Marketing is responsible for building the pipeline, which sales then convert and close. And yet so often sales is out on its own trying to win the big deals, leaving marketing to sit indulging in ‘fluffy’ things.
When sales and marketing aren’t in alignment, it puts the business at a serious disadvantage:
- The sales team lacks the pipeline it desperately needs to go after.
- The business lacks the feedback mechanism to know what the market is after and therefore how to position your product/service.
- And considering that just 1 in 10 companies is prepared to sit face-to-face with a member of your sales team, you need another way to talk to your audience.
If your sales and marketing functions aren’t yet operating as one, don’t worry, you’re not alone – 54% of SMEs report their content marketing and sales teams are not aligned (source: CMI) despite those who have enjoying 27% faster 3-year profit growth (source: SiriusDecisions).
Here I share 5 simple ideas that you can use your content strategy to better align the 2 functions to the benefit of the business:
1. Ingrain case studies as part of the sales process
Marketing is always in need of new case studies. The reason – because they’re arguably the most powerful form of promotion there is. Rather than you saying, “Look at us, aren’t we great”, it’s a third-party endorsement of how your product/service actually helped a company that was in a similar situation.
The trouble is, that sales is always reluctant to help facilitate the conversations about case studies because they’ve usually moved onto the next opportunity and have nothing to gain from marketing writing the story.
There’s usually another challenge in IT businesses – sales teams giving away freebies in order to ‘seal the deal’. This seems grossly unfair given that 2 clients could pay the same and yet one receives more – what would happen if the other one found out? And how does your implementations team feel knowing that is has to deliver work for free, while being targeted on billable work?
Be smart about how you use content and you can ‘kill 2 birds with 1 stone’…
- What if case studies were a natural part of the sales process?
- What if your sales team was allowed to give away certain ‘freebies’ but on the condition that the client agreed to a case study upfront?
- What if the expectation was set that X weeks/months after the project was complete, marketing would be in touch to arrange the interview for the case study?
I’ve seen this process work well in a couple of organisations because it reduces the friction around securing case studies. In making freebies conditional on case studies, everyone wins because you’re ‘paid’ in valuable content that helps you win future billable opportunities. And by setting expectations from the beginning, marketing has permission to make direct contact to get the information they need to write that case study.
2. Focus on generating quality sales literature
Left to their own devices, sales will start tweaking branded templates, documentation and sales decks to meet the needs of the opportunity they’re currently working on.
But all this is negatively impacting your brand.
It might sound silly, but having consistent colours, logos, fonts, messaging, graphics, positioning…etc is crucial to building a strong, recognisable brand in the marketplace. And it’s marketing’s responsibility that no matter where someone encounters your brand, it has the same look and feel.
One of the biggest pains sales has is sales literature – 65% of sales reps can’t find content to send to prospects (source: Kapost).
But by spending time together, planning out what each promotional campaign looks like, marketing knows the assets it needs to hook leads in – such as white papers, webinars or social updates – and sales can identify the literature it needs – such as sales decks, battlecards, 1-pagers.
By taking the time to plan upfront, marketing has sufficient time to create everything required to execute a successful campaign. When marketing has control, they can ensure the brand is implemented consistently, which ultimately ensures that as that lead passes from being ‘marketing-qualified’ to ‘sales-qualified’ and beyond, they have a consistent experience.
3. Gate content to qualify leads
Marketing is responsible for lead generation and pipeline. But unless they’ve actively sat with sales to define what a ‘lead’ looks like, you start to get this disconnect. On one side, marketing is there saying:
“But this is someone who has been on our website.” Or, “This person clicked the link in our email.”
While on the other side, sales is there saying:
“You’ve given me 100 people to follow up and I know 99% won’t be interested so I’m not going to waste my time.”
It’s disheartening for marketing, as they feel like they’re doing all their work for nothing. It’s frustrating for sales because they feel like they have no leads to follow up. And it’s scary for the rest of the business, who know there isn’t 3x coverage in the pipeline and worry about the future of their company.
