Director of Web & Interactive Content, Speaker, Host of 'Content Lab' Podcast
June 4th, 2018
I’m not a parent. In fact, given that some of my friends lovingly refer to me as a “hospice for house plants,” putting a child in my hands may not be the best idea.
(Fun fact: Did you know that a cactus dies from the bottom up?)
Yet, with today’s topic, I feel a bit like a parent trying to corral two squabbling siblings. They know they need to work together, but still they “just don’t wanna.”
In this case, the two siblings in question are marketing and sales. Even though it's easy for both to complain about how hard it is to create content that both teams find useful, if they would just work together, things would immediately improve.
In fact, creating content is one of the most popular complaints underneath the sales and marketing alignment umbrella of problems, and it comes in many forms:
Marketing: “I don’t know what, if any, of our content is working for sales with prospects.”
Sales: “Our marketers are content machines… but what they publish is never what I need.”
Marketing: “I don’t know what, if any, of our content is going unused during the sales process, or why.”
Sales: “I think marketing would be surprised how little of their content is relevant to our prospects in sales conversations.”
On, and on, and on.
In retrospect, it’s a little depressing given that the content-driven inbound methodology came galloping in like a white knight on his mighty steed, with promises of how blogs and eBooks and whitepapers and case studies would make all of those marketing and sales woes go away.
“It’s what your buyers want,” he said. “It’ll be fun,” he said.
I believed him. You believed him. We all believed him.
But if those complaints above are any indication, apparently, we couldn’t get our collective acts together well enough to execute those content strategies in a way that made anyone feel like they were really winning at anything.
In a weird twist of fate, however, we somehow never had that problem at IMPACT. Our marketing and sales teams have always been rockstar collaborators, where every single piece of content we create has been a magical unicorn.
I'm kidding, of course.
While it was nice to live in that fiction for the 15 seconds it took me to type it out, it is a laughable lie.
IMPACT definitely had those problems. In spades.
Our marketing team was creating lots of content, and sales found very little of it useful when talking to prospects. And yet no one was changing anything we were doing in terms of our content processes.
Well, that was true until about six months ago, when both teams came together to solve that challenge.
Six months later, I'm happy to report that while we're still growing and improving -- and we still have challenges to overcome -- we’ve seen great results from the changes we’ve made so far in how we collaborate across marketing and sales to create awesome content.
So, if you're a marketer who is struggling to create content your sales team will find valuable, this post is for you. While I know every organization is different, the tactics below should be universal.
First, You Need to Get “Smaligned” & Diagnose the Problem
“Goal: Solve problems related to sales-marketing alignment, identify what isn’t working, and brainstorm ideas to fix these issues.”
This is what’s at the top of every single agenda for IMPACT’s monthly “smalignment” meeting -- a meeting between our sales and marketing teams.
Why “smalignment”? Because “sales and marketing alignment” is too long, I was vocal in my emotional allergy to the word “smarketing” (it’s an abomination), and “No mo’ silos,” while adorable, never got the group consensus required to carry it to the top.
Thus, our delightful “smalignment” portmanteau was born.
Organizing and scheduling this recurring meeting was our first collective step toward getting our two very different "sibling" teams on the same page and working together. This is also the first thing you should do.
(If you’re hoping mutual collaboration, accountability, and knowledge transference will occur organically between marketing and sales over the watercooler, I have some waterfront property in Arizona I’d love to sell you.)
While we cover a range of topics during this monthly meeting, it should surprise no one that a healthy portion of our agenda is dedicated to content.
But the first time we had that meeting, the comments we heard from sales about our content were not that great.
Be Ready to Hear the Real Truth About Your Content
Look, as someone who is self-aware and very much an only child, I can admit that I love positive attention and affirmation of my work more than I love breathing.
So, when our sales team let the cat out of the bag by telling us very little of our content was even remotely useful during the sales process, I wanted to sink into the floor.
“Yeah, I usemaybea handful of articles and pieces of content during the sales process? For the most part, we’re not publishing what I need.”
One of our sales reps breaking my heart with a hammer. And honesty.
You need to be ready to hear that kind of feedback from your sales team, because there’s a good chance you will.
