By Mark Sherbin published February 7, 2013

Find Content Marketing Gold by Mining Your Sales Department

content marketing - mining sales - videoWhat does rapid growth of content marketing mean for the traditional sales and marketing relationship?

Steve Rotter, VP of Digital Marketing at Brightcove, recently asked this question during CMI’s B2B research roundtable conversation at Content Marketing World, where CMI consultants Carla JohnsonMichael Weiss, and Jay Baer discussed the disconnect that often exists between sales and marketing in B2B organizations.

Carla Johnson recently explained why it’s so important for sales and marketing to work together. In a nutshell, marketing’s role is increasingly about managing the conversation with an audience — with content serving as the catalyst. Sales has been having these conversations face-to-face for decades, so who better to tap as a resource to inform your content marketing strategy and tactics?

So what can marketers do to help foster and maintain the kinds of relationships with sales that lead to the most engaging and useful content? In a recent interview with CMI, Alan Belniak of PTC said:

What we’re trying to do is listen and work with sales to ask, ‘What keeps customers up at night?’ Then, we’re trying to bring that information back into marketing to create content that helps address those questions. If we can create that content and get it out there in front of prospects, we can help allay those concerns before the questions or issues are ever even raised.

Great point, Alan. How can content marketers put this sage advice to good use in their own daily routine?

Opening a two-way communication channel

You can’t learn anything from your sales team unless you talk to them. Of course, that may be easier said than done in some organizations.

Communication channels between sales and marketing should be two-way streets. But this has been a challenge for decades. Only two years ago, Forrester reported that just 15 percent of executives believe expectations are met when they meet with sales teams. And brands like Eloqua have stated that the burden should fall to marketers through sales enablement.

With these barriers in mind, how does one create a foundation for an ongoing dialogue in which both teams will actually participate?

Stop this war

In many organizations, marketing and sales are duking it out. But it’s more beneficial to encourage harmony, rather than competition.

Some members of the sales team may understand the importance of content marketing as well as you do. For the rest, you have a responsibility to clearly demonstrate what’s in it for them while at the same time explaining how you benefit — thus, establishing trust by illuminating the quid pro quo scenario.

Here’s a quick reference of a few of the key benefits for the sales team:

  • More effective content means more leads generated and handed over to the sales team to close.
  • A stronger content marketing program gives the sales team more ammo for nurturing leads.
  • Marketing’s research empowers sales with up-to-date information that enables more confident selling.

And, here’s a quick reference of key ways content marketing benefits from a strong rapport with sales:

  • More content topics are thrown into the hat, easing content ideation.
  • The content that is created will more accurately address the needs of potential clients.
  • Marketers get an individual, real perspective, instead of the usual bird’s-eye view, which helps foster a general understanding of the market and its challenges.

As marketers, some of us may already assume many of these benefits to be true. But how often do we say them out loud? It’s important to step out of your own shoes from time to time and view your role from a different perspective.

Drawing out the right information

Hopefully clearing the air in the sales-marketing relationship makes it easier to set time aside to talk. Still, getting a meeting can be a challenge — and keeping scheduled monthly check-ins can be nearly impossible. So how do you make sure you are given an opportunity to get the information you need? Start by leveraging the proactive, active, and reactive techniques at your disposal for capturing information from the sales team:

Prep work
If you want sales to participate in monthly meetings, you need to make sure they are getting value from your interactions. Here are several tips to prepare for the meeting:

  • Set up both one-on-one and group meetings: In one-on-one meetings, you get unadulterated information that participants might withhold from a group meeting because they’re shy or disengaged. On the other hand, group meetings can help get the ideas and conversation flowing, offering you a more comprehensive look at each issue. Alternate the types of meetings to make sure you are not asking for too much from any one sales rep.
  • Search CRM notes for ideas: If your sales team keeps accurate records of its conversations with prospects, a world of information may already be stored in your CRM. Read through logs of these interactions for content ideas. Ask Salesforce admins or sales managers to encourage more detailed information if the content is thin. It’s good to review this info before your meeting so you are prepared with ideas.
  • Send a list of questions to the participants beforehand: Don’t think of your interview questions as a surprise. Send them in advance to help prep participants. Even a cursory review of the questions should help get the wheels in motion. (See the next section for some ideas on how to do this.)
  • Accommodate the participant(s): If your interviewee is a caffeine hound, bring coffee, snacks, or lunch to help elicit more information, keep the participant fresh, and create a congenial atmosphere. Whatever the situation, make him (or her, or them) as comfortable as possible.
  • Use Google+ Hangouts if your sales team is scattered across the country: Working with salespeople in remote offices? Now’s a good time to introduce yourself. Set face-to-face meetings through Google+ Hangouts for an easy-to-use video chat interface.

