Looking for guidance to overcome existing knowledge gaps, strategic disconnects, and process-related obstacles between these two teams in your organization? Build a Stronger Pipeline With Content, this article offers expert advice and actionable techniques to help you:
- Clarify goals, individual roles, and shared content responsibilities
- Break down siloes to unite sales and marketing team efforts and improve cross-team collaboration
- Adapt processes and workflows to realign these functions to serve the goals of both
- Improve performance measurement and reporting
Read this article to start creating content that delights your audience and grows your sales pipeline!
People don’t want to talk to sales teams until they’re ready to (and maybe never), even in B2B. In fact, Forrester found that 62% percent of B2B customers feel they can make their buying decision based solely on digital content.
Content may make B2B decision makers more self-sufficient throughout the buying process. But sales-enablement content works best when its creation isn’t a solo endeavor.
Ideally, sales and marketing teams should work cooperatively at every stage – from strategic planning to tracking, reporting, and optimizing the performance of every effort. Collaboration ensures that content will be appropriately informed, precisely targeted, and built into engaging and compelling experiences.
Unfortunately, sales and marketing alignment is more the exception than the rule.
Read this article to learn effective ways to overcome the knowledge gaps, strategic disconnects, and process-related obstacles that prevent these two teams from working well together.
In it, you’ll find examples of effective sales enablement content and tips and advice to help you:
- Clarify goals, individual roles, and shared content responsibilities
- Break down siloes to unite sales and marketing team efforts and improve cross-team collaboration
- Adapt processes and workflows to realign these functions to serve the goals of both
- Tracking/reporting performance and making improvements
Read this article to start creating content that delights your audience and grows your sales pipeline.
Few tools generate demand more effectively than high-quality, authoritative content. In fact, according to Forrester research, 62% percent of B2B customers say they feel they can make their buying decision based solely on digital content.
Content can make B2B decision-makers more self-sufficient throughout the buying process; but, sales-enablement content works best when its creation isn’t a solo endeavor.
Ideally, sales and content marketing teams should work cooperatively at every stage – from strategic planning to tracking, reporting, and optimizing the performance of every effort. Collaboration ensures appropriately informed, precisely targeted content and engaging and compelling experiences.
Yet in reality, cross-team alignment is more the exception than the rule. Inter-team friction, conflicting approaches, inefficient processes, and siloed systems too often drive these two functions out of sync.
Fortunately, you can overcome these obstacles and work together to create content experiences that delight your audience and grow the sales pipeline.
In this article, you’ll find expert advice, helpful insights, and techniques to help you do just that. You’ll also see inspiring examples that show the outcomes you can achieve with effective sales-enablement content – no matter which buying challenges or funnel stages you focus on.
The Case for Aligning Sales and Content Marketing
Alignment: A collaborative working relationship that results in positive business results.
Sales enablement: The process of providing your sales team with the content, information, and tools they need to sell effectively.
Sales and marketing teams often seem at odds. Each team contributes different skills, capabilities, and know-how. Each operates under a unique set of roles and responsibilities. And they share a fundamental goal – to accelerate business growth and enable the organization to reach its revenue targets.
Members of each team may perform at their best when working within their own familiar communication styles, internal processes, and technology systems. But there are compelling reasons to make the extra effort to align, integrate, and collaborate – particularly when producing sales-enablement content to drive demand for the company’s offerings.
The current state of alignment
A LinkedIn study found that 87% of sales and marketing leaders say collaboration between sales and marketing enables critical business growth.
That study found an even greater reason for these functions to create alignment: Without it, business performance can suffer, enterprise-wide:
60% of global respondents believed that misalignment between Sales and Marketing could damage financial performance.
CMI’s 2021 Creating Content for Sales Enablement study found encouraging indications of alignment and collaboration between sales and marketing. For example, 68% of marketers now say they’re creating content for specific stages of the buyer’s journey, compared with 48% of respondents in CMI’s 2019 B2B research study.
