Buyers today are making the majority of their decisions before talking to a salesperson. Are you putting out the information they need to see before buying?
You should be. Welcome to the new content marketing imperative for sales. It’s easier and more inexpensive than ever to distribute valuable content to your market, giving the information prospective buyers want and need to inform their buying decisions.
In this episode of Modern Sales, I’ll tell you why content marketing is so crucial, why you don’t need to create the content yourself, and the steps you can take today to start using it. We are continuing the #SellersBecomeMarketers series, where we’re talking about the huge shift in sales that demands we all become marketers, too.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
The two important factors in trust-building
Whether we like it or not, salespeople have a bad reputation for being self-serving, borderline liars. To overcome this negative reputation, you have to show people that you can be a reliable source of information in your market and that you’re acting in the interest of your client. There are two important factors of trust-building: selflessness (Is the advice truthful? Does it benefit the client?) and reliability (Do you show up repeatedly without anyone asking you to?).
How to curate content
Good content marketing starts with finding good information — information that’s relevant, interesting, or meaningful to your market and prospective buyers. If you’re not sure where to turn for information, see what your current clients are already sharing on LinkedIn. You can also ask your clients where they look for industry news, what content format they prefer, or who is putting out content they pay attention to.
How to add commentary
Once you find good information, give your take on what you found. Providing your insight adds value and shows your level of thoughtfulness. I’ll tell you about two people I pay attention to who do this well.
How to create content
Creation is about making something for your market. This can be a podcast, an article, a video, a slide deck, whatever moves you. Writing is a tool — use it. You can write and publish something today on LinkedIn, Medium, or in an email without paying or learning anything new. Don’t worry about writing the perfect article. Just keep putting out content!
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#SellersBecomeMarketers – Content Marketing For Sales Teams:
As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory sings. This saying from the 15th century sums up the frustrations people had with the Catholic Church. You see, the Church had this policy called Indulgences. It worked like this. People made donations to the church called indulgences, and then the Pope would grant forgiveness to the donor or the loved ones of the donor, so they didn’t get stuck in purgatory forever. Many people saw this as a way for rich people to excuse their behavior. They do bad or even horrible things, then buy their way into heaven.
Martin Luther was not having it. You probably know what comes next. In 1517, Luther began circulating a pamphlet called The 95 Theses. He didn’t much like the policy of indulgences. He thought it greedy, and not the way to escape purgatory. He thought it was pretty clear how to absolve yourself of sins, inner spirituality and repentance. He thought you couldn’t just pay your way in. You had to actually be sorry for what you’d done and ask for forgiveness. Novel concept, right? It’s no coincidence, that in 1439, less than a hundred years earlier, there was an important invention, the printing press. Without it, Luther never could have distributed so many of his pamphlets and perhaps the reformation never would happened.
Martin Luther made an argument capturing similar feelings and opinions of others at the time, committed at all to paper, made a bunch of copies and distributed it widely. He was doing content marketing. Of course, what he did is quite a bit bigger than what you’re doing, or what I’m doing, granted, but it’s the same idea. He had a basic idea, a distribution mechanism, and an audience. So, content marketing, my friend is nothing new. But, it’s easier and more inexpensive than ever to distribute valuable content to your audience, giving them important information that can impact their behavior.
In this episode of Modern Sales, I’ll tell you why content marketing is so crucial even to you in your role as a seller, why you don’t need to create the content yourself, and the steps you can take today to start using it.
Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast for entrepreneurs, business owners, and salespeople looking to have more and better conversations with your perfect clients. You’ll get a healthy scoop of psychology, behavioral economics, and sales studies to help you create win-win relationships. I’m your host, Liston Witherill, and I’m pleased to welcome you to modern sales.
This is the Hashtag Sellers Become Marketers series on Modern Sales, where we’re talking about how great content is the new sales imperative, and the skills you need to survive the giant shift. Each of the episodes will have the Hashtag Sellers Become Marketers at the beginning of the title, to help you find them quickly. If you miss the previous episode, just scroll backwards in your feed, and you will find them. So content, it’s important, sure, but how important is it really and how can you start using it?
