The riff between sales teams and marketing departments in companies across the land is enough to make the Montagues and Capulets blush. In fact, I've heard stories that don't seem far off from the newscaster brawl in Anchorman. But that doesn't mean it's ever made sense to me because, while this might be oversimplifying things a bit, salespeople and marketers are on the same team, right?
Rather than hashing out the dynamics driving the friction – salespeople can't close because the sales material is lousy, the sales team waits too long to call their leads, blah blah blah – I thought it best to be more constructive with this particular monologue. So on that note, I want to take a closer look at how your sales team can help your digital marketing plan based on some boots-on-the-ground insights I've picked up over the years. Now that's not to say that everything will be kumbaya from here on out, but a few best practices will undoubtedly help heal some old wounds. And convert.
A Wee Bit of Background
A long time ago, in a galaxy called Las Colinas, I was in the sales department for a venture-backed tech startup. Every so often, I’d get roped in by the marketing team and asked questions about content. Since I've always had a knack for content and topic ideas, I guess I was easy prey, but never minded too much. As it turns out, I'd unwittingly been using several different marketing tactics and strategies on the job without really thinking about it. As a matter of fact, I still use many of those same tactics and strategies today, just in a far more polished and refined way.
I tell the story to convey a very specific thought – I've been on the sales side of the fence. And just because I now live and breathe inbound marketing doesn't mean I've forgotten what it's like to be on a sales team with Everest-like quotas and a sometimes inconsistent stream of leads.
Since launching our agency, I've been in constant contact with companies that don't necessarily have marketing departments. More often than not, these companies rely on their sales and operations people – the ones most familiar with their customers – for ideas they can turn into content. So, since I’ve been privy to many of those sales & marketing conversations, I wanted to provide you, our valued reader, with a set of questions to ask your sales team. Play your cards right and you could very well turn yourself into a marketing alchemist, transforming these questions into conversion gold.
1. What type of content would help you close warm leads?
Sure, that's a very open-ended question, but purposefully so. Ask that question to a sales team and you'll probably get a big ol’ range of answers, some good, some not so good. However, the point is to help your marketing department escape their normal mindset and think like a salesperson.
Obviously, as I've written in the past, inbound marketing that uses high-ranking content to propel B2B customers down the sales funnel is crucial. But a top-of-the-funnel piece meant to establish your company as a thought leader in the space doesn't do a salesperson much good for closing bottom-of-the-funnel business.
Inbound marketing that uses high-ranking content to propel B2B customers down the sales funnel is crucial.
That's where a symbiotic relationship between sales and your marketing efforts really shines. It's not a one-or-the-other scenario but, at least ideally, one where marketers are creating content for every stage of the sales cycle and B2B buying process. Creating content that helps the salesperson close on a qualified lead is incredibly valuable, perhaps more valuable than any other piece of content.
Use this question to start the conversation, develop ideas, and create an ongoing dialogue with your sales team members. It won't take them long to realize that it's time very well spent. It also doesn't hurt to gain favor with those salespeople, either. And since you're on a roll, start an internal best practice with monthly or quarterly phone conversations with your sales team. It will keep the relationship healthy, build trust, and make sure everyone is on the same page.
2. What are the top five objections that you hear during the sales process? And how do you typically overcome those objections?
While the first question of this dynamic duo is usually pretty easy to answer, the second one can get a bit dicey. Hopefully, your sales reps have an answer to it. But if they don't, then it's an opportunity to turn the conversation into a great working session, one that can include your sales leadership and even your product or operations people, depending on how you structure your organization.
Honestly, if your sales team doesn't have a well thought out answer to overcoming objections, it's an obvious red flag and something that needs immediate attention. In that situation, try getting everyone into the same room and brainstorming ways to overcome those objections and pain points.
From a marketing perspective, diving into those granular details can be instrumental in helping you develop materials that directly address customer objections. For instance, if a salesperson runs into a stumbling block while speaking with a potential customer on the phone, the next step shouldn't be an emailed diatribe from the salesperson to the customer explaining why they're making a big mistake.
