Why your sales reps shouldn’t be creating content

21
466 views

Share on LinkedIn

contentforsalesIt’s not that their content wouldn’t be valuable.  It’s just that creating content isn’t worth their time.  It’s just not the best way for them to spend their time to maximize earning potential for themselves, as well as for your organization.

Ask me if sales reps have great ideas for content, and the answer emphatically is yes.  Ask me if many sales reps have the ability to create fantastic content, and the answer still is an enthusiastic yes.

But that doesn’t mean it’s worth their time.

The same goes for social media activity, really.  Every solid sales executive I know is telling me they want to see less social and more selling.

But what they really mean is that they want their reps to focus on selling.  They want their best, highest-paid people focused on the activities that help them build relationships, rapport and velocity with targeted decision-makers at their best prospective accounts.  I don’t really care whether you call it selling or sharing or helping or whatever.  Your best reps should focus on sales.

There are plenty of social selling strategies that do, in fact, accelerate sales.  They can get you new introductions to your dream client, help you get more attention and engagement from early-stage prospects, increase the volume and value of conversations with your best sales reps.

Much of that can be done by curating good content vs. creating it, and you get basically the same external value for your sales reps at a fraction of the time.

Great content drives attention, influence and engagement.  It puts your sales reps in a position to win.

Great content is still required, I’d just rather see your best sales reps focus on what they do best – for their benefit and yours.

21 COMMENTS

  1. Certainly, sales reps should be focused on driving increased revenue. This includes bringing in targeted new accounts/customers; but, more valuable still is building volume from existing accounts/customers. How do reps move from more mundane ‘push’, ‘puff’, and even commoditized social approaches to being preferred, engaged, and trusted advisors? I’d submit that one way to enhance their direct outreach, remove passivity and build opportunity and relationships with existing accounts/customers is through a higher level of personal knowledge investment and representation. Translation: Content can help make that happen.

    Years ago, I took a Zig Ziglar sales training course. One of his stories was about a vacuum cleaner salesperson who seemed unable to generate much volume. When a sales manager asked him if he’d ever used their vacuum cleaner at home, and had made notes on how his company’s products and accessories could provide unique and differentiated customer value, he said that he never used vacuum cleaners and really had little knowledge about them. The sales manager gave him an ultimatum. Use the product in a variety of cleaning situations, write down everything that is labor-saving and time-saving about it, and create pamphlets for current customers (accessories) and prospects (product and accessories). His sales skyrocketed, and he never looked back. He moved from being a Willy Loman to being a successful advisor and relationship-builder.

  2. Whether blogging and creating other online content will help a rep maximize earning potential is hard for me to judge. But why the narrow focus for salespeople? Are they any different from other professionals when it comes to personal and professional development? If finding an issue that matters to customers, researching it and writing about it cogently enhances a salesperson’s knowledge and self-esteem, then, in my view, it’s not a waste of time. Even if not one person reads it, the salesperson has gained knowledge, and honed communication skills. I agree with Michael. That’s an important result, and well worth the effort.

  3. There’s no question that writing about something, anything really, will make you smarter about it. The act of writing helps me organize my thoughts and opinions on a particular topic. And I completely agree that first-hand experience and reflection can be key to improving not just understanding and perception but also empathy and connection with your prospects.

    I do know several high-performing sales professionals who create their own content on a regular basis. It’s just that the time and effort (and replacement cost) of doing this for all reps isn’t always a positive trade-off.

  4. I’ve been a “bag carrying” rep on 100% commission, and managed reps of all stripes too. Thinking back to those days, I ask myself should I, or my reps spend time creating content today?

    I think the answer is yes, if the selling is an industry where insights are important. Complex B2B for sure. Probably not selling paper clips at Staples.

    There’s only so much time to go around, but without demonstrating a rep has good insight (and writing is one way to do it), what are the chances for success over the long term?

    I know this is a tricky subject that has been debated elsewhere and often. No simple remedies, every situation is different, yada yada yada.

    Still, my thinking is this. Instead of taking a stance of “prove to me that creating content will work,” I suggest the opposite: “Prove to me it won’t.”

    I struggle to write sometimes, so I certainly empathize with anyone who sits in front of a blank sheet of paper or monitor and can’t get something out. Also, writing poorly could do more harm than good.

