Push marketing. Pull marketing. Content marketing. Social selling. Sales enablement.

This article should begin with a brief glossary...

Push marketing is a traditional marketing approach. A brand aims to promote to large groups via media channels—i.e., advertising. In the digital age, this form of marketing has gotten a bad rep—and, often, achieved diminishing results.

Pull marketing is the sweetheart of new media. It's supposed to "pull" customers to the brand through search, social, and other non-intrusive methods. Ideally, the customer wants to consume the marketing content the brand publishes.

Content marketing, simply put, is the publishing of relevant content that attracts and retains customers.

Social selling is the process of developing relationships, via social media, as part of the sales process.

Sales enablement is marketers' supporting salespeople with the content, training, and analytics Sales needs to build relationships and win business.

Are we good?

I'm not encouraging you to take a stance on any of this stuff yet. Just know this: All the above are in the playbook that people in marketing and sales use to work together to grow their business via digital channels. That joint effort is part of "Sales and Marketing alignment." (Our glossary expands.)

But didn't the new world order make push marketing old?

Maybe it did. Craig Davis, Chief Creative Officer of J. Walter Thompson, famously said, "We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in." (Fun flashback here, foreshadowing the content marketing revolution.)

If there was ever a content marketing lightning bolt, that's it right there. Let's break it down...

Interruption = bad. Who wants to be interrupted? No one.

So, as consumers, we filter out advertising wherever we can, however we can. As marketers, we adopt a publishing model, and in this new paradigm we focus on publishing informative content. Make a commitment to that strategy, and it works.

But, getting back to Craig's statement: When we are what people are interested in, essentially we are a trusted source of information that helps them make useful decisions.

A focus on sales enablement delivers serious results

To get to where I'm going, I need to move on to the clunky but important idea of "sales enablement." No need to overthink it. Let's just say the scope of a successful content marketer isn't only to get leads; it's to also use his or her talent, resources, and magical powers to convert leads to sales.

How's that done? There's no easy answer, but a useful answer is, Equip the salesperson with content that will help close deals. In other words, become a supplier in the social selling process.

"The glue between Sales and Marketing, sales enablement helps measure the effectiveness of content assets, messaging, and collateral that are sent to buyers," writes social selling expert Jamie Shanks of SalesforLife. "There is a significant uplift with organizations that have solidified this alignment."

In a post on his blog, Jamie examines how best-in-class sales enablement teams operate, and cites Aberdeen Group research that found companies with a sales enablement content strategy in place excelled at creating a reliable pipeline with higher revenues.

The research found that best-in-class sales-enabled companies outperformed the competition, on average generating twice as much total company revenue and twice the average deal size; sales-enabled sellers massively outperformed their competitors in lead conversion as well.

Mapping sales enablement to the buying cycle

The process begins with a strategy that maps buyers to the purchasing cycle (or sales funnel). The big idea: create content that the salesperson can use with maximum impact—content based on the potential buyer's specific needs at a given moment.

If you have created buyer personas that detail the essential demographics and psychographics, including the pain points, of your customers, you then proceed to break down their information needs at various stages. Commonly, this is done by using a model that separates the process into the top, middle, and bottom of the sales funnel.

Top of the funnel (TOFU)

The focus at the top of the funnel is to achieve awareness and begin to build a relationship with someone new to the company. Reasonable objectives at this stage include inspiring some form of social media engagement and persuading the person to subscribe to your email list.

In most cases, your content should focus on helping readers address a specific challenge they grapple with in life or work. Common content types at the TOFU stage include blog posts, infographics, and social media.

Middle of the funnel (MOFU)

Here, your prospects have demonstrated interest. They could be considering purchasing your solution, and so your content should assist them with the process. The content types mentioned at the TOFU stage are still fair game; however, in the MOFU stage, you'll aim to deliver more targeted content, preferably in a more personalized way, such as email.

The implication for social selling is that the marketing department supplies the salesperson specific content in accordance with the prospect's needs. The objective, as you might imagine, is to move the person to a closing stage. In addition to typical TOFU content, the salesperson might deliver case studies, e-books, whitepapers, industry research, and product comparisons.

Bottom of the funnel (BOFU)

This is the customer's decision stage. The salesperson's objective is to close a deal. The marketer's job is to help make that happen. Ideally, your content should establish your company as a leader that can deliver the greatest value.

The sales team might be equipped with all the content formats I have mentioned thus far, but be ready to dispense additional content that aims for the bull's eye. A customized presentation might be ideal. Other content for closing deals might include product assessments, product guides, and live demonstrations.

Collaborate for better results

"Fully 60 to 70 percent of content churned out by b-to-b marketing departments today sits unused," according to SiriusDecisions.

Ouch. That sad fact, documented all over the Web in various forms, helps us zoom in on an important new objective: Marketing people need to give Sales people content they need and will use to win business.

Pekka Koskinen, founder and CEO of Leadfeeder, sees it happening: "In my experience, today's marketing departments are working more closely with their sales counterparts to address the needs of B2B buyers and nurture leads."

"This is exactly where advanced content analytics and sales intelligence tools...come into play," Koskinen told me. "When you know which of your published topics are getting the most attention from your most valuable individual prospects, you're able to engage with them with relevant content recommendations."

