Should Salespeople Create Their Own Content?

You’ve probably heard that content is king (I say queen). Content is the way to start wooing your prospects in advance of sales opportunities. content strategy word cloudEvery conversation related to social selling includes a focus on using content to boost your credibility as a thought leader in your field. I don’t disagree with that premise. Buyers are doing early stage research, and the use of content that is relevant and educational can certainly work to your advantage. Buyers turn a deaf ear to the pitch, but they do pay attention when what you do, say and share makes it clear to them that you understand what is important to them.

The right content used strategically at the right time definitely, helps you stand apart from your competitors. But the big question is – should salespeople be the ones creating their content?

Many in the social selling space will insist that the answer is yes. Others say, absolutely not. After all, isn’t that marketing’s job? Me? I say it depends on your personal situation.

When you think about how to use content as part of your sales process, there are three ways you can approach it:

  1. Share the content of others.
  2. Share the content your marketing team produces.
  3. Create your own.

Let’s talk about each one.

Share the Content of Others

This can work to your advantage PROVIDED the content is relevant to your audience and offers them specific insights that can help them improve their business. This assumes something really important – you have to know what your buyer cares about.

Some investigative work is required. Your marketing department may have done buyer persona work you can use, and you can use social media to do your validation about what your targeted buyers are interested in. How? Ask yourself these questions about your target buyers:

-What content do they share on LinkedIn? Not just the topics, but the medium. Do they tend to share more articles or it is video or podcasts?

-What content topics do they comment on? Could be in tweets, LinkedIn status updates or on posts others are publishing.

-Who are the LinkedIn influencers they follow?

-Do they publish LinkedIn posts? If so, what topics do they write about?

-Who do they follow on Twitter and what kind of content do they share there? Is it business, more personal or a little of both?

– What about groups they have joined on LinkedIn, what types of questions do they answer or like?

The point is that online social behavior will provide clues to help you determine how to structure your thinking around the type of content to share. Then you can study your industry to determine who produces content that you believe your customers and potential customers will find of real benefit. Could be top bloggers, publications like Forbes, Harvard Business Review or Inc. Magazine. If you are appealing to folks in the sales world, perhaps you are sharing daily doses of content from Top Sales World. Might be a well-respected publication in your specific industry.

Will this take a little sweat equity to figure out and plan for? Yes. But, honestly, it isn’t too much and if your end game is to secure opportunities to have a sales conversation with buyers, well then, put in the effort.

Share Company Produced Content

Now that you’ve done the digging and have a good idea of what content will appeal to your prospective buyer, you can match those interests to the content your marketing team has worked hard to create. I’m thinking white papers, research reports, informative blog posts, interviews with industry leaders, etc. Be careful, though. If the content isn’t much more than dressed up sales pitches, I’d rethink how much company produced content you share. If the content is simply pitching products or services, that will turn buyers off.

Make a point to share relevant content once a day through the network of your choice. The platform where your prospective buyers are most likely to see it. Add a comment before sharing to bring attention to why your buyer should read the article. Tell them what you believe will be valuable to them.

Posting once a day doesn’t take a lot of time. What it requires though is knowing where the content is so that you get to it easily. Could be your company’s LinkedIn page, a content sharing portal that your marketing team has created and so on.

Produce Your Own Content

This one is tricky because there are only so many hours in the day. The main job of those of us in sales is to, well, you know, sell. The zealots will insist that no matter what, you have to make time to create content. Well, I don’t know about that. If you have a family you go home to that includes a spouse and kids; I’m not sure how much they’d appreciate you getting right to work on content once they finally have time with you. Okay, sure, you can get up an hour earlier. Maybe stay up after the kiddos have gone to bed. The point is you have to figure out what rhythm you can commit yourself to in this area.

If you don’t have a lot of experience creating content, it won’t be quite as easy as some experts would have you believe. You’ll need a content plan that includes topics, what type of content you will create, and where and how you’ll distribute the content. Questions have to be answered. If you blindly jump in, you will likely flounder and feel frustrated.

I know a few folks in the social selling space who INSIST salespeople WRITE their own content. I vehemently disagree! This is just another example of trying to force a one-size-fits-all approach onto everyone.

First, you must like writing. It isn’t easy.

Second, the goal is to create content that backs up your professional brand promise, demonstrates your expertise, and paints a picture of how you think and what working with you might be like. You want your words to lead buyers to think – hey, I want to talk to that person, I think they can help us.

Third, you need to do it well. I’ve read some of the most poorly written posts on LinkedIn ever. Words missing, capitalizing every word in a sentence, grammar way off, run on sentences and the like. Same goes for blog posts. Everyone makes mistakes but it is clear that some folks are writing stream of consciousness and don’t go back to edit themselves. Did I say that the content is representing you? If it looks like you are unable to string a few sentences together coherently, what message are you communicating to a potential buyer?

Writing is only one way to create content. There are many great ways to create content that is yours and here are 17 ideas to get those juices flowing. Maybe it is a presentation you create. How about conducting podcast interviews. What about a webinar you host with a panel of leaders in your industry that you invite prospects to attend, which you record and repurpose later. You might like creating short little video clips.