    There are other approaches to “create content” that can help mitigate issues. Such as:
    * having a marketing person interview reps for key issues and best practices. Experienced reps are a treasure trove of info and are usually happy to share — verbally
    * record a rep’s presentation and have it transcribed and edited. Reps can’t write? No problem. Can’t present? Get another job.
    * Spend time reading about industry developments relevant to a set of customers, clip out relevant passages and send to prospects and customers. Technically this is curating, but who cares?
    * Post a presentation about issues/problems/solutions (not products, feeds, speeds) for customers to see.

    In support of the above, management also needs to provide editorial support. I would certainly never advocate that reps be ordered to “get out there and blog.” without help and oversight.

    My main point is that creating content in an appropriate way and pace is one great way to give rep’s the tools to win in a buyer-empowered world, where insights are the coin of the realm.

  5. To echo Bob’s point, and maybe even amplify a bit, some of the most effective teaming and shadowing situations I’ve experienced is when marketing folks (and other fucntions, such as customer service, manufacturing, and tech support) make calls with sales reps. Following the calls, they review what they’ve learned, especially in terms of content and communication with the account. Similarly, sales can cross-pollinate with marketing by bringing real-world perspective to content and messaging development. The result is that sales folks become more effective at presenting and marketing becomes more effective in understanding customers’ needs.

  6. Matt, you raise an interesting point. I think we’ve got to ask why sales people end up creating content in the first place. And let’s face it, a common reason is that the marketing department simply isn’t giving them what they need. So they rise to the occasion and fill the gap not because they have an ambition to be a content marketer, but because nature abhors a vacuum. It’s still (unfortunately) a far more common phenomenon that many “new age” marketers would like to think.

    Another related reason is because the marketing department fail to solicit their input on the content of the materials generated. If you’re in an insight-selling world, the failure to tap into the real world conversations that your best sales people are having on a daily basis is simply criminal. I still come across way too many marketing departments that appear to make it up as they go along, rather than tune in to the collective intelligence of their sales people.

    There’s no excuse for content creation not being a collaborative exercise. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it simply has to be. The next time you’re thinking of dinging a sales person for going off piste and creating their own content, you might consider what they felt they had to do it. And if you look closely enough, you may come to recognise, as Cassius did, that “the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves”.

  7. I disagree that curating content on its own is enough – unless it’s driving content back to the salespersons company website, rather than other people’s websites.

    The key to using social media well is engagement.

  8. It’s an interesting discussion. I tend to side very much with Matt on this, perhaps thinking he hasn’t taken a strong enough position.

    Don’t get me wrong, we each can find examples of high performing sales people who are creating fantastic content and integrating it into their customer engagement process very effectively.

    But let’s step back and look at it differently. I see all sorts of companies investing 10’s of millions in new tools to help sales people come up with higher impact, more relevant presentations for customers, stronger proposal development tools, stronger more relevant collateral.

    When you ask them the reasons, they include: Sales people are asking for it, they don’t have the time to do the right job. Or, the quality and consistency of the results is horrible. The reasons go on and on.

    So if in the direct communication to their customers in specific presentations, proposals, etc isn’t as effective and impactful as it should be, then why should we expect their blogging to be any better (and now they get to inflict this on the world.)

    I go back to Matt’s arguments, for people that are already time poor, who can’t accomplish all they should be, does it make sense to add one more responsibility to their plates? Is that the best use of their time? What will the quality be? What will the consistency of messaging across the organization be?

    I agree with many of the points made in the comments. Sales input to the types of content and how it’s delivered and what’s in the content is important. It should be collaborative, but the sales person shouldn’t be generating it.

    I’ve seen what Bob Apollo has highlighted too often. Sales people develop their own content because what marketing generates is so bad, irrelevant, not personalized, etc. The right solution to this is to get marketing to do their job.

    Too often, when we think of social engagement, we tend to start with blogging and content creation. But that’s such a small part of what social is. Research, listening, participating in discussions, curating, and so forth are also very powerful ways for the sales person to engage and leverage social channels.

    I think we need to also look at what delivering Insights to our customers really is. Too often, I see people confusing the creation of insight versus the delivery/engagement process. If you are a student of Challenger, many of the initial Challenger implementations were terrible failures. Sales people got trained in Challenging and Delivering Insight, but they had nothing to say. And they couldn’t figure it out. If you talk to Matt, Brent, or Nick today, they see the engagement of product mgmt./mktg, mktg, etc in developing the insights and equipping the sales people to deliver the insights effectively is critical.

    Finally, when we see the continued bad data (CSO Insights) on reps making quota, win rates, no decision made, etc, etc etc, I would tend to want to focus on getting sales people more effective in executing the things that drive better results for what they are currently doing, than adding just one more thing to their already overflowing plates.