First of all, that customer most likely won't read a lengthy email. B2B customers are busy people with plenty on their plate. However, they will read a honed piece of content that addresses their objections. This content gives the salesperson a much more agreeable way to address the customers' concerns. Whether the content is a blog, case study, webinar, or infographic, it provides the sales team an effective option for possibly continuing the customer along the funnel. You can use a similar tactic after a sales presentation as a follow-up to objections that you didn't have time to address during the presentation itself.
The same objections that come up in a sales call or presentation are very likely to be common issues amongst your overall customer base.
Afterward, you can easily transform those follow-up pieces into SEO-propelled content to use for your bigger audience living in the interwebs. Remember, the same objections that come up in a sales call or presentation are very likely to be common issues amongst your overall customer base. And as we’ve said in the past about blogging, it's a powerful tool to drive traffic and quality leads as long as you provide value to the reader and leverage SEO to achieve ranking glory. You want your ideal customers and target market to notice you, right?
3. What are the biggest problems that your prospects are talking about?
Your sales team can most likely speak for days on end about problems that your product or service may solve, and that's awesome. But from a marketing perspective, those problems only represent a fraction of what your B2B customers want to know. I'm referring to the host of smaller issues and worries that a salesperson might hear over a cup of coffee, lunch, or happy hour.
Tap into that wide range of issues for a roadmap to your ideal content topics. In other words, create blogs and other content pieces that directly address those different problems, and start to explore potential solutions for them. Ultimately, as one piece of content feeds into the next, you can direct those potential customers toward your product or solution.
Try sitting down with your sales team to map out all the different pieces of content that, in conjunction with one another, address every stage of the B2B buying process. Your salespeople can be essential in providing you with customer perspectives and angles that might otherwise slip through the cracks, even helping you refine your buyer personas. No one understands Manager Mike, Logistics Louise, and Procurement Pete like an effective sales team.
4. How are you differentiating yourself from competitors in the sales process?
Obviously, from a content point of view, the vendor or product comparison is an obvious answer to this question. These materials are particularly powerful because they show you're not afraid to match up your products or services to your competitors. However, this question also lets you develop pieces that address key differentiators before presenting a vendor comparison to a customer.
This approach allows you to educate the buyer, so by the time they're ready for a direct comparison, they are already knowledgeable in what to look for and what features suit their needs best. Since you present this content as thought leadership rather than a blatant sales piece, your educating the audience and allowing them to conclude that your solution is best, all while not hitting them over the head with a giant neon CTA. Do a thorough job with this educational process and the customer will naturally start poking holes in a competitor's set of solutions.
5. What is your most impressive customer success story?
You don't have to be Nostradamus to see that case studies are the obvious takeaways from this question. Ask the salesperson to reach out to the customer for permission to share that impressive story. If they are hesitant, you can still use a blind case study with enough leading information to give the reader a somewhat good idea of the scope and nature of the subject. For example, if the customer is a "major electronics retailer with a national footprint," that narrows the field down to two or three possibilities.
Granted, you don't want to go so far as to be blatant with your clues and anger the customer. However, providing a bit of context will help drive a blind case study home. Whether the customer is specifically named or not, though, it's always best to sit down with the salesperson and interview them. Ultimately, you want the salesperson to give you insights on specific questions that will drive the case study, including:
- How did it happen?
- Where did the lead come from?
- What was the sales process like?
- What types of problems was the customer telling you about?
- What types of results were they driving?
- What did those results allow the organization to do?
- How did those results impact the larger organization beyond just your solution? i.e., revenue, culture, recruiting, branding, etc
A case study is a narrative, just like any good story. As you are crafting that story, figure out how best to express key points like the direct benefits of the solution, and how those benefits created new value for the organization as a whole. As you're listening to the salesperson's insights and putting the pieces together in your head, it will hopefully inspire additional pieces of content for each of those key points. And as new success stories come along, you can use the same process, only expanding the perspective you provide the reader with each new case study.
Lastly, just remember that all five of these questions are very much a two-way street. While the sales team is helping you create new content, you're also making their lives easier by developing new tools that will help them more efficiently and effectively address issues within the sales process. And, as always, if you need more help linking your sales and marketing departments, you know where to find me. Now go give your sales team a big hug because they're pretty darn awesome.