Not your daddy's sales and marketing

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What is the impact of content marketing on the roles of sales and marketing, and how does it help sales?

In the 1970s, my daddy sold photocopiers to SMEs. Trained in Dale Carnegie’s philosophy, he was soon admitted to the exclusive club formed by the top 100 sales representatives of this century-old multinational. And he taught me these lessons that have stayed with me:

  • sales and marketing hate each other
  •  the customer who comes to see you wants to buy even if there are many reasons s/he won’t today or from you
  • if you know your customers, you can sell them something

I never accepted his first tenet, even if I was often surrounded by colleagues who believed it whole-heartedly. I have always tried, in fact, to build a bridge between the strategic considerations of marketing and the more practical knowledge and needs of sales. And while I was doing this, I applied the other two fatherly lessons.

I wonder what he would have thought of content marketing. I’m sure he would have seen it as a victory for sales, and said that at last marketing was coming down from its ivory tower to understand the reality of the field.

Alternative reality

This reality is very different, however, and I don’t know that he understood the impact that the Internet was having on his old profession, however much of a silver surfer he was. The buying company now has all the information it could ever wish for at its fingertips:

  • to recognize it has a problem that needs solving
  • to define that problem and their needs – really a set of problems composed of the points of view of the users (influencers) and decision-makers (those who hold the purse-strings)
  • to research solutions instead of waiting to stumble upon them or to have them offered
  • to study, evaluate and eliminate possible solutions
  • to identify possible suppliers

In short, chance notwithstanding, when the rep and the potential customer come together today, the buying decision is already two-thirds made.

Changing reality

If we can establish contact beforehand – at the moment when the company is starting to realize it has a problem – we increase our chances of influencing how the sought-after solution will be defined and making it in our own image. This is what my dad used to do when he chatted up the receptionist to find out about their current photocopier: in 5 minutes, he knew who his competition was and what problems the user encountered with it. And he had planted the seed of the solution in her head, a seed she would pass on to her boss.

In this era of the Internet, it is relevant content that sows the seed and nurtures it at every stage of the buying process, through the channels in which we publish it. But to make it available, we need to understand our target audiences (remembering that several people are involved in the decision), their aims and their concerns, and respond to them precisely. Sales has this information for the most part. It is marketing’s role to gather it, organise it according to the buying cycle, plan with sales the content to provide at each stage of the cycle, produce it and publish it so it reaches the targets (SEO, social media), and try to start a conversation between and with the targets through the social networks. It’s marketing really serving sales, to help them get signatures.

This might seem very different from what my daddy knew but, since he was a practical man, I know he would have liked its pragmatism and recognized in content marketing the same approach he had, re-engineered for the Internet age.

In memory of my father, John Morris (1943-2010)