The way there is to create a collaborative process that includes three steps:

Step 1. Map the buyer's journey

Create a content map applying the "funnel" ideas covered above. Identify the content you have for each phase, as well as the content you still need. Marketers and salespeople must dig into this process together and get specific: What questions need to be answered at each stage, and how should the answers be presented so the content will be useful for the sales process?

Step 2. Create a content awareness initiative

Social selling is an impossible dream if Sales flies blind, unaware of what content exists, where it is, and how to use it. An occasional meeting may not be the answer. Develop a process that ensures salespeople are up to date (and up to speed) on the "inventory."

When new content becomes available, it needs to be not only announced but also explained—and, possibly, evaluated. Explain the target buyer, stage of the funnel, and key points. You might provide examples for how to use the content. Ask for feedback and respond accordingly.

Step 3. Enable content personalization

Your salespeople will often want to personalize specific pieces of content for each prospect. In the next section, we'll look at ways you can accommodate this important need.

Prepare to personalize

Content might close deals, but the reality is...

  • It usually takes a salesperson.
  • It always involves one or morebuyers—often several.
  • A one-to-one, personalized interaction is more likely to get the job done.

Content... sales person... customer... social selling... sales enablement...

They can all come together in a powerful way with personalized content. So why not work with your salespeople to make it happen?

I suppose the argument against this approach is "time." For instance, it's seldom going to be realistic to create a blog post or e-book for a single prospect. Content marketers need to be more efficient than that; they need to devote their time to creating content with inherent scalability.

However, a few potentially effective—and efficient—ideas come to mind:

  • The flexible FAQ: All day, every day, salespeople are tasked with answering specific questions from prospects. Why not create a modular FAQ that a salesperson can easily customize? Per the needs of the prospect, the seller might add, subtract, and modify questions and answers, and prioritize the FAQ.
  • Modular sales scripts: Unless you want your salesforce to sound like mindless robots, you're not going to ask them to memorize scripts. However, marketers can help salespeople cover the important issues with some form of a "talking points" script. Much like the approach to the FAQ, here again you can make this tactic more effective by making it modular and customizable.
  • Semi-DIY sales decks: This one's important, I think; if left to their own devices, salespeople are bound toss together slide decks that simply don't represent the brand well. Marketing should take the lead, but it should also encourage collaboration.

    PowerPoint and Keynote (or other slide-creation applications) are highly flexible tools. The strategy I like here is for the marketing team to develops the design, the key slides, and the structure, while allowing the salesperson a DIY option for personalization.
  • Customizable comparisons: In the MOFU and BOFU stages, in particular, prospects are likely to want to compare your solutions with those of your competitors. Be proactive by helping them get exactly what they want: Equip your salespeople with visually appealing product comparisons. Here, again, consider how the product comparison can be easily customized to make it the timely and specific tool the salesperson needs.
  • Customizable proposals: There's no reason the sales proposal itself shouldn't be considered content. In fact, a modular approach to generating custom proposals could enable a salesperson to include any or all of the elements discussed here.
  • Personalized email: Interaction with a lead developed from social channels is sure to evolve into email exchanges. Much like the modular and customizable strategies I've offered, marketers can and should offer assistance with email marketing to help the salesperson shine via the medium.

    Equip the sales team with templates for follow-up, outreach, checking-in emails, presenting content, etc. Try to anticipate the email requirements for as many prospect interaction types as possible.
  • Personalized social media updates: Social selling, obviously, involves the frequent use of social media. Here, content marketers can be immensely helpful by creating a library of ready-to-go updates on a channel-by-channel basis. Of course, those too should be customizable. They should also be revisited often.

Un-can the canned content

Many of the ideas I've shared are conventional in that they're staples of the sales communications process, but it remains unconventional that marketers get involved in them. However, it's easy to see why this level of Marketing and Sales alignment and teamwork can create immense results.

That said, the lion's share of the content marketer's daily job is going to be creating content for the masses (or at least a wider audience): blog posts, whitepapers, infographics, etc. The finished product is generally just that: finished. But there's no reason a "canned" piece of content can't be "un-canned" in its presentation to prospects.

As you make strides to help salespeople become more successful with social selling, you'll focus on both pull and push marketing tactics. You're likely to pull with social updates, blog posts, and various lead magnets; but when a prospect enters the buying cycle, much of the same content can and should be "pushed" via one-on-one communication exchanges initiated by the salespeople.

Help the cause by developing ways to make these interactions less canned. As a content marketer dedicated to the social selling efforts of your company, prepare salespeople with ideas to use when working a lead via email, LinkedIn, or any channel. Doing so might be as simple as developing a process where the salespeople remain perpetually aware of the content assets they can use, how they can be best applied, and how they can be shared for maximum effect.

The goal of content development is to serve the business, which includes selling. One of the ways content marketers can better make their contributions count is by focusing efforts on creating content for salespeople.

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The Content Marketer's Approach to Successful Social Selling and Sales Enablement

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image of Barry Feldman

Barry Feldman is the author of SEO Simplified for Short Attention Spans. Barry operates Feldman Creative and provides content marketing consulting, copywriting, and creative direction services. He contributes to top marketing sites and was named one of 25 Social Media Marketing Experts You Need to Know by LinkedIn. To get a piece of his mind, visit his blog, The Point.

Twitter: @FeldmanCreative

LinkedIn: Barry Feldman