Classic engagement metrics still have some use.
Clicks, scroll depth, time on page, and other vanity metrics are great early indicator KPIs—telling us whether we’re on the right track, but they’re limited.
"Boardroom metrics” tie engagement back to conversion.
You want to evaluate how well content engagement influences actual buying decisions. What content pieces do prospects engage with most?
Engagement patterns differ throughout the buying group.
Develop content for each persona in the buying group, from the “gopher” who’s collecting content for the decision-maker to the practitioner “lurker.”
So what you really have to do is get good at figuring out how you can reuse content, or what the overlaps are, or how you can customize micro content for those personas and then just tag it really effectively and get that in front of the right person.
Amber is an Associate Content Director at Iron Horse with 20 years experience creating and editing content for print and web. Amber works closely with our customers and internal teams to produce impeccable content that engages, informs, and drives business growth. Before coming to Iron Horse, Amber created award-winning e-learning for tech, financial services, consumer, and government sectors.
Ben started as a web and database developer, then fell in love with the entire marketing process that leads to amazing product experiences. He's been leading B2X Demand & GTM marketing teams for nearly 20 years. Today, he's proud to lead the marketing team at Uberflip where he helps growing businesses find scalable, efficient ways to personalize content experiences that engage and educate buyers.
Alex Jonathan Brown: It's 11:00 AM on the West Coast, 2:00 PM in New York City, and 2:00 AM in Thailand, home of the world's most expensive coffee. Whether you've ground your own $1,200 a pound beans or you just threw a K-Cup in your Keurig, put your phone on do not disturb, grab a beverage, it's time for Coffee Break.
I'm Alex Jonathan Brown, a senior copywriter here at Iron Horse, and today we're talking about the fabled buyer's journey, not in some abstract buzzword, "Yeah, we use a buyer's journey," sense, but what that really means and how you can make it work better. Spoiler alert, it's a lot about content. To help us figure out how content factors into the buyer's journey, we've called in a couple of experts, as always, Uberflip vice president of marketing Ben Hoehn and Iron Horse associate content director Amber Keller. Hi, everybody.
Ben Hoehn: Hey.
Amber Keller: Hello.
Ben Hoehn: Great to be here.
Alex Jonathan Brown: Thanks for joining. So we're going to go ahead and jump right into it. Ben, over at Uberflip, what struggles with the buyer's journey are marketers coming to you with? And what content engagement and activation challenges are they trying to solve?
Ben Hoehn: Great question. Typically, at Uberflip, we receive inquiries from everyone wanting to really solve for three main things, and then there's a fourth one that usually comes up. The first is, "What content do I have in my buyer's journey or my content sequence that's really working effectively?" The second is, "Who on each buying committee or who on each account that I'm trying to go after wants to engage with which content?" And then the third is, "Is there an ROI of that content? How much pipeline, or ARR, or revenue is actually coming in per content piece?" But then once you get all of that stuff done, what you really end up finding out is what key pieces of content are actually the best pieces to turn into pillars and grow from there. So, "What key themes or tags are really my most effective pieces of content to keep people educated?"
Alex Jonathan Brown: And Amber, I know at Iron Horse we approach some of the similar problems from a slightly different angle. How do we work through those things with our clients?
Amber Keller: Well, we really hear the exact same things from our clients, or we see the exact same things when we're going in and doing a content audit and trying to help them figure out how to accelerate that buyer's journey, make it more impactful. One of the things that we see a lot is that there are so many things driving the production of content. So there's SEO, there's time sensitive thought leadership, there's stakeholders who have great ideas and they want to get them out there. And then just like you said, Ben, the question is, well, which of that content is actually most effective within that buyer's journey? And it's really hard to figure out. That's why we're here.
Alex Jonathan Brown: Yeah, it's definitely a struggle. How do we evaluate the impact that content has on that buyer's journey?
Ben Hoehn: Well, there's really two schools of metrics that I like to think about. The first are our classic vanity metrics that we as marketers like to see. We like to just see page views and sessions and time on page and scroll depth and things like that. And those are great. Those are your classic engagement metrics. Those are really early indicator KPIs. It tells us, hey, we're on the right track. The stuff that we're putting out there is getting eyeballs. We're getting clicks to it, and people aren't just immediately bouncing when they see it. But those are not really useful outside of our core marketing teams or for people that love content. Those aren't what I call the second group, which are boardroom metrics. I can't walk into a boardroom and tell everyone, "Hey, look at all these page views." They're just going to say, "That's great. Where's the pipeline? Where's the rep?" Right? And so that other fundamental piece of calculating maybe ROI by content efforts or at least a clear path to pipeline and seeing how the content engagement does influence the actual buying decision, those are the ones that really matter.
