By Jennifer Watson published September 20, 2010

The Audience Content Marketers Can’t Afford To Ignore – But Almost Always Do

We content marketers take a lot of pride in writing material that engages, inspires and motivates our customers. We talk about having a crystal clear focus on key messages that are relevant to our audience. We spout platitudes about “adding value” with “thought leadership.” Our Holy Grail is the perfect triangulation of message, media and customer receptivity that results in a 100% conversion rate.

And yet, we (that is, those of us in B2B) often forget, ignore or even confuse our most important audience of all – the one we should be closest to and know best: our sales force.

Jeff Ernst has written a great ebook called The New Rules of Sales Enablement.  It’s now a year old, but the ebook  is something that content marketers should pay special attention to. He points out that, according to the American Marketing Association:

  • Salespeople spend 30 hours a month searching for and creating their own selling materials
  • 90% of marketing deliverables are not used by sales

These stats refer to sales collateral, but my experience is that it extends to the entire range of content marketing materials we produce. And, as the volume of materials we produce climbs, the problem is only going to get worse.

We’ve got to nip this in the bud, and fast. As Jeff acknowledges, it will require a mindset shift on our part. As content marketers, we need to own our accountability in the flawed process and be prepared to make some significant changes.

The easiest and best way is to use what we already know about crafting messages that resonate with customers–and apply this knowledge to the sales team, which is our first and most important audience. If we don’t persuade them to read and respond positively to our efforts,

  1. Our brilliant work will never reach the customers it’s intended for;
  2. Even if it does, it won’t be positioned to be relevant, understood or effective with them.

We need to remember the cardinal rule of writing: no matter how clear and compelling you think it is, if it’s not understood or embraced by your reader, it has missed the mark. You don’t ask your audience to change to understand you; you change to better communicate with them.

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts that will help us refocus on the sales team as our key audience:


Talk to sales
With each new piece you produce, check in with sales to find out:

  • Did they distribute it?
  • To whom (segment, size, region, position, buying stage)?
  • How was it received?
  • What was easy to talk about? What was more difficult?

Leave your ego at the door. Engage in open, honest and problem-solving conversations with your sales reps. Believe it or not, they know how much time and effort goes into producing these materials. They may not want to hurt your feelings (or they may want to cover their butts) when it comes to being totally honest about whether they distributed it and how it was received. Build trust and break down the defenses of your sales audience in the same way you would with any other audience.

Take time to understand which specific key messages resonated with the end customer – it will help you build on that success and create effective hooks or calls-to-action in the next piece.

Tell sales how to use the content
Provide a user’s guide for each piece you release that identifies:

  • The intended audience / buyer persona
  • The stage of the sales cycle it’s designed to influence
  • Key messages based on varying buyer personas and sales stages
  • The call to action to be reinforced by the rep

Attend a regular sales management call or schedule an in-person or webcast information session to review the user’s guide. Walk the sales team through the various scenarios for using the piece, and seek their feedback as to how and when they see themselves using it.

Offer accompanying messaging if the sales force is going to distribute the piece themselves – e.g., email text, Twitter blurb with link, Linked In or Facebook status update wording. It might seem like spoon-feeding, but if you make it as easy as possible for them to share it, you’ll reap the rewards of higher distribution rates and greater consistency in messaging.


Rely on simple metrics
Don’t rely solely on data about receives, opens and click-throughs from your email or newsletter software to judge the piece’s effectiveness.

Expect sales to know how to use the content
Don’t offer your content marketing piece and accompanying user’s guide via the sales portal only. Chances are, it won’t be read.

Assume all sales reps will access or distribute your piece the same way
Take the time to personalize your approach for various learning and working styles.

Sit behind your computer
It’s common for marketers to create reams of content and avoid interacting directly with the sales team.
The fact is, most writers are introverts and most sales people are extroverts. Be willing to push yourself beyond your comfort zone.

Most of all, don’t forget that you’re in this together. Sales and marketing have exactly the same objectives, even if they may have vastly different working styles. If your efforts don’t work with your sales team who are predisposed to be on your side, they likely won’t work for your customers either. Team up, and take on the content marketing challenge together.

What other tips do you have for getting sales to use the content you create?

Author: Jennifer Watson

As a writer, product developer and marketing director in healthcare and HR services for close to 20 years, Jennifer Watson only recently realized that what she’s been doing is called “content marketing.” She founded Context Communications to help B2B professional services firms have clear, compelling, intelligent conversations with their employees and markets using content marketing strategies.

Other posts by Jennifer Watson

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  • Anna Marie Dunn

    This article hit it right on the head! Salespeople like what they create for many reasons, but mostly because sales collateral does not fit the current or short-range needs of clients and they themselves had no input or training on how it should be used. Marketers need to understand today’s business changes rapidly, salespeople hear/feel it first and cannot wait weeks or months for the marketing bureaucracy to “approve” the tools they need for their job. A couple of tips do come to mind:
    1. Streamline input output process for new sales materials within your organization
    2. Be proactive when creating new materials, recognize and include respected sales individuals when choosing the content for information
    3. Try it out – in other words have sales people use it
    4. Listen, listen, listen!!! If it is not working, listen, HEAR what they say and take action
    5. Use electronic distribution methods for quicker input and reward their efforts with recognition!
    Each organization and client needs are different, but salespeople need tools that work – not tools they have to “make work.” Ask yourself, what type of tools does my organization have?

    • Jennifer W

      Absolutely, Anna Marie — what great points. I think 4., listening, is so fundamental. We listen to the market, our customers, our vendors, our bosses and our marketing colleagues … but do we *really* listen to our sales reps? My feeling is that we’re often deaf, brought about by equal parts annoyance and frustration (“why can’t they use what they’ve already got?”) and anxiety (“if I really start to respond to their individual needs, I’m going to be swamped — and I can’t get materials out the door fast enough as it is!”). Like you say, the ownership is on us to make the changes required.

      Really appreciate your comments and your perspective – thank you!

  • Pingback: A Simple Template for Keeping in Touch with B2B Sales Reps and Distributors « Business Growth «

  • Marion Mehrer

    Thanks so very much for this article, it was very helpful. 

    One thing I need a little help on is where I can 
    find the actual The New Rules of Sales Enablement, ebook.
    When I click on it, all I see is the html.