Content Marketing / 12.04.15

What Kind of Content Do Salespeople Want Most?

By Jeremy Frank
Content marketers may have one title, but most often have several roles and audiences. When I worked at ServiceMax, I produced content for the lead generation team, developed programming with the events team, drafted keynotes for executives, managed the media property Field Service Digital and more. But out of my multitude of roles, the most challenging responsibility I faced was producing content for our sales team.

Why? Three reasons:

  1. It was hard to tell if the content they wanted was broadly useful or just to help out a current deal.
  2. They didn’t always get the value of editorial and non-company/non-product related content.
  3. Content needed to be packaged a certain way in order for them to actually use it.

Over time, it was clear that the best way to figure out the type of content your salespeople want is to ask them — several times, over and over again, to make sure you’re getting the full picture, and not just a snapshot of an immediate need. For example, a rep working a deal with an auto manufacturer may say they want more auto case studies, but perhaps that’s not a big industry for the rest of the team. It’s okay to help reps on certain individual deals if it makes sense, but try to focus on the broader needs when you can. Often you will get a more general request for content (i.e. “Proof that the industry is moving toward automation”) and it’s up to you to determine the approach and the medium (video, blogpost, infographic, webinar, etc.)

It can be hard to pin down a salesperson (tip: don’t reach out at the end of a quarter), but well worth the effort. To give you a head start, I threw a few questions at three B2B sales reps to better understand the kind of content they love to receive, and the kind of content they’ll just toss away. They requested to remain anonymous, but are all from well-known companies and their feedback aligns with my experience with sales reps throughout my career.

What types of content are best for closing deals?

The reps responded unanimously here — compelling customer stories. Reps want to be able to show a potential customer a success story in a similar industry with proven results. They consider it the “holy grail” of bottom-of-the-funnel marketing. It’s also one of the hardest types of content to execute well, but done right, all three of these reps agree, it can be the difference between closing a deal and losing it.

One rep said it well: Customer stories “should focus on quantifiable data around how we’ve had an impact on a similar company. Very few companies want to be guinea pigs. They’re making an investment in your product — financially and in terms of their career — and want to have confidence in a positive outcome.”

How much value do they see in non-promotional content, such as industry trend stories and how-to’s?

Content marketers generally include educational content (i.e. “how-to” content, guides, advice, lessons learned) as part of their top-of-the-funnel efforts, and may not expect sales reps to see the value of it. Not so fast — all of the reps agreed that this type of content, while it may not necessarily be instrumental in closing a deal, is always helpful to move a deal along.

As one rep said, “It’s more [of a ] validation of the company’s focus than anything else. It won’t win you a deal, but it will strengthen your message and can be a differentiator.”

The word “trusted advisor” is thrown around quite a bit in sales circles these days when it comes to identifying the ideal “voice” of strategic content — whether it’s a blog, a case study or a long-form e-book. Another rep mentioned that she “likes staying abreast of industry news and latest strategies because it’s important to my role as an advisor to the client.” And reps often look to marketing as the source of such information.

Validation seems to be the biggest theme here, though. Industry content (such as industry data reports or future vision content ) and educational content assures customers that they are working with a good partner, thinking strategically and making smart decisions.

What kinds of content do they hate?

Two out of three reps answered “really long PowerPoints.” Marketing teams often will try to think about all the different things a sales rep might need to address in a sales meeting and create a slide for each one. It’s a lot of work, but represents the easy route. What’s not easy? Figuring out how to provide reps with just a few slides that tell a clear, powerful story.

You, as the marketer, don’t need to cover all possible angles because sales reps customize every deck they present. Give them the cake — they’ll put the frosting on it.

Content marketers need to work a little harder to figure out what they really want. While it’s true that content marketers focus more on top-of-the-funnel content, and product marketing teams typically supply salespeople with what they need to close deals, content managers are in the best position to make bottom-of-the-funnel content great — whether it’s case studies, customer videos, or product info. Step in and be an editor for your product marketing team — a little help can go a long way.

Jeremy Frank, Vice President of Content Strategy
Jeremy has more than 10 years of experience in content and communications working both in-house and agency-side. Prior to Original9, Jeremy was director of content marketing at ServiceMax (and an O9 client!). Jeremy loves fly fishing, and would be happy to tell you why it has a lot in common with content marketing.