"How can you get more leads?" 

That's the question that entrepreneurs, salespeople and business leaders alike all find ourselves asking. But in the frenzy to push out content and keep pace with competitors, many marketers don't take full advantage of the internal knowledge and expertise their key  employees have.

I recently spoke with John Hall, former CEO of Influence & Co. As a company that started out in the thought-leadership space and repositioned itself to specialize in knowledge extraction, management, and distribution, Influence & Co. has been named one of the companies dominating content marketing. Naturally, I was interested in its new positioning.  

Hall said the transition was natural but stemmed from the realization that thought leadership, reputation management, social media, sales, public relations, and even recruiting could benefit from leveraging company knowledge to create content. Thought leadership was initially perceived as a vitamin that would improve your marketing state, Hall says. Now, marketers see it as a painkiller that can alleviate pain points across several departments.

According to Content Marketing Institute, creating engaging content remains a pervasive challenge for marketers. Hall mentioned that when the CMO Club surveyed its members for the organization's upcoming guide, the biggest challenge they cited was differentiating their content strategy.

In its 2015 Services Marketing Budget Allocations and Trends report, ITSMA also pegged thought-leadership development and distribution as the No. 2 priority for marketers, right behind lead generation. Unfortunately, most companies aren't fully utilizing one extremely valuable content-marketing asset they already have: their knowledge.

Leverage Internal Knowledge to Create Captivating Content

Many B2B companies are hired specifically for their expertise, so it's vital to effectively communicate your company's core competency in a way that fuels trust and positions you as an expert in your space. In the past, you could win potential clients over during an in-person meeting. Today, companies are educating themselves before making that hiring decision.  

Even B2C companies are discovering the need to authentically communicate with their audiences. It sometimes makes sense to hire a firm like Contently so journalists can cover industry-related topics that your audience finds valuable. Other times, it's more beneficial for the information to come directly from key company employees. And as publications open their doors to experts, disseminating these insights is becoming a more realistic endeavor for leaders.

Publications have built vast social networks by keeping up with audience interests and trends and delivering relevant information. The success of the LinkedIn Influencer program mirrors this idea. Audiences crave raw, authentic content, and publications like Forbes and Inc. have also transitioned to contributor models to feed this need through expert content.

Where do you start? Consider these four steps for creating and leveraging engaging content:  

1. Strategy

Content marketing starts with a well-defined strategy. When I started writing for Inc., I didn't dream up random ideas and write about them. I carefully thought through what would be most valuable to Inc.'s audience and considered where that intersected with my expertise.

I've been fortunate to build a brand that naturally draws new opportunities. Whether it's a sale, partnership, or speaking opportunity, it's often sparked by the content I've published. However, I need to be sure I'm reaching the right people with the right message, which is only possible through a targeted thought-leadership strategy.

2. Knowledge Extraction

Hall described this as the most challenging part of the process. Many barriers can prevent you from getting the information you need from key employees. It could be that they don't have the time, political barriers get in the way, or they just aren't great writers. To overcome these obstacles, you have to simplify the process.

Great content is packed with relevant, interesting ideas. You need to gather those nuggets of wisdom, harness them using an internal system or knowledge bank, and structure the ideas into engaging, relatable content. That could be accomplished through verbal interviews or written brain dumps, but make sure to close the loop and show employees how their contributions benefited the company.

3. Content Creation and Editing

Many people think they're amazing writers. While they might be right, quality writing is subjective and largely depends on the audience. Even if you have fabulous writers on staff, are they factoring in your audience, distribution channels, and company goals? When you're developing content, you have to know exactly how it will be used so you can tailor the writing to that audience and platform and maximize your efforts.

Your content also needs to be polished before submitting it to a publication or publishing it yourself. Editors will want to continue publishing your work if you deliver it in publish-ready condition and minimize their workload.

4. Distribution

Distribution is probably the most important piece of the puzzle. Hall said companies control how much ROI they generate from content by putting it to work across the organization.

"If you think publishing a piece of content is going to change your world, you're mistaken," he says. "First, you have to be consistent and find multiple ways to use the content. Your salespeople could distribute it to leads or add it to an email campaign. Be honest about whether you can consistently develop and distribute content. If you can, keep it internal. If not, you might need to seek help."

Hall also takes a sales-oriented approach to recruiting and explained how company knowledge can be used to recruit and train employees. Good recruits are similar to hot leads, he says. You want to consistently nurture them to produce profitable returns, and content culled from your employees' knowledge can educate and nurture them throughout the process.

Publishing company content not only attracts top talent, it also lures people who align with your company's mission and culture. Sending company content to candidates to read before interviews or onboarding can also soften training costs because new employees have baseline company knowledge before joining the team.

For many marketers, using knowledge as a marketing asset is simply a case of knowing versus doing. Most marketers know they should be doing it, but are they actually following through? With expert insights becoming more accessible, you need to get on board now -- or risk missing the boat and playing catch-up with competitors for years to come.