Content is king, you’ll hear that a lot as a PMM and the reality is we spend a lot of time creating it, but it’s not always easy to prove the impact that work has on business revenue.
In this article, I’ll explain a recent content problem we faced at Pitney Bowes, the steps we took to solve it by creating interactive content, and perhaps most importantly how we got the C-suite to recognize the value that content offered the business.
My name's Jess Willis, I work for Pitney Bowes, and more specifically, I lead global product marketing for our data line of business.
At Pitney Bowes, we're recognized as a mailing company, so one of the unique challenges I have, representing the data line of business is really starting to tell a different story.
Why should people actually care about what we're doing from a data perspective? And what does that mean?
I won't bore you with tonnes of details there, but I will tell you enough to give you the context of where we're going from an article perspective today.
With that knowledge and background and history specifically of where Pitney Bowes has spent the last century of getting packages and mail to its intended recipients, we've learned a lot about an address.
We validated addresses billions of points, billions of data points, and now we're taking all of that unique knowledge and we're building this data portfolio that's really centered on that concept of location and what an address means. Not just the physical location itself, but all of the things that are relevant around it.
For me as a product marketer, that means representing a portfolio of over 350 data products. With those products, we're essentially extending the ability for companies to license that data, for them to solve business problems.
We're all, as PMMs, in the business of helping people solve their problems and truly, that's what we're doing with the data. I'm telling you all of this because 350 products is a lot to manage as a product manager. It's a lot to manage in a startup function of our business with limited resources and limited support. But it's particularly relevant to this concept of content.
That's where I want to delve into in this article, and go through a problem that we were having, a problem that we needed to solve, to be really transparent and probably if I'm honest, tell you more than I should about some of the pain points there and how we worked through solving that content issue.
Most importantly I'll go over how we started getting our CEO and the C suite in general, to really start recognizing the value of content in our marketing mix and how we did that with the goal to give you some things that you can be thinking about if it does happen that you are playing some role in content creation and building that strategy.
Everybody tells you content is king. In reality, though, this is a little bit more what it looks like.
It's constant chaos. How many can appreciate the fact that people all over your organization are creating content? People from all over are creating content and from a product marketing perspective, this is no different in a big organization like ours, primarily around product content the main players tend to be product marketing, product management, pre-sales.
You have some folks now on the sales enablement side building this content. So there's no shortage of things being created. There's no shortage of places that this information lives.
But in reality, it's not always very different from the last time it was created, it's just some modification of something that already existed before. You can see in the dark grey boxes above if you could make your way through the crazy arrows, that the types of things we're creating are not really all that new and exciting.
It's the traditional things that sales, that partners, and that our other internal stakeholders are asking us for.
- Where do I find product content to put into my sales presentation?
- What's the most compelling use case that everybody needs to know about today?
- How does the data map back to that?
- Where can I find product statistics, things that would be interesting to the people that I'm talking to?
We had to come up with something that would allow them to have this single source of content.
About two years ago, when we started to stand up the line of business, we created something that we call the data guidebook, but really we can call thud.
It was something that the sales organizations could throw at someone and say, "Here is everything you need to know about our 350 data products, please buy today". Just the one single repository of information they can go to.
Now we all know as marketers that's not the approach that we want to take. We want to customize that experience, we want to map the specific product to the customer use case, but in reality, our sales organization needed a place to start. This is what was created.
Problem #1: Static
The problem with it? It was a static PDF. It was over 200 pages. There were so many SMEs, product managers, product marketers involved in the creation, and truly in the updates of this that it became really cumbersome, still expensive - we were actually producing this.
Problem #2: Cost
Our Creative Services couldn't take on the project at the time, so we had to outsource it so the agency fees associated, not only with the creation but with the regular updates of this got pretty overwhelming pretty quickly.
Problem #3: Visibility
There was really low visibility into how people were using this.
