Closing the loop between sales and marketing

When sales and marketing are part of each other’s worlds, a business thrives. Yet too often we see them estranged. Their collaboration is particularly vital when it comes to business development. Ideally, the two teams will be feeding each other valuable insights and information, helping to answer their customers questions. Here’s how to craft a dynamic that works.

At the recent Content Marketing World (CMWorld) summit in Cleveland, a medley of innovations, issues and ideas were talked over by some of the world’s leading industry experts. We heard about AI and data-driven marketing, public relations (PR), and influencer marketing. There was even Joseph Gordon-Levitt talking Hollywood his newly created platform hitRECord (all about collaborative, community-created art and media) in a keynote speech. One of the standout themes however, is one that seems to stretch back yonks. You’ve heard it before: how can marketing and sales work better together?

The Sales Lion’s Marcus Sheridan (a CMWorld speaker) went so far as to claim that “sales and marketing alignment should be your most important issue right now”. While the two departments are gradually becoming more aligned, we are still seeing them shut off from each other in their own closed-walled silos. From this dysfunctional dynamic, a fatal communication gap emerges – into which quality customer experience slips and gets stuck.

Here, we share how sales and marketing can forge a more productive, functioning relationship. The outcome? Empowered teams, happy customers, and content marketing legitimised company-wide as a powerful and proven business asset.

Enabling customer questions to filter through the business

On the front lines of organisations, you have your salespeople. By nature of their day-to-day work, they’re often the ones with the closest, most honest and most organic relationship to potential clients and customers.

They’re fielding queries, listening intently, and most importantly, having conversations. They’re diagnosing pain-points and distilling key problems that audiences are having. And if customers are complaining (as Ladbrokes’ Christian Bowman pointed out at the 2017 ADMA Global Forum) it’s because these customers care about their relationship with the business.

These real-life conversations are often an untapped source of qualitative data, perfect for the content marketer hungry for customer insight. Talking topic ideation, they’re gold. Setting up a communications line between the two departments means that content can be shaped around the questions that audiences are asking the most.

Answering audience questions and addressing customer problems is the drum to which the client-centric content marketer beats, after all. It’s core to their job description. If you’re in this role, it encompasses primary audience research, surveys, analytics, regularly heading out to the ‘front line’ yourself and staying close to your buyer persona print-out where it’s tacked to the wall. Your sales team’s insights are another, crucial way marketers can espouse an user-centric approach.

Creating content that converts

So, content marketing teams have listened to sales, and sales are listening to content. It’s now content’s prerogative to close the loop and pay it forward by creating resources that can be grabbed by sales as treasured collateral and tools.

By now most are familiar with the funnel though we call the stages by many different names. Generally, it is top-of-funnel (tof), middle of funnel (mof) and base of funnel (bof). Other popular terms are hero, hub and help. The bof or help stage is where your conversion content should sit – in other words, the choicest of sales enablement tools.

By this stage of the buyer journey, your customer knows about your brand. They’ve compared you to others, and are now prepared to spend a few hours (or days, or weeks, or even months) going over with a fine tooth comb service details and pricing. On the content dinner menu, they’re hungry for the kind of information that will enable them to validate the direction of their thinking.

In the B2B space, this kind of content will most often be in the form of testimonials and case studies. Other times, it’s product guides or technical guides – the kind of substantive resources that merit sound investment decision-making. In the B2C space, it could be anything from product comparison charts, to product videos to mobile apps.

Whatever the case, sales teams should always be on the ball and in the loop with the catalogue of content that marketers are continually creating. It’s up to both sides to make sure this happens.

(Pro tip: if marketers are a little hazy about what’s sitting in the archives, it might be time for a content audit.)

Crafting content that’s adaptable

In some cases, marketers may very well have produced top-notch content that comes close to a perfect alignment with their audience’s needs. But salespeople can’t use it. The reasons here vary, but often, it comes down to content not being able to be shaped, tweaked or repurposed in a way to answer the questions of a particular client that sales has engaged.

It’s a technical issue, really. And more often than not, it can be solved with ongoing and open cross-departmental conversations and a more mindful approach.

Let’s draw out an example. Say you’re a data security software company marketing to a firm that wants to upgrade their system. As we’ve talked about previously, the buyer journey that tech marketers must tap into has become increasingly complex. Huge cross-functional committees must be engaged and convinced – all of whom have differing needs, purchasing powers, agendas and interests.

Often, your salesperson will be talking to a single company representative, on whose shoulders it falls to sell the product or service internally. Content teams should be on hand and in a dialogue with sales at this moment in time, handballing them the kind of resources that can be adequately packaged so that the whole client body can give its collective nod.

This might mean creating new content from scratch. It might mean adapting existing resources. For the latter, it’s critical that original content and data can be easily sourced and edited, with consistency of tone, message and branding maintained across the whole.

Feeding content insights back to sales

Sales aren’t the only ones sitting on a goldmine of quality information. Far from it. Content teams have insights of at least equal value and import. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship between the two, powered by a positive feedback cycle, where increasingly refined audience understandings can be built up over time.

Content marketers help sales by sharing with them how audiences are responding to and interacting with the content they’ve supplied. This is particularly true of those ‘bottom-of-funnel’ and/or tailor-made collateral, but extends also to content at other sales funnel points. By doing this, salespeople get a deeper, more mindful perception of top-of-mind audience issues, frustrations and questions – optimising their pitches and techniques for more engaging and productive customer and client conversations.

We know it; you know it. Sales and marketing are in the same game, but too often involved in their own scrimmage on opposite sides of the field. If they want to make the customer care championships, they’ve got to unify their strategy and get better at working together.

Kate Prendergast contributed to the writing of this piece.

Articles you may also be interested in:
Tech content marketing: Take the product out of your messaging
Top 6 takeaways from the 2017 Global Forum
Content auditing: Helping marketers fight the war against wastage

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About the Author

Job Title: Head of Client Services

About Cara McLeod: Cara is Mahlab’s Head of Client Services. She leads both client services and advertising sales teams to ensure that whoever we engage get the best content marketing fix the company can provide. In her pre-Mahlab years, she worked for international publishers across Europe and North America on the business side for Murdoch Books, before moving to New York to help Australian start-up Bookstr develop its revenue model. She is the proud mum of one bub called Micah, who featured as a star in such Direct Advice for Dads videos as ‘DAD swaddling techniques – The Summer Scrum’.

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