Amber Keller: No comment. Absolutely.
Alex Jonathan Brown: So I know that as marketers, we kind of love the vanity metrics. Do y'all have a favorite vanity metric?
Ben Hoehn: Oh, boy. It feels like it's based on whatever buzzword is really huge, right? Because currently right now GTM is the main buzzword. How do we connect everything in a go-to-market sense? And what does that really mean? It means probably connecting with as many people in the buying committee as possible and multi-threading. So if you can do maybe a collective page view by buying committee, that sounds like a fun vanity metric to make up and say, "Hey, look, the buying committee is engaging more than this other buying committee, and they're a hotter commodity, right? There's a lot of effort being put there."
One step back, probably when scroll depth first became a thing, there was a lot of eyeballs on top of page or the hero page and then how deep people are going. And then, of course, we had all of the parallax stuff and all the pop-ups and overlays that came with that, calculating how deep people went. And so I feel like those vanity metrics really just chase the current trend and try to reinforce it any way they can.
Alex Jonathan Brown: Amber, anything come to mind for you?
Amber Keller: No. I mean, just going back to what Ben was saying before, as a content marketer, I'm just really obsessed with what content actually moves the needle. So it's great to know that a certain piece of content is getting a lot of views or even holds somebody on the page, but if that's the only thing they're viewing, it's not that helpful in terms of the buyer's journey and whether we're actually helping somebody progress and learn more about the product or solution. So, I like to look at those metrics. They're helpful for understanding if a piece of content is really not working. I feel like they're not as helpful for understanding if a piece of content is working.
Alex Jonathan Brown: And that's the big switch then, right, is getting out of our brains? And I think a lot of marketers have kind of been conditioned, especially in internal meetings, to be like, "These vanity metrics are what's really important for the work we do," and it's easy to lose sight of that bigger picture. But when you can take that step back and get to, like you said, Ben, those boardroom metrics, how do you then use that to go back and optimize the content? How do we speed up the buyer's journey, make the buyer's journey more effective using those metrics once we take that step back and start looking at those?
Ben Hoehn: Right. So once you stop just looking at your basic engagement metrics, excuse me, but also tying it back through to conversions and to how the account is working toward an op, you can actually see those metrics, although they're not useless, you can see how one buying group or one account interacting with a series of content actually goes deeper into your funnel and you're sequencing your funnel that way. So then you can actually see, "Okay, maybe these most salient pieces of content, they interacted with three of the 15 that I put on this journey, those are then the ones that probably got conversions or it seemed to be that they interacted with them the most and it's what made an impact between meetings and between discussions that actually got them going." Then you can double down.
But to do that, there's a lot of analytics work in between. You have to tie your content engagement analytics back to the account in some way. Typically, that's some form of map or an ABM platform or something like us. Not to plug ourselves too much, but you really need that key piece of tech to say, "Oh, all of these people from this account interacted with this piece of content, and then that kept things moving forward, and these were the big pieces of interaction." So you are looking at those metrics, but it's not the only thing. If you're not seeing the conversion, if you're not seeing a stage by stage opportunity progression, it's really not there.
Amber Keller: Ben, I'm curious, when you're looking at those metrics, are you noticing different things about how different members of the buying group are engaging with the content? Is that information that you've seen trends on?
Ben Hoehn: For sure. We have the benefit of seeing a lot of this stuff. We can view en masse all of this different behavior both on our platform and on our customer's platform. So we can pull out best practices. So what we have started to identify are a few different behavioral patterns, and we're turning those into personas as well. So for instance, in a buying committee, you may have a CMO or a C-suite stakeholder that wants to know everything that's going on, but they're not going to go to the meetings until the last meeting.
But what that person's going to do is assign what we would call a gopher, which might be an intern or an assistant or someone, that goes in and downloads everything on the journey. So then you see this person that's a more junior person and they're just ingesting everything. But that person, what they're really doing is downloading it all and disseminating it out to the C-suite, and maybe they're conducting and preparing internal meetings. So that person's content engagement score is through the roof, and you're like, "Whoa, this person's on fire." But what they're really doing is feeding everyone else.