Prep is important. But one of the most important parts of interviewing is asking the right questions.

Interviews and questionnaires
So what are the right questions? Sure, they’re different for everyone; but here’s a rough rubric of some questions to start with:

  • What are the biggest business challenges you hear about from leads? What about challenges that our product/service doesn’t address?
  • What areas of the services we offer do you feel leads are least educated about?
  • What areas of our market or product/service do you feel you are least educated about?
  • Which concepts (mission, product/service, brand, etc.) of ours do you have the most trouble explaining to prospective customers?
  • What other brands are leads evaluating? Which ones come up most often?
  • How do leads perceive our brand? Is our message clear?

Don’t stop leading the discussion after the meeting ends. Find ways to keep a communication channel open using current technology.

Ongoing information capture
If your organization already uses enterprise social technology, you’re in a good place to keep a consistently open dialogue with the sales team. Your CRM is another good place to have this conversation. (If you use Salesforce, for instance, you may want to keep a group open over Chatter.)

Limited in the technology you have access to? Try some of these ideas:

  • Personally share the content that you have created based on input from a sales rep. There can be a lot of impact when you can thank sales reps for their input and show them exactly how you were able to use that information to create something relevant to a customer issue.
  • Keep all sales reps informed of the new content you are creating. (Dianna Huff has shared a simple template you can use to keep in contact with sales reps.)
  • Collaborate with sales management to figure out what kind of data will help their team understand the value of the work you are collaborating on. Creating a dashboard of key metrics (like leads from content and the percentage of those leads converted by sales) will help keep everyone engaged and accountable.
  • Send out an email periodically (and predictably) to a sales manager, engaging him or her with specific questions, such as follow-ups to unanswered questions from meetings or inquiries into recent interactions with leads and clients.
  • Collaborate on a Google Document that features the key ideas and concepts discussed in meetings and email correspondence. Link to content you’ve created that helps answer each question.
  • Save and categorize email communication. Create folders and set rules for communication with sales. Archive all of your emails so you can have easy references if you need to revisit discussions for content ideas.
  • Keep an open channel through internal communication platforms. Sometimes, an idea is so fresh you can’t wait for a meeting. Engage your sales team over enterprise social channels.

How are you keeping in touch with sales?

There are tons of different approaches for staying in touch with your sales team. How does your organization get it done? Join the conversation in the comments.

Want to learn more tips and best practices from our CMI consultants? Watch the rest of the videos of our B2B research roundtable series, or register for Content Marketing World, where you can meet many of them in person.

Author: Mark Sherbin

Mark Sherbin is a freelance writer specializing in technology and content marketing. He shares occasionally insightful information at Copywriting Is Dead, where he promotes authentic communication between organizations and their audiences. Contact him at msherbin@gmail.com.

Other posts by Mark Sherbin

  • temafrank

    Here’s a great example of a company that’s NOT listening to its sales department! http://bit.ly/curcontent

    • johnson

      what a crappy article; I will never get back that 58 seconds it took me to read it and subsequently the 13 seconds it took me to write this comment. Invoice will be mailed … ‘marketing expert’ …laughable

  • http://www.tommartin.typepad.com Tom Martin

    Good thoughts here but one quibble.

    “More effective content means more leads generated and handed over to the sales team to close.”

    Think this point really actually is the cause of a lot of that marketing/sales war you speak of in the post.

    Marketing thinks their job is to hand over lots of leads feeling that more is better. Which makes sense because so many companies are still living in a traditional sales funnel world of put lots of leads in the top and let the sales force qualify the good ones down the funnel.

    But sales teams would rather spend less time qualifying and more time selling qualified prospects.

    So shouldn’t the point be that great content marketing can actually produce better qualified leads for sales?

    @tommartin:disqus

    • http://twitter.com/MarkSherbin Mark Sherbin

      Good point, Tom. You’re right — quality is more important than quantity. Still, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying effective content can produce more leads. Yes, these leads should be high quality, but I think that goes without saying. Or maybe it doesn’t, in which case I appreciate you saying it here.

      So quality is top priority, but quantity is still important. If poor content isn’t producing any leads at all, what’s the point?

  • Sam Polk

    Great article – we discussed this exact issue at our weekly marketing meeting this morning. The list of questions to engage the sales team is especially useful.

    I work for a B2B company that deals in technical products and my sales team is my best source of content ideas. We have template notepads that our team takes to client meetings – I’m going to include a question capture section. This approach will keep it top-of-mind, doesn’t change their routine, and makes it easy for me to review.

    Thanks!

    • http://twitter.com/MarkSherbin Mark Sherbin

      Excellent, thanks Sam! Glad to see content marketers who are already finding success engaging the sales team.

  • Joe P

    Seems your article is directed at B2B. Don’t these principles hold true B2C?