Customer journey maps. Personas. Sales funnels. Buying cycles. Audience development. All of these are important components in a successful content marketing strategy. But rarely do any include potentially one of the most powerful content users and influencers brands have, and that’s their own salesforce.
In my 33 years as a healthcare business journalist, I rarely met a salesperson at my own publication who knew what stories I wrote unless it was a piece critical of one of their clients. In my four years in content marketing, I see much the same. Most salespeople at most brands have no clue that their companies are producing great content for their clients and prospective clients.
That is a huge missed opportunity for the salesperson, who can use the content to sell. It’s also a huge missed opportunity for the brand, which can use the salespeople to distribute the content. So when a brand is doing all the journey mapping, persona creating, sales funneling, cycle buying and audience developing, it should include the salesperson as part of the content marketing strategy.
So how would that work in practice?
I’m a big believer in the separation of church and state when it comes to journalism. When editorial (the church) and advertising (the state) don’t mix, the reader benefits from being able to trust the content as being uninfluenced by sales needs. The same is true in content marketing. When content marketing (the church) and sales (the state) don’t mix, the brand benefits from clients and prospects being able to trust the content, which, in turn, builds brand loyalty and ultimately leads to more sales.
Regularly Survey Salespeople for Content Insights
In that construct, the salesperson should be considered a customer or persona in the content marketing strategy, not a collaborator on content creation. What do they need from a brand’s content to do their jobs successfully?
To answer that question and to find out what content topics are of interest to the brand’s customers, the company should regularly survey its sale staff. Some survey questions might be:
- Are you aware that our company produces content?
- What types of content does our company produce?
- Have you ever shared our content with your clients or prospective clients?
- How do you stay on top of the latest news and trends affecting the industry we serve?
- What challenges are you hearing from your clients that would make useful content topics?
Asking those questions on a quarterly basis will generate lots of great information that will benefit the content marketing strategy. It will drive awareness by the salesforce of the content being created. It will measure the interest and capability of salespeople to share content over their own social channels. And it will keep the brand’s finger on the pulse of its customers interests and concerns.
The Best Salespeople Tell the Best Stories—Listen
Sometimes, that pulse will detect clients and prospects that have great stories to tell and can be tapped as profiles and anecdotes for content pieces. I’m not talking about client success stories or case studies. Those essentially are testimonials stretched into a challenge-solution-result format. We know how they end (the brand saves the day!). Few people read them, and they’re not particularly effective.
I’m talking about compelling human-interest stories that could stand on their own outside of a brand’s content hub. They could be about individuals or companies that did something different or innovative or inspiring in—or even on the periphery of—the brand’s industry that others could emulate. The stories are not about how a brand’s product or service enabled them to do what they did. The stories are about what they did, and the brand benefits by bringing its audience those powerful stories.
We all know that great salespeople tell great stories. They know things about their clients, their clients’ businesses, their clients’ families and their clients’ personal experiences. Content marketers who can draw on those stories to create content will excel at meeting their content strategy objectives.
Yes, salespeople are wary of letting anyone other than themselves come in contact with a commission-generating client. I get it. But when done right, the content that’s produced will cement the relationship between the salesperson and the client, extending that relationship and creating opportunities for new relationships as other salespeople and prospects see the value generated by the content.
Salespeople as Content Distributors
It’s no secret that even the best content will fail unless it’s accompanied by a robust content distribution plan. Making a brand’s salesforce a key gear in that content distribution mechanism is essential.
As mentioned earlier, the first hurdle to get over is making sure a brand’s salespeople know that the company actually creates content and that the content can help them sell, sell, sell. But then they’re going to need a little help.
Most successful salespeople are always hustling. They’re always traveling or always on the phone or always on e-mail. Most don’t have time to listen to a 45-minute webinar or read a 10-page white paper. But most will have time to read a Cliff Notes version of the webinar or white paper. Content marketers should create a one-page cheat sheet for salespeople that highlights the nuts and bolts of the content piece (what it is, what it’s about and where to get it) and the big takeaways from the piece ( the three things you need to do to accomplish that).
Then, when salespeople talk to their clients or prospects, they can tell them about the content, what the content is about and how to get it. They should forward client and prospect contact information to the brand’s content marketers to add to their automated content distribution lists.
Content marketers also should develop a social media business plan for each of the brand’s salespeople. Each salesperson should have their own appropriate social media channels to distribute unbranded and branded content of interest to their clients and prospects. Obviously, they would be required to follow the company’s social media policies and brand guidelines. Social media training likely would be needed.
Think of what typically happens now to a post on a corporate blog. The brand’s corporate marcom folks share it on corporate social channels to the company’s contacts and followers. Now think of an entire brand salesforce sharing the same blog post with all of its contacts and followers. The result would be exponential growth in traffic and engagement.
Better topics, better stories, better distribution. Brands that include their salesforces in their content marketing strategies will enjoy all three benefits.
Read next: Content Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference, Again?