The Internet has changed every aspect of our lives; how we work, how we learn, and how we communicate. Although people by nature tend to be adverse to change, I for one love that I have absolutely no idea what a post office looks like on the inside. Marketers, like everyone else, need to embrace the changes produced by the Internet.

Widespread use of the web has had an especially profound effect on B2B marketing. The amount of information available to buyers has flipped the entire model upside down. Instead of educating purchasers and influencers through sales collateral, trade shows, and sales calls, buyers are gathering the information they need from multiple sources online prior to engaging with a company rep. Many times the decision to buy has already been made when a customer first engages with a selected supplier.

This presents an opportunity for B2B marketers to influence purchase decisions through content marketing. According to a recent study by SalesForce.com, 80% of B2B buyers begin their research using search engines like Google. By developing quality content that can be added to your company’s website and social channels you can reach your target audience with an inbound marketing approach.

In today’s digital world content comes in many forms. A recent eMarketer survey found that B2B buyers use white papers, case studies, webinars, ebooks, videos, blog posts, and infographics to research products and services. The same survey found that 75% of buyers are relying more on content when researching purchasing decisions this year than they did last year. This trend will continue.

B2B marketers are responding by increasing the percentage of their budget allotted to content development. The challenge for many companies is developing content using their current resources. To be successful, the content needs to be professional and engaging. You may need to pull from internal resources that haven’t traditionally been involved with marketing or bring in a third party to help your team create a content strategy and develop various materials.

Content needs to be developed that adds value for the buyer and does not include an explicit sales pitch. Rather than focus on the product, the content needs to be solution oriented, delivering real value to the target audience. It also needs to speak to a specific audience rather than provide broad information. For example, if your company works across multiple verticals, you may develop a different blog site for each industry and include only the information that is relevant to each type of customer. Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, has a pragmatic (if not cynical) moniker that can help guide your content development: “Your customers don’t care about you, your products, your services… they care about themselves, their wants and their needs. Content marketing is about creating interesting information your customers are passionate about so they actually pay attention to you”.

The best content marketers are able to fill their sales funnel as a result of the content they produce. If the content your company produces is highly valued by your potential customers, you can exchange it for names, phone numbers, email addresses, job titles, etc. These leads can be added directly to your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) platform for further lead nurturing or passed off to the sales team to follow up. Sophisticated marketers have systems in place that allow them to connect transactions back to the initial lead source. By measuring results of various content marketing campaigns and analyzing the data collected, strategies can be refined over time. It’s rare that a company can achieve positive ROI with their first attempts at content marketing. The results of your initial campaigns should be used as a benchmark to measure the progress of ongoing initiatives.

Even if you can’t connect the dots between digital marketing campaigns and transactions, there are many ways to measure success and improve performance. By using your company’s average close rate of a lead and the average revenue of a transaction, you can put a specific dollar value on each new lead. If you’re reading this you probably use Google Analytics to measure your site’s traffic. When you set up a Goal in the platform, you have the option of assigning a monetary amount to the conversion. This will now give your company a rough estimate of the ROI of each piece of content and the ability to refine and optimize your content marketing strategy over time.

You may find that content development is neither cheap nor easy. Your organization probably isn’t set up to develop content for marketing purposes. The time to change that is now. If trade shows or your outbound call center are providing diminishing returns, digital content marketing should have a larger slice of the overall marketing budget.