The sad part was that we weren’t not creating valuable content. It’s more that we were creating an overabundance of top-of-the-funnel content based on our own assumptions and research -- and, worst of all, without the input of sales.
Not involving sales in the content process is particularly problematic because, while marketing and sales share common goals, our priorities and where we focus our efforts are fundamentally different.
The 4 Questions We Always Ask Each Other Now
To prevent this same problem in future, we now ask each other the following questions every single month during this meeting:
Marketing, what content is performing really well and should be considered for use during the sales process?
Sales, the content that you’re using right now in the sales process successfully -- what is it and why is it working?
Marketing, can you please share how we’re using sales team feedback to create our content?
Sales, what topics do we need more content on?
In short, we have two questions to report back on performance, and what has/hasn’t been working, and we have two questions that are forward-looking or create a level of accountability between the two teams with how content gets created and used.
Instead of this being the thing we never talk about, it's now the thing we're always talking about.
Second, Make This Kind of Collaboration Part of Someone’s Job
We've established that you can’t cross your fingers and hope your sales and marketing teams will magically start creating content together through osmosis, right?
That means your next step is to make it someone’s responsibility to foster this level of ongoing collaboration. (Having one meeting between both teams isn't going to cut it. Someone needs to be doing the work in between them to make things happen.)
On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, I have open “content office hours” that are only for the sales team. I work remotely, so that means I sit on my web conferencing channel (we use Zoom), and members of the sales team are encouraged to crash it for a little chat.
We use that time how they need it. They may have an idea or a question about an article they’re writing, or they might have some general feedback on how the marketing team could be creating content. I let them guide the conversation, because that’s their time.
I meet with each sales rep once a month for an hour. During that time, I talk to them one-on-one on what they’re working on, what they’re thinking about, what’s bothering them, and what content they wish we would produce for them.
Not only do I walk away with tons of ideas for content we could be creating that our sales team would find valuable, I often am able to surface other sales and marketing issues, as well.
I collaborate directly with sales team members on their content. As a result of these one-on-ones, I’ve ended up collaborating with folks from our sales team on blog articles, as well as premium content offers. (I’m actually working with Melanie right now on a massive content offer -- coming soon -- that was her idea. I would have never even thought of it, and it is fantastic.)
It sounds simple, but now we get excited to collaborate -- between marketing and sales -- on content. That's a huge win.
Across each of these three activities, I strive to achieve the following goals:
Proactively identify and/or address any content problems that marketing has control over.
Provide opportunities for the sales team to pitch wishlist ideas for new content.
Support sales team members in creating better content under their own name that not only meets the needs of sales, but also marketing.
To create collaboration opportunities between marketing and sales on content.
Finally, to give sales a voice, so they feel genuinely heard, understood, and prioritized by the marketing team.
The above structure is simply an example of how I have chosen to spend my time with sales to solve IMPACT’s sales and marketing content collaboration challenges.
However, it is, by no means, the only way of doing things.
What you need to do is make someone accountable for this type of collaboration. Then have that person create a structure around how and when they make it happen. You could start by using the framework I outlined above, or you could create one all your own.
I don't care what it looks like, as long as you have a structure. Again, as with the monthly meeting, being consistent and persistent is the key to being successful.
Bottom Line, You’ve Got to Start Talking to Each Other
The only way you’re going to create the content your sales will fall head over heels for is by doing the work to make it happen. When it comes to sales and marketing alignment issues of any kind -- not just the content variety -- there are no shortcuts.
But that’s not a bad thing.
All I’m asking you to do is to finally start talking on a regular basis and, when you do, to ask each other the right questions. That way both your marketing team and the sales team can be more successful at achieving what is supposed to be a joint goal -- to grow the business together.
At IMPACT, we've seen this hard work pay off.
At our last smalignment meeting, someone asked if marketing creating valuable content for sales -- or without the input of sales -- was still a problem, the answer was no.
In fact, a new problem arose.
"Okay, now we have all this amazing content we've bookmarked, but we need a better system for keeping track of it all and making sure it all gets used!"
That's a good problem to have and one you should strive for.
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