10 Critical Steps to Sales and Marketing Content Alignment


02 Oct 10 Critical Steps to Sales and Marketing Content Alignment

Content Selling won’t be Successful without Alignment

When organizations think of sales and marketing alignment, they often focus on demand generation. As content continues to grow as a critical component in successful selling, organizations must now take steps to align around content as well. And believe me, content selling is important. A 2010 study of B2B buyers found that 95% of buyers chose a solution provider that “provided them with ample content to help navigate through each stage of the buying process.”

I can’t tell you how many times I have walked into a sales organization to talk about content and they tell me: “Marketing doesn’t create any content for us”. When I take the feedback to marketing, they show me hundreds of content pieces they have created over the last couple of years. Or often times, sales will tell me the “content sucks”, and then I will audit content and there is usable material for sales to be effective.

The problem I am describing is alignment. Sales and marketing must work together to deliver on the promise of content selling. Marketing must agree to move beyond demand generation content and build content designed to be used in the sales process. Sales must agree to use the content and provide feedback on what is working or not working. Sound familiar? It’s the same ground rules for demand generation alignment except we filled in the words “content” for “leads”.

Like demand generation, content selling won’t be successful without alignment.  In this post, I have outline my recommended process for sales and marketing content alignment.

1. Co-develop buyer personas – The most important factor in content selling is to understand what content your buyer values most. Both sales and marketing must develop personas together and agree on them. Actually, it’s the first step to ALL sales and marketing alignment: Agreement on the target buyer. I just talked to a client who told me: “At least four marketing organizations have commissioned the same persona work and sales has never seen it.” #Fail.

Persona building is not just a matter of “who is the decision maker, influencer, and recommender” exercise. Your goal is to build a deep understanding of each critical stakeholder in the buying process. This exercise will not only inform content but also provide invaluable data for messaging and sales plays. Each persona should explore the following:

  • Who the buyer is from a demographic perspective
  • The role that the buyer plays in the organization
  • What the buyer’s objectives, priorities, and challenges are
  • What a day in the life of the buyer looks like
  • How the buyer makes purchasing decisions
  • What content they value in their capacity as a buyer

2. Map the buying experience – Step one is to develop buyer personas, then you need to map their preferred buying experience, which is how these make purchases. A buying experience map follows each step your buyer(s) take from status quo to purchase. For content selling, you will want to understand their content preferences for each step along their journey. The critical information needed to build the buying experience map should come from your target buyers and from sales.

For each step in the buying experience you want to understand the following details:

  • Their key objective(s)
  • Key activities
  • Information and content they consume
  • How they communicate
  • What they need to get to the next step
  • The key questions and objections
  • The roadblocks that prevent them from advancing in the process

3. Map content – Now that you agreed on the buying experience for your buyers, map content that you will deliver across each buying step. The goal is to provide content that help the buyer move from one step to the next. For example, when faced with a buyer who is still happy at status quo, sales should be equipped with content that helps the buyer ask the right questions about their current situation and help them identify they have a problem or that they could be doing things better.  Like everything else, the content map should be built collaboratively.

4. Have a dedicated content resource – If you are going to commit to delivering content to sales, then commit resources. Companies will often say their going to deliver content to sales, but it only part of a list of a million things for marketing to do. For content selling to be successful, there needs to be a content organization of one or more dedicated people who are committed to delivering and optimizing content for sales. This content resource will have an Service Level Agreement to deliver the content on time and to interact with sales on a regular basis to optimize the program.

5. Collaboratively prioritize content — Even with a dedicated resource, you will not be able to create all the assets you need immediately. There are three important things to remember when trying to overcome this challenge:

  • Crowdsource from other sources – Many organizations feel like all the content needs to be created internally which is simply not the case. The goal is to move buyers from one step to the next with content and there might be material already created by others such as third party thought leaders, analysts, or partners that provide the information buyers need.
  • Repurpose content – When you are deciding what content to produce, audit your current content assets first. You will often find the raw material necessary to complete your content mission. In some cases, you can just use the content asset as is or you might need to take the raw material and re-package it.
  • Ask sales to stack-rank their content needs – Marketing should be very clear with sales how much content they can create and the amount of time they need in order to create it. Marketing should then ask sales to stack-rank the content they want created based on urgency or need. Organizations typically suffer from one of two problems: Marketing creates the content they want without sales’ influence or marketing always agree to one-off requests for content and there is no agreement on the trade-offs.

The goal of this exercise is to create an editorial calendar with an expectation for sales of what they will get and when.

