Content marketing – the view from the sales department

Sales Cats - 4 sales personas for your content from Trevor Lever

Don’t forget the sales cats – 4 buyer personas from Trevor Lever

This is the 2nd in our series of posts on selling in the age of content marketing. Trevor Lever is a sales trainer committed to uncovering the secrets to sales effectiveness. Here’s his view on what the sales department wants and needs from content creators. Brace yourselves marketers, some of this may not make for comfortable reading, but look out for some seriously useful ideas. Over to you Trevor.

Salespeople are from Mars; marketers from Venus

In a room not too far from me lives the marketing department. They are driven to create – and the more creative they are the more they feel they are doing a good job. For the marketing folks they want to entertain, educate and delight the world with their creative content, blogs, articles and information. They measure their success in clicks and connections and feel the war is won.

In the sales department we actually engage with the customer. We talk to them, we exchange emails with them and very often we sit down and meet with them. We don’t need a focus group or A/B testing to understand the needs of the customer. We can simple ask the customer because – unlike marketing – we have a real relationship not a metric of engagement.

OK, an extreme point of view I admit. But an exaggerated one to make a point. The whole point of the sales & marketing function within a business is to generate profitable sales. That’s it. Because if there are not sufficient profitable sales – eventually there will be no business.

Ideally sales & marketing live on a continuum that defines and supports the customer’s journey from initial awareness, through to adoption and – ideally – to be an advocate of the company. This requires sales and marketing to work together. And often that’s easier said than done.

Content for every step of the selling process

When you look at it from the sales department’s point of view, the content marketing focus is often too much on the early stage of engagement. The valuable content created tends to be seen purely as a way to build up a brand / reputation, educate and entertain. That’s fine, but at some point (increasingly later in the sales process as a result of much of this content) people (sales) will be interacting with people (customer). Valuable content is required at every stage of the sales process to support sales through to securing the business and then helping with advocate development afterwards

Marketing often think of demographics, of segmentation, of classifications to help them collect customers together in convenient groups that can be ‘targeted’ with messages and content. The outcome of these campaigns might be measured in clicks and connections and increasingly in the B2C world with a purchase. Yet, in the B2B world where salespeople still thrive and survive little is offered from the marketing department to help the sales staff based upon their view of the market.

Advice for the marketing department

So, here’s some help if you are a marketing department in the B2B world.

1. The content you create is not just to get the ball rolling. Yes we crave leads and enquiries, this is meat and drink to us. But in a sales process that might take months or years we need additional content to support the customer’s journey.

2. The content needs to be directed to a specific customer persona. In sales we come across 4 different types of customer persona. Depending upon the maturity of the market any or all of these characters might exist:

4 x sales personas

Farmer, Poacher, Hunter, Trader

Farmer – he already buys from us. We need content to develop the relationship further, encourage purchase of additional products, and to create advocates who will share their love of what we do with their contacts and networks.

Poacher – these people understand the value of what we offer – but currently purchase from another supplier. Here we need to be able to demonstrate why we are different that is of value to the customer. Differentiation is key to getting them to consider to change supplier. (PS “We’re cool and funky” is not a differentiator)

Hunter – these folks do not even know about what we offer or the value we can deliver. They are not buying from us or the competition. They are ignorant and comfortable. Here we need content that educates them regarding what they are missing out on.

Trader – a lot of business comes from introductions, referrals and our business networks. We need content targeted at these people too. They are unlikely to purchase from us, but they are a valuable group of people we need to keep on our side.

3. Please talk to us. Because we talk to customers on a daily basis we have a pretty good idea what interests them and what their pain is. Of course, sometimes we may get a bit carried away with the reasons for the last lost sale and occasionally have trouble seeing the wood for the trees – but don’t let that put you off. We are a significant source of market intelligence that you can tap into for ideas on creative content.

4. The overall measure is the best measure. As we work better together the only true measure is an increase in profitable sales. Sure, I understand about getting more website traffic and having our content downloaded…but unless that eventually leads to an increase in business, what’s the point? We are in this together whether we like it or not.

Let’s plan the content together

We’d love to be involved in your planning meetings and asked for our opinions. We can show you our sales process / pipeline and talk about the key stages on the customer’s journey that lead to a purchase.

Here’s a suggestion on how we might link that valuable content with the sales process. Every business will have its own sales process and the key stages. Write these down in the order of the sales process down the left hand side of a table. The various personas can then be written as column headings. For example:

(Focus) Education Cultivation Differentiation Mutuality

Each cell in this table shows a specific audience and stage for which there is a need to develop specific marketing collateral to help sales move the opportunity along to the next stage. The table can be used to identify gaps that content needs to be created for, as well as identify what currently exists to support the sales process.

For example, perhaps the latest blog article is aimed at developing existing accounts (Farmer) to consider additional products that they currently are not purchasing (Adopt) or maybe the latest topic on a LinkedIn discussion is to show those using a competitive product (Poacher) that we have a strong and credible reputation in their specific area (Trust).

Given time I’d love to think we might generate content for each stage for the different customer personas mentioned above and talk about the specific content required in each cell of the table to support sales move the customer onto the next step.

I know that marketing will need to think about their content calendars (the “When”) and also what site or delivery mechanism is appropriate (the “Where”) but I think this will help build a broader understanding of the personas (the “Who”) the content is directed towards and the need to support sales in moving the opportunities along the sales pipeline (the “Why”).

That’s not a bad thing, is it?

We’re in this together

Just like in ‘Venus and Mars’ there is a need for each side to appreciate what the other brings to a successful relationship. Relationships can fail if the value and expertise of the other side are not appreciated and understood, and it’s the same with people as it is with the sales and marketing departments. We can be in conflict or we can work together with mutual admiration, understanding that each is bringing their own magic to the party.

We are in this together, and ultimately will be judged together, in our joint ability to bring long-term profitable customers to the business.

I’d really welcome your thoughts.

Trevor LeverTrevor Lever works with individuals, teams and organisations to improve their sales effectiveness. You can find out more about his work here – or visit his excellent blog at He’s writing a book too – working title ‘The Reluctant Salesperson‘ – I so look forward to that.

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  1. Neil Fletcher

    Great post, Trevor, but I would expect nothing less! 🙂 For me, the key point you make is the need for content for every step of the selling process. In my former life as a salesperson, creation of the ‘nitty gritty’ content required later on in the sales process was often left up to the salespeople.

    The reason (excuse) given by marketing was that the salespeople knew best what was needed and had the necessary detailed knowledge to create the relevant content.

    Whilst this has some merit, (only ‘some’) it is not a particularly good use of (very expensive) sales time. There was also very little, if any, attempt by marketing to capture and curate this content for future use so next time a different salesperson needed something, it was created from scratch by them.

    Just to pile on the agony for the marketing department, I would add the need to create VARK content for your four sales cats. The purpose of content is to educate and inform potential customers. We should attempt to match content delivery to their learning style, be it Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing or Kinaesthetic or a mix of these.

  2. Trevor Lever

    Hi Neil – thanks for the feedback and glad you enjoyed the post. Like you., I find it interesting that (in general) most marketing folks shy away from the ‘nitty gritty’ of helping sales folks engage with the customer.

    Your point about curating here is a very good one – so that the expertise is not lost within the organisation and each sales person then need to ‘reinvent the wheel’ for themselves!



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