The other big persona that we're starting to see is what we call the lurker. Typically, it's a more technical person, your standard RevOps, or MOPs, or sales ops person. They want to know everything that's going on because they're going to have to evaluate and ultimately onboard this platform. So they're looking for pitfalls as well. And they're kind of doing the same thing. They're ingesting as much content as possible. And they might not be in any of the decision-making meetings until the very end when everyone's like, "Hey, we're buying this thing. Are you ready to use it?" But they have educated themselves coming into that late stage kind of deal, and then they can veto it if they don't like what the content has to say or if their questions aren't being answered. So you really have to develop content for each of those personas and start to think through what their behavior looks like.
Amber Keller: I love thinking about that gopher persona because for one thing with those vanity metrics that we were talking about before, you could see how if you were just looking at those things, that you would have a really false impression of what was happening with that account and with that particular person on the account. So I can see a lot of things going wrong, like sales picking up the phone and calling that person over and over again, and they're not the person who's ready to talk about it or not.
I also see a really great opportunity there that I don't see a lot of content marketers taking, which is to create content specifically to help that person collate and share the most important points with that CMO or whoever they're collecting the content for so that it helps them do their job better. And it's just this nice short piece of content that they can help give to that other decision-maker person after they've understood everything and can answer questions if they need to.
Ben Hoehn: Yeah, I would agree. I'm starting to see more people do this where they put together these kinds of buying guides, How to Sell Up, One Level Up.
Amber Keller: How to Talk to Your CMO. How to Convince Somebody to Buy This. Yeah.
Ben Hoehn: Yeah, exactly. And I really love those buying guides and especially middle of funnel. Those are super useful. And once you see people start to ingest that content, that's also a great signal to let you know, okay, they're getting closer to a decision if they're trying to establish buy-in at some point. Right? And then that can move the deal forward. But you're right, there's really not enough of it out there. I'd love to see more.
Amber Keller: Yeah. Thinking about the other personality that you talked about, the lurker, I think that would map to what we talk to our clients about a lot, which is the practitioner audience. So whether you're actually doing an ABM play, or maybe it's not a full ABM play but you're marketing something to developers, a developer audience and a decision-maker audience, right?
Ben Hoehn: Yeah.
Amber Keller: So we often see that a developer, or a marketer, or a writer, or content producer, they're that practitioner audience, they're doing a lot of research. They're not the decision-maker, but they're there maybe at the front saying, "Hey, I want this product. I want this solution." Or, like you said, they're there at the end, "No. I don't want this because I found out this thing about it."
Ben Hoehn: A hundred percent. We actually started to lean into that when we saw this in our research. So we started adhering content specifically for our technical audience, which is like a MOPs professional, right? And they typically have veto powers because they have to build all of the integrations with all of the other tools that we do. So we said, "We may as well talk to these people and show them exactly where we fit in the tech stack, expose them to our MOPs panel, expose them to our MOPs analysts and let them know that we're listening to them, we want to make things easy for them. But if they also have questions, there's a team that they can go to." So I think that talking to the practitioners and the lurkers out there, the more technical people that are going to have to onboard it is definitely a smart idea, especially now if you're exposing content for each person in your buying persona.
Amber Keller: Okay. So you've done this for your own company and you also do this for your customers. Any trends that you've noticed about when these different personalities or personas engage with content during that whole journey?
Ben Hoehn: Oh, boy. Good question. Well, typically, your champion is having a steady diet of content that seems to be more aligned with the path that you set, right? What we see is people map out these journeys. We know that it takes 11 to 17 or so pieces of content to really convert someone. But if you're feeding your champion everything along the journey in a linear fashion, they'll consume it. And then you see, especially if they're sharing a URL that you have tracked, you'll see that they're sharing it internally. And then you have those other personas that I talked about along the way. But then what you really want to see is as people pull in more people into their buying committee, right, buying committees went from two to seven people, right? So you'll see these lighting up these different URLs or different people in the committee based on where they are in that journey.
