By Brendan Cournoyer published June 20, 2013

3 Ways Online Content Marketing Can Do More to Enable Sales

content marketing enabling salesDuring a recent content marketing event in Boston, a panel member posed the following question to the audience: “How many of you believe revenue is the ultimate goal of marketing?”

While a number of hands flew up immediately, I was shocked by how many in the crowd remained motionless in their chairs (and as it turned out, so were the panelists). After all, if your marketing isn’t primarily geared toward increasing sales for your company, then what’s the point, right?

Obviously, this extends to online content marketing as well. While different content marketing strategies may vary in purpose (lead generation, brand awareness, website traffic, etc.), the end goal should always be the same — to increase revenue and drive more business.

The question is, are online content marketing practitioners doing enough to achieve this goal? I’ve written before that the value of a content strategy extends far beyond the concept of inbound marketing alone, even if many people still view the two terms as interchangeable. (Not that any of these labels are all that important anyway.) The point is, conversions are great, but what happens next?

Quality content provides more than just a great way for marketers to connect with new audiences; it also helps sales reps sell better. With the right content, reps can:

  • Be better prepared for their sales conversations
  • Gain access to selling tools to engage more effectively
  • Learn more about their audiences through analytics

It’s surprising how many marketers don’t consider this other side of the content coin, and I think it’s worth taking a look at some of the different ways marketing with content enables salespeople to do their jobs more effectively.

1. Content can be used as a preparation tool

By now, most marketers have seen statistics on how B2B customers make their way through the majority of the sales cycle on their own, before ever speaking to an actual sales rep. (SiriusDecisions estimated it at about 70 percent a few years back, and since then, that stat has been used by practically anyone with a vested interest in content or inbound marketing.) The crux of this point is that organizations need to create quality content to guide these individuals further down the funnel.

This, in turn, allows customers to make more informed buying decisions — which is great! But guess what? If customers are more educated and informed by the time they connect with a salesperson, it means reps need to be more educated and informed, as well.

Content marketers generate resources around industry trends, business challenges, use cases, best practices, and so on. One of the goals, of course, is to help position their brands as trusted sources of information in their markets — but that position should also extend to the conversations prospects and customers have with sales reps.

For salespeople to become better prepared and authoritative in meetings, they need access to the same resources that are generated for potential customers. Don’t just assume your sales reps are reading your blog and downloading your eBooks (in fact, never assume anything about what sales reps are doing).

Send out emails about your latest content. Start conversations on your internal social networks. Set up a content portal for reps to access content whenever they need it.

The more reps know, the better enabled they’ll be to close the deal.

2. Content can be used as a selling tool

Here’s another stat for you: According to the CMO Council, salespeople spend 40 percent of their time looking for or preparing content for customer communications. That’s a lot of wasted time, wouldn’t you say? It can also lead to problems like inconsistent messaging, inaccurate information, and even legal or compliance issues in some highly regulated industries.

Ask yourself this: Is your content team creating marketing tools, or selling tools? If you ask me, a great strategy does both. Think about all the ways salespeople rely on content to sell:

  • Via prospecting emails
  • During live meetings and sales calls (hello PowerPoint!)
  • As part of post-meeting follow-ups
  • With updates for existing customers to encourage renewals

So where is the majority of this content coming from? Ideally, it’s the marketing team. One problem is that too many people still equate content marketing with being strictly “non-promotional.” It’s true that thought leadership content like this is great for attracting new audiences — but really? That’s all you’re going to use content for?

If your online content marketing only focuses on top-of-the-funnel interactions, then you’re likely missing out on a slew of other opportunities to drive more business. Think about resources like customer examples, testimonials, product or service demos, data sheets, white papers, and even company-approved PowerPoint presentations — it’s all content, right?

By recognizing the value these assets have when used later in the sales cycle, marketers can provide more valuable selling tools for reps, and help reduce that 40 percent time-suck rate to enable them to spend more time doing what they do best.

3. Content can be used as an analytics tool

Another benefit of content is that it provides analytics to help you learn more about your audience. Most marketers already use this data to identify which topics and resources are resonating most (in terms of traffic, conversions, etc.), but this data can also help reps better understand the needs and challenges of potential customers (especially when the content is geared toward unique industries and personas).

Content analytics can also be valuable for lead scoring and prioritization. One format that works especially well here is video. (Full disclosure: I work for Brainshark, which provides a cloud-based solution for creating, sharing, and tracking online video presentations).