Here’s why it’s so important. More of the sales process takes place without salespeople, and before salespeople get involved. That applies to you, whether you have a title as a seller, or you’re a business owner, or a principal, whatever it is, whenever you’re selling, people will do more and more of the process without you. Which means, people are making a lot of decisions about what they’re going to do before they ever talk to you. What they’ll buy, who’s in their consideration set, which features they need, and why. A lot of decisions are made without you. Plus, there’s the reputational problem.
Salespeople have this reputation of being totally self-serving, self interested, and borderline liars. Maybe you don’t see yourself this way, but a lot of people in your market do, and I’ve certainly met my fair share of sales people who are like this. So yeah, even the folks you interact with regularly, even if they haven’t told you, they may have some negative feelings about your role as a salesperson. Add to that a third problem, which is noise. People get more and more communication, period, and it’s cheaper and easier than ever for marketing and sales to reach people.
So, that leaves us with three very big problems. The availability of information, reputation, and noise. It goes without saying that there’s more information available now than ever before. If your primary value add was providing information, people just don’t need you as much as they once did. One of the primary reasons people historically engaged with sales was to get information, to gather information, but that’s less and less necessary now. They have this thing called the internet.
People look at you as having a negative reputation. They’re just sort of not really, totally trusting of you as you probably know. And then, there’s the noise. Communication from you, and your competitors, and other vendors because it’s easier and cheaper than ever to reach them. So, the solution is to be a reliable and valuable source of information for people in your market, which means exactly three things. You need to provide valuable content that helps people in your market. You have to show them that you’re acting in their interest, so you can overcome the negative reputation that we all share. Your communication has to be high fidelity, meaning it’s valuable to your market rather than a non-stop commercial for you.
The impact of this, of course, comes down to trust. There are two factors in trust that I want to draw your attention to. One is selflessness. Are you actually acting in the benefit of your clients? They’re going to be asking, “Is this advice truthful? Is it actually going to benefit me?” And then, there’s the second aspect of trust, and that’s reliability. Does this person show up repeatedly, and without me asking them.
Now, I want to share with you a personal point of frustration. I haven’t said this publicly before, but you might be feeling it too, so I think it’s worth mentioning. It can be hard to show up constantly and sometimes without reciprocation for extended periods of time. Yes, I am the Serve Don’t Sell guy, but I will admit that it’s sometimes difficult, even exhausting to continually show up for a market without getting a sale as often as you’d like. But, this is the environment we’re in. My experience is that you get what you give, so continue to give, which brings me back to the broader point.
If we can agree that trust-building is one of the most important things that we can do, in fact, it’s a necessary thing for us to do, but it’s not sufficient to make the sale, but we know that it’s necessary. If we have to do that, we want to build trust early and often and with as many people as we possibly can. The nice thing about content, of course, is it multiplies our impact. There’s essentially no cost to you, or to me for one additional person to consume the content. Once we make it, it’s there. It’s free to share a digital copy. It doesn’t matter if I have a hundred podcast listeners or a thousand or 10,000. I have to do the same amount of work to create the content, make it available, and push it into your feed.
So yes, showing up repeatedly can be exhausting, but it’s totally worth it and it’s a way to attract more and more people to your message and bring them into your audience. Now as an individual contributor, if that’s you, you don’t necessarily need to build your own audience. Although, we could probably make a case for that. But, what is true, is you need a good excuse to continue to show up and talk to people over and over and over again. I would argue that one of the best excuses is to give useful information to people. Of course, what I mean by that here in this context is content.
I’m going to give you four big content skills that you can start developing. These kind of represent different levels of how effective you’ll be at content marketing. They are sequential, and they start from beginner, and they go to very, very advanced. The first skill that you need is curation. You can go out and find good content that’s relevant to your market and prospects. This could be from your marketing team, it could be from other companies, industry groups or associations, conferences, new sources, and many other places. But, basically to summarize, it’s just finding and sharing good stuff. So, you find an article and then you post it somewhere, or you send an email to someone.
The next level of content skills that will take you a level up from curation is commentary. So, not only do you find good content, but you also comment on it, you interpret it, you show people what was useful in that content to you, or what your take is on it. And then, of course, the next natural progression is creation. It starts with curation, you’re going out and finding good stuff. Moves to commentary, you’re giving your take on what you found. Then, it goes to creation, you’re actually making something. I’m going to detail actions you can take on each of these in a second.
