Sales and Marketing: Moving From Content to Conversations


September 16, 2014

Equipping B2B sales teams with the relevant content that helps them have long-term conversations with buyers is hard. Few marketers understand the strategy behind it and even fewer execute it well. It’s an area that’s vitally important to marketers and was the topic of a panel I moderated last week at Content Marketing World in Cleveland. I was lucky to have four of the smartest people I know in this area step up to the plate and share their expertise (left to right):

  • Nick Panayi, Director of Global Brand & Digital Marketing, CSC
  • Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer for Corporate Visions, and co-author, Conversations That Win the Complex Sale
  • Gary Van Prooyen, Sr. Director, North America Demand Center, Motorola Solutions
  • Kevin Thomas, Director of Sales Enablement Workload & Cloud Practice, Hewlett-Packard

The purpose of the panel was to share how these four have successfully led the enterprise transition from producing content that talks about products and services to creating back-and-forth conversations that solve customer problems. It seems like it should be an easy switch, right? It never is. You’ll see a series of blog posts that cover the complexity of this hour-long panel conversation, but I’m going to start at the very beginning of why it really, really matters for marketing to go beyond building a relationship with sales. It’s more than alignment; it’s a deep understanding that marketing needs to have about what it’s like to sell and the dynamics of those interactions before it’s possible to create two-way conversations with buyers.

Here’s 6 things that this group of experts shared that are foundational for the mindset of every marketer before they begin working with sales:

  1. Marketing needs to care about why sales people say what they do. This is more about damage control that it is about brand messaging. It’s sad, but true. Sales people have quotas to make and commissions to earn. Just because marketing gives them pithy brand messaging, doesn’t meant that sales will use it. Especially if it might affect them reaching their quota or earning their commission. Sales people say things so they can sell stuff. They don’t say it because it’s the brand story. Marketers have to understand the world of a sales person and delve into it, before they’ll ever be ready to deliver value.
  2. Marketing needs to care about what marketing says. Tim Riesterer nails it when he says that sales people are the last bastion of what differentiates you from your competitors. Let’s pretend that your sales people actually do use the messaging that you’ve created for them. Does it really sound different from everyone else? I worked with a client that believed they had an original brand story – so I went through their website and then the websites of their top three competitors. And then I went through the websites of the top 25 companies in their space. I tallied the reasons – even specific words – that each said made them different. Here’s the kicker – they all listed the exact same things that made them different. If you’re a sales person trying to stand out from the crowd with tools that make you sound like everyone else, then you have every right to go rogue. And that puts us right back to point #1 – sales people want to sell stuff. It’s their job and if they don’t do it, then they don’t have a job. And eventually, neither will you.
  3. Sales people have to understand value first. This is a tough step for sales people to make, and they really, really need marketing’s help with this. SiriusDecisions did research and found that the biggest reason that sales people don’t hit quota is because of their inability to articulate value to buyers. Gary Van Prooyen described how Motorola moved away from talking about product (and the historical 4 Ps) to solving people’s problems in a framework that Motorola calls SAVE: instead of product, think Solution; instead of place, think Access; instead of price, think Value; and instead of promotion, think Education. Once you can educate sales people on how to articulate value, and to whom, then you’ll have a more productive time strategically planning buyer conversations with them.
  4. Sales needs a different kind of education. Just like educating customers has changed, we have to be better about educating sales teams.  As marketers, we need to go beyond creating content that goes in front of customers that talks about value; we need to create and deliver training and one-on-one guidance on how sales can have conversations and use sales tools in ways that create value for buyers. It’s a big change in how sales people sell successfully these days. Here’s the beauty of this kind of education for both sides – if you really want to know how something works, teach it. As marketers, we create tools for sales but don’t think through how they’ll be used in real life. Teaching that, and then remaining open to feedback, will make both groups smarter and deliver better value to the buyer. That’s a win-win-win.
  5. Sales people are customers, too. And they have the same struggles as customers do when it comes to finding content (that’s discoverability), finding content that makes sense to them (that’s relevancy) and then understanding how to use it in front of a customer (that’s education, from step #4). Kevin Thomas talks about the amount of revenue-generating time that’s wasted by sales people because they’re looking for content. Just like buyers will abandon the process, if it’s hard for a sales person to find content – even useful content – they’ll make do with something they can find or wing it. Neither serves the buyer.
  6. Incremental progress matters. Nick talked about how he built credibility for his marketing team at CSC over the past few years. Not many sales people want to hear about technology, but Nick knew that what the technology could tell them mattered. By giving sales a picture of what buyers were doing digitally, marketing was able to better prepare sales reps for in-person conversations. But even this took time. And this was unanimous from everyone in the group that building credibility with sales takes time. Will it require patience? Yes. Will it be frustrating? Of course. Can we skip it? Not if you want to keep your job and stay in business. There’s a great deal to tackle in this area, and that’s why it’s so important to take small steps and use incremental progress to motivate everyone to keep going.

Marketers have to think differently about their relationship with sales. It’s not about enabling them, it’s about integrating with their world to better understand what they face on a day-to-day basis. It’s not about alignment, it’s about making it easier to build relationships and solve problems for customers. It’s about creating value for both sales teams and buyers during every step of the process.



About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.