6. Train sales — Most organizations create content, send it over in email, and then assume sales will use it correctly or at all. For sales to be effective using content, then organizations should invest in training sales on:

  • What content to use
  • Who to deliver it to
  • Why they need it
  • When to deliver it
  • How to deliver it (tools and automation which we will discuss later in this post)

Many marketers are surprised at the level of engagement from sales during these training sessions.  What they realize in these training sessions is how eager sales is to have great content at their disposal. In many organizations, training is the real problem. Marketing has created incredible content that went unused. The issue was sales didn’t’ know how to use it or even where to find it.

7.  Develop a new content handoff process – This is a very short bullet but is often a major problem for organizations. When you realize new content, have a process for letting sales know the new content has been released and allot 15 minutes training them on the “who, what, when, and how.” You don’t know how many times I have heard: “I emailed them the pdf” and then seen nothing happen. Remember, sales wants content but has to understand what to do with it.

8. Provide content selling tools and automation – One of the simplest problems that organizations need to solve is how to keep content in a single, easy-to-access repository.  Content should be easily accessed from their CRM application. Great content selling tools can even recommend content based on the type of buyer or their current stage in the buying experience.

Another critical feature in content selling automation is the ability to track what content is being delivered and the effectiveness of this content. An example of how organizations use tracking is to determine what content should be emphasized, optimized, or “end-of-lifed”.  Sometimes tracking will just help you identify how to help sales. For example, if sales is struggling in current stages in the buying experience, you might see what content they are using if they are using content at all and guide them to the more relevant assets or replace them with new ones.

9: Create a feedback loop – Without a steady stream of communication, you cannot align. My recommendation is to have a bi-weekly meeting between sales and the content team to look at metrics, allow sales to provide anecdotal feedback, go over the editorial calendar, and make suggestions for new content pieces. One successful content selling organization makes it a practice to invite a new set of 2-3 sales people to every meeting to get different perspectives. The most important thing is that the meeting happens on a regular basis and both sides are committed to attending and actively participating.

10: Optimize – The final step in sales-and-marketing content alignment is to optimize the program based on metrics and feedback. It’s that simple. If sales is seeing new trends in the buying experience that requires new sets of content to help close business, then the editorial calendar must change. If a piece of content isn’t working, then find out why. The process of creating a successful sales content program takes time and there will be challenges along the way. If both sides are committed to making the program more effective, then you will see a continued lift in results which ultimately leads to more revenue.

Craig Rosenberg is a co-founder of TOPO and the author of the sales and marketing blog Funnelholic. He loves sales, marketing, and things that drive revenue. Follow him on Google+ or Twitter.

  • 10 Critical Steps to Sales and Marketing Conten...
    Posted at 17:31h, 02 October Reply

    […] Craig Rosenberg shares how content selling works and describes the sales and marketing content alignment process.  […]

  • jweinberger
    Posted at 13:26h, 11 October Reply

    This is an interesting take on one of the fundamental differences in perspective between sales and marketing. Sales views content as the stuff that the prospect requests, where marketing views content as lead generation material (mostly used in marketing campaigns, sometimes inbound). Both types of content are important.

    But for sales to get the material it needs to respond effectively to prospect requests, marketing must also understand the prospect perspective on what material they want and need to complete a buying process.

    The critical step that I think you need to include (probably as part of the persona creation) is that sales and marketing must come to a common understanding of the types of requests prospects make and what is needed to fill them.

  • Peter Mollins
    Posted at 14:02h, 11 October Reply

    Great comment, Jeff, thanks. I agree that understanding the types of prospect requests is very important to determine what content to bring to bear in a sales situation. Just to build on what you say, it’s then important to use analytics to determine whether prospects *do* care about the content they create — and whether sales *is* using the content. Armed with both qualitative and quantitative data, marketing and sales can get the best content mix — and continue to refine the portfolio.

  • Kevin Goldberg
    Posted at 14:17h, 11 October Reply

    Great post Craig! I think it’s important in every marketing aspect to ask yourself, “does this make sense from a customer standpoint?”

    This is extremely important in content marketing and selling. Your content needs to pertain to your customers and touch on a specific pain point.

  • Justin Gray
    Posted at 21:46h, 14 October Reply

    I only needed to read down to section #1 to start shaking my head. Obviously everyone knows I’m in agreement here – so why aren’t more sales leaders? Why do we keep fighting an uphill battle with these teams to do something “crazy” like define your buyer? It happens on nearly every call I’m on where sales and marketing are claiming a problem. My question is always “you know what ISN’T working – so why do you keep doing it?” I haven’t heard a sensible response yet. It’s normally, that’s why we’re hiring you and to that I say – “Then why are we arguing?” Everyone wants best practices until it spells change. You can check out more of this rant here: http://www.leadmd.com/blog/2013/10/14/death-of-the-moment-paralysis-of-marketing-analysis/

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