  9. This is an interesting discussion. But, I am not sure it can be so broadly brushed with a “sales people should not create content” stroke. Are we focusing on an activity or a result; technique or solution? Does this rule apply to all selling situations? All sales people? The role of the sales person–whether B2C or B2B–is to build a relationship with a prospect, discover needs and expectations, provide solutions matched to those needs, influence a prospect to discern value in the offering sufficient to make an investment, and deliver on promises made. If creating content helps achieve that end in a manner that benefits the prospect and sales person, why shoehorn the sales person into such rigidity?

    I paid my way through college doing door-to-door selling on total commission. After a summer soloing, I returned a second summer with a number of college friends working under me who each had their own territory nearby. I frequently made joint calls with my sales people to provide mentoring and coaching. We met each weekend to review results. But, mostly we exchanged stories about what worked and what did not. All were encouraged to create whatever content was needed to achieve the objective–i.e., a value-added solution that pleased prospect and sales person consistent with the values of the company. Many cool ideas were sent back to corporate for the benefit of other sales people around the country. We were all super focused and eager to set sales records. And, we were all anxious to return to college with the resources to fund another school year. Creating content did not distract us, it empowered us!

    What problem are we solving with “don’t create content” directives to sales professionals? And, what beneficial message is really being sent to those who live their work lives face-to-face with prospects?

  10. Blaming marketing misses important points. Most marketing organizations operate in checklist mode. They work on tasks that are assigned to them.

    Sales VPs must take responsibility for making sales ready, customer relevant content a priority to the business. Too many (most?) sales executives still don’t get that this is an important requirement. They never really sold using content, especially the way we are discussing. Sales VPs must get the organization to assign accountability for providing sales the content they need.

    Then, sales must define their requirements, with assistance from the right people, presumably in marketing. For most of our marketing clients, this is all new territory. They lack well defined operating frameworks, to say nothing of real content strategies, or expertise in developing them.

    Bottom line, in most organizations, what the sales VP thinks is important, gets done. It’s time they understand content is a strategic imperative for the business. In this digital era, it drives new customer acquisition and revenue growth, sales productivity and lower selling costs, the ability to acquire data on customers and buyers, and to deliver exceptional customer experience.

  11. I agree with Chip. Are we (again) driving square salesperson pegs into round job-description holes? If a person with the title ‘Sales Representative’ has great ideas for content, and can WRITE great content, than why would a ‘solid sales executive’ ever ignore that talent, and squander it by insisting that rep spend more time doing what the sales executive believes is the path to sales nirvana? It seems for all the fluffy talk about the importance of agile in selling, if executives are that rigid, and can’t figure out how to tap (or re-purpose) the outstanding talent they have right in house, then they deserve to fail.

  12. When I read Matt’s article, I immediately put myself in a salesperson’s shoes. In my early days at Xerox, I was so preoccupied learning to sell, that I could never have written an article. I needed marketing to provide me with everything. Same thing when I moved into tech sales and ultimately into selling services.

    If I had been expected to create content then, it would have thrown me into overwhelm.

    But as proficiency and confidence grows, it becomes easier to do. Plus, it adds to your image as a professional who knows something … who’s worked with other companies in the trenches … who has insights that matter.

    i would encourage companies to start their reps sharing content with each other. That gets their juices flowing. Case studies, use cases, how I won the business, how to sell against xyz competitor. And, to remember that content can be videos and audios too.

    As reps develop competence in this area, I would encourage those who are interested to expand their horizons and create content for their customers. Step-by-step, not all at once.

    Just my two cents, thinking about how people learn.

  13. Actually, marketers are trying to make everyone writers. I’m suggesting that’s bad advice.

    This is about “broad brush” recommendations. If individuals have a good idea and want to (can) write good content, great. The reality is, most sales people can’t write a good email.

    I was working with a mega technology company who wanted their SEs to blog. They discovered two things: most only had one or two good blogs in them, and the novelty wore off very quickly as it impeded their day job. They also found little of that content aligned to primary program requirements like lead gen/nurturing. It might be interesting, but wasn’t terribly useful.

    All of this perpetuates the “random acts of content” we’re trying to get away from, and move to strategy driven content investments, managed in a professional manner.

