There has been a long-standing gap between sales and marketing departments. This misalignment can cause frustrations on both sides, and result in a great deal of wasted effort.

Marketing might be generating consistent leads for the sales team, but when only a portion of those leads close, they probably feel like the sales team is wasting opportunities and not bothering to follow up.

On the other hand, sales representatives might grow frustrated and feel like they could close more if marketing could just provide them with better-quality leads.

Do these conflicts sound familiar?

You’d be surprised by how much streamlined modes of communication could resolve these problems. One study from Demand Gen showed that nearly 50% of marketing and sales executives agree that communication is the biggest obstacle to overcome when bridging the gap between the two departments.

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But aligning these two teams is absolutely critical if you want to see your sales numbers improve. As much as 44% of sales representatives have an 80% probability of not closing a sale.

If you want to greatly increase the number of leads your sales team can close, then your best bet is encouraging them to work more closely with their marketing comrades and learn to leverage content more effectively in the sales process.

An Aberdeen Group study confirmed as much: organizations with closely-working, well-aligned sales and marketing teams achieved an average 32% year-over-year growth. Meanwhile, companies that suffered from the usual divide between sales and marketing experienced a 7% decrease in revenue.

That paints a pretty clear picture of which side of the fence you want to be on.

Your marketing team is using content to generate inbound leads for you and other sales representatives, but the content they produce (and other content you find) can also help you transform far more leads into customers.

Here’s how you can do it.

1. Build an Authoritative Personal Brand

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Although your primary role at your company is in sales, you can still position yourself as a thought leader in areas like marketing, business, and customer service. In this position, the only thing you’re selling is your ideas.

Thought leadership is not going to directly increase your sales, because you can’t subtly inject a sales pitch into the content you create and share. Your audience will see right through it. It’s a glaringly obvious tactic that will only turn off otherwise-promising prospects.

What will help grow sales is creating a human connection with your audience and using content in a way that is truly useful for their unique needs.

You can leverage social channels like LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Facebook to connect with your leads and prospects. Through those channels, you can share your company’s content and other content you find on the web in order to shine a light on solutions to the problems that plague your audience.

“While speaking and networking events afford you a level of intimacy, social media affords you a wider net,” writes Jayson Demers, founder of AudienceBloom. “You can scale your visibility faster, meet larger numbers of new people and eventually round out your online profile for any interested parties to see.”

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Freely providing your own informative content will actively build trust with your readers, in addition to painting you as someone with credible knowledge. Research has proven that customers want to do business with people they like and trust, and more than 90% of buyers would prefer to engage with a professional if they see them as a thought leader.

You can unlock the potential of your personal brand through social media in many different ways. You can:

  • Create social accounts specifically for your sales role or simply use your personal accounts (I recommend separating personal from business accounts, however).
  • Start curating content that is interesting and helpful for your audience.
  • Schedule posts that include a mix of corporate content and curated content.
  • Invite every one of your leads to connect with you on your social channels (place links in your email signature).
  • Tag specific leads if you feel a certain piece of content is highly relevant to them or email them and let them know, “Hey, I just shared this on <social network> and thought you might find it useful. Here’s the link. If you want to connect with me on <social network>, you’ll see a lot more great stuff like this from me.”

2. Use Content to Nurture Relationships and Close More Leads

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Most organizations focus their content efforts on the inbound, using it at the top of the funnel to pull the attention of visitors and fill the funnel with leads.

According to MarketingSherpa, 79% of leads never convert into sales due to a lack of relationship-building and lead-nurturing. That’s why content shouldn’t disappear from your sales strategy just because a visitor converts into a lead.

Content is one of the most effective tools for building relationships with your leads, and I’m not just talking about pushing content that supports selling the product or service.

You’ll be amazed at how your prospects begin to respond when you and the marketing team provide them with content that is highly relevant to them based on your initial conversations.

Not only do nurtured leads generate 50% more sales, but they also tend to make 47% larger purchases because you’ve shown them that you pay attention and you’re willing to address their specific concerns.

