Content marketing and the forgotten sales person

Sonja Jefferson as Lord Kitchener

Marketing vs. sales, sales vs. marketing  – will we ever find a way to bridge that divide? Even with the advent of the ‘new’ approach to winning business (you know, the content-centred one we keep banging on about on this blog), still the chasm separating the two sides of business development land seems to widen.

But here’s the truth of it. A content marketing-based approach will fire business development success ONLY if marketing people work very closely with the sales team.

Here’s a strong pitch for the critical role of sales in the content marketing process, with some ideas on how everyone can come together to drive results.

The strange tale of the forgotten sales person

Creating and sharing valuable content as a strategy for attracting and winning business is usually a tactic driven by the marketing department. Most often the driver is the company website, with the recognition that if you get your content right you can draw in leads from the web.

So marketing owns the content development process. Up goes a new website, with a blog at its heart and a growing library of useful resources in the form of articles, guides, infographics, videos and the like. And along comes the company Twitter feed, Facebook page, Google+ profile, YouTube channel, all managed by the marketing department. It’s a lonely old task but with a lot of hard work the business starts to see results in terms of engagement and leads, to an extent.

But what of sales? Too often they’re not involved, a total disconnect from the content being produced.

“About 40% of marketers rarely or never include sales in content development.”

I’ve heard tell in more than one larger firm of marketing spending a fortune on creating a website packed with content and the sales teams having no knowledge of what’s being produced! And in a recent issue of the Institute of Sales & Marketing Management magazine, a survey found that: “About 40% of marketers rarely or never include sales in content development” (from a survey done by Brainshark).

What a missed opportunity!

3 reasons to get sales people involved in the content marketing process

  1. Sales people have the knowledge. They are the ones who spend their time talking to potential customers – they know the questions that customers ask. It’s the answers to these questions that make the most valuable content. Use their knowledge to create content that really hits the mark.
  2. Sales people can get the content into the hands of potential customers. A good salesperson has a large network of contacts. If sales people (and for that matter, all departments of the business) share the content directly it will spread far wider, and is far more likely to get into the hands of potential clients. Don’t rely on inbound methods alone.
  3. Your sales team is the barometer of good content. If they willingly and consistently share the content produced with their potential clients, know that this stuff is good. If they use it to help them win business (e.g. links included in sales proposals, useful guides left behind after a meeting) you can be pretty sure it’s valuable.

Sales people: content marketing needs you!

I’ve sat on both sides of the business development divide – first sales, now marketing; both as a business owner – and here’s what I’ve learned:

  • If you’re marketing with valuable content then selling becomes far easier.
  • If you involve sales in the content process then content marketing will be far more effective.
  • Only with the combined understanding, trust and involvement of sales and marketing people will your content efforts fly.

So when it comes to creating and sharing valuable content, marketing needs you sales! Tell us what you require and what customers want to know, share the valuable content that’s produced with your networks, use it to help you open doors and build trust through the sales process. Help the marketing and content teams to understand the sales process. Invite them to spend time in your shoes. Push for representation at content planning meetings, find out what content has been produced.

Content marketing presents a huge opportunity for those who get it right. If we all work together the results the business gets from its investment in content will really start to pay off. And let’s face it – doing business without the aid of valuable content is getting harder and harder to do.

How can we bring sales into the picture?

Here are a few posts that look more closely at sales and the content marketing process, with ideas from me and some clued up experts from both sales and marketing camps.

If you’re in sales, what do you want to know? Any questions or frustrations around the content marketing process? Do air them here and I’ll make sure we do our best to answer them through this series of posts.

[NB: Ridiculous poster design by Lizzie Everard – what would we do without her!]

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  1. Tom Sandford (@HTSandford)

    Facial hair suits you, Sonja!

    Agree with all points and would add that it’s more vital than ever, especially for startups. With no domain authority and little social media reach there’s little chance of any content, no matter how valuable, being found and read.

    If a blog written for one prospect helps close the deal it’s already paid for itself and will more than likely be relevant to many others.

    I’m looking forward to the next post and to see you with a full beard. Or lamb chop side burns. Or a goatee.

  2. Sonja Jefferson

    Er – thanks Tom!

    I think you’re right there. I do not believe that focusing on inbound methods alone when it comes to content marketing is going to get companies where they want to go. Outbound proactive contact is as important as ever. It just needs to be conducted in the right way, and opening a conversation with useful content will really help.

    Sales is NOT dead in the age of content marketing.

    I’ll opt for the goatee next time I reckon, or maybe pass that challenge to Sharon!

    Have a good weekend.

  3. Gary Williams

    Spot on Sonja.
    I have often spoken about how valuable content gets salespeople ‘to the table’. I also find in the sectors I’m involved in – mostly professional and engineering services that there are few dedicated sales people and marketing is usually about brochure production and event organisation. This leaves the fee- earner having to take on marketing and sales themselves (an area which is nothing short of a dark art for many of them!) in order to get to those desired tables.