The things we could tell were our sales organization was engaging with it. It's the single most downloaded sales asset in our company. We could tell that customers and prospects were engaging with it, we have a place where it lives that requires a single sign-on where you can go and you can download this massive document and have this living on your desktop for all of time.
The problem is the moment you download it, it becomes obsolete because with 350 products as you can imagine, every time there's a release or update, this gets out of date very quickly.
We had some problems to solve. The model wasn't working and when we looked at the actual impact on revenue, we just didn't have the visibility.
Scalable interactive content infrastructure
At the time, we were working with a few different agencies on different types of interactive content, totally separate from this project. We were taking big thought leadership assets, white papers, etc, and trying to find ways to use interactive to make those pieces of content more digestable.
When we took a step back from this project, we said how can we start to incorporate those same ideas into something like this? We looked at more of a scalable content infrastructure.
As a quick aside, in addition to solving this problem, we were also trying to solve a larger problem around content management as a whole and moving the company towards more of a component content management system and selling the need for that. I'm giving you a very isolated view of some of this project when in reality there were bigger discussions going on, and stakeholders that we needed to involve in the continued investment and content.
Whereas traditionally, if we were looking at this, you should never really look at your content isolated, but if we were, we probably wouldn't have taken it as far as we did in deconstructing the business case.
Impact on revenue
But what we wanted to prove out was where was the actual impact on revenue? How could we create something that was not only easy to update and easy to manage, something that was easy to scale, how could we also link it back to actual ROI?
This is where we started.
Deconstructed business case: where to start
The things we knew right off the bat were our hard and soft costs associated with the creation of the piece. These things, when you talk about them, they seem very obvious, but when you think about the content creation and more complex content projects, typically we're not diving as deeply into this.
So how do you actually quantify these numbers in a way that is meaningful?
We started with just headcount alone. For us, I knew I had 12 product managers that were spending at least eight hours of their time on this document alone. That took time away from what they should be doing with the sales team.
They weren't developing products at that time. I was very mindful of the fact that the dollar amount mattered to me, and it would very likely matter to my CEO. That's the number we started with - how many hours if we could give those hours back to the organization, how could we build that into our total ROI?
The same thing I did was my own number of hours that I was putting into the project, as well as the administrative support around it, and the actual cost of agency fees. We could work backward to figure out, again, if there was a cost-saving there what could we give the organization back?
By building this in an interactive way, we knew we could take a 12-week project and streamline that into a two-week production cycle. Again, we were able to multiply that difference and give that back to the business as a hard and soft cost saving.
It seems simple, but those numbers became very important in starting the conversations with our organization in a valuable way.
Then we looked at things like our corporate objectives. In the past, we were using this as a sales enablement tool. But in reality, we were building content around it, we were building new and exciting ways for people to interact with our data.
Connect to revenue
We were able to connect this to a very specific revenue amount, our new website that we were standing up at the time, it was an e-commerce play, we wanted to move low-value transactional deals to essentially a marketplace. This would give us a path to do that.
We had to get this granular. We looked at everything from our current conversion rates to what we can modify from a digital standpoint to some of those hard costs that I mentioned earlier.
We looked at how we could affect churn, and our current renewal rates, etc. and we built that all into this spreadsheet so that when we did present a business case to our stakeholders, it looks something more like this.
We were using this concept of what we already knew about interactive content, and how it performs better than static. We built that into the numbers and then actually used real numbers associated with our current goals, to present them with something that they would understand.
By doing this, the narrative becomes not only something that you can believe in but again, something that your stakeholders are geared to tune in and lean forward and listen to.
After we presented that, we started talking about how interactive content would convert using the top of the funnel approach, and then carrying that through to the sales cycle. This is a tool that we've found very useful.
This shows what our strategy was going to be specifically and all of the things we were already doing from an organic and paid perspective, to actually take what was static before, make it interactive, and then drive to more meaningful engagement with our customers and tie it back to our end goal of onboarding a new customer.
Here are some of the calculations that we actually came out with.