These two functions also struggle to align around bigger-picture considerations, such as the brand story or shared access to customer data:
- 60% agree their marketing and sales teams tell the same brand story; however, nearly one in four disagree.
- 54% agree marketing and sales have shared access to data about customers and prospects; however, nearly one-third disagree.
Filling fundamental knowledge gaps
Why do those gaps exist? The problem has multiple causes, but the fundamental cause arises from confusion around the roles each team plays. When both teams understand each other’s roles, responsibilities and expertise, struggles around collaboration diminish.
Sales – the job of selling and the processes used by sales teams – has been a relatively stable and static function: Find in-market customers, connect with them at the right time, and guide them toward a purchase.
Marketing’s purpose has always been to create the market for sales to reach – generating demand, getting consumers to identify themselves as leads, warming those leads, and sending them to the sales team. Yet the methods marketers use for these tasks have shifted significantly in just the past few decades with the advent of digital communication and, more recently, social media.
The ever-evolving nature of their landscape has pushed marketers to learn to be more agile in how they approach their work. Sales hasn’t had to make as many adjustments – until now.
As Pam Didner, B2B marketing and sales training consultant and author of Effective Sales Enablement, pointed out in an interview, COVID has changed the game when it comes to one of the sales team’s most reliable techniques: face-to-face client conversations. Pam says she has seen sales teams struggle to adapt to the current realities of customer engagement:
“Sales is used to talking to customers during events or conferences – something they haven’t been able to do during COVID. Now, they need to engage prospects on LinkedIn or on other social media channels where they’re active. But being present in the digital realm? Most [long-time] salespeople are not fully comfortable [there], yet,” Pam says.
Who does what?
Misunderstandings about the specific roles and responsibilities of sales and marketing teams – particularly regarding content – can cause conflict between the two factions.
Too often, the teams are structured to operate independently and rely on completely discrete processes and nonintegrated technology systems. Both are barriers.
Effective sales–marketing collaborations require more than attending each other’s meetings or starting a group thread on email. They require deliberate efforts in which both sides participate as equals.
One solution emerging within larger enterprises is to make sales enablement its own organizational function: According to Sales Enablement Pro’s State of Sales Enablement Report, 62% of survey respondents had a sales enablement person, program, or function in place, representing an increase of 7 percentage points over the previous year.
But in the absence of organizational intervention and org-chart flattening, sales and content marketing teams can take their own steps to build their collaborative capabilities – starting with selfeducation about the work each contributes and where they are looking for help from the other side.
- Business strategists
- Sales/Account managers
- Sales representatives
- Customer success representatives
- Sales operations
- Marketing strategists
- Creatives (e.g., writers, designers, videographers, etc.)
- Editors/Editorial managers
- Production operations
- Audience/community developers and managers
- Campaign developers and managers
Insights and Experience
- Deep knowledge of company products/services and their features and capabilities
- Expertise in market dynamics and industry conditions
- Understanding of customer product/service needs, pain points, challenges/obstacles, and goals
- Experience gathering stories and feedback from customers
- Insight into the business’s competitive advantages
- Deep understanding of the digital communication landscape, including engagement interests, behaviors, and preferences
- Skills that enable efficient and strategic content creation, execution, measurement, and optimization
- Proficiency in identifying and optimizing online engagement throughout the funnel
- Knowledge of online brand perception and conversations
Effective Collaboration Can Help Fill Critical Knowledge Gaps
|AREAS WHERE GAPS EXIST||SALES||MARKETING|
|Filling the pipeline with leads||X|
|Sales insights (e.g., customer pain points, purchase barriers, etc.)||X|
|Audience insights generated through content (e.g., engagement behaviors, platform/channel preferences, etc.)||X|
|Understanding content processes and how to apply best practices||X|
|Using the right content at the right stages||X|
|Producing personalized sales content quickly||X|
|Getting feedback on campaigns||X|
|Creating content for specific buying stages||X|
|Accessing data on customers and prospects||X|
|Finding/accessing available sales content||X|
4 Causes of Misalignment – and How to Reconnect the Dots
Although they share a symbiotic relationship, sales and marketing often struggle to get on the same page, let alone stay in sync over the long term.
