If you’re a content marketing professional who is anything like me, I feel for you. But let’s set that aside for the moment.
If you’re a content marketer, you might be overlooking one of the best sources of intel regarding how your target audience talks and—just as important—how they don’t talk.
Here’s the thing, good people: Search data can be instructive. It can also be misleading. At the very least, it needs to be gut-checked against the experience of the experts who continuously interact with, and listen closely to, the decision makers and influencers your company needs to reach. Who are these mysterious experts?
Your company’s sales force.
Look to your left. Look to your right. One of those people might be a salesperson.
To forge a good working relationship with salespeople around content marketing, you have to remember that the demands on their time are already quite high, their leadership is understandably protective of their attention, and in some cases their insights and best ideas were previously hoovered up to create resources or wins for which they didn’t receive any real credit.
So it’s critical to be a conscientious colleague. Put yourself in their shoes and approach working with them as a two-way street, rather than a one-way value-extraction operation.
The glorious benefits of working with salespeople
Let’s look at a simple example from the world of revenue cycle management (RCM).
Imagine you work for a company that sells software and hardware solutions designed to help providers accept and process patient payments, verify patient insurance and coverage details, and estimate patients’ financial obligation before they receive care.
Further imagine that your company has two sales teams—one focused on small and medium-sized outpatient facilities, and one focused on large hospitals and health systems. Finally, imagine that you, the snazzily dressed content marketer, need to develop content that helps generate quality leads for both teams.
Step one is understanding the same messaging won’t necessarily work for all audiences. Step two is making sure you gut-check the messaging and language you do use with the salespeople who talk to those audiences every day, and pick their brain for what makes the relevant decision makers perk up their ears. Doing so will ensure you don’t mix messaging when it needs to be segmented, and that you don’t waste time segmenting your messaging where it doesn’t need to occur.
For small and medium-sized providers, topics and terms related to the above example might include “front office,” “patient payments,” or “patient collections.”
But an executive at a health system might see those same terms and think, “this content isn’t really intended for me.” Why? Because their ears and eyes are more attuned to terms such as “patient financial services” (PFS), “patient access,” and “patient financial responsibility.” In addition, they might hear/read “patient collections” as an outsourcing service, rather than a function conducted in-house as part of PFS.
That’s the kind of real-world insight you gain from working with your salespeople. And when you have it, you not only have the ammo needed to self-optimize your content marketing work product—you also have grounded insight that can inform your paid search and advertising, your booth materials, keyword research, direct mail campaigns, and all other marketing activities that involve copy in one capacity or another.
Pull up a chair and stay awhile
As I mentioned above, to truly harness the power of your sales team’s insight, you have to step up with respect. Here are a few suggested best practices based on my experience of getting it wrong and getting it less wrong:
Don’t schedule a stupid meeting. Examples of stupid meetings include:
- Any meeting that takes place during that salesperson’s most critical or productive selling hours. (Ask them what day/time is best.)
- Any meeting that cuts into their time at the end of the month or end of the quarter.
- A meeting in which you give a lengthy presentation or introduce yet another spreadsheet where they’re supposed to do or track something.
- A meeting scheduled based on assumed interest or assumed uniform interest. Talk to the sales managers a little first; they’ll know who to connect you to.
Ask if it’s OK to just kind of hang out and work on your own stuff while you absorb what they’re saying to prospects, upsell clients, and each other. Not everyone is comfortable with this approach, and not every office setup is conducive to it, but pulling up a chair and being a fly on the wall (or wherever the chair is) is a great way to gain insight and generate new content ideas. Even better, it cuts down on the additional demands you’re placing on sales folks’ time and attention.
Snacks never hurt nobody. You’re a guest in their world. Bring some good coffee, some quality cookies, a bag of dang fine tangelos—whatever floats your bobber. If you really, really have to schedule a stupid meeting, spring for lunch. These are gestures of respect, but they’re also a helpful way to get and keep the conversation going. Based on careful research, I can tell you it’s called breaking bread for a reason.
Look for ways to help them. Whether it’s copy-editing a high-profile email, showing them a Microsoft Word or Google Docs trick, or helping them navigate a byzantine content management system, there are countless ways your skills can turn the hangout into a more equitable exchange.
Celebrate and reward. Make sure their bosses (and, as appropriate, their bosses’ bosses) are aware of the their extra effort and contributions—after you demonstrate qualitative and/or quantitative improvement.
Summing up: Snacks are key, content is king
Pair this approach with an overall sound marketing and PR strategy, and your prospect audience(s) will experience a seamless content funnel that feels almost perfectly tailored to their interests—one that makes them want to learn more.