I wrote late last year about the idea that “you can create brilliant content marketing and still miss the point”, and I want to develop the thought that there are still far too many dangerous disconnects between the marketing messages propagated by organisations and the conversations their sales people are actually having with prospects.
If anything, the issue has been compounded by the elevation of content marketing to a stratospheric pedestal as the latest saviour of B2B marketing. Now, there’s no doubt that compelling content offers a critical underpinning to much of today's most effective business-to-business communications.
But then what?
But then what? What sort of conversation is that content supposed to stimulate? How is the interest the content arouses going to be satisfied? In most high-value, complex B2B sales environments, the answer, sooner or later, is “the prospect (assuming they are qualified) ends up speaking to a sales person”.
And that’s where, all too often, it all falls down. The job isn’t done when the latest fantastically funky piece of content is released. It isn’t even done when a prospect that fits your ideal customer criteria responds and wants to learn more. The job is only done when, ultimately, that initial stimulus leads to a buying decision.
Making it up as they go along
And yet how many to today’s typical content marketing briefs even pay lip service to answering the question “what do we expect the sales person to say to someone who has consumed the content and now wants to learn more?” So, by and large, the sales people make it up as they go along.
This isn’t a problem for your sales superstars - although it certainly opens up inconsistencies in the way the message is interpreted. Your top performers tend to have the emotional intelligence and storytelling smarts that allow them to work out the answer for themselves. It’s not them I’m concerned about. It’s all the average sales people that could frankly do with a little help - and who are at risk of floundering if left to their own devices.
Down the drain
Hear that splashing sound? It’s all that hard-won investment in creating compelling content flowing swiftly down the nearest drain. And if we want to prevent that trickle becoming a torrent, we’d better do something to stem the tide.
In fact, I’m going to suggest that if you're a marketer, no piece of content should to into production until and unless you’ve worked out and agreed with the sales team what sort of conversation you want to stimulate and how you’re going to equip your sales people to conduct it.
Plugging the leaks - and joining the dots
This has so many benefits I’m astonished that it hasn’t become common practice. Of course, there are smart sales and marketing teams out there that have pioneered this joined-up approach. But the rest of us have some work to do.
First, your content must have a clear purpose - it must lead a qualified reader to conclude that they need to address the issue you’ve chosen to focus on, that your organisation’s approach to helping them solve it is distinctively different and worthy of their attention, and that they need to learn more.
You don’t have to hit them over the head with the content marketing equivalent of a two-by-four to lead them in the right direction - in fact it’s often better if you leave them to join up some of the dots, just as they reveal the picture you want them to see.
Planning for the conversation
But - and this is critical - your brief also needs to set out where you anticipate the conversation going from there. What are the talking points you want to equip your sales people with? What questions do you want them to ask? What additional insights do you want them to share? And what about the supporting sound bites, stories and testimonials?
What would a successful follow-up conversation look like? What sort of advance should the sales person be seeking to achieve? How can they recognise whether the prospect and the opportunity is worth pursuing? And how can your sales people help the prospect recognise the need for change?
Are you achieving all you could?
Great early-stage content should be the catalyst that takes the prospect on a journey. Great later stage content should serve to eliminate obstacles and smooth the prospect’s path. But your content can’t achieve all that on its own - you need to compound the impact through effective sales enablement.
So here’s my question: how do your content marketing briefs deal with the question of the subsequent sales conversation today? Are representatives of the sales team always involved in shaping the brief - and in providing ideas for new insights? And if they aren’t, are you really sure that you’re achieving all that you could through your investments in content?