These two functions don’t necessarily need to work from a single, unified playbook. But in the case of demand generation and sales enablement – a business asset that neither can produce effectively without participation from the other – understanding the view from the other side of the fence can help both sides take corrective actions.
“Ninety percent of sales and marketing professionals point to a number of disconnects across strategy, process, content, and culture.” — LinkedIn, Moments of Trust Report
Sales-marketing misalignment often arises from one or all of these factors:
- Strategy: Lack of documentation or socialization of the strategy results in conflicting interpretations of goals, objectives, and overall brand story.
- Process: Manual, confusing, or inefficient workflows and poor understanding of processes, tools, and techniques can lead to wasted team resources and poorly focused campaigns that fail to make a meaningful audience impact.
- Miscommunications: Inter-team friction and conflicting terminology and communication styles make collaboration more frustrating and less productive and can lead to an overall lack of buy-in.
- Data access: Disconnected systems and information that’s structured inconsistently can prevent sales and marketing from getting a clear, accurate, and complete picture of customer needs or content performance.
Correct any mismatched views of strategy
Misaligned views of the strategy behind sales enablement content can result in poorly focused and executed initiatives that fail to serve customers’ needs, as well as measurement discrepancies that make it a challenge to prove performance and retain management buy-in.
Findings from CMI’s sales-enablement research point to common signs and symptoms of these disconnects:
- While 63% percent of respondents said their company’s marketing and sales teams have shared goals and objectives, only 28% said they have shared key performance indicators (KPIs).
- Most of the marketers surveyed said they create content for specific stages of the buyer’s journey (68%). But only 39% said their salespeople use the right content at the right stages.
- Nearly two-thirds of respondents (61%) said most of the content they created for sales is promotional in nature. Findings were similar among the most aligned teams, as well (59%). A promotional approach might work well when customers are narrowing their consideration set, it likely won’t help bring new leads into the pipeline – where sales needs marketing’s help most.
Shared understanding doesn’t equal alignment
Robert Rose, chief strategy advisor for the Content Marketing Institute, says what stands for alignment is often just a mutual understanding of siloed strategies. The marketing team understands (but isn’t necessarily supportive of) the sales strategy. And the sales team understands (but usually disagrees with) the marketing strategy.
A better way forward is for sales and marketing to develop content plans collaboratively – and document their decisions as they go. Doing so will help the teams:
- Iron out strategic misconceptions
- Get clarity on best practices for content creation and distribution
- Find agreement on the right metrics for accurately measuring and reporting performance.
Explain (and secure commitment to) the upside of processes
“True alignment requires more than understanding each other’s strategy. It requires integrating into one cohesive customer journey – facilitated by extraordinary digital content – distributed and delivered in a helpful way.” — Robert Rose
Sales and marketing teams struggle to get in sync on specific aspects of content marketing, such as determining what types of content customers want most and when to use that content as part of the sales experience. As you can see in the graphic (right), only 22% of marketers say their team collaborates with sales on what content types to produce, and just 30% connect on how to apply the content they create.
This misalignment can stem from a lack of understanding of the specific decisions, processes, and action items involved in content collaborations. For example, sales may have little experience with the steps involved in ideating and creating content assets, which team owns which parts of the process, or how to position the resulting efforts for optimal performance.
Confusion about strategic decisions or tactical actions adds unnecessary stress and conflict to collaboration. This friction gums up the works, causing quality issues, production delays, and a lack of enthusiasm for using the content that ultimately gets delivered.
