Content Marketing

How to Fuel Customer Expansion Across Functions & Regions with Content Marketing

BY

Tom Whatley

PUBLISHED ON

March 22, 2021

Congratulations, you’ve got the logos of IBM, Adobe, and Nike featured across your website and have officially reached account-based marketing nirvana.

But landing them in the first place is just a drop in an ocean of potential—especially when working with globally distributed brands.

Increasing the value of existing accounts through customer expansion is an attractive prospect when you’re eating one slice of a larger pie. But getting the attention of other regions, functions, and departments isn’t as simple as asking for referrals.

This is where many marketers and demand generation specialists make their first mistake. They believe their existing contacts already have an established relationship, looking to draw a line between them and other internal decision-makers.

The problem is, they rarely have a personal connection with their counterparts. This article will share how to reach other senior decision-makers within existing accounts and create content that their entire team falls in love with.

Use existing account success as your content centerpiece

In order to approach new contacts within existing accounts, you must understand how they find and vet new information (and vendors).

Many look to their peers. After countless customer interviews with senior decision-makers in dozens of industries, we’ve found that busy leaders rely on their teams (both middle-management and individual contributors), as well as their counterparts at other organizations.

This is why top-of-funnel content still has its place at the table. How-to guides that solve specific problems faced by the team act as an entry-ramp for their attention. Write about problems that affect each stakeholder and individual contributor—while injecting the pain-points of those higher up the chain—and you have yourself a c-suite marketing trojan horse.

With customer expansion, this approach is flipped sideways. You’ve already built trust with your customers, therefore your content efforts should focus on elevating how you've helped them succeed. There are several formats you can use to transform these "customer wins" into content:

1. Create an episodic content collection

Dedicating multiple articles to your existing accounts may sound like a lot of work. But by empowering everyone involved (and with the right content operations system), the ROI potential is huge.

In a recent discussion with Nitsan Peled, Director of Content at Optimove, we learned how they take an episodic approach to account-based marketing content:

“We took from Netflix’s book. So if [for example] we want to talk about segmentation, we come up with a series with a title or topic. And then we break it down into chapters. And we find someone to write those chapters. 

“We come up with seven episodes, so most likely, each episode would be dedicated to a specific brand.”

This approach allows you to do three things:

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of how your existing customer operates (including red tape)
  2. Showcase the success you’ve already delivered to other areas of the business they work for
  3. Provide actionable insights and guidance for contributors across the organization

Dedicating a series of content to a single brand can seem like a mammoth project. However, if there’s plenty of revenue potential across the entire account, it’s well worth investing.

Episodic content has the added benefit of making a splash across your industry. Remember, senior decision-makers look to peers both inside and outside of their organization. Building a content collection around a well-known brand is likely to get the attention of a wider audience.

2. Write about shared pain-points

Some customers will have challenges unique to them, but rarely are they the only ones working towards a specific goal.

Have your cake and eat it too by writing about pain-points shared by the broader market. Identify shared challenges of other stakeholders and CxOs by conducting customer interviews, focusing on those that people across existing accounts find most important.

At Grizzle, we enter customer interviews with a set of broad questions. This allows us to dig deeper into their responses to identify their true motivations, as well as complexities and hurdles they face. For example, the question "What are your goals for the next six months?" may be met with the following response:

We're looking to expand into new revenue streams and improve our digital experience

This could mean different things to different people. It also presents three potential directions the conversation can follow with follow-up questions:

1. What do these new revenue streams look like?
2. Why is improving the digital experience important to you?
3. What are the biggest hurdles you face in improving your digital experience?

Let’s say you’re targeting other marketing directors at IBM, and a common problem around improving the digital experience involves "building automated processes around their existing MarTech stack." It’s likely to be a problem across the broader market, but there will be a handful of nuances that marketers within IBM face.

Uncover these specifics by interviewing other marketers within the organization. Start by talking to the operators within the team, including junior executives. Individual contributors have their finger to the pulse of these challenges and hear their boss’ complaints on a daily basis. Use their insights to fuel your customer expansion content and make friends with gatekeepers for your distribution efforts (more on this shortly).

By writing for a tactical audience within your target customer accounts, you're able to infiltrate the team by providing them with content they're hungry for.

