Make Content Your Best Salesperson

Scott Severson February 22, 2017

Ask any salesperson the reasons they love their job, and “the thrill of making a sale” will usually be in the top three. Why is it such a rush? Getting to a “yes” is a win. It’s a hard-earned commission.

It’s really hard, actually. Making phone call after phone call and chasing lead after lead can get tiring. Add performance-based compensation, activity scrutiny, and lofty goals and you’re left with a highly rewarding, but stressful profession.

The sales industry has come up with a host of tools and services to make the sales process more efficient. But it’s still challenging, particularly if you’re developing business all on your own. Fortunately, some companies are beginning to realize there might be serious benefit in supporting their salespeople with more warm leads in something they’re already doing: content marketing. My company has been providing our clients with content marketing tools and services for over 20 years. So what does effective content marketing look like and why should it be such a priority?

We use tools like Salesforce and Pardot to help streamline our sales processes from lead generation to close. They help keep track of our pipeline and free up our salespeople to focus on making high-value client interactions. But we also use the narrative powers of content to provide even more value to our prospects. Some of our most successful salespeople leverage our content by sending relevant articles or videos, for example, that tackle objections and guide prospects to the right solution. The more relevant content our sales team shares with prospects, the more informed and comfortable they are to make a purchase. This has played an important role in our own inbound lead process.

There’s an important factor at play here called demand generation, and it differs from lead generation in a significant way. In most organizations, lead generation kicks off the sales process. Demand generation, however, kicks off the inbound marketing process.

Develop Reusable Content

Unless you’re selling air conditioning in July, sales typically requires steadfast outreach to clients and prospects. Tools like Salesforce and Pardot make that process a lot more efficient by automating many common sales tasks. They don’t, however, do much to help you stand out from the hundreds of thousands of other salespeople doing the exact same thing. We view these tools as table stakes today. That’s where creating content can help. In my own experience, developing one piece of content (such as a robust FAQ section) that can be reused in other formats (such as individual blog posts) is an efficient place to start.

Leadpages, a Minneapolis-based landing page and inbound marketing agency, recently put some big money into their content game. By using content to jumpstart the inbound process, they were able to mostly bypass the tedious lead-generation process and use content to generate demand for their services. At the outset of their experiment, Leadpages made a bold bet that a content team of four could bring in more revenue than a sales team of 80, all at 5% of the expense. They won that bet. By using their content as revenue assets, they were able to acquire customers between 1 and 5% of the customer acquisition cost of most publicly traded enterprise SaaS companies.

Talk to Your Sales Team

Over the last few years, we’ve invested a lot of time and effort into assessing and improving our internal processes, products and services. We even created our own content marketing platform to streamline content production efforts so that we can spend more time creating it. It also took months of evaluating customer data and fine-tuning our content calendar to maximize our interaction with them. How you do this depends on your industry and audience, but the goal is to develop a consistent rhythm of content creation that you can rely on to drive sales.

We create our editorial calendar monthly, with the knowledge that adjustments will be made based on timely topics and customer needs. Our entire organization has access to the editorial calendar. It’s especially important to create transparency with the sales team. As the department with the most contact with prospects and current clients, they have a direct line of sight into what is resonating with and reaching your audience now. Before developing my next e-book, I make sure to ask the sales team what kind of questions they’re getting in the field. Any content we develop directly addresses those questions and then is maximized by repackaging it into a blog series.

After our content audit, we upped our cadence to publish daily, doubled down on CTAs and opt-ins, and completely deconstructed and rebuilt our content approach based on feedback from the sales team. In doing so, we zeroed in on the most engaged segment of our audience and created hyper-targeted content focused on their specific needs.

The sales process has been streamlined over the years. But making a sale by taking a cold lead from prospect to customer can be challenging and expensive. I’m certainly not suggesting you fire half your sales force and hire content creators. What I am suggesting, though, is that right now marks a dramatic shift in how we think about content and its surprisingly powerful role in the sales cycle. Placing it at the center of your marketing and sales efforts while holding its creators accountable for its performance just might be a recipe for growing your sales.

This blog was originally created as a contribution to the Forbes Agency Council.

Scott Severson February 22, 2017

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