Secure buy-in with a personalized approach
During CMI’s recent webinar on how to engage sales in the marketing funnel, Chelsea Katich, marketing operations director at McGraw Hill, suggests that attitude and approach plays a role in convincing sales teams to follow the best practices and processes for content creation, deployment, and performance measurement:
“I approach the relationship from the standpoint of ‘what’s in it for them.’ If I’m asking them to follow all of these marketing processes that they might see as busywork, I need to say, “You’re doing all this tracking so you can get proper compensation and proper bonuses,’” Chelsea said. “I’ve noticed speaking their language helps a lot. Giving that mutual respect and communication is really key.”
Document processes and workflows to bridge the knowledge gap
Getting sales’ buy-in for content collaboration is an important first step. But sales teams may not be fully aware of all the tasks involved in producing sales-enablement content and which parts of those processes require their involvement.
Documenting content workflows can help. Creating and sharing detailed outlines of all the work to be done (and who does it) when creating different types of content gives the sales team visibility into the role they’ll play.
Workfront’s Raechel Duplain suggests that documentation should include these details:
- Requests and strategic ideation: How to submit content requests and ideas, who needs to review and approve them, where those materials will be stored, and the sequence of production for approved projects
- Prioritization: Who manages priority decisions, how those decisions will be communicated, and how projects get added to the content team’s schedule
- Creation: What the key creative milestones will be, what smaller tasks are required to reach each milestone, and which team members should be involved in each of those tasks
- Publication and promotion: Which channels will be used for distribution, who leads the process, and who else needs to be involved or notified
- Asset organization and storage: Where final files will be stored, how they’ll be named, and how files will be structured for easy access.
Agree on terms to improve communication
According to Upland Software research, one-third of marketing and sales teams don’t talk regularly.
Some of this conversation deficit arises from heavy workloads and scheduling constraints, communication patterns and preferences within teams, and the different ways teams are managed and incentivized to perform.
But there are other, more problematic causes to consider – including confusion caused by the different terminology teams use in pursuit of their shared goals.
For example, Pam Didner says that marketing teams tend to focus on buyer personas and audience segments, while sales teams focus on accounts and decision makers – the people who actually sign contracts. She also mentioned that content marketers tend to focus more on top of the funnel stages (awareness/interest), while salespeople tend to have a stronger mid-funnel focus (consideration/intent) – a point we’ll discuss in more detail later on.
Clearing communication-related confusion
One way to create a unified space where content-related conversations thrive is for both parties to meet and discuss the plans in terms that all parties understand.
“It’s very important to set up a communication mechanism for collaboration. Sales usually has a weekly or monthly meeting to track and monitor their processes and dashboard – marketers should try to be part of that meeting,” Pam Didner says.
Some teams take an ad-hoc approach to connecting with counterparts in sales. Natalie Kremer, marketing automation manager at McGraw Hill, explained in a recent CMI webinar how her team works with sales: “We have one group that needs to meet regularly, typically monthly or bi-monthly, depending on the cycle we’re in. But twice a year we invite people from the larger organization to share feedback and identify areas for improvement.”
Another way Natalie’s team fosters stronger collaboration is by working directly with sales reps on training, research, and focus groups. This approach helps surface important insights and opportunities and can help marketing teams identify a “champion” sales leader – someone to help steer the partnership by sharing key information with their team members.
This kind of leadership buy-in is critical to ensure follow through on the sales side, Natalie says.
If team schedules don’t allow for regular check-ins, marketers can ask for time to be set aside during annual planning meetings to discuss content. But if all else fails, reaching out to schedule an informal sit-down to align on insights and approaches may be the best way forward.
Pam Didner says marketers typically initiate the process.
“These efforts tend to be more of an 80/20 split on the marketing side. It becomes [marketing’s] job to proactively reach out and get the knowledge out of [the sales team’s] heads to understand what they actually need,” she says.
SALES–MARKETING TERMINOLOGY CHEAT SHEET
Don’t let alignment get lost in translation
Though they’re united in facilitating an organization’s success, marketing and sales don’t always speak the same language.
Use this cheat sheet to bridge the communications gap.