3. Get your success stories featured in industry publications

Wonderful things happen when you marry success stories with the authority of a well-known publication. Find out which have your target contact's attention and publish a guest post to get your message in front of them.

Going back to our marketing director audience, you might find they subscribe to MarketingProfs and keep an eye on new articles in their newsletter. Having your content featured here would be an effective way to get their attention—especially if the headline mentions challenges they face and the brand they work for. Using our digital experience example above, we could write the following article:

How We Helped IBM Improve Their Digital Experience to Generate New Revenue Streams

This is going to hit other marketers at IBM like a freight train—especially if they're figuring out how to solve the same problem.

The traffic potential from guest blogging can be hit or miss. But for enterprise sales, it can be an effective channel for new leads—when you target the right publications.

We helped a c-suite marketing firm do just this once it was determined a traditional inbound marketing play would be tricky at such an early stage. Instead of writing problem-focused content on their blog, we found which publications their ideal buyers were reading. This lead to a six-figure deal from our first at-bat, as well as several leads within the first month of publication.

Creating content for gatekeepers

Once you’ve selected the framework for your customer expansion content, you need a lay of the land. This means mapping out contacts, teams, and gatekeepers across the different departments and regions for each target account.

To uncover distribution opportunities and gain access to these people, you must first address a few factors:

  1. First, what cultural barriers do you face? For example, the way marketing directors at Cisco in the U.S. consume content may be vastly different from the same role for a different product based in Europe.
  2. Who are the true movers-and-shakers in their industry? Industry influencers can be geographically exclusive, but not always.
  3. What are their biggest pain-points, and how do they differ from their regional counterparts?

From a communications perspective, the world is getting flatter, and many of these factors may no longer apply—especially when marketing to millennials, more of whom are stepping into senior leadership roles.

On top of peer recommendations, senior decision-makers look to their teams for suggestions. These include new ways of working, potential vendors, and topics that cover internal conversations.

When you write exclusively for a senior audience, you ignore these internal influencers and the things that matter most to them. Junior executives are hungry to make a name for themselves, and are open to new ways of impressing their managers and making their lives easier.

This is why top-of-funnel content still has a place at the table. Individual contributors and the executives that make up the wider team are part of the strategic conversation. Going back to our “automating marketing technologies” example, here’s how we’d write for a tactical audience while appealing to their boss’ challenges:

  • Position the content around their day-to-day: Internal contributors are working with and using these systems to do their job. Providing actionable content on technical and specific use cases will not only empower them, but provide a concrete plan of action to present to their manager.
  • Integrate organization-wide challenges: What are other senior leaders in your existing accounts most frustrated about? For example, instead of investing in new technologies, a solution may be to maximize existing tools in new ways, helping them to get everything they can from what they've already got. Tie these problems to your how-to content in order to appeal to senior decision-makers.
  • Make a compelling argument right out of the gate: Don’t keep these strategic pain-points hidden halfway through your content. Use your introduction (and the opening statement of each section) to make the reader think, “I need this, and so does my boss.”

Creating content for gatekeepers means writing about the topics they care about, acting as a platform to address strategic challenges. To do this effectively, you must first understand the sentiment of their internal conversations.

You can identify these pain-points (and how they connect together) by speaking with execs in the regions and functions you’re looking to expand into. Internal contributors are usually more open to discussion, and the advice and insights they bring are nothing to scoff at.

Content distribution for expansion starts with your customer

Getting your content seen by new contacts means going beyond traditional content promotion. Sure, your distribution channels will overlap, but a more personalized approach is needed if you’re to achieve your expansion goals.

Content distribution is more than a checklist of channels. Posting to Quora and whipping up a quick social post won’t cut it. Here, we’ll share some distribution approaches that weave internal and external channels together to get your message in front of the right people.

1. Empower existing customer teams

Your existing customers are your biggest advocates. Getting them involved in your content not only showcases your success, but primes them to contribute to the distribution process.

They’ll also give you insights into how other areas of the business operate, which is crucial for figuring out how to write for and access new contacts within their organization.

Once you’ve injected customer success into your content (as well as any direct quotes from the primary contact), empower them to share it. Provide them with guidance and ease any concerns or objections, creating a plan that everyone is comfortable with.