  14. I’m struggling with this conversation. Not meaning to be confrontive or a jerk, some thoughts:

    1. We have to be focused on the entire responsibility of the sales person. Just because they are good at content and want to write it, as a sales manager, I’m not sure that’s where they are most effective in spending their time. If developing content prevents them from doing a detailed business case to move a deal forward, to schedule resources into an important customer meeting, to develop and execute an account plan, to make sure they have healthy vibrant pipelines, to research a customer and plan a high impact meeting, then I would opt for any of those over the content. Those are responsibilities of the sales person that if not done, won’t be done and adversely impact their performance.
    2. If a sales person can do that but has a lot of idle time on their hands, and wants to write, I’d probably consider raising their quota (I’m being a bit of a jerk and overstating my case here, but I couldn’t restrain myself.
    3. I don’t think the argument “If they like to do it, why not,” makes sense. If a sales person likes to develop code and is good at it, should they be doing product development?
    4. Someone in the organization has to own the strategy for content. They have to set the standards and priorities for what content is delivered, what themes, what messages, etc. Naturally, they can’t do it in isolation, so they need to do these collaboratively, engaging product marketing/management, customer service, sales, even–dare say the customer. If some of those organizations don’t feel the right approach is being taken, then it’s there responsibility to resolve the issue. If whoever develops content, thinks that sales isn’t leveraging it as effectively as possible, then they need to resolve it. That’s how organizations work.
    5. I certainly don’t want to preclude a sales person from writing content (or coding) if they are good and want to do it. But only after they’ve done everything else they are responsible for–which probably means in their spare time.
    6. And if we encourage people who are enthusiastic and do want to do it in their spare time, then we owe it to them and ourselves to set some standards and guidelines, to train them, to help them do it in the most professional manner and consistent with our messaging priorities and standards. If they want to write content on how they spent their weekend on their own blogs and on their own time, more power to them.

    So getting back to my point. We can’t talk about this in isolation. We have to look at it in the context of how sales people are most effective and impactful in investing their time, making sure they are investing time in those areas. If writing content is part of that and a high priority for sales people’s time, then have them write and train them. If it isn’t, then have them focus on the high priorities.

    Again, I don’t mean to be a jerk or to step on people’s toes. But I think we are drifting away from Matt’s point, which was, “is this the best way they should be spending their time?”

  15. Dave, you’re not being a jerk. It’s a completely fair question. Is content creation something reps should do?

    I’ve seen similar issues raised about whether CEOs should blog or interact on social media. They are too important, busy, time better spent elsewhere etc. Yet some CEOs do reach out to their customers and from my standpoint it should be a priority.

    My feeling is that there are creative ways to engage reps in content creation that also help them thrive in a world where insights are important. For example, most sales managers have a monthly meeting. Have one rep each month give a short presentation about industry issues — you know those “insights” everyone seems to want. Have someone from marketing attend. Record the audio, edit the presentation into content that can be used.

    If a rep can’t give such a presentation, can he/she be successful in today’s world? The “insights” can’t all be pre-packaged boilerplate stuff cooked up by marketing. Reps need to show they can think for themselves and have real industry expertise.

    So do you think this is too much to ask of a sales rep?

  16. I’ve only had chance to scan the comments, so forgive me if I restate something others have said. But here is my take.

    If sales is creating content to fill gaps from marketing or because the quality of marketing generated content is not sufficient, that is a problem. And that problem should be addressed.

    If sales is creating content that is tailored to their specific buyer, aligning with their buying process and addressing questions, issues, or needs that the buyer can use to accelerate the decision process (and their trust in the selling organization, that is a good thing.

    Net net: Sales creating content for broad usage- Bad. Sales creating (or adapting) content to tailor it to specific buyers- Good.

  17. Awesome point Hank. Handling the last mile in content personalization is where sales people really excel—making it unique and specific to the enterprise and to the buyers in the enterprise. In fact they are not only the only people that can do this, they are accountable for doing it.

    Going back to Matt’s original point, it would seem to argue against sales people blogging, unless we think, publishing “Hank, here’s your confidential current state P&L and here’s what we do to improve it,……” —publishing this to the world in a blog is a good thing 😉

  18. Matt, I love this discussion… and I don’t think you have it wrong. In fact, I believe you have it SO right!

    The easiest way to engage prospects and then to keep them as customers couldn’t be more obvious or more often ignored. It’s simply this: Make people feel important. Every company in the world knows customers are important, yet, as customers, how important do we feel when dealing with these companies? Nine out of 10 people want meaningful relationships with brands, but believe only 17% of those brands are delivering.

