Why Marketers Need to Create Conversations – Not Just Content

September 18, 2014 | Brendan Cournoyer
Why Marketers Need to Create Conversations – Not Just Content

Sales enablement. Content marketing.

Anyone still unsure about the link between the two needed only to have their sights set on the quiet banks of Lake Erie last week, where the world’s biggest annual content marketing event was taking place.

For the fourth consecutive year (I have the ribbon to prove it!), I made my way to Cleveland for Content Marketing World. It was a great event as always, and more so than any other year, I couldn’t help but notice the common thread of sales enablement being weaved from session to session.

Experts talk sales enablement at Content Marketing World 2014

It seemed like more than a few speakers went out of their way to emphasize things like the importance of “compelling sales content”, “content-alignment with sales” and “having better sales conversations with customers.”

One session I attended in particular tackled this topic head on. Titled Moving from Content to Conversations: Content’s Role in the Sales Enablement Process, it featured a panel discussion with a focus on why “brands need to create conversations with customers and prospects, not just content.”

Related Article: 3 Reasons Content Marketers Fail at Sales Enablement

One takeaway from the session was that gearing content only toward external audiences isn’t enough.

“The first step for marketers is to understand that sales is really part of your audiences. If your organization hasn’t done that, then you have a problem,” said Gary Van Prooyen, senior director of global brand and content operations at Motorola Solutions.

He explained that even though marketers have been creating tons of content for years now, sales teams had often been almost an afterthought. Marketers now need to understand what it takes to create the type of content that will not only capture attention, but also move the conversation forward.

“The narrative has become more complex,” Gary said. “Years ago, salespeople could just take out a product and a spec sheet. Now, we need to elevate that conversation to the C –level. Talk about the big picture, five-year visions – we weren’t doing that.”

Ultimately, it comes down to storytelling – but not just brand storytelling; it’s the stories sales reps tell as well, and that’s where content is key. 

“Salespeople are still our last bastion of competitive differentiation. Those are the stories they tell,” added Tim Riesterer of Corporate Visions and co-author of Conversations That Win the Complex Sale.

“You’ve put salespeople into an environment with the content you’ve generated, where they have to be on a 5-10 month sales cycle of differentiating you from the others,” Tim explained. “This is where most buyers end up just sticking with the status quo.”

“The first thing you have to do is provide content to unhinge that status quo. Saying they want to talk doesn’t mean they’ve committed to change. They need to give a ‘yes’ to change before they can give a ‘yes’ to you,” he added.

So what do you do? 3 quick tips from the panel:

#1. Ask the right questions

Gary noted that the only way to find out what reps really need, is to ask them:

“It’s about asking salespeople, What are you missing? What do you need? When the marketing content you create isn’t used, it’s deflating. That’s why sales needs to become part of your audience. So you create toolsets they’ll use, because they create better face-to-face conversations.”

Tim reiterated that the questions you ask really need to come down to creating a better conversation with customers – and your content should help reps get there:

“When we ask salespeople – What conversations do u feel the BEST equipped to have? Which are you the LEAST prepared to have? Most often, they are best equipped to give a product presentation – but that’s least important to hitting quota. They feel least prepared to have the differentiation conversation.”

#2. Stop talking about yourself

As with most marketing content these days, the best sales enablement content provides real value and solutions to your customers’ challenges. But as Tim alluded to, it’s also about disrupting the status quo – and “me first” content is unlikely to do the job. As Gary explained:

“One of the biggest changes was moving away from a Why us? conversation. Our opportunity to win is to be seen as the trusted advisors – and to become that, we have to change from Why us? to Why change? and Why now? To be disruptive and cast doubt. If you don’t have that, you’re just talking about yourselves.”

#3. Keep it in context

Another common issue raised was the complexity and length of the B2B sales process. So much can happen between the point of awareness and sale, and marketers can’t make the mistake of creating one sales asset for all situations. As Nic Panayi, director of global brand and digital marketing at CSC, said:

“In a long sales cycle. It’s not one conversation. The art of storytelling is to thread the right chapter of the story at the right time. It is a continuous conversation. The question is -- when do you know it’s the right time for that chapter?”

To learn more about what happened at Content Marketing World 2014, visit the conference blog. For more tips and ideas for developing better sales enablement content, check out these articles below:

51 Tips for Delivering Better Sales Presentations

CSO Insights
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Coaching Solutions
Inside Brainshark for Coaching
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GE Digital
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