And then, the last skill related to content is distribution. How are you going to get people to know that you’re doing this? I’m going to cover this more in depth in the next episode, but I’ll give you a hint. The way people prefer to consume content should inform not only how you distribute it, but also what you create. I’ll cover that more in the next episode, because it’s such a big topic, but the three skills I want to give you actionable takeaways on are curation, commentary, and creation.
So, curation. You might be wondering how can you surface all of the best stuff. The first thing I would recommend is to set up an RSS feed that collects the content and information that would be most helpful to your buyers, and go through it periodically. Feedly is a great RSS feeder. I’m sure there’s a hundred others, but Feedly is the best that I’ve seen and it’s what I use. You can also curate your LinkedIn feed, so you’re only following the most relevant people in your market. I will confess, I do a terrible job of this one. I have over 10,000 LinkedIn connections and most of what I see in my feed is totally irrelevant, because my network isn’t perfectly representative of the market that I’m selling into.
But, with that said, I will just admit that I don’t do a great job of this, but assuming that let’s say in sales navigator, if you’re using sales navigator, you can go in and create a lead list and view that lead list and look at the types of things people are sharing there and you might find that that’s helpful. If you’re not sure where to find information for your RSS feed, or what types of things to pay attention to in LinkedIn, here’s what I would recommend.
Number one, see what your current clients are already sharing on LinkedIn. You can go and create a lead list within sales navigator, add, let’s say your top 50 clients, and see what it is that they’re interacting with. What sources are they citing? What topics do they seem to care about? What kinds of content? Is it news articles, white papers, industry reports? Is it podcast episodes? I hope it’s podcast episodes. What catches their attention is really what we want to figure out here. You can start to document this, just create a quick spreadsheet. Maybe do this for a couple of days, and you’ll have a far better idea of the types of content you could curate and where you could go to find it based on what people in your market already care about.
The next thing you can do is just go to your clients and ask them three questions. Number one, where do they go for industry news? Is it a particular news source? Is it an association? Is it a person? The second thing is, who puts out content that they always pay attention to? One of the strongest voices in their market, I would want to know who that is so I can pay attention to them and get a sense like what is this person covering and decide whether or not I think they have a pulse on the market.
The third question I would ask is, what kind of content format does your client like the most? This will help inform for you what to share and maybe eventually what to make. But, basically should you be paying more attention to slide decks or should you be paying more attention to video, right? So, you would want to know what’s good and what’s worthy of their attention. Moving on to commentary, this is the next step up. If you’re already curating content, and let’s just assume you’re actually paying attention to what it says, if you read it or listen to it or watch it or whatever it is, you should start to form some opinions about what you’re reading in there, how accurate is it, what’s missing, where could they have gone a little bit farther? What sort of insights or actions could people take out of it? What could they actually do today based on the information that you get in that content?
Commentary is kind of the step between just consuming and actually making things. What I recommend you do is add your take on content, because it shows your level of thoughtfulness and you can provide additional insight, where that piece of content you found may have been lacking. I’ve mentioned him before, but Justin Welsh is a really good person to watch for content curation plus commentary. He is a former VP of sales from a company called PatientPop.
I haven’t spoken to him directly, but it appears from the outside, like his curation and commentary also acts as a growth mechanism, because the people he mentions are more likely to promote his content. But I do believe he does a pretty good job of finding good stuff and then commenting on it. It’s almost as if he’s creating his own content based on what other people that made. So you may look at that and say, “Well, it’s a little bit derivative”, but there’s value in curation, there’s value in editorializing, there’s value in summarizing and there’s value in bringing together what otherwise would be disparate pieces of information and sharing them with a specific type of person. So Justin Welsh, definitely look at him if you’re interested in this.