What I’m saying is that you need to figure out what you are most comfortable creating on your own and start there.

About that original question.

The answer isn’t yes or no. Most things are not black and white.

The answer is that salespeople need a content strategy that works for them. That much is true, and I believe it will be a mashup of the three approaches I shared in this post. It is probably a mix of 70% (other), 20% (company), and 10% (yours) in the beginning. You have to determine for yourself what will work best for you. Don’t listen to anyone insisting it has to be one way – as in you must write your own content – just because they said so. This is about your brand – not theirs! Never forget that!

Don’t School Me!

After 29 years as a sales professional, I believe that there are some things that just do not change if you expect to be successful selling. 

  1. You need to follow a repeatable sales process consistently.
  2. You need excellent consultative selling and communication skills.
  3. You need to care more about your buyers needs than your own.

When it comes to developing new business, today’s sales process includes the use of technology to network, cultivate referrals, prospect, track opportunities, prepare for sales calls, educate, present solutions and communicate with prospects. And these same steps apply when you mine for new business with existing accounts.

Communication Matters

“If you are a B2B marketer, you’re no stranger to content marketing. It’s quickly risen to the top of every marketer’s to-do list. But it’s the way that you are performing content marketing that can be the difference between gaining and losing a customer.” –Nancy Pekala

Nancy’s observation is equally applicable to sellers. The message matters!

Don’t School Me

Here is an example of a marketing message that someone needed to think about a little more carefully. As a subscriber of a popular magazine, I evidently let my subscription lapse. The magazine is one I’ve long enjoyed reading, so I have no problem with being reminded to renew. However, the way the message was phrased speaks directly to my point about messaging. The email I received began with…

“Dear BARBARA GIAMANCO:

Your subscription to XYZ magazine has expired. We have sent several letters reminding you to renew but have not received a response.

We want to continue encouraging your success. To demonstrate our commitment, by renewing your XYZ subscription today, this is our gift to you…”

I take exception to the first line and first paragraph of the message.

First, don’t scream at me by putting my name in all caps. This is basic email etiquette.

Two, don’t chastise me for not responding to your reminder letters. So what? I’m busy; you are not owed a response! What they just told me, in a not so subtle way, is that they only care about the money.

A better approach would have been to simply start with something along the lines of the second paragraph. Why not say, “We value you as a past subscriber and to welcome you back, we want to give you…”

Sales People Are Doing This Too

Marketing isn’t the only culprit here. The smart use of content to engage prospects and create credibility in advance of sales opportunities is central to a social selling strategy.

How and what you communicate is vital to selling, whether it is email, phone, face-to-face, sales presentations, social networks, texting or webinars; it needs to be done well. Nothing is sold without communicating with others. Sales people need A+ verbal skill, and in a wired, socially connected world, they better have good writing skills and understand the nuances of communicating in social networks too.  Though I hesitate to make a sweeping generalization, I’m going out on a limb and suggesting that an extremely high percentage of sales people need a lot of work in these areas.

Stop Broadcasting, Target Your Message

Typical sales and marketing messages of the written kind, whether it is email or via social networks, are one way communication and nothing more than broadcast pitches. A lot of phone calls are that way too. At the end of the day, you may think that all that activity is netting you a return, but I can say with certainty that a one-size-fits-all approach does absolutely nothing to create any true sales impact.

For example, I’m a small business owner with less than 10 employees. Your message to me should look much different than the messaging you might use when communicating with a large enterprise. My needs and theirs are very different. And unless your product or service supports a small business, why are you even sending me email or cold calling me in the first place? Someone is being paid for that activity, and it is a complete waste of time, which translates into a complete waste of money. Yet, it happens every day.

What’s the Problem?

In my opinion, management is measuring the wrong things. Activity is being measured…number of phone calls made, events attended, webinar registrations, white paper downloads, connections made or emails sent. But the quality of the activity is what you should be measuring. How can it not be obvious that 50 calls made to the wrong people, people not qualified to buy from you, is a big fat waste of resources?

Simply measuring tactical activity is a throwback from the “good ole days” of selling when coffee was for closers. If more attention isn’t paid to quality versus quantity, you won’t have anything to close, except perhaps your doors!

SocialTech Tuesday: Another Kind of Handshake

As the co-author of the second book about social selling to hit bookshelves in August 2010, I am delighted to see that a philosophical approach to selling that I began evangelizing as early as 2006 is gathering steam.

At the time that The New Handshake: Sales Meets Social Media was published individual sales contributors were testing the waters on their own. Their managers, however, snubbed their noses at the idea that using social media as part of selling could help to generate revenue. More sales leaders get it today, but we still have far to go.

Part of the social selling process relies on sales people creating a perception of expert credibility and that’s where content comes in. Largely misunderstood, I want you to think about content in the context of helping the buyer make their decision to buy from you and your company and not someone else.

Recently, I sat down with Jason Wesbecher CEO and Co-Founder of Handshakez to talk about content and a unique platform that he and his team have developed to help sales people use content to close deals. Jason is a seasoned sales leader, so I know that you’ll benefit from his perspective as much as I have.

By the way, on Thursday, June 27 at 12N Eastern, I’m hosting a complimentary webinar with Jason that you need to attend. You’ll want to see for yourself what Handshakez can do for your teams sales results!

BG: Jason, why is content such an important part of the sales process?

JW: So much of the sales process unfolds these days outside the presence of an actual salesperson.  Because of this, it has never been more important to produce and share compelling content that can help provoke your customer to ask a question, start a dialogue… to engage with you.

BG: Isn’t interacting with our prospects and sending information back and forth sort of boring and wasting time? How does Handshakez overcome that challenge?

JW: The challenge with information exchange in today’s B2B environment is that it’s done much in the same way it was 15 years ago – via email.  What’s changed, though, is the sheer amount of email customers receive these days – as much as 600 new emails per week.  That is a tremendous amount of noise that sales reps now need to cut through.  Moreover, unlike 15 years ago, there just isn’t the same social obligation associated with responding to emails today.  Customers will easily delete dozens of external emails per week without thinking twice.

BG: Sales people often spend a lot of time chasing opportunities that really aren’t opportunities. How does your platform help sales people with that?

JW: As a former technology salesperson for 17 years, I can tell you with certainty that the next best thing to a “yes” is a “fast no.”  Quickly disqualifying opportunities is a valuable skill, as it reduces the time and cost of chasing conversations that will likely never come to fruition.  Our platform is focused on fostering engaging and transparent conversations between sales teams and buying teams.  When a salesperson using Handshakez starts to see declining engagement levels during a sales cycle – or worse yet, no engagement at all – it can inform next steps, sales stage and forecastability.

BG: Why did you start the company in the first place?

JW: I have been in enterprise software for 68 quarters and flown 2 million miles, selling to some of the toughest clients in the world.  What I learned is that oftentimes it’s a dance between a sales team that has an immature or undifferentiated product and a buyer who has multiple alternatives and very complex requirements.  In other words, selling is really, really hard and only getting harder. 

BG: We all know that the length of time to close deals has only gotten longer because multiple stakeholders are involved and some have more influence than others. What are some of the benefits of using your platform to address this reality?

JW: For today’s sales professionals to be successful, they must navigate the complex politics of committees staffed with informed and frugal buyers. Successful reps in this environment tend to engage customers rather than manage them.  And they differentiate their sales process as much as their products & services.  The best reps may already do this very well, but they only account for 10-20% of your sales force.  What about the rest? 

BG: Jason, you’ve told me that the buying and selling of B2B products is one of the most opaque and adversarial processes in the world.  Does it really have to be that way?

JW: No, it doesn’t.  I started Handshakez to make the B2B sales process incrementally easier and more enjoyable for all involved by humanizing it and taking it out of email.

BG: Humanizing it. I like that a lot, Jason. I rant quite often about how I think that sales people are using technology as a substitute for great selling skills. What are your top 3 pet peeves about the way people are selling today?

JW: As CEO of a company, I am now both a salesperson and a buyer.  We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars building out our infrastructure, oftentimes with 3rd party tools and services from vendors.  My 3 pet peeves in working with these vendors have been:

  • Long PowerPoint presentations that emphasize the history and values of the vendor rather than my specific business challenge and how they can help address it.
  • Lack of awareness as to who the buyer actually is.  While I may be CEO, I generally outsource all technology decisions to my partner & CTO.  You would be surprised by how many vendors lack an appreciation for the differences between a buyer and an influencer.
  • Providing me with boilerplate vendor slicks as opposed to 3rd party content (HBR blog entries, industry best practices, etc) that can help influence my thinking.

BG: We definitely share the same pet peeves. As you know, I have strong opinions about why I believe sales people need to change their approach to selling. Why do you think it is important?

JW: Research by CSO insights suggests that only 46% of forecasted deals close.

BG: Ouch, only 46%? That’s a lot of lost revenue sitting out there. What’s the problem?

JW: After the countless hours of training and millions of dollars spent on tools, today’s B2B salesperson still has better odds at a Las Vegas craps table.  The definition of insanity is to repeat the same behaviors while expecting different results.  Handshakez helps sales reps redefine their approach, grow closer to the customer, and differentiate themselves.  We help clients close this forecast gap.

BG: Everybody talks about their ability to deliver ROI, but often they really can’t. What kind of ROI can sales leaders expect to see when their teams use your social selling platform?

JW: We help our customers realize a 10% increase in renewal rates and a 10 hour reduction per week in time each sales rep spends doing manual and administrative tasks within CRM.

BG: That’s what I would call ROI. And just think what could happen if each member of the sales team was spending 10 more hours per week on selling.

BG: Jason, I have enjoyed our conversation today, and I’m looking forward to our webinar on Thursday, June 27 at 12N Eastern.