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Content Marketing Essentials: What Can You Learn from Sales Experts


By Ivan Brezak Brkan, December 30, 2016

Yes, sales. And no – I’m not talking about the Alec Baldwin’s loud method from Glengarry Glen Ross that you need to learn to sell more through your posts. If anything, most content marketers should know how to be Robin to Baldwin’s aggressive “always be closing” Batman, nurturing leads through content instead of selling to them head first.

But let’s focus on the skills and habits that are natural to (good) sales teams, which can help you become better at “selling content”. This article is intended for both new and experienced content marketing professionals to see what they can learn from their colleagues in sales, as well as for the sales professionals who recognize that they need to understand how to nurture their leads in prospects to be ahead of the game in 2017.

You might be surprised at what “selling content” actually is…

1. Activities, Not ‘Just’ Results as KPIs For Your Content

One of the mistakes inexperienced salespeople and teams make is that they decide that the KPIs that they will define as their goal are based on how much they need to bring in, to earn from their deals. It only seems natural to do so because “selling” seems to be synonymous with results.

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In activity-based selling, you keep your focus on your actions. You operate on the knowledge that you’ll get better results by completing key steps with a prospect, and repeating these same steps with all your other prospects, straying only where necessary to customize for the customer. And — this is perhaps the toughest part — you must not worry about results while you’re taking these actions. Timo Rein, Pipedrive

However, you have NO CONTROL over how much you earn, because there are so many factors that are beyond your control – such as market conditions, the services you sell, etc. Selling is made up of two parts: the actions that make the sale and the actual closing of the sale. While the latter is important in the result-driven world of sales, the former is largely forgotten.

The only aspect you can truly control in sales are the activities you output, which is why a new favorite for sales people are activity-based KPIs. How many calls do they make? How many emails do they send? How many meetings they go to?

These activities are under your control, as is researching your topics, making many different images to test, proactively creating social media content, etc. While content marketing is also result-driven and you might have a goal of certain number of pageviews or leads from your blog; just deciding on the results without thinking of the process is a slippery slope.

If you focus on your content marketing activities that you can 100% achieve, you’re far more likely to be successful in achieving your goals. The content creation pipeline and sales pipeline really have a lot in common, and practices of one can sometimes be well adopted into the other.

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2. Setup and Re-Setup Your ‘Content’ Pipeline

‘How to write a blog’ is probably one of the most common searches for both new content marketers and experienced ones that want to remind themselves what’s important in a field that has been called many names and has most recently evolved from corporate blogging and owned media management to content marketing.

‘How to set up a sales pipeline’ is its equivalent in the sales world.

Finding either won’t guarantee that your content or sales pipeline setups are ready for success, just based on general guidelines that have probably been copy-pasted to death. While that would be great, there’s no “blueprint” for a perfect setup for either. Each sales team is specific as is your blog, its goals, KPIs, and team.

Example: As a WordPress blogger, if you download any of the popular editorial calendar plugins such as Editorial Calendar, most of the phases your blog posts need to go through are preset in order to make it easy for users to get started. Most, however, don’t question these setups and think of them as best-of-breed use cases.

While the default sales pipeline is made up of a prospect or lead phase, a sales team might have a pre-research phase that they understand that they need even before these. Because sales teams look at their pipelines all-day-long, making it work better seems natural.

Focus on the goals that you CAN achieve, and you'll surely achieve them.

Bloggers and content marketers, on the other hand, seem to setup – and pray. “Plan” your post and then “Write it”. Great plan, but does this “pipeline” get you through all the real-life activities you are focused on from our previous point? Probably not.

In order to be more productive, a list of random tasks won’t help. You’ll end up thinking of what activities to do in what order – every single time you create a piece of content. Isn’t it far easier to think of your particular process, consider what order makes the most sense and then guide your content through your pipeline to keep it healthy? Just like selling, except with the process of creating things of great value, which are, in fact, your products.

A pipeline’s health would be obvious by the phases you see that you are losing customers at. By checking your content marketing’s pipeline and where your content is getting slowed down, you’ll improve your processes! Not just one piece of content, but the system that improves all of them.

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3. Some Content Marketing Ideas rot (and Some Should be Recovered)

Some deals can fall through the cracks or just stay on the sidelines, becoming “rotting”. An activity isn’t finished, a client doesn’t respond, a deal just stays where it is in our already optimized sales pipeline. Content marketers will have a similar situation with “rotting” content pieces.

You might have a great concept and plan for an infographic or blog posts, but something went wrong during the process and now it seems there’s no chance of publishing it and getting the results you need. So what do we do as content creators? We delete those ideas.

Just as you won’t buy food thinking that it won’t get cooked, you won’t add content to your editorial calendar thinking it won’t get published. So when it doesn’t get published, the natural inclination is to get rid of it, throw it away.

Know where your content is getting slowed down, and fix it right then and there.

Unlike rotting food and more akin to rotting sales deals, rotting content pieces can and should be maintained. Since you are now focused on activity-based selling, you can give your content pieces multiple due dates based on the activities you need to take care so when you see it rotting in a particular phase, you can:

  • Pivot a topic that doesn’t seem to fit right to a better-suited one based on new circumstances. A lot of the times you’ll see the potential of a topic only when you start outlining or even producing it.
  • Delegate the content to a colleague if the author just can’t keep up with the publishing dates. While the interpretation of the content might be different, it doesn’t mean it won’t be better.

Some CRM providers believe that rotting is so important that they have made it a feature of their sales software. What’s keeping you from making “rotting” a way of refreshing your content marketing ideas?

So now that you’re armed with more ideas and arguments, you can kickstart your content marketing and start using content to give your sales a boost, because if your content is great, and you sell it well, there’s really no limits on how successful it can be. Try it out, and see for yourself, and while you’re at it, consider giving your content a great place to live on the web, like a nice cozy .ME domain. We promise we’ll take good care of your blog!


Author:

Ivan Brezak Brkan

The founder of the "Techcrunch of Southeastern Europe" - Netokracija - and ex-Techcrunch writer with years of experience writing about startups, technology and the domain industry!

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