So for instance, if they're just getting educated about your content, you'll see that decision-maker and then their team, their reports all light up, and then you'll see a finance person and a legal person light up, and then you'll see a C-suite person, and you're like, "Okay, not only are they actually thinking about this, but we're making headway into the group." So you want to have that level of intelligence. And typically what you see is that's not as linear because people that get brought in later then start their own journey and they're doing, "What is this thing? How does it work?" And then they're jumping ahead like, "All right. What does this mean for me if I'm a finance person? Where is their compliance docs? Where's all this stuff? Are they legit?" Right? They're doing their research. Those are really good indicators to let you know what funnel stage someone's in and how healthy the account or the deal is to keep things moving.
Amber Keller: Yeah.
Alex Jonathan Brown: I think one of the really interesting things about even just what you just laid out there, Ben, is there's so much beyond what I think marketers traditionally think of as content that falls in as content in the buyer's journey. If they're looking for financial docs and doing that kind of due diligence stuff, that never crosses my desk as a copywriter. And so working all of that into your conception of the buyer's journey I think is really important. And one of the things we did setting up for this is we asked around our team to get the questions that we often get from people. And one of those relates really closely to that. I know it's a tricky question to answer, but do you have a ballpark on how many pieces of content, whatever that looks like, typically are in someone's buyer's journey? Obviously, it depends industry to industry, company to company, but any rough estimates?
Ben Hoehn: Yeah. The biggest changes that we've seen in the last few years is it's more of a permutation or an exponential shift. It went from, as I was saying before, a buying committee of maybe two or three people, right? And statistically they're always consuming 11, or 17, or 18 pieces of content. It's a lot. It's a lot to think about for two people. Maybe if they're not distinctive, you might have to produce 20 or 30 pieces of content. You break those two personas in. But the big issue is the buying committee has grown. It went from two to seven to... I've heard nine to 12 now is the ballpark figure. So then if you divide those people up by their persona and then you have that journey out and you're like, "Oh, I need 18 pieces of content to move them through the stages, but I need to do that 10 times. Oh, that's a lot."
So no one's going to produce that much content or you're going to need a big team or ChatGPT and something else to really produce that much. So what you really have to do is get good at figuring out how you can reuse content, or what the overlaps are, or how you can customize micro content for those personas and then just tag it really effectively and get that in front of the right person. So you might have the same one piece of content and you're like, "Okay. This is my CMO piece, and then this is my VP piece, and if they both interact with these links, then we know we have them both engaged." So it's less a matter of volume, but it's more a matter of more people that you have to get content in front of.
Amber Keller: Yeah. It's really, again, when we talk to our clients about it, one of the things that we talk about a lot is not having dead ends in that journey. And a lot of that I think is about thinking about the questions that each of those personas or members of the buying group are asking and then making sure that they can get those questions answered. And like you said, it's not 20 pieces of content. Maybe it's 10 pieces of content and five of them overlap and five of them are slightly different for different audiences. The finance content is going to be completely different. But it's making sure then that once you have that content, that that person can follow a path and get to the content they need to answer their questions.
Ben Hoehn: For sure.
Alex Jonathan Brown: We are almost out of time, so we've got one more question, though, that I think is really interesting, so I want to get to it. And this also might take 10 minutes to answer, so that's why we're almost out of time. What recommendations would you give to somebody who's either starting out and wants to tackle these problems for the first time or has a product that they've found hard to do this with? Maybe they don't have enough conversion data. Maybe there's some other holes in the pipeline, if you will. But if you're starting this from scratch or want to rebuild from scratch, how is essentially the question?
Ben Hoehn: Yeah. That's another webinar in and of itself, but I think, and sometimes we encounter this issue, someone will come to us and say, "Hey, we don't have enough content to do this," or, "We have too much content," or something. And that typically is a red flag for me to say, "Okay. You still just need to get back to the basics and start somewhere." Because it's that old quote, right? Perfection is the enemy of progress, right? So don't try to start it perfect, just start with something and go from there. But getting back to basics really means if you want to look at your deal history for this one difficult product, so to speak, what you really need to do is map out what you think the journey looks like, and that's where you really need to get anecdotal.
And we still do that. We have pockets of one deals in our non-typical ICP. We were actually just talking about this the other week internally where we have these outliers. And they're doing great, these accounts love us, but we're like, "They don't look anything like anyone else. What is going on with these people? How do they love us so much?" And what we have really done is just dug into the research. You either hire people, you bring someone in to just do an exhausting kind of interview and ask everyone on their buying committee what made them successful through their journey. That's going to take some resources, but if you have something difficult, you are already trudging through getting to that information anyway. You may as well lean in and do that work. And then from there, you'll probably come up with maybe five or six touchpoints that you can convert into content to repurpose as content, and then you can scale up from there. But at least just starting somewhere, even if it's anecdotal to begin with, if the data isn't obvious, that's probably the best first step that I would take.
