Model of a sales funnel.

Using Content Marketing To Fill Your Sales Funnel

Each year, the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) publishes the results of a benchmark study of small business content marketing. The 2015 study shows that the value of content marketing is measured in a number of practical ways, particularly lead generation and lead nurturing, that fill the sales funnel and grow revenues.

To understand what motivates small businesses to adopt a content marketing strategy, CMI asked those responding to rate the importance of a number of marketing goals. Among those surveyed, 87% said that lead generation was either “important” or “very important”.

This is the first time “brand awareness” failed to top the list. The top five answers included:

  • Lead generation (87%)
  • Brand awareness (83%)
  • Engagement (80%)
  • Lead nurturing (78%)
  • Sales (75%)

A pretty clear picture emerges: content marketers expect to drive revenues. Even brand awareness, historically a somewhat softer measure, can be converted to a “Net Promoter Score” that can serve as a proxy for future sales, particularly for products that benefit from word-of-mouth marketing.

As goals have become more sales-driven, content-marketing metrics have started to follow suit. With “lead generation” as a primary goal, “website traffic” tops the list of important measures. The top eight metrics include:

  • Website traffic (67%)
  • Sales lead quality (55%)
  • Higher conversion rates (52%)
  • Sales (49%)
  • SEO ranking/Sales lead quantity (both 46%)
  • Inbound links/time spent on website (both 41%)

There’s not much wiggle room in that list, is there? That’s the trend in content marketing: measurable results. But in practice, relatively few companies are there now.

The CMI survey found that only a quarter of the companies responding characterized their organizations as “successful” or “very successful” in tracking the return on investment (ROI) of content-marketing efforts. A lack of infrastructure may explain part of that gap.

Before a company can link cause (content marketing efforts) and effects (lead quality, lead quantity, conversion rates) to determine ROI, it has to develop a conversion architecture – a formal way of moving an audience from unaware, to aware, then engaged and ultimately to purchase. Many of the largest companies are struggling with implementing these conversion architectures, although access to lower-cost tools is helping in that regard.

For companies looking to better track the sales funnel, platforms like can help. Across many industries, Salesforce supports value-added partners whose modules can provide sector-specific solutions that are part of the overall Salesforce ecosystem. Like Salesforce, these are most often sold on a per-seat basis, making them cost-effective for smaller businesses.

However your company chooses to build its conversion architecture, you’ll want to measure the value of content marketing in a number of practical ways. Filling the top of the sales funnel with lead generation and lead nurturing is a good place to start.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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