Ready to cringe B2B marketers? It's estimated that 60 to 70% of the content produced by B2B marketing departments doesn't get used. At one point in my career, I would have said, "Thank goodness that doesn't apply to me!" But then I discovered that much to surprise, I was in the same situation.

Here's my story, and how I tackled the gut-wrenching reality.

Shortly after the tech bubble burst, I joined a B2B software startup as VP of Marketing. Great timing, huh?

I would end up spending ten wonderful and challenging years with the company, yet some of the most valuable experience I gained was not in marketing, but rather in sales. When one of our top salespeople quit at a critical point in a very large deal, I begrudgingly found myself on the front lines. I took over the relationship - the contract got signed - and I quickly learned the true meaning of 'what have you done for me lately'. I was expected to repeat the performance, and began splitting my time equally between marketing our solution and actually selling it. Over the next several years, one deal lead to another and another, and before I knew it, I had entered what I had always considered 'the dark side'.

Which brings us to what I discovered about my content marketing. Although the events took place over a decade ago, you might agree that some things never change.

The Best eBook Nobody Ever Read

Throughout my career at the company, I used Sales Cloud for all things CRM. What I did not have was a solution like Marketing Cloud or Pardot, meaning I had to be extremely creative about getting my content in front of prospects. I used Salesforce for managing contacts, tracking opportunities and reporting, etc., and on behalf of all sales execs, pieced together drip campaigns and lead nurturing. To a large extent, I relied heavily on a carefully curated email opt-in list. Note for you youngsters out there: Social was not yet prevalent in B2B and back then digital advertising was best known for banner ads.

Without marketing automation, what I needed most was those closest to our deals - the sales team - to help distribute my content.

As I became more deeply engrained, I discovered that several members of the team weren't using ANY of the marketing materials I had created for them. I'm not talking about printed brochures (I'm dating myself again), but the types of content that I considered to be extremely valuable to the B2B sales process. Whitepapers and eBooks, presentation decks, case studies, webinars, customer testimonials, videos, blogs, press mentions, newsletters, ready-made emails, fresh web content…you name it, some reps were either being very selective or ignoring them completely.

And then I noticed a correlation. The sales execs who were going rogue were invariably the same people who were on the hot seat meeting after meeting. Although they could outshine all others in C-level situations, they were constantly battling to keep the pipeline flowing. They focused almost exclusively on the 'hot ones' with little or no consideration for what comes next. Life was gravy if every deal closed, but as we all know, a small subset of opportunities results in a commission.

I made it my mission to discover why my content was not being used by everyone.

Having a Heart to Heart with Sales Pros

I had a bit of an advantage when I sat down with sales execs to get to the bottom of the issue. I had earned a bit of 'street cred', but that didn't stop them from being blunt. Here's what I heard and what I did about it.

Content is hard to find.

I got defensive right out of the gate. I pointed out numerous places where our materials were kept, they just had to look! We keep our eBooks in this folder, our case studies over here…and with 12 simple clicks and a bit of snooping, it was all readily accessible.

The solution: Put everything where the team lived all day. Soon after, nothing resided outside of Sales Cloud, and all materials had a consistent naming structure.

It's not customized to my needs.

Let's be honest. Many sales execs should have their PowerPoint licenses revoked. I asked everybody to give me examples of the decks they were using. The 'set-up' slides were usually intact, but they invariably 'customized' key sections to the situation. Often, it wasn't pretty.

The solution: Don't fight the need, solve for it. I committed to a 24-hour turnaround in exchange for a 15-minute requirements meeting. They loved it.

It doesn't work.

If a doctor prescribes an antibiotic and you don't take it, is the medication ineffective?

The solution: Better reporting. When content was actively used throughout the sales cycle, deals were much more likely to be won. The data was compelling enough that even the harshest holdouts bought in.

It's too fluffy.

I hated that description. Still do. But they were right. Some of our content wasn't very meaty.

The solution: Content refresh. Meaningful specifics like customer quotes, ROI results, analyst opinions, independent surveys, etc. trump good writing and design any day.

It's not aligned to my sales process.

I was told that our content was didn't support the entire sales cycle. Upon closer inspection, they were correct. Most content was geared to a very specific persona. Though this person was the ultimate decision maker, there were many people involved. We needed to support the top, middle and bottom of the funnel.

The solution: Although I didn't realize it at the time, we began to map the customer journey. We looked at how, when and where different people interacted with content during the sales process, and then developed material to fill the voids.

It's not you, it's me.

I had 15 years of experience in marketing before I made an actual sale myself. I thought I had a pretty good grasp on what sales reps wanted and needed. Once I had a number that I personally had to meet, I realized how wrong I was.

The solution: You don't have to carry a quota to get closer to sales. Are you going on calls with your reps? When's the last time you had lunch with sales leadership? Or asked for an honest assessment of the materials you're creating? While you may not like the answers you hear, everyone will come away better for having the discussion. Trust me, I've been there.

Make Content Marketing Work for You

Every marketer has the best of intentions. We put our hearts and souls into creating engaging content that helps our sales teams meet their goals. Every so often, it's critical to perform a reality check to make sure our efforts are paying off.

Ready to start creating better B2B content? Download the Content Creation Guide for step-by-step instructions to help you create a top-notch content strategy. You'll also get access to six marketing templates to guide your content efforts.