Deconstruct the business case
Through this methodology, we were actually able to figure out what a reduction in the sales cycle would look like. We took the average number of deals, factored in the conversion rate, or the difference of conversion rate with interactive, and we were essentially able to have conversations with our sales leadership's to say,
"I hate slipped deals. It's one of the worst things if you're in sales to have a number of deals that slip over into the quarter, but what if we had content where we could not only prevent those but carry those deals forward and give you more to close on in a calendar year?"
By factoring that in, we were able to see a 20% reduction there where we could give that back to the business.
Likewise, through ultimately fixing our conversion rates, we were able to showcase how much more traffic we can convert based on using interactive and then factoring that into a blended transaction rate that was relevant to our particular plan.
This type of deconstruction of the business case could be a day in and of itself. It's really clunky, it takes a lot of people at the table to start to figure out these metrics and the metrics that are meaningful for you, but what I was finding, going through this process with our partners and our internal team, was that everyone that was approaching us with a content idea was not doing this level of analysis.
Rightly so, we don't have time usually to stop and spend the amount of time it takes to do this meaningfully. We probably wouldn't have done it if it didn't fit into this larger piece of the puzzle that we were trying to solve for.
But going through this process, it became clear that in all of our experiences across the board, I don't think we got enough exposure to this type of content and ways to really build meaningful business cases, for the people that we manage up to.
Something as simple as thinking about the structure of this differently, getting buy-in from all of the stakeholders that were around the table, when product management saw that we were doing this level of analysis, they were thrilled to support it. Because for them, we had just quantified exactly how much time their teams were spending on content.
Now all of a sudden, they had someone else carrying that voice where in a given day, we don't have time to connect these dots, we don't have this opportunity to participate in everything that the sales team is telling us is meaningful for them.
It's really giving them that second platform to stand on and say, "You know what, we need help and we need a way to automate these things to be more effective".
This was where we really leaned on our partner, who works for a large enterprise, if someone is looking for the business, my approach is to make them part of that learning process, and in this case, they were alongside us every step of the way.
Part of that was actually building prototypes that once we got through the first end of the conversation, then there was something that was tangible that they could interact with, they could see a prototype and walk through where the functionality would be and how it would be different from what we were doing today.
This is the example, from the static PDF that I mentioned earlier, we built this web interface.
We built functionality in at the product detail level, where you could actually go in, interact with the product, there are assessments built-in.
We have a number of products that are legacy that may be confused with some of our newer offerings - this allows us to ask questions, make sure people are in the right place and then customize that experience for them.
All the while we're learning, we can take that information and if someone doesn't follow the CTA, they could go into essentially that very targeted retargeting program where we can customize the content that they're being served on their journey, both from a product perspective, and then thematically, so that could be at the industry level, etc.
We have the added benefit of this content already existing. That's just really rethinking our approach. All of this for us, our call to action leads to a very immersive experience, where they can then go and interact with the data that I mentioned earlier, so they can see it on a map, they could download samples that they can ingest into their environment.
Suddenly, you're taking something that essentially was a true guidebook before or a product brochure, and now you're making it a lot more interactive and meaningful for the user.
I like this quote a lot, this is from CMI, that personally relevant content for all of us whether it's B2C or B2B is very important.
But what I think gets lost in the mix is this concept that personalization has to be your name, or it has to be the immediate location that you're standing or a box that's filled on your behalf because there's some autofill function that's using content that was already derived from some action you took before.
Interactivity of the content doesn't have to mean that. It could mean how we're building things in meaningful ways to actually drive that user forward to an action and in this case, it's learning about what those preferences are, and then building that into the methodology that we are taking to not only build this piece of content but all the content that surrounds it.
Then putting that back into our user journey.
I will leave you with one thought. When you really start to get frustrated that people, in general, don't care about your content, just remember that there's a very good reason for it.
There is poor content everywhere and it is our job to make this more meaningful, help folks understand, but truly to build the business cases that helped us move forward.