By Manya Chylinski published February 10, 2013

How Your B2B Content Marketing and Sales Can Work Hand-in-Hand

marketing-sales-work-togetherA recent study really got me thinking about the role of the sales team in the B2B content marketing process, and vice-versa.

The ITSMA 2012 How Buyers Consume Information study asked an interesting question: “At what stage in the buying process do you find it most useful to engage with sales reps?”

The top responses to this question stuck with me:

  • Epiphany (24 percent): Keeping up with industry/technology news and events
  • Awareness (23 percent): Learning more about potential solutions and solution providers
  • Interest (24 percent): Identifying a shortlist of solution providers

Until I saw this data, I was under the impression that sales teams provide the greatest value to prospects who are at the final stages of the B2B buying process — those who are evaluating vendors and solutions and those who are ready to negotiate and close a deal. 

It is true that a company’s sales team is invaluable at these final stages. But sales also has a vital role to play during the rest of the process — that of trusted adviser. And that is a role that B2B content marketers can capitalize on.

Though the ITSMA study surveyed organizations in many different industries that purchase major technology solutions at costs of more than $500,000, its findings hold particular value for any company looking to explore ways that B2B sales and content marketing teams can work together for their mutual benefit.

Social buyers 

One thing this study confirms is the existence of the social buyer — someone distinctly different than a traditional buyer. This is not a surprise given the ever-increasing use of the web by buyers seeking information — and the ever-increasing use of the web by companies to share content. Yet it is important to understand this type of consumer and his or her online behaviors.

Social buyers spend more time consuming content online (6.5 hours per week versus 4.3 per week for traditional buyers), and are more likely to engage in online conversations. This fact validates the time and energy B2B content marketing teams spend on creating educational and useful content: Prospects are indeed searching online for information to help them during the buying cycle.

The study also revealed that social buyers interact with sales teams differently than those who take the more traditional route to researching product or service options: With the amount of information available on the web, social buyers are better able to self-educate about many aspects of a product or service or a company. This would seem to reduce the need to interact with sales representatives.

Yet these very same buyers are looking to sales people to serve as advisers during their buying process. They want sales to help them accomplish specific tasks, such as finding unique perspectives on the market, identifying subject matter experts, and accessing benchmarking data and best practices.

Because the sales team plays a role earlier in the process — at stages formerly reserved for the marketing team to make an impact — the way these two teams relate to each other must adapt to be effective. In today’s digital marketing environment, there are definite benefits to marketing and sales working together to reach the social buyers, such as:

  • A more unified approach to creating content and reaching out to prospects and customers
  • Better understanding of the buying cycle and how prospects consume content
  • Better understanding of the needs of the audience

Content and the sales rep 

Do you see where content enters into the picture? Think about how the sales team can use the content you create to help with their role as advisers. And think about how you can create content specifically designed for the sales team to use in that role.

Here are just a few examples of content you can create to help the sales team address these issues in each stage of the process, in their advisory roles:

  • Content that provides perspectives on the market and solutions, like white papers, case studies, or blog posts. For example, Bongo International created white papers to discuss issues its customers may encounter when shipping internationally.
  • Content that challenges a prospect’s thinking, such as articles, analyst reports, or presentations. Take a look at this video Verizon produced on allowing employees to use personal and consumer applications in an enterprise. 
  • Content written by subject matter experts, like white papers, eBooks, webinars. For example, Axway’s webinars showcase its experts as they discuss risks in financial services.
  • Content that discusses benchmarks and best practices, including survey results, white papers, or eBooks. Consider Vodaphone’s white paper on the BYOD (bring your own device) trend.
  • Content that enables prospects to understand alternative solutions, like product comparisons, analyst reports, or white papers. For example, HID Global distributed product comparison charts for its security identity products.
  • Content that gives advice about making the decision, such as case studies, ROI calculators, or webinars. See Cisco’s Total Cost of Ownership and ROI calculator for migrating RISC server infrastructure to Cicso, as an example.
  • Content that helps build the business case, including analyst reports, white papers, and ROI calculators. Microsoft features analyst reports on its website to serve this purpose.

Also consider creating content specifically for the sales team’s use, such as presentations, scripts, or discussion questions. Annotated white papers or case studies can also be developed that will help them better understand the market by calling out relevant discussion questions and decision points that they can use in their customer interactions.

The sales rep and content 

There is also another side to the content + sales coin: The sales team has a lot of good insight and information to help the content marketing team shape its content to better meet the needs of its target consumers. After all, these are the people who are out on the front lines, in the offices of the executives the marketing team is creating content for.

If there is a formal process to share information, the sales team can provide useful feedback about what content is helpful for prospects, what content is not as helpful and why, as well as what media or methods of delivery work best. This is a win-win-win.