Some activity your existing customers can help with include:

  1. Reach out to specific individuals: While they may not have existing relationships with other departments or regions, the fact they’re emailing from the same domain carries some authority. Set these expectations early in the process, but be mindful not to overstep their boundaries.
  2. Share on internal channels: Depending on the organization’s size, there may be employee forums where internal practitioners can chat and share ideas. Uncover this during the early stages of the process, and only encourage internal sharing if your customer feels it’s appropriate.
  3. Craft social content for them: Your customer might love what you do for them, but they're still tremendously busy. Make the process of sharing easier for them by writing LinkedIn posts or tweetstorms on their behalf.

2. Work with your sales teams

Next, speak to your own salespeople and identify contacts they’re already engaged with. It’s also wise to get reps involved in the earlier stages of the process when mapping out and ideating your content.

See what objections they’re hearing from contacts within existing accounts (as well as their peers) to ensure you’re in touch with the conversation happening right now.

Co-ordinate with reps and keep them up to date with your publishing schedules. Encourage them to share your content directly with their contacts and amplify it on social channels like LinkedIn.

3. Repurpose for social platforms

Depending on the themes covered in your customer expansion content, you should spin out and repurpose your content into several social posts.

Here are a few formats you can utilize, which covers social channels and communities alike:

  1. Tag your customer and their brand: This will get your content in front of their existing contacts and, potentially, others within the organization.
  2. Lead with your success story: Focus on the results you’ve generated for your existing customers. Dive into the specifics of what you did, as well as the outcome.
  3. Highlight the most relevant pain-points: Dig deep into a specific challenge presented in your content. Focus on the pain-points both stakeholders and individual contributors face.
  4. Turn heads with actionable content: Share tactical specifics, covering actionable advice you provide in the original article. We find posts that offer practical steps tend to get more engagement on LinkedIn, as users find them most empowering.

Schedule these posts over a week or two, keeping your existing customers, salespeople, and account managers in the loop.

4. Use guest blogging to extend your content’s reach

Turning a success story into thought leadership for popular blogs and publications is a quick way to get your message in front of a wider audience.

When interviewing internal contributors, ask them which publications they (and their managers) read. Do this across several accounts to find those that overlap, allowing you to double-down on the most popular and focus your efforts.

Get featured by reaching out to editors, pitching topics that sit in the sweet spot of these three areas:

  1. What the publication is hungry for: Look at what they’ve published recently. Reverse engineer their highest performing articles and analyze their headlines.
  2. What the broader market is talking about: Tie customer success to pain-points of the market to increase the likelihood your article is accepted. It will also help you turn heads and get more attention once the content is published.
  3. The challenges your target accounts face: Find a key pain-point shared by others across your customer’s entire organization. Use your content to wave a flag in their face as soon as your content goes live.

5. Tap into individual contributor communities

Finally, don’t neglect your account-based audience’s tactical segment and the channels they hang out on. Look at the social platforms, communities, and even influencers they follow to figure out how best to engage with them.

For example, there may be a Facebook Group or subreddit where they're sharing stories, successes, or ideas with their peers. Sure, it's unlikely that your target contact is active there, but the gatekeepers who have a stake in the conversation certainly are. Identify these communities and get involved in the conversation. Find out what hot topics people are talking about and inject those points into your content.

The goal here is to work both ends of the decision-making chain. Getting the peers of your target accounts (as well as your existing customers) involved in the content creation process helps you deliver a compelling message straight to senior decision-makers. By promoting it for internal contributors, you get your foot in the door on the ground floor.

Get the lay of the land, then expand

Enterprise teams comprise all seniorities. Individual contributors, junior executives, and director-level leaders are all working towards the same goal. Your content should help everyone involved achieve it.

Make your content work harder for you and write for everyone with skin in the game. You can’t always do this with a single piece of content at risk of diluting your message. However, with a well-coordinated plan of attack, you can work all ends of the chain and get the entire department’s attention.

Establish authority and expand your customer accounts by making the whole team talking about you.

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Tom Whatley

Tom is the Founder & CEO at Grizzle, a content marketing and SEO agency that provides SaaS, agencies, and technology brands with end-to-end services.

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