    The keys to success for these people boils down to 3 things in my experience:

    1. Understand your ‘sweet spot’ or your niche
    2. Live and breathe your client’s world. Gather where they gather, both online and offline, read what they read, speak at their events, drink in the same pubs!
    3. Work as a team so that content production is shared

    I would add that in most cases a dedicated resource to help with the ‘mechanics’ of getting content out there is also key.

    In a world where buyers find it difficult to differentiate it is up to the seller to demonstrate that they understand their clients challenges, speak the same language etc. As Roosevelt put it “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care”.

    This is where sales and marketing come together to the point where one is weakened unless both are fully aligned to common objectives.

  4. Shaun Holmes

    Great blog Sonja

    As a Salesperson my key focus is always on understanding what my potential customers problem/s is/are. I love knowing that I have a team that could solve some or all of the problems being shared with me. Vocalising these services in the most comprehensible way, through the best possible channels is what our Marketing team do best.

    We podcast weekly about cloud based technology through the Cloudlife podcast. Almost every week we discuss and interesting new bit of software that has “solved” a customers problem or improved a process that was stalling a tools adoption. Without my amazing marketing team’s eagerness for content that is relevant to our customers, I would probably have kept these little nuggets in my to sell, when appropriate, bag which may only be opened a few times a month. These little, sometimes large, finds now get propagated to many more eager ears and eyes which translates many more sales.

    If you would like to hear the podcast I will, cheakily, post a link to it here It’s fun and really useful if you are considering using cloud based technologies.

  5. Sonja Jefferson

    Hi Gary – thanks so much for the comment and useful ideas. That was my experience way back when (1990s!) I was in sales in the consulting industry – tragic marketing hasn’t moved further than brochures and events in all that time in some firms!

    Shaun – lovely to see you on this blog. I was hoping you’d show up. Delighted your marketing department is such a support. I think your podcasts are awesome content. Maybe I can interview you and Amy for a post on VC to showcase a sales and marketing team working beautifully together to produce client-winning content?

    Do come to our next Bristol Content Group too. It’s on the topic of Selling with Content – 4th June at Roll for the Soul cafe. Will send you full details shortly.

  6. Neil Fletcher

    The first time I read this post, it took me about an hour to stop grinning. My wife thought I had ingested something illegal!

    I’ve left it a while before commenting to stop myself sounding like I’m jumping around, punching the air and shouting “WOO HOO!” at the top of my voice.

    As you know, I’ve been banging on about sales and marketing alignment for quite a while – just not as coherently as this – and will continue to do so.

    We are all becoming more and more specialised in what we do. What was once ‘Marketing’ is now sub-divided into who knows how many categories, all with their own expert practitioners. The same is true for Sales, of course. As a result, we know more and more about less and less (leading to the ultimate ‘knowing everything about nothing’.)

    To my mind, this HAS to mean that we need to collaborate more in order to create ‘best practice’. We just don’t have the depth of knowledge or expertise to do it all ourselves. The arrogance of the departmental silo has to end.

    If I haven’t made it clear enough, I absolutely love this post and am looking forward to the remainder of the series (I haven’t got to Trevor’s yet.) If our respective partners didn’t object, I would ask you to marry me! 🙂

  7. Hamish Riddoch

    Well said Sonia!

    This becomes even more important when it comes to managing existing clients. And, except when you’re starting out, retaining and growing them is your top marketing and selling priority. And it’s even more important if you tend to rely on a few large clients for the majority of your profits and revenues.

    Developing specific content for these key accounts, focusing directly on their individual problems and opportunities, is a very effective way to cement your relationship and position yourself for future projects. And the detailed knowledge you need to do this can only come from your Account Manager or the fee earners who work with them.

  8. Sonja Jefferson

    Blimey – thanks Neil! Glad to hear you like the post (and not just the moustache).

    That’s a very good point re: the increasing granularity of sales and marketing roles. Another fine reason for bringing everyone to the table when planning content.

    Perhaps you can come to the Content Group meet up on 4th June here in sunny Bristol to discuss the selling with content? Trevor Lever and Bryony Thomas will be leading a workshop on this subject. Would love to see you Neil.

  9. Sonja Jefferson

    Hello Hamish,

    Thank you very much for the comment. Like your mention of existing clients/key accounts too – that’s important and I know from experience what a difference keeping in touch with fascinating content can make. The message a timely piece of content sends is ‘I care whether you succeed’ – that’s a powerful trust builder isn’t it? We all want to do business with people who we feel are genuinely interested.

    You’re right – account managers, not just new business salespeople must be included in the content process. Thanks for bringing this into the conversation.



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