The marketing team can better meet the needs of the audience and the sales team. The sales team can help the marketing team and be trusted advisers for prospects. And customers and prospects will get access to the most useful and relevant data when and where they need it.

There are many ways to formalize the process of sharing information between the two teams. The key is to keep a few principles in mind as you develop a process that works for your organization.

  • Align goals of both departments with those of the organization.
  • Align work processes, with members of each team having access to information from both sales and marketing.
  • Integrate software tools used by both teams, starting with the CRM software and the marketing automation applications.
  • Clearly define the point at which a prospect becomes a qualified lead, so both sales and marketing are working with the same understanding about who manages what parts of the buying cycle.

Cisco has developed a program that incorporates many of these principles. It includes a process that enables both teams to fully understand lead management and provides a mechanism for the marketing team to automatically share relevant content with the sales team. Incidentally, the company was awarded a 2012 Sales and Marketing Integration Award by DemandGen for the program.

B2B content marketing is about creating thought leadership and materials that help buyers understand and clarify their needs, solve problems, and make informed purchasing decisions. Your sales personnel can play a vital role in this educational process — if they are given the right encouragement, motivation, and tools to participate.

Ultimately, the goal of both the sales team and the content marketing team is to build, maintain, and strengthen the relationships a business has with its customers and prospects. And while a content team’s approach is one-to-many, and a sales team’s approach is one-to-one, it’s the production of useful, relevant, and insightful content that can unite their purposes to better serve buyers in your market.

For more insight into the ways content can benefit businesses on an enterprise-wide scale, read “Managing Content Marketing,” by Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi.  

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Manya Chylinski

Manya Chylinski is a marketing consultant and writer helping B2B companies create compelling content and share thought leadership and success stories. Founder of Alley424 Communications, Manya has experience in a variety of industries including technology, higher education, financial services, government, and consulting.

Other posts by Manya Chylinski

  • http://tommangan.net/ Tom Mangan

    One interesting fact from your link to ITMSA: the Number One preferred source of information is not any kind of marketing channel. It’s the research report.

    Granted it’s only 28% of the respondents, and the next five marketing-channel choices represent a strong minority when combined, but this still shows that performing original research — fact-based reporting and analysis — remains one of the best ways to build credibility in the minds of potential clients.

  • http://www.lattice-engines.com/ Amanda Maksymiw (@amandamaks)

    Manya,

    Great article. Some companies forget that the sales team is a great idea generator for new content. It’s a nice way to bridge the chasm between the sales and marketing team.

    • Manya

      Thanks Amanda. It makes sense to take advantage of what the sales team is learning when communicating with customers and prospects.

  • http://twitter.com/sales_onsite Kathryn Neal Odell

    Your description of the social buyer was spot on, Manya. We have brought new, significant size clients in the door solely through “content education” and having the salesperson be a low-key information source.

    • Manya

      Kathryn,

      Great to hear that it’s working for you! Content really is powerful and anything we can do to educate customers and help them along the journey is a good thing. That includes bringing the sales team along for the ride. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=736541410 Therese Pope

    As a social buyer, I have first-hand experience with companies’ sales teams who have failed me as a consumer. It just blows me away that in this highly competitive market, when people have the choice to take their business elsewhere, that sales teams aren’t getting off their lazy butts and bending over backwards to retain customers. While there are some companies who do an excellent job and have sales teams that maintain their touch points with customers, there are companies (big brands that I have experienced first hand such as Toyota and Alaska Airlines) that need to seriously take a look at how they are failing and why they are losing, and not keeping, customers and don’t care about providing quality content nor following up with customers’ complaints.

    • Manya

      Therese,
      Thanks for your comment. I definitely understand these frustrations, as I’ve experienced them myself as a consumer. I wonder if some of this misalignment has to do with the fact that the role of sales is in transition with the rise of content marketing. Though the study is about the B2B space, it identifies a rise in social buyers similar to that on the consumer side. We are at or near the tipping point for social buyers in some areas, so I expect some companies may be forced to take a closer look at how sales and marketing team up to reach the customer.

  • http://writtent.com/ Sasha Zinevych

    I love the huge number of company examples you provide! I wanted to ask your opinion on eBook strategies for B2B. Should there be a particular strategy?

    • Manya

      Good question Sasha. eBooks are a tried and true way to educate customers, so in my opinion they should always be part of a robust content marketing strategy. The details–how many, what subjects, how often to publish, gated or ungated, etc.–really depend on your marketing and business goals. So the answer is: Yes there shoull be a strategy, but the details depend on some variables unique to the business. That help…in any way?!

  • http://twitter.com/JonathanLDavey Jonathan L Davey

    I believe the sales people needed to be educated in the art of engagement so they can join in the conversation. Marketing people can produce the reports and corporate content but buyers also want a honest view, not simply a thought leadership view. They obviously then need to be free to share their opinions without getting fired!