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There are several ways to improve your lead relationships with the help of content:

  • Work with your marketing team to create lead-nurturing email campaigns targeted at new leads
  • Stay in tune with any new content created by the marketing team and share it with your leads
  • Create a round-up email that includes the best of relevant industry content and send it to your leads each week
  • Find older but relevant company articles and send them to leads; include bullet points on a few reasons why you think they’ll find the content helpful
  • Build out your own email list so you can send targeted content to your leads

3. Develop and Share Content Based on Pain Points

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Life would be a lot simpler if B2B sales had a shorter funnel that more closely resembled Ecommerce or retail. That would certainly make it easier to close.

The fact remains that some products and services, especially those with higher price points, can take a longer time for customers to reach a purchase decision on. During that waiting period, your relationship, trust and engagement with prospects can decay. A regular barrage of phone calls and emails to “check up” provides little value and won’t salvage a decaying relationship.

For some prospects, bombarding them with messages might even be considered a nuisance or a complete turn-off. Don’t rely on communication strategies – such as constantly checking in to see where they’re at – that are likely to backfire.

“Your leads are people, not just email addresses,” says Ellen Gomes, content marketing specialist at Marketo. “Personalize your messages by speaking to each lead about his industry, his pain point, his stage in the buying cycle, etc. Personalization may sound like a lot of work, but the right marketing automation platform can make it simple and scalable.”

Content can help you reach out and maintain productive engagement with prospects by focusing on the value of what you’re sharing rather than persistently trying to close a deal. When you’re only reaching out to share the newest white paper, blog or fascinating study you found, there are no immediate objections to overcome because you’re not trying to sell anything yet.

This is where I recommend engaging in research conversations with your prospects to uncover pain points, needs, and objections that are the root causes for the prolongated close cycle.

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When you discover new objections or insight, take action to counter them:

  • Share objections and pain points with marketing so they can produce new content that addresses the issues, then share this valuable information with your leads
  • Find existing content in your toolkit or other content on the web that addresses specific pain points and objections

4. Turn Your Prospects Into Sales Champions

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Unless you’re dealing directly with a startup founder, CEO or owner during a sale, the chances are good that the buying process looks something like this:

  1. Prospect reaches out/opts-in for information
  2. You provide initial information and consult, then schedule a follow-up meeting
  3. Prospect takes this information and compares your product or service to your competition
  4. Prospect reports to department head or leadership team with comparison reports to weigh their options, or they have already narrowed down their search to a specific solution (hopefully yours)
  5. Leadership team weighs benefits and value vs. costs and deployment
  6. Leadership may ask to negotiate, get answers to questions or pass the information further up the chain

This process can vary wildly for every company, but one thing remains consistent: at the point when your conversation ends and the prospect turns inward to their leadership, you’re out of the game. The ball is in the prospect’s court to sell the value up the chain.

And that can be a long chain. According to MarketingCharts, the average B2B tech purchase can involve as many as 7 decision makers within a company.

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Rather than leave it to your prospect to sell the value based on bulleted notes from a call, provide them with content that helps them close the sale on their side.

Some of the best types of content for turning your prospects into champions of your brand include:

  • Industry research reports and relevant data
  • Case studies and success stories; positive user-generated content can tip the scales in your favor
  • White papers and infographics that highlight pain point-specific data and solutions

During those early conversations, let your prospect know, “I’m going to send you a few things I believe will help you in your decision process, including some great industry data and independent research.”

Not only will this help them sell it at the executive level, but it can also encourage them to forgo comparison shopping if they already feel like you’re the right solution.

5. Work Closely with Your Marketing Team

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Communication is critical throughout the sales process – not just with your leads, but with the marketing team as well. However, achieving better alignment between sales and marketing doesn’t just result in better content creation to help sales more effectively respond to buyers’ objections.

Improving communication makes everyone’s job easier across the board, including yours.

The marketing department has likely done a significant amount of research into understanding who your target audience is, even going so far as to divide that audience into subgroups so they can craft more targeted content based on specific demographic details.