- Ideal customer profile (ICP): A characteristic description of a target buyer or company that’s a perfect fit for your brand’s solution.
- Account: A specific sales target, opportunity, or customer group relationship established within the total addressable market.
- Sales funnel/Funnel stage: A method of defining where a customer is in their decisionmaking at the time they enter the sales process, used to determine the most effective outreach approach to nurture them towards conversion.*
- Buyers: Consumers who have taken an action with sales (typically providing some personal data as part of the transaction) in exchange for receiving a company’s product or service.
* While marketers may also define customer decision-making in terms of funnel stages, content marketers are more likely to characterize these stages as progression along a journey
- Persona: A composite sketch of a target market’s relevant characteristics, based on validated commonalities.
- Account-based marketing (ABM): A B2B marketing approach where high-value (typically enterprise-level) organizations are identified and content is created to target them as a grouped unit, rather than marketing to individual members of that organization.
- Journey map: A method of identifying what information and assistance consumers likely need at each possible point of interaction, which is used to determine the most effective content to deliver to nurture them towards conversion.
- Audience: The total group of individuals and/or organizations who could in some way be exposed to your brand’s offerings, either directly or through your marketing and communications.
- Consumers: A group of people identified as likely or intended customers for a business.
- Customers: Individuals or organizations who engage with your business or brand.
- Subscribers: Audience members who have taken an action on content (and provided some personal data to do so) in exchange for an expectation of receiving ongoing value.
- Total addressable market (TAM): A calculation used to reference both the total potential revenue opportunity available for a product or service and the total number of prospective buyers.
- Lead: A person or business that has entered your company’s sales or marketing database, typically (though not exclusively) by engaging with a branded asset or communication platform.
- Lead scoring: A marketing method of objectively and comparatively evaluating the quality and conversion potential of a lead based on predetermined sales criteria.
- Marketing-qualified lead (MQL): A lead that has been reviewed by the marketing team and satisfies the criteria necessary to be passed along to the sales team as someone who may become a customer at some indeterminate point.
- Sales-qualified lead (SQL): A lead that sales qualifies as being actively in-market and, thus, is more likely to become a customer than an MQL.
- Demand generation: The focus of targeted, salescentric marketing programs designed to drive awareness and interest in a company’s products and/or services. The greater the demand, the easier it becomes for sales to nurture that interest down the funnel towards conversion.
Connect systems to achieve greater clarity and focus
Sales and marketing teams often rely on tools and systems customized for their discrete use cases. Unfortunately, many of these tools collect, structure, and analyze data in proprietary ways, making it challenging to integrate them with systems used by other teams.
That’s the top reason cited by the 42% of marketers who feel their organization doesn’t use its existing content technology to its full potential, ccording to CMI’s 2021 Content Strategy and Management Survey.
Assessing content performance
Fragmented data access causes problems from an operations standpoint, too. For one thing, it makes tracking, reporting, and optimizing content performance against business goals much more difficult.
As mentioned above, 57% say marketing and sales rarely or never collaborate on assessing content effectiveness. Failing to gauge performance on an equal scale can lead to mismatched expectations, a lack of faith in content’s value, and, ultimately, a lack of executive support for business-critical content marketing initiatives.
De-siloing enterprise technology may be too ambitious an undertaking for either team to manage. However, sales and marketing teams can take other steps to share critical insights and information. Consider this content-centric suggestion shared by Ai Media Group’s Kenneth Kinney in a recent CMI webinar:
“Everybody needs to use one dashboard, across all channels. Everything you do in a channel should have its own page, but you have to measure it together as a team – with one dashboard. That includes pulling in [data from] customer service, sales, and marketing.”
Aligning on strategy, processes, communication, and data access sets the stage for more effective collaboration on sales-enablement content. But that alignment needs to flow through content creation and distribution, too.