The problem is quality.
If sales knew it was getting quality leads, they would absolutely follow them up and the world would be a happier place. And securing quality leads requires marketing to qualify them.
One way to do this is to gate your content, because you’re actively putting a barrier between the person and your content, forcing them to make a commitment before you’ll allow them access to what they want. This is going to do a couple of things:
- Qualify that person as a lead, because who would give up their personal information, knowing they’ll be contacted by the company if they weren’t at least interested in their offering?
- Position you as an authority figure with something valuable to share – hence why the person needs to ‘pay’ with their personal information to access it.
Depending on the information you’ve asked for (some companies ask for a simple email while others include some initial qualification questions to identify opportunities), it’s possible to hand sales a ‘marketing qualified lead’ (MQL).
Now, rather than being asked to call a lead that’s simply viewed 5 pages on the website, sales is asked to call an MQL, that has registered to download a white paper and identified that they have a project that needs implementing within the next 6 months.
4. Add an FAQ section to your website
I know what you’re thinking…
“FAQs are rubbish!”
“No-one actually reads FAQs.”
“They’re not actually ‘FAQs’, rather questions you wish people would ask you.”
And I completely agree.
What I’m talking about is producing a real FAQ section on your website where you answer the real questions that your customers/prospects actually ask.
There’s a wonderful book called ‘They Ask You Answer’. The basic premise of the book is to answer every question asked openly and honestly with valuable content. No question is off-limits, and you shouldn’t use it as an opportunity to shoehorn your brand in at every opportunity. It’s about recognising that you’re not always going to be the right fit or have the best technology to meet that prospect’s needs. But that’s ok because you’re TEACHING rather than selling to people.
I instantly fell in love with the idea and committed under the #Write52 initiative to answer a new question every week for a year. Within 1 week of employing the initiative I’d secured 3 quality opportunities – 2 became clients and 1 I determined wasn’t the best fit for me, so I made introductions to someone I felt would be better suited.
It works because by committing to answer the questions you’re actually being asked (and there will be many!), you create valuable content that ultimately converts. And you’re demonstrating honesty and showing that prospect can trust you.
Think – which proposition is more desirable:
- Saying ‘We’re a trusted partner’ on your about page.
- Answering the question ‘If we don’t choose you, who should we choose?’
Start by asking sales to go back through past emails, meeting notes or thinking back through past conversations to build a list of questions. They can then prioritise them based on which are asked most frequently. Once marketing has drafted the content, not only is it going to help people find the information they’re searching for and qualify themselves more when they visit the website, sales can share relevant links with their prospects when following up on opportunities.
5. Publish thought leadership content through LinkedIn articles to position your people as authority figures
It is cliché, but people really do buy from people – they buy from your people.
Also, it’s your people that make your business ‘unique’ because they’re the one thing you have that no-one else does, and the one thing that can’t be copied.
You hired your people because they’re really talented – they have the specialist skills, knowledge and expertise that you need to work towards your vision of success.
And it’s your people who see where things are broken or not working efficiently and know what to do to improve them.
Knowing how wonderful your people are, why not give them a gentle push into the spotlight and share their amazing-ness?
LinkedIn is a wonderful platform for sharing insights from your subject matter experts because people are there wearing a ‘business hat’ and they’re talking to a captive audience. While initially this is the person’s 1st degree connections, as they like/comment/share the article, it gains you exposure to their 2nd and 3rd degree connections who are likely to be in similar roles, companies and situations, and therefore needing your help.
Published on a personal profile, rather than a company page, it affords the author the opportunity to share their skills, knowledge and experience in a more informal and conversational tone of voice to hook the audience in. And it enables marketing to elaborate on the core company content – such as white papers, guides and case studies – by allowing your sales people to share their personal perspective based on their experience.