179768055I’ve found that, every week, I have to pinch myself at least once when I get into work.  While my company gets the majority of its revenue from inbound marketing programs, and I’m often introduced as a marketing or lead generation expert, this all happened by accident.

You see, I am and always have been a “sales guy.” I was one of the few people in college that wanted to go into sales when I graduated.  I’ve always been fascinated by the sale.

I came to the inbound marketing world because I recognized the need to find a way to enhance small and mid-sized business’ ability to grow their sales predictably, sustainably and profitably, and recognized that the solution lied in leveraging inbound marketing.

Since then, I’ve learned that salespeople don’t adopt content marketing naturally (I used to be one of the people who fought it).  After working with more than 5,000 salespeople, I’ve identified five elements that are crucial if you want salespeople to successfully adopt your inbound marketing initiatives.

1) The Content Is Mapped To The Buyer’s Journey

The most common mistake I see marketers make when creating content (of any type) for salespeople is they leave it to the salesperson to determine when, and how, to use the material. 

Don’t get me wrong, you’ll never get salespeople to fully comply with using your material the precise way you want them to; however, that does not diminish the critical importance of providing the direction that’s needed. 

Salespeople are in constant crazy-busy mode, and you need to empathize with the challenges they deal with.  They simply don’t have the time to “figure it out.” When creating content, make sure there’s a clear playbook that informs salespeople:

  • Which personas the content is geared to.
  • Which phase of the buyer’s journey the content was designed for.
  • Which types of issues and opportunities the content was created for.

When you give that type of clarity to your sales team, they’re able to quickly identify who they should share it with and when.  Sure, they’ll come up with their own creative ways to use it as well (some of which will drive you crazy), but that’s a far easier issue to deal with than the adoption of the tools.

2) The Content Influences/Challenges The Customer

Great content not only tells a story, it challenges how your personas think.  In the landmark Challenger research conducted by The Corporate Executive Board (CEB) in 2009, it was discovered that a key to top performing sales efforts is the ability to challenge the customer’s beliefs and change how they think about things. As the study identified, “in order to be valued, we must first change how [prospects] think of you and what you sell.”

Salespeople don’t need your content to communicate features and benefits; and please, kill the “we-do’s.”  Salespeople need your content to communicate your “why,” not your “what.” Depending upon the size of the organization you’re selling to, salespeople need to influence between 7 and 21 players. There is no way they can do that on their own.  As you create content that leverages their efforts, challenges and influences, your sales team will not only use the content you’re creating; they’ll beg you for more.

3) Show Them The Measurements

I love closed-loop marketing. Not only does it have a proven positive impact on your sales growth, it makes it easy to know what’s working. Good salespeople love facts. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over 20 years in B2B sales, it’s that facts and data trump opinions and feelings.

Don’t tell salespeople what you think they should do, or how you think they should use the content.  Show them how your content is creating leads, nurturing them and making them sales ready.  Show them which blog posts get more views (and from which personas). 

Demonstrate how your efforts are aligned to closing sales. Salespeople, by nature, aren’t motivated by impressions, likes, or traffic.  They’re motivated by closing sales easier and faster.  Demonstrate how your content does this and you’ll have true believers.

4) The Content is Relevant

Salespeople want content that will resonate with their prospects.  There are 3 criteria that your content must meet in order to be “relevant”.

Relevant content is:

  • About critical issues that are interesting and have impact on the actual prospects/customers your salespeople are working with.
  • Positively and directly impacted by your products/services.
  • About topics that directly connect to your prospects real-life issues.

Salespeople often get frustrated with marketing when the content they are creating is too conceptual or theoretical. I once had a top-producing salesperson say that the reason he ignored the content that marketing was creating was because it was too “thought-leadershippy.”

Thought leadership is great for the top-of-the-funnel (TOFU), but if you want your sales team to integrate your content into their day-to-day work, you need to make sure it’s tied to the issues your salespeople deal with every day.

5) Ask For Their Input

This is a challenging one, because (in my experience) when you first start asking salespeople for input on the content that should be created you don’t get much of a response.  The entire approach comes across as theoretical to them. It’s just another one of those pesky initiatives that get in the way of salespeople doing their jobs (and getting paid).

However, when you follow the first four points of this post and you’re meeting with your sales team for the sixth time to review results and gain input, you’ll find your sales team becomes one of the greatest sources of new, effective content you have.

This brings you two important benefits:

  • Their input gives you great content ideas.
  • Because you’re using their ideas, they adopt the initiative that further drives results. 

Before you know it, the sales team and the marketing team are having the love affair they should have had all along.

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Originally published May 13, 2014 2:00:00 PM, updated January 18 2023


Content Marketing Buyer Personas