect is more likely to share additional information about themselves that helps your sales team customize and tailor their approach based on the prospect’s specific pain and needs. Most marketing organizations tightly manage their registration pages to maximize conversion upon first visit. And while that optimization process is still important, strong content marketing programs can allow you to learn from and capture more information from prospects when they’re truly ready to engage. This gives your sales organization warmer prospects with compelling context to move them through the buying process more effectively and efficiently.

3. Attract buyers earlier in the buying process
Contrary to the (occasional) popular belief, you really don’t want to engage B2B prospects for the first time right before they’re ready to buy. For complex B2B sales, it’s far better to work with prospects early in the process, when they’re still exploring solutions to a particular problem or need. Prospects who engage at the end of their buyer’s journey often have already translated what they want (rightly or wrongly), and are shopping for features and price. That’s a race to the bottom. Rather, effective content marketing programs engage buyers early in their journey, and deliver prospects to sales late enough that they’re qualified and motivated, but early enough to provide value in their buying decision, shape exactly what they need to solve a particular problem or need, and build value into the close and price.

To maximize your ROI from all three of these benefits, it’s also important to build your content strategy with the sales organization as a key stakeholder. Ensure up front that they understand what you’re doing, what formats you’ll use, how and where they directly apply to the sales process, plus exactly how the sales organization should use or leverage your content, proactively or reactively. The more proscripted you can make this, and the better sales leaders and reps understand your full strategy, the more likely you are to drive pipeline velocity and new closed business as a result.

Tomorrow, we’ll address six key attributes of effective inbound B2B content.