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This Is Why No One Uses Your Content

“Isn’t it obvious?”

How many times have you asked this? That phrase often comes out when you realize some request or suggestion you thought you conveyed wasn’t acted on.

This signal amplification bias (as psychologists call it) explains how most miscommunication happens. People routinely fail to realize how little they actually communicate to their colleagues.

In other words: People believe they said a lot more than they really said.

The remote work trend no doubt exacerbates this phenomenon. Email, text messaging, Slack, and Zoom create conditions that seem to promote miscommunication.

And don’t think you’re safe because your close team shares some kind of mental shorthand. Researchers found that miscommunication happens more frequently among people in close relationships. (My wife just held up her hand to say something.)

I often see challenges arising from miscommunication (or under-communication) between sales and marketing teams.

For example, a B2B technology client I worked with last month asked me to help align their sales and marketing teams. The sales team wasn’t using much of the content the marketing team created. Instead, sales reps would create their own content or use older content assets.

Worse, they’d request new content pieces from the marketing team, causing a backlog of requests and conflicting priorities for marketing (should they continue their existing thought leadership plan or accommodate the sales teams’ requests?

This kind of challenge is well documented in sales enablement and B2B content marketing circles. Interestingly, recent Heinz Marketing research found both sales and marketing teams named “using the most up-to-date and effective content” as their top challenge.

“Wait a minute,” you might say. “Both teams agree that using up-to-date content is the No. 1 problem. So why not tell the sales team to use the new content or tell marketing to make better content?”

That seems obvious. And my client even tried it. The sales team communicated that they needed better content. Marketing agreed to produce it but delivered this message, “You’d better use the new things we create.”

Spoiler alert: The problem didn’t go away. If anything, it got worse.

The teams didn’t suffer from a content quality problem. They didn’t have a usage problem. They had a communication problem.

2 sides of the same problem

Yes, both teams agreed that using the most up-to-date and effective content is the biggest challenge. But that one challenge means different things to both groups. And that insight offers the key to solving the problem.

For sales, the challenge of using the most up-to-date content comes from struggling to find the right pieces and (most importantly) understanding how to use them.

For the marketing team, the challenge arose from creating new pieces to satisfy the sales team. In other words, they created new pieces to attract the sales team’s attention instead of the audience’s. That made the new content less effective. So, when sales did find and use the new pieces, they weren’t satisfied with the results and requested something new (again).

Neither got what they wanted.

The answer might seem obvious to you. But it wasn’t to them.

Marketing-led sales enablement saves the day

You’ve probably heard my bumper-sticker style slogan before, but it bears repeating: 90% of content strategy has nothing to do with content. But it has everything to do with communication.

For my client, the way forward turned out to be better communication for sales enablement.

The marketing team began creating guidelines and instructions to enable the sales team to use the right content pieces in the right way. Every time marketing developed thought leadership content (a white paper, presentation, a bylined article, etc.), they’d also develop instructions on how to present the piece. And they started offering training to help the sales team act as informed storytellers.

As a result, the teams developed a much closer relationship with the content experiences they created for their prospects. They jointly built a process to identify a prospect’s main pain points, choose the right content to help them, and measure how well the offered content resonated.

This company stopped looking at sales as the final distribution channel of sales materials. Instead, sales became an opportunity for a personalized, intelligent, content-driven experience that delivered value to a potential or existing customer.

Did you make yourself clear?

It’s easy to assume you’ve effectively communicated all the expectations, responsibilities, and processes your content strategy requires. After all, you work in it Every. Single. Day.

But you’d be surprised at the oversights and inefficiencies that go undiscovered.

Not long ago, I worked with a client at a Fortune 100 insurance company. I discovered that one critical part of the company website required a lengthy, manual process with many potential points of failure for every update.

Someone would email the necessary change to a freelancer, who then returned a formatted package of HTML files. Those files were uploaded to a server in the IT department and then moved to the webserver to go live.

I asked the person in charge of it how long they’d been doing it that way. “10 years,” he replied.  “Who knows that you do it this way?” He shrugged and said, “I assume everybody knows. I’m not doing this in secret. It goes without saying that this is a critical part of the website.”

Turns out, no one knew.

If you find yourself saying, “Isn’t it obvious?” or “That goes without saying,” pay close attention to the rest of your sentence. Chances are, whatever you think could go without saying needs to be said.

Just saying.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute