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Many marketing and sales articles begin with a nod to an old cliché: that marketers and salespeople work in silos, taking separate, out-of-sync approaches to a common goal.

This article is no different.

It's easy to see shreds of truth to such clichés. And one area where this disconnect commonly plays out in many organizations is content strategy. The marketers may cook up an idea for a blog series highlighting various employees or promoting a slick new product feature. They keep it in-house, from ideation to publishing, and ideally they monitor performance and engagement on the backend.

Many times, however, when such content gets published, sales teams view it as off-target or ancillary to their overarching initiatives—which, they'll tell you, are to generate, nurture, and close leads. (They say "leads" and "collateral" and "marketing pieces" a lot.)

Discover a shared content direction

Solving for overall synchronization between Marketing and Sales is not something that typically happens overnight—or over the course of a blog series or two.

But there is a way to at least ensure that both teams are satisfied with the direction of the content strategy.

In most companies, Sales and Support are the main departments with an ear to the ground—interacting face-to-face or voice-to-voice, with customers. Their experience hearing customer pain points, objections, and use cases is regular and broad-reaching.

The marketing department, meanwhile, is trusted to give the brand a face and a voice. On the content side, messages and angles are conjured up from a variety of places—sometimes the C-suite, sometimes Google, sometimes the Sales bullpen, sometimes the competition, and sometimes nowhere but the eccentric recesses of the content writer's brain.

A deep, true consideration of the intended audience, however, should always be the major consideration for content marketers:

What, exactly, are your prospects and customers really talking about? Are they still talking about this? Are they ready to talk about this? What questions do they really need answered? What confuses them?

You could take an educated guess. But if that guess ends up resembling anything close to, "Nine Benefits of Using My Game-Changing Service or Product," you're probably off-base. Don't let the me-monster creep into your content (and don't use "game-changing" as an adjective).

Why not take the guesswork out of it? Get together with Sales, and ask what kind of questions they've been hearing lately. They're the ones in the wild with customers, gathering intel and absorbing information.

Find the intersection between customer feedback and search or social trends

Of course, whenever you're asking for outside collaboration, there's always the potential for anecdotal, tangential answers to surface, and those may not be all that useful.

What do you do when your sales team answers your call for collaboration by pointing you down a rabbit hole? "I had a customer ask me for a blog post explaining [insert obscure topic]. Can you write something about that?"

There's not an easy answer for that.

Here's the good news: Good content marketing often links anecdotes to data.

How do you accommodate cross-departmental suggestions while making sure your content will drive traffic and get seen by your intended audience?

Here's the easy, three-step trick to do just that:

1. Insource ideas and intel

Schedule time with different people on your customer-facing teams once or twice a month. Ask them what topics your leads and customers have been asking about lately. Ask them what parts of your industry, service, or product have been confusing their prospects and customers.

Log every idea. Show these teams that you're interested in their insights and you're taking them seriously.

Your time with them may feel unnatural at first, but the more you can build cross-departmental relationships, the more natural it will feel and the more insights you'll uncover. Listen in to sales calls. Ride along to meetings. Ask questions. Seek to understand as much as you can about their roles as a backdoor way to better understand your audience.

2. Cross-reference ideas with keyword data and social trends

Now that you have your list of ideas from customer-facing teams, it's time to figure out search and social optimization.

Prospects and customers may not always verbally ask questions the same way they'd query them on Google. Use a keyword research tool like Answer The Public, Moz, or SEMRush to find a high-search-volume match for the Sales-originated ideas.

Another area to cross-reference these ideas: social media. Tools like BuzzSumo, Sprout Social, Klout, and others can help. You can take the original idea and see how people are discussing it on social media.

3. Research the topic and write the content

Once you've verified that your list of ideas will get traction online, it's time to research and write. Perhaps you have recorded conversations from your meetings with salespeople or from your ride-alongs. Or maybe an internal subject-matter expert has brought you up to speed on the topic.

If not, here are a few ideas for easy insourcing:

  • Ask a sales or support manager to pull a few tickets for you to review about the topic.
  • Ask sales reps to bcc you on detailed emails in which they're answering thorny questions for leads.
  • Use a call-tracking or call-recording software to listen back to phone calls or demos. (CallRail's call intelligence tools, including Keyword Spotting and Call Highlights, make this tactic particularly user-friendly.)

Record a quick interview with a couple of knowledgeable colleagues.

Monitor engagement, and clearly communicate pivots and tweaks

If you've decided on a campaign, series, or general content direction in collaboration with your sales team, there's incentive for both parties to closely monitor how that content performs. Measure the traffic it's driving, and pay attention to the sources that are driving that traffic. Dive a little deeper, too: Use metrics, including average time on page, bounce rate, and exit rate, to determine how much the content is resonating with readers. Low average time on page and high bounce rate may indicate that the question you're trying to answer maybe isn't being answered so well by your content.

If you're striking out and it's becoming clear that a particular direction isn't working, or if a particular content risk you took isn't paying off in the form of traffic, conversions, and leads, you may decide to pivot and change directions. That's understandable. But for the sake of collaboration, it's critical to show your work to your sales colleagues. Explain your discovery, and let them know what directional shift you're planning to make.

You started as partners in this endeavor. Don't forget to keep them abreast of your findings and analyses to keep the buy-in ripe.

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Three Steps to Effective Customer Content and Lasting Sales-Marketing Relationships

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image of Jules Tompkins

Jules Tompkins is a Content Marketing Manager at CallRail, a call tracking and analytics platform for data-driven marketers.

CallRail provides call analytics and lead tracking tools to more than 65,000 businesses in the U.S., Canada, and internationally. See how advanced call tracking and analytics can deliver a serious boost to your marketing ROI: Try a no-obligation 14-day free trial of CallRail. (No credit card required.)