For example, when integrated with your marketing automation system of choice, text-based content will tell you that an individual clicked on your link… and that’s basically it. In contrast, the right video analytics tools can tell you how long they watched for, how many times they watched, and even if there were parts of your video they viewed more than once. Details like these can help sales reps home in on prospects who are truly interested, thus wasting less time reaching out to colder leads.

There are lots of other examples of how content can enable sales reps — I mean, we didn’t even touch on areas like social selling, more timely follow-ups, and the like. But the point is this: Marketing is all about increasing sales, and to that end, there’s more than one way for a well-executed content strategy to help.

So what do you think, fellow content enthusiasts? Are marketers taking full advantage of the role content plays in the selling process? Sound off in the comments — I’d be interested to hear your take.

For more tips on increasing the benefit of your online content marketing efforts, read “Managing Content Marketing,” by Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi.

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Brendan Cournoyer

Brendan Cournoyer is a content manager at Brainshark, a sales enablement platform provider that helps companies more effectively prepare employees, engage with key audiences, and advance business opportunities. For more musings on the world of content marketing, SEO, and more, follow Brendan on Twitter @brencournoyer. You can also find more tips and ideas on using online video content to enhance your marketing strategies by visiting the Brainshark Ideas Blog.

Other posts by Brendan Cournoyer

  • Gordana Stok

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Brendan. The messages that marketing and sales communicate to prospective customers need to be aligned, otherwise it leads to an inconsistent and confusing value promise and brand experience. But let’s not also forget about customer support. They, too, communicate with customers. And if they’re not aligned with the message, then there’s a risk that end-customers (in the case of B2B technology solutions, for example) may not adopt the product! I also would add that there needs to be an alignment with a company’s thought leadership position, as expressed in their content marketing pieces, and their value proposition. While the goal of a thought leadership piece is to speak objectively to the issues, needs, pain points, etc. of customers, it still needs to implicitly push the features and functionality of a solution so that it sets up the customer to eventually receive the solution pitch. So it’s not enough to educate for the sake of educating, it needs to “sell” customers on the idea of how to solve a given problem.

    • Brendan Cournoyer

      Thanks for sharing Gordana! I agree on all points, and there’s def a larger conversation to have beyond what I’ve mentioned here :)

      • Gordana Stok

        A topic for a future blog post :)

  • http://www.showyourexpertise.com Carl Friesen

    I’ll be interested in your ideas on how to make this happen. Marketing materials need to be designed to support the sales process, but in my experience sales and marketing have different cultures and values — and rarely talk with each other. So how does Marketing create materials that will be effective in supporting the selling of the company’s products or services? I think it needs a formal collaboration process, in which salespeople and sales managers provide input into what works and what doesn’t. If salespeople have a hand in the creation of content, they’re more likely to feel some sense of ownership, and actually use it. It would also be helpful for Marketing people to go along on some sales calls, to understand customers better. It sounds basic — is anyone having success in getting Sales and Marketing people into the same room?

    • Brendan Cournoyer

      Great point Carl. Communication and alignment are definitely the keys here. As you eluded to, reps have a keen insight into not only the TYPES of content that work to enable more sales, but also the specific challenges and questions most potential customers have (after all, they communicate with them more directly and more often than most marketers ever do).

      This means salespeople really are a valuable resource for content marketers to tap. Coincidentally, MarketingProfs actually posted another article today that takes a look at the relationship between reps and content marketers that you might find interesting:

      http://www.mpdailyfix.com/three-reasons-why-content-marketers-need-to-make-friends-with-sales-reps/

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  • Shital Bhalani

    Whether you have a sales force who work directly with your customers or your have a network of channel distributors, you need to know what they need in order to make the sale. Talk to them and ask them what would be the most helpful for them. They work with the customers day in and day out, so they have the best idea of what will speak to your customers. Is it a visual, diagram-oriented audience, or do they like video instructions/demos…or technical specs on paper–or a combination of all of those tools.

    Especially important is understanding the mindset of the person delivering the message. Often, we are asked to enable salespeople with relatively little technical expertise or experience to sell highly technical solutions. So we spend more time and energy creating marketing tools that explain not only the what but also the why and the overall business value so they can have a more strategic and engaging dialog with the end user customer.

    This step is especially crucial when you work through the channel, since yours is probably not the only product or solution they are selling, so you need to make sure they understand why they should push your product or service instead of the others they sell. PR