When I talk to struggling content teams, I encourage them to put every ongoing effort on hold and to instead focus their attention toward a single objective that requires them to collaborate more with sales teams. Rather than continue focusing on top of funnel – which frequently isn’t going to be an ROI driver any time soon – I tell content teams to understand and then drive whatever change in beliefs or behaviors prospective buyers need to undergo in order to become customers.
Few content teams explicitly consider this goal from the start, whereas most only realize too late and after wasting considerable resources on misguided initiatives. However, being able to partner with sales teams to drive a mental and behavioral buyer transformation is empirically proven to be the difference maker between effective and ineffective content teams.
Once content teams reframe their objective, many of their existing tactics immediately appear questionable. For example, decision makers aren’t easily influenced by overt marketing or sales, and yet, when I reviewed the last three blog posts from 40 top B2B startups, nearly 50% of articles contained bylines of self-described ‘marketers.’ Unless your target buyer is a salesperson or marketer, your content should never be bylined under salespeople or marketers.
Sales reps don’t make these types of mistakes because they interface with prospects daily. They frequently adjust their titles and roles to be perceived ‘industry partners’ which better enables them to change minds and behaviors. Of course, that leads to a separate challenge: how do salespeople find the time and resources to actually be trusted partners and experts in your clients’ businesses? How do they go beyond a superficial title?
Solving this specific problem is precisely where struggling B2B content teams should begin. They have the time and resources (and should have the mandate) to become experts and build communities within their company’s industry. They can leverage both to give sales teams three revenue-generating superpowers:
Content teams can partner with sales teams to create the perception of – as well as legitimate – expertise. At my company, we routinely ask each account executive about the top challenges that prospective customers face. We then collaborate with them to write articles to address those challenges, whether or not those challenges have anything to do with our offering. That last part is key. We publish the article under the account executive’s industry-focused byline rather than a seller-focused one, so that they can leverage that content as a trusted partner. They aren’t selling anything with the content, but they are building a relationship.
Further, content teams can educate sales teams about personas and use cases. We’ve developed a ‘proxy community,’ which is essentially a non-customer advisory panel. It consists of a group of people who, for whatever reason, aren’t customers but want to be a part of our mission. This proxy community is available at a moment’s notice for ‘spaghetti at the wall’ testing. For example, we invite members for ‘lunch and learns’ at our office where our account executives (and engineers, researchers, etc.) can ask them virtually any question and get candid feedback. It’s an immense learning opportunity, and enables our sales teams to develop deep expertise quickly and risk-free.
Today, buyer journeys are long and complex, and typically involve multiple stakeholders. Expertise needs to be integrated into a long-tail nurture process. Many companies keep nurturing and sales separate, which is a missed opportunity for trusted sales partners to also be perceived as gatekeepers.
In a theoretical world, buying decisions are entirely rational and focused on optimizing ROI. But that’s not at all the case. Stakeholders have personal interests that often revolve around their next promotion or job. Your sales team can and should be the gatekeepers of industry best practices and networking opportunities. When we prepare exclusive industry reports or announcements, we collaborate with account executives to send them from their own emails, as either mass newsletters or personal notes to key prospects. When we organize events, we enable sales leaders to be the moderators and invite targeted speakers and panelists from their pipelines. As gatekeepers, account executives have numerous reasons to reach out, influence, and stay top of mind, thereby accelerating an otherwise lengthy buying process.
As content and sales teams partner on initiatives, they begin leveling each other up. Sales teams gain access and expertise whereas content teams gain feedback to power faster iterations. Together, they can reverse-engineer won and lost deals to develop a robust, rapid, and sustainable buyer’s journey where content initiates mental and behavior change, and sales teams overcome objections and close deals.
This typically manifests in the form of qualified demos. Content that addresses the shortcomings of current behavior and the virtues of aspirational behavior tends to appeal not just to warm prospects but to the most ideal readers as well. As in, the type that already have budget, authority, and the desire to make an impact. Sales teams appreciate these demos far more than the countless low quality, lowest denominator, ppc-generated contacts who click everything and spend their days on Product Hunt looking for cheap growth hacks. Listicles may generate the most leads and demos, but only carefully crafted content can influence behavior and drive deals that your sales team can close.
Once your content strategy shifts from being seller-focused to buyer-focused, specifically around changing prospective buyers’ beliefs and behaviors, you quickly make two realizations. First, it becomes clear why your hyper-focused tactics and blog posts aren’t making an impact. They may be generating subscribers, but they’re rarely generating qualified leads at scale.
Second, a bunch of seemingly unrelated tactics and initiatives converge to drive sales. What begins as a series of tactics and conversations with sales reps to influence a few prospects eventually transforms into an efficient process – a machine that converts contacts into ready buyers – with virtually no wasted content efforts, highly qualified inbound demos, and greater returns on content initiatives.
Nis Frome is the co-founder of Alpha, the product management platform that powers thousands of experiments for the world’s leading brands. He is the editor of Product Management Insider and the co-producer of This is Product Management, a podcast with 1M+ downloads. His articles have been published in Forbes, The Next Web, and UX Magazine. Follow him @nisfrome or at http://nisfro.me