Better creation starts with education
To achieve content success on both those aspects, it’s important to recognize that customers may prefer to engage with different types of content at different stages of their buyer’s journey. For example, CMI’s latest demand-generation research shows that marketers find blog posts, videos, and podcasts to be most effective for early-stage (awareness and interest) outreach, while more-detailed content like webinars, e-books, case studies, and events work best at the consideration/intent stage.
|Early Stage (awareness/interest)||Middle Stage (consideration/intent)||Late Stage (evaluation/purchase)|
|Events (e.g., virtual, in-person)||34%||45%||21%|
|Other types of content||42%||31%||28%|
However, CMI’s sales-enablement research found that only 39% of marketers feel their sales teams use the right content at the right stages in the buyer’s journey. This finding signals the need for marketers to help their sales team colleagues better understand the best practices for sales enablement content.
As one survey respondent remarked: “We try to educate sales on using more top- or mid-funnel content and not just heavily branded or product-based BOFU (bottom of the funnel) content.”
Create content that puts buyers in control
In his presentation at Content Marketing World 2021, Marcus Sheridan, President of IMPACT, pointed to another significant consideration impacting sales enablement: Today’s buyers increasingly prefer to do their own purchase research rather than engaging salespeople. He offered a few stats in support of this assertion:
- Buyers are 80% of the way through the buying cycle before they engage an organization
- According to Gartner, 33% of all buyers prefer a seller-free sales experience (a number that rises to 44% among millennials)
- McKinsey found that 70 to 80% of buyers say they prefer digital self-service and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions
Considering how buying behaviors and preferences are evolving, Marcus suggests that sellers, salespeople, and marketers need to change the way they use content to engage consumers.
He recommends embracing the self-service model and creating content that gives buyers control of the experience. That can include interactive configurators, self-pricing tools, and detailed product demos.
Sales enablement at every journey stage
The sales enablement process doesn’t begin and end at the purchase stage of the funnel. Consider the content experience consumers expect when they set out on their buyer’s journey and how your business will ensure their satisfaction after they’ve become a customer when you plan sales enablement content.
On the next pages, you’ll see some examples of content types created for various sales stages.
Formats to consider: Video storytelling, social media posts and apps, influencer campaigns; AR/VR experiences
Tip: Use empathy, emotion, and entertainment to capture attention.
Walmart has gone all-in on its “content-tocommerce” strategy this year with shoppable livestreams that entertain while letting viewers discover products. But for the holiday season, Walmart went even bigger. Its content-tocommerce campaign “Joy. Fully.” lets consumers use an AR lens to discover products that “spark joy” for them, based on their facial expressions as they view. The lens project is a collaboration with Facebook.
Content types to consider: Blog posts or articles, digital newsletters, livestreaming video, interactive experiences, email, social media groups, mobile apps
Tip: Provide unique and desirable experiences.
Even before COVID-related travel restrictions began to ease, travel brands kept the dream of exploration alive with stimulating stay-at-home travel experiences. For example, Australian airline Qantas launched Travel Insider, a content hub with guided virtual tours of popular museums, zoos, and art galleries around the world, as well as one-of-a-kind attractions like Uluru or the Sydney Opera House.
Content types to consider: eBooks, webinars, live/digital events, personalized emails, thought-leadership articles
Tip: Provide choice and convenience.
In his CMWorld presentation, Marcus pointed to Yale Appliance, one of the most visited appliance sites, as an example of a company offering an excellent self-scheduling and self-selection process for in-market customers. For instance, on the Yale website, visitors can easily choose to schedule a showroom visit or video call with a sales associate, connect immediately through live chat, or simply shop on their own and order online.
Content types to consider: Configuration tools, chatbots, case studies, customer testimonials, product demos.
Tip: Enable customization.
Marcus Sheridan’s own River Pools website adds a layer of customization. It offers a self-service configuration tool that enables purchase-ready customers to select the specific pool features they’re interested in, starting with the shape. From there, they can get detailed information on the base package River Pools offers, choose upgrades, compare prices, and view samples, so they can be completely confident