Buyer personas are typically theoretical with some basis in factual data and customer metrics. As a sales rep, you’re dealing directly with customers. You’re the first to hear about specific pain points and objections or barriers to closing the deal.

Communicating this information to marketing can help them refine their content and marketing strategies to better communicate value and solutions based on pain points and objections they might not have considered without your help. That means better-qualified leads into the funnel, and a reduction in lead-to-close time.

More importantly, you can review key metrics with the marketing team to refine the content that your team is using to close. Here are a few things you might want to discuss with marketing:

  • What type of content was used to help close?
  • Which content is the most effective?
  • Has the addition of certain topics or content types shortened the buying process?
  • Can any conversions be attributed to specific pieces of content?

The resulting insight into what’s working and what isn’t (and where bottlenecks arise in the process) can be extremely powerful when it comes to improving content use during the buyer’s journey.

It’s also just as important for the marketing department to communicate with sales and share information. This keeps sales in the loop and aware of new campaigns or changes to existing marketing.

“Sending updates on active marketing campaigns not only helps you stay visible, but also helps prepare your sales team to follow up with the inbound leads you’re generating,” writes Ellie Mirman, former director of marketing for HubSpot.

“At HubSpot, we send a weekly ‘This Week in Marketing’ email to our sales team on all the marketing campaigns they’ll likely hear about from leads over the phone, or through notes in Salesforce. This email includes a short description of the campaign, links to the landing pages and content offers themselves, and suggested sound bytes for following up with leads engaged in the campaign.”

6. Curate Content Specific to Individual Needs

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Communicating with your leads is just as important as communicating with your marketing team, but sometimes the content created by your company isn’t always enough to seal the deal.

Don’t be afraid to look outside of your own resources and curate content from other reputable sources. Sharing this type of content shows prospects that you’re not just trying to promote your own brand. Instead, you’re legitimately interested in helping them.

Paying close attention and listening to your leads can provide a lot of insight into what you should share with them.

For example, if you see that one of your leads has posted openings for new employee positions, you have an opportunity to share a guide on “What to Look for When Hiring for X Position.” If your lead talks about other projects at their company that are barriers in closing, such as a new website launch, recommend some great articles on website redesign to improve UX and conversion optimization.

Here are some tools to help you simplify content curation and sharing with your followers:

  • Quuu.co for hand-picked curated content
  • Alltop.com for content feeds based on an industry or topic
  • Buffer.com for scheduling content on various social platforms

What are some ways you and your sales team use content to close sales? Share your tactics with me in the comments below. I’d love to hear about your successes:

Comments
  1. I read this concluding both sales and marketing were salaried and sales staff was inside and likely inbound. After 30+ years as a solopreneur (outside direct sales – manufacturers reps) my experience was completely different. I was commissioned -only and 100% dependent on my efforts. I also field-trained new reps. There was no “marketing content leveraging”, at least not in any formal sense. We cold called businesses and asked for referrals to generate our leads. My goal and that of my trainees was 8 fresh, self-generated leads a day. If we only achieved 25% of that goal, we each had 1000 fresh and partially qualified leads a year. Titles meant little…we knew what a likely buyer’s profile was, though we seldom knew up front a name or title. There was no relationship nurturing as it is defined in today’s business world. I taught new reps to build “Heroes” out of buyers. Employer look favorably on buyers who actively solve real problems that affect the company’s financial future. Heroes also tend to be loyal to those who “Knighted” them. After the close of a sale, new or repeat business, boldly ask for a referral and ask the buyer to give the referral a quick intro call. Marketing teams do create the silent sales rep…usually in the form of a document that could be left after an appointment with the intent it would be studied before I returned. All of the effort of commissioned sales reps is intended to prepare for the next close. If memory serves, the average number of closing attempts was 11. But that was dependent on the product and on the buyers immediate requirements and circumstances and had little to do with marketing effort. DIRECT SELLING IS ALWAYS ABOUT PERSISTENCE AND TO A LESSER EXTENT…TIMING!

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