Alex Jonathan Brown: Yeah. I think that's a great suggestion, especially taking something that you think is anecdotal and then making sure you have the things in place to turn that into actual data. And not just doing the thing of, "Yeah, we think this might work," and throwing it up somewhere and then not setting yourself up to have it not be anecdotal down the road I think is really great. Amber, any tips? Any ideas?
Amber Keller: No. I mean, I would say the same thing. Get those, what are those five inflection points in the journey that you think that you are? And create the content for those. Hopefully, you can get that anecdotal evidence that Ben's talking about, but if not, you still have to start somewhere. So, what are those questions that you think the buyer's going to ask and make sure your content answers them and that they can actually move through that content in whatever order they want to or need to in order to get those questions answered.
And then make sure that you have a system in place so that you can then evaluate whether those things are working. And that system might be just asking. Before you have some other system in place, you might just need to ask, "Well, what was missing here?" Or ask your sales team, "What are the questions that you're getting asked when you finally talk to somebody? We didn't answer those in the content beforehand. Let's see if we can answer those before they get to you so that we don't lose people on their way." That's a really big one.
Ben Hoehn: Right on. Yeah. Connecting with the revenue side of the house is another great kind of gold mine that I usually go to. And if you have something like a Gong or if you're using call recording, that's another gold mine that I'll typically look for in looking for those one-off deals, like, "Hey, this is a difficult product. How does this actually work?" And you have to just sit down and listen to those calls and try and review the process from there too.
Amber Keller: Yeah.
Alex Jonathan Brown: Awesome. Well, we are basically out of time. Anybody have any last things you want to get in? Any parting shots?
Ben Hoehn: No. I think one thing that I kind of skipped over here with all of this is the how to sequence this correct way. One thing I glossed over is if you're going to use a system, any system, any map to sequence your content, I highly recommend when you're sitting down and mapping the journey, building out tags. We tag everything, all of our content, by buying stage, by persona, by firmographic detail, by use case. Come up with that set of tags first. And then every time you publish a piece of content, figure out exactly where it lives in that mix of tags, and tag it. It's going to make your life easier later when you're looking at reporting because that's what's going to stick out to you, and then you can double down on content that's working.
Amber Keller: That's super great advice. I can't second that enough. And I think that's one of the things, too, that we see a lot when we're looking at a content audit. There's massive amounts of content and none of it's tagged, and it just makes it so much harder to get in there. And it might seem like work in the beginning to put it out there, but those things that you talked about, topic, persona, buying stage, those are the three that I can think of off the top of my head that are super important type of content that are super important for being able to get that glimpse or that big picture view just by looking at your metrics.
Ben Hoehn: I could see on your face, you've been through a couple of content audits. You can always see someone that's done it. They're like, "Do it up front." You don't want to…
Amber Keller: Right. I mean, I know this even for myself, right?
Ben Hoehn: Yeah.
Amber Keller: Yeah.
Alex Jonathan Brown: Awesome. Well, Ben, if people want to learn more about you and what you do, where can they check your stuff out?
Ben Hoehn: Just go to uberflip.com or connect with me on LinkedIn. But I'm all over our site, and I'll see you on there because we monitor every piece of content that gets engaged with.
Alex Jonathan Brown: That is the thing about interacting with marketers in that way, "We'll know that you're there. Don't worry about it."
Ben Hoehn: We're openly creepy about it. Yeah. Why not?
Alex Jonathan Brown: Exactly. And you can find Amber and I on everything that Iron Horse is doing over at ironhorse.io. You can also continue the conversation with us on social media. We're @ironhorseio, no dot that time, on Twitter, or just search for us on LinkedIn. And until next month, thanks for joining us for another Iron Horse Coffee Break, and the break's over. Let's get back to work. Bye-bye.
Amber Keller: Thank you.
Alex Jonathan Brown: Thank you.
Amber Keller: Bye, Ben. Nice to see you.
Ben Hoehn: Great to see you too. Bye, Amber.