From The Editor | September 29, 2020

5 Stages Of B2B Content Marketing Maturity

Abby Sorensen July 2017 Headshot

By Abby Sorensen, Editor


There are lots of theories and models about evolving as an individual content marketer or as a content marketing operation.

For example, this one from TopRank Marketing is pretty good. You can pay Gartner to access this one. And Kapost’s “Content Operation Maturity Model” is couched with this excellent, brutally honest introduction: “Millennials aren’t the only group affected by Peter Pan Syndrome. The perceived inability or downright refusal to grow up, accept accountability, and shift unsustainable patterns afflicts most B2B marketing organizations.”

Most models like these are linear, where things get better as you progress through each stage. We see B2B content marketing more like a roller coaster. The frustration of waiting in line happens as you ramp up your content creation process. Then you feel the euphoria of flying down the first hill just like leads fly into your funnel. But then you might get a little nauseous going through a sharp turn when you realize sales and marketing aren't in sync. Once you tame your fear and change your outlook, you'll end the day feeling like you can run the world (at least the B2B marketing world).

Don’t worry. We won’t spend the next few hundred words boring you with a drawn-out roller coaster analogy. It takes guts – a real commitment to “doing” marketing differently – to get on board and work through these five stages of content marketing maturity.

Stage 1: Admitting you don’t have any of the right content.

Just because you have a blog on your website does not mean you’re ready to move beyond stage one. There’s a big difference between having content and having the right content – content that plays a collaborative role with customers in solving their challenges. The right content focuses on helping, not selling. How do you know if you have the right content? Read this: it’s a reminder of what not to write content about.

This stage feels like a 100-yard dash during the content marketing marathon. You’ll need lots of the right content, and you’ll need it yesterday. At this stage, B2B marketing teams scramble to determine what to write about, round up SMEs, secure internal resources or freelancers to create the content, and then get content approved as fast as humanly possible. Think of having the right content as a height requirement for a roller coaster – if you don’t meet the threshold, you can’t get on board.

Stage 2: Leads start flowing in from content, and everything is rainbows and sunshine.

After you sprint to create the right kind of content, then the runner’s high kicks in (as promised, we’ve moved on from the roller coaster metaphor, for now). When you catch your breath, you’ll realize that content marketing does increase both brand awareness and lead generation. Web traffic is up, the number of MQLs generated each quarter is up, and morale is up. Marketing wishes they had started this awesome content marketing thing years and years ago.

Stage 3: Marketing realizes the sales team isn’t getting real value from content marketing leads.

Uh-oh. That euphoria and confidence from stage two have subsided. A marketer overhears a sales colleague say, “These leads from our content marketing aren’t any good.” Another sales team member might say, “Marketing is sending us way too many leads, and we don’t have the bandwidth to work them all.” Maybe nothing is done with those leads. Maybe those leads all get dumped into the same nurture stream that sends the same follow-up messages. There are plenty of reasons bad sales follow-up happens in the world of B2B content marketing (you can read about that here). But regardless of the reason, this stage is where sales and marketing start becoming frustrated with the results, rethinking KPIs, and questioning whether content marketing is really worth the hassle.

Stage 4: Marketing takes the reigns to make data more digestible and actionable for sales.

As Marketing Showrunners says, “Marketing is no longer about grabbing attention. It’s all about holding it. Today’s best marketers understand: Marketing isn’t about who arrives. It’s about who stays.”

In this stage, marketers realize those attention-grabbing “arrival” metrics are not nearly as important as they were a decade ago when that was all they could measure. Vanity metrics like website traffic, the number of leads entering the funnel, and the number of badges scanned at trade shows are replaced by a behavioral analytics strategy. This new data is harder to track, but it actually accelerates growth. Marketing makes a concentrated effort to identify purchase intent so that only the best opportunities are passed to sales. Quality now means more than quantity.

Stage 5: Marketing and sales teams are restructured, work in tandem, and truly understand the buyer’s journey.

This is where the sales team catches up to marketing’s innovative way of thinking. No more silos. No more sales-marketing disconnect. Sales follow-up is effective because it is delivered at the right time in the buyer’s journey and because it is guided by marketing’s data about that buyer’s journey. Marketing never does a handoff to sales because the two teams continuously communicate about prospects through the sale. The process for creating, delivering, and evaluating content runs like a well-oiled machine. And by the end of stage five, sales and marketing departments get off that roller coaster together laughing and high fiving, wanting to get right back in line for another ride.

B2B Content Marketing Is Never Fully Mature

Years from now, this roller coaster analogy might be replaced by consumer space travel. And we might be using drones to deliver hard copies of our white papers to buyers. Change in B2B purchasing habits means there’s no such thing as being a content marketing grown-up.

You cannot progress through these stages by throwing more tech, more staff, or more content at the problem. No amount of employees, funding, or experience will guarantee success at each of these stages. Becoming a mature content marketer means rolling up your sleeves and working cross-functionally. The work is never finished. Instead, it is cyclical. By the time you reach stage five, something in your market or product will have changed. This means you’ll need to create new content in response to that change, putting you back in stage one.

The five stages of the Follow Your Buyer methodology are also cyclical. Regardless of where you find yourself within this content marketing maturity model, the Follow Your Buyer stages can help you help your customers. You can learn more by signing up for our weekly newsletter.