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PHOTO: Joel Vodell

B2B marketers are publishing more content than ever before in an effort to help solve buyer's problems and drive lead generation. However, once that prospect becomes a lead, content marketing principles often end for organizations. Most of a marketer’s work is to convert a lead that’s then passed to a sales rep who follow a totally separate process to qualify and sell.

Focusing all content marketing efforts toward lead generation alone can leave significant gaps between marketing and sales teams. How can you better align your two teams for a consistent experience for buyers from their first touchpoint to a closed sale?

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What Is Content Marketing to Sales?

I recently participated in a training session to help sales reps improve their communication and their organization’s closure rate. The training laid out the following formula designed to win more sales (I'm paraphrasing):

  1. Identify your buyers by role.
  2. Identify their problems and needs/wants.
  3. Create answers to their problems and needs/wants.
  4. Document how to deliver those answers at the right time to the right people.

As a marketer, the process sounded all too familiar to me. It wasn’t surprising that the prescribed formula had worked for dozens of sales teams across all types of industries. Why?

Because this training session laid out the basic principles of content marketing — delivering valuable and relevant content to the right people at the right time. While the coach might have been using more familiar terminology to a sales professional, the strategy was the same.

Why then do marketing and sales team often have a disconnect? Why does closing a sale mean content marketing is thrown aside for a more streamlined sales process?

One of the main disconnects between marketing and sales departments is defining what is valuable and relevant content. When first introduced to content (or inbound) marketing, the emphasis is on creating content that doesn’t just sell or promote your product or service. This distinction is crucial when comparing content marketing to traditional marketing methods, where selling your products and services meant blasting customers with constant advertising.  

This non-promotional aspect of content marketing can cause sales team to overlook it. If a buyer indicates they’re interested in your product or service, of course a sales rep is going to try to sell them. They might think that content marketing principles can’t apply if they’re ready to put their product and services front and center.  

But, that’s not how we should think about content marketing, which is defined as distributing valuable and consistent content to a defined audience to drive a profitable customer action. Your content strategy can — and should — include your sales tools like collateral, demos, pricing sheets, ROI assessments, and more. Sales tools are how your sales reps deliver tailored content to interested prospects to drive them to buy.

Related Article: Content Marketing Strategy, Done Right

Aligning Sales Team with Content Marketing Strategies

Marketing and sales members can build a funnel that effectively engages the buyer throughout their entire purchase journey. They can work together in the following ways to apply content marketing principles:

Identifying Ideal Buyers

Your sales team can add valuable insight to creating profiles of ideal buyers, or personas. Because they work with prospects directly, they can best identify their ideal buyer's role, problems and purchase motivation. Whether a person is a decision maker, economic approver, or end-user will affect what types of content they’re looking for and what they hoping to get out of them. For example, a CFO might need an ROI assessment before giving their approval, while an end-user might want to first see a demo of your product.

Assessing Current Sales Content Delivery

When considering your current sales funnel, you might notice that you’re overloading your prospects with content like collateral, demos, and pricing at the beginning of the sales funnel only. Marketing and sales members can work together to identify content gaps in your current process. Where are sales reps missing key tools needed to overcome challenges at various stages? Is there a certain role they often have trouble convincing their product or service is the best fit for?

Related Article: Marketers: Dust Off Those Personas and Use Them 

Creating Sales Content that Sells

Each piece of content marketing creates for sales should serve one purpose: to help the prospect take a desired action, and thus building momentum to move them along in the sales cycle. Creating effective content becomes much easier if you’re creating content for a specific audience at a certain stage in the sales cycle. Sales reps will have more encompassing sales tools that are personalized for buyers at the various stages of their purchasing decision. This eliminates sending every prospect the same material, no matter what. Sales reps will be in control of what they send and when. Your content will become much more thoughtful and intentional for a specific audience.

Document the New Sales Process

B2B marketers with documented content strategies feel their efforts are significantly more effective than those without documentation. The best way to align sales team with content marketing efforts is to write down your strategy. Develop a roadmap of what content is delivered to what personas at what stage in the sales cycle. This helps both marketing and sales departments continue to agree on what tools are needed and how to measure their effectiveness over time.

While some of the measures above might seem small, they can have a big impact on helping sales and marketing teams further align and drive better results together.