The relationship between the sales and marketing departments naturally varies from organization to organization. But at its core, the relationship is meant to be a new-business-creating one-two punch. Marketing builds up relationships with a wide base of potential clients, while sales converts those relationships into paying customers. This is clearly a massive oversimplification of the buyer’s journey, but it at least illustrates one important fact: These two departments need to work in concert if they have any hope of creating a sustainable customer pipeline. Good content can go a long way toward making that a reality.
It Starts at the Top
Content marketing was first described to me as living “above the sales funnel.” In my experience since then, this line of thinking appears to be both true and false. Content marketing at the most basic level is an awareness play. Whether your goal is to establish brand identity or affirm industry expertise, the content you create isn’t about highlighting specific products or services. But because this content serves to enhance a brand’s salience and increase the opportunities for the core audience to connect with that brand, perhaps it should really be considered part of the funnel.
Frank Cespedes and David Hoffeld, writing in Harvard Business Review, describe the sales funnel as a model “in which reps try to convert a marketing-generated lead into a prospect and then a customer through sequential steps.” So whether or not you consider content marketing part of the funnel, if you want to ensure your content initiative is a crucial piece of those sales conversion steps, you have to include sales in your content plans and align and learn from them wherever possible.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
One of the easiest and most impactful ways content marketers can align with sales is in building customer personas. Jon Simpson in Forbes relates that “one of the biggest mistakes companies make when developing personas is thinking the persona is complete once it’s developed.” Understandably, verifying that a persona or audience is still hitting the mark and updating it in real-time is a rather time-consuming and resource-zapping task. This is exactly why a deep connection between the sales group and the content team can pay off big in the long run.
For example, communicating what types of content are garnering the most pageviews or what topics are leading to the highest time on site could provide the sales team with critical insights that shape their pitches to prospects. In turn, a sales manager could share feedback to the content team from a customer who chose not to renew, possibly giving a content specialist the leg up they needed to more effectively understand what stories would actually resonate with their target audience.
If this feedback loop is not cultivated, this vital data will remain siloed within each department. But if instead sales is keyed into your goals and needs from the beginning, and vice versa, that valuable knowledge will permeate throughout the organization and work to help your pipeline continue to organically grow.
Image attribution: Cytonn Photography
Subject Expertise Matters
Effective content marketing often boils down to how well you can communicate expertise (again, a gross oversimplification, but no less true). We are thought peddlers, and credibility is our most important commodity. We are, therefore, in a near constant state of research. Our goal is to position our brands as the authority in their respective industries, so we have to work overtime to make sure our content always represents the most current and accurate information possible for our readers. But the scary truth for content marketers is that—although it can take months or even years to establish trust with an audience—it can be lost in an instant with even just one erroneous proclamation. With margins for error that thin, we need all the help we can get.
Imagine for a second there was a resource within your company who knew your product offerings inside out, who understood perfectly the various segments your content was targeting, and who spent a good chunk of their time every day espousing the power of your brand. Sounds too good to be true, right? But this fantasy resource is actually all too real, and is more than likely one email, one phone call, or one meeting invite away.
Something for Something
A while back, I produced a piece of feature content for a client that initially landed with a rather inglorious thud. It was meant to be the centerpiece for a nurture campaign that laddered up to a more product-focused sales development stream. Although we had spoken to a subject matter expert, the writer and our team missed the mark because we misunderstood how to present some of the more technical aspects in the piece. It wasn’t so much that the information was wrong; it was just left of center from where the client wanted to be. With just two weeks until our deadline, we knew we had to fix it, but we just didn’t exactly understand how. Enter Mr. X.
Image attribution: Yuriy Bogdanov
To try our best to salvage something out of our disastrous first effort, we sent the client a message asking for another subject matter expert. They politely informed us that we’d already spoken to their key product lead and they weren’t sure they could find anyone else more qualified. But later that day I got a quick email from the aforementioned Mr. X, and he said he wanted to chat. I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I got off the phone 90 minutes later, I was stunned. Not only did he give us all the information we needed to get the content back on track, he was also so insightful and passionate about his area of the business that we were able to launch an entirely different content series off the back of that one chat. What team was he on? You guessed it: sales.
Syncing up with Mr. X allowed us to finish our featured content on time and gave him a series of content he would later promote in several sales development campaigns (plus a couple of bylines to hang his hat on). We now talk quarterly to discuss our content’s progress and to find new content avenues to explore together.
By including sales in the content creation process from the start, you can work together to create stories that connect more deeply with your audience than you ever thought possible. While it might take time to get them up to speed and persistence to keep them in the loop, bringing them on as a content partner will provide huge dividends to both teams and should be considered a mandatory component of any content strategy.
Do you want to learn more about how to get the most out of the creative thinking and know-how of other departments across your organization? Stay tuned for Part IV, where I will discuss the best ways to use digital resources to prove content marketing ROI. And don’t forget to go back and check out Part I, where I looked at why it’s so critical to get your whole organization on board with your content program, and Part II, where I discussed the importance of social media connections.
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