I’d also recommend you check out Dan Oshinsky’s Not a Newsletter, for wonderful curation and commentary. All you have to do is go to Notanewsletter.com. Dan is fantastic. I’ve interviewed him on a separate podcast, and what you’ll notice about Dan’s content is it’s all about email newsletters. Not relevant to sales, but you’ll see just how valuable his commentary is if you do visit the website. He puts out a newsletter every month and it has, I don’t know how many dozens of links in it, but lots and lots. He puts his commentary in there and it’s all in a Google doc, so really, really simple delivery mechanism. That’s how Dan markets himself, and his business.
So, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Justin Welsh uses LinkedIn articles primarily. Dan uses Google docs. There’s all kinds of different ways you can do this, but the big idea here is you don’t have to create all of the ideas in your content from scratch. You can just curate, and then editorialize by adding your commentary. The last category here is creation and I want to give you some really, really, really actionable steps on how to create content, because this seems to be the scariest part for most people, and I don’t think it has to be.
Now, it is true though, this is the most advanced of all the content skills, but it really doesn’t have to be complicated. If you would really like to elevate your career, and I’m not saying you need to create content in order to sell more, but if you would like to elevate your career, make something. You can record a podcast or a video or make a slide deck or whatever moves you. It should be something that your audience is excited about consuming, but just go out there and make it.
For most people, writing has the lowest barrier to entry. The reason for that, of course, is you already have all of the tools that you need in order to do it. You can write and publish something today without paying for any new tools or learning any new skills whatsoever. All you would have to do is just open up a doc, start typing, and then you can publish it on LinkedIn or Medium or just even send it in an email to someone who would benefit from reading it.
I mean, like I said with Dan’s Not a Newsletter, you can just type it in a Google doc and share that. That could be your content marketing, or that could be your creation process. Doesn’t have to be complicated whatsoever. Now, one common objection I hear about content creation is that your first pieces of content won’t be that great. To that I say, you’re probably right. But, it’s not a big deal.
I mean, I was at a conference last week and heard from a speaker named Kate Rudder who was great and she helps design teams be more effective. What she said about content creation really stood out to me. She said, “Bury your bad content with good content.” Which is to say, making things isn’t a one and done process. Don’t worry about writing the perfect article or making the perfect thing. Whatever’s good, great, or perfect is not for you to decide anyway. It’s up to the market, so don’t worry about it. Just make some things, and then make some more, and then make some more. The more you do that, the more you’ll learn, and the more you’ll make better things. It’s pretty simple, honestly.
My challenge to you today is this. Think of one single question you hear from your prospects and your clients that they’re asking over and over again. Write an article answering it and use this format. Section one, your client’s question and why it matters. Section two, the problem it causes. Section three, where it comes from. Section four, what to do about it. Section five, specifics on taking action. Section six, summary and call to action.
I know it can seem daunting, but literally if you just add those as headers in a Google doc and then fill them out, your client’s question, the problem it causes, where it comes from, what to do about it, specifics on taking action and call to action, I think you will be very surprised at how easy it is to put together a short but useful article that you can send out to people in your network.
So, that’s it. Just to wrap up, the three big things you can take action on today, curation, commentary, and creation. If you’re up for it, I would love it if you went out and wrote an article, especially if you’ve never done it before. If you do that, I would love it if you sent it to me. Just email me directly, Liston@servedontsell.com. I want to see your article. I’ll read it, I’ll share it on LinkedIn, and I will mention that you did it as part of this podcast challenge.
I can’t overstate how valuable this stuff is. Go out and make something. It will make you smarter and better at your job and actually help other people. That’s it for this episode in the Sellers Become Marketers series. In next week’s episode, I’ll tell you what marketers know about viruses and pandemics that help them win in business, and how you can win too. If you aren’t already subscribed to this podcast, please do so by clicking the subscribe button. You can also get notified of all podcast episodes with some behind the scenes info as well as other exclusive sales content that I put out by signing up for the firstname.lastname@example.org/newsletter. It’s totally free and it’s linked in the show notes.
Finally, if you’re looking for help training your team to sell more of your complicated, expensive products and services to big companies, I can help with remote and onsite training options and I will teach your team to ask questions with purpose. Just head over to servedontsell.com, click the contact button, and you can fill out a quick form to begin the conversation. Thanks so much for listening. I’m Liston Witherill, of Serve Don’t Sell, and I hope you have a fantastic day.