    As a business consultant and digital marketing expert, my number one secret to engaging target prospects is to find out where they are currently engaging on social media and connect with them there. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes companies make in social media marketing is sharing the wrong message to the wrong audience.
    Once you get them, you can keep them engaged by digging deeper into finding what questions and problems they have and provide answers and solutions. You can also create niche online communities to serve their needs, thus further gaining their loyalty, as well as their referrals.

    People do not want to be sold on. Instead they want and expect a level of value from you their value added thought leader or Sales Rep. How can the Sales get a personal reputation as a value added thought leader if somebody else is writing content for them? That gives the company value but not the individual.
    At the end of the day, people buy from people. I say… blog away!

  19. Great conversation everyone.

    I look at this a bit differently. Some salespeople might be really good at this and motivated to do it. Others, might not be good and/or might not want to.

    Let’s encourage those who can to do it under the right circumstances:

    not during selling time;
    an agreed upon # of posts per week or month;
    has an agreed upon relevance to the business;
    meets a standard of quality;
    a return on the time invested can be justified after 6 months.

    I don’t see this as a yes or no; right or wrong; best practices worst practices. If it can help, why not?

  20. This has been a fascinating discussion. I would like to make a few points…

    1. Matt’s post was about why reps shouldn’t be creating “content.” Somehow that got translated into the evils of time-wasting blogging. There are lots of ways to create content and blogging may be the worst way to do it.

    2. Reps are already creating content. Some of it is personalized, yes, and possibly not shareable. But some might be useful to others if shared, edited, prettified, whatever. Calls for sales and marketing to collaborate.

    3. I wonder how millennials would respond to an edict like “thou shall not blog” (or tweet or post on LinkedIn or some other social media activity). Oh, wait, I do know. “See you later.”

    4. If I was a rep, I would thinking about my own professional development and brand. Blogging or some other type of activity that put me “out there” would help to make me a better candidate for other jobs. If my boss said I couldn’t do these things (in a responsible way, possibly on my own time), I’d find another job.

    Reps are accountable for making quota, and need to figure out for themselves how to manage their time. If creating content doesn’t contribute to selling, or to professional development (which provides insights that help sell), then they will stop doing it.

  21. Everyone agrees, sort of (Jill seems to be a possible exception) that sales people should buckle down and sell and not waste time. I agree too — sort of. Except we should define the two terms under discussion: “sales” and “content”.

    1. SALES VS SALES — A commodity sale is very different from a sale of a new product or service (and this aside from any B2C/B2B or small sale versus large, complex sale). Whether one blogs or creates content in a commodity situation would be assessed differently than in a new technology, new services sale situation.

    2. CONTENT VS CONTENT — What is “content”? We often fetishize the term into oblivion. If I’m selling new Internet of Things related services I need the traction to win — and given that this is a market saturated by hype, the usual “content” isn’t going to help. But I do need understanding of business models and SLAs and technology leverage points and corporate pain points. And some of these questions are applicable across all my customers, and not just specifically to one customer. And thus “content”.

    3. CONTENT ECONOMICS — The economics of content are terrible. Good content is really hard to create. I follow Matt because he creates stand-out sales-related content. Paler versions of Matt can be found in the thousands. So content itself becomes a commodity. But then, how are we any different from the folks down the street? Content product is expensive, content consumers are overwhelmed.

    4. CHALLENGER SALES ANYONE? People have noted the difficulty of finding reps who can execute the challenger sale. These are likely the reps who can do content. And I suspect that these reps will often be in front of marketing in terms of insight development. And the customer will appreciate the rep that is not just a parrot.

    5. CONTENT AS SIGNALLING – So if the economics of content are poor, and with the the possible exception of challenger-type sales situations, is there any other reason to blog? One possibility is “signaling”. It’s like keeping your shoes shiny. And this applies to both non-commodity and commodity situations. Life is short and buyers need to figure out who to buy from — and given their own time pressures, how can they figure out whether vendor “x” is a good prospect? Because buying a product are service is very much about trust — the reality of the situation often won’t be revealed until later. So any clues that help me figure out if you are going to be around a year from now, will be helpful. Social media and public content and website quality are prime health signalling possibilities. And there’s a good argument that rainmaker sales reps have to participate in this activity (as is common in consulting — where content is the subject of the sale anyway). A rep who has a persona as an expert has a huge advantage in trust and joint value creation.

    While again I tend to agree that reps should just focus on selling, I don’t think the question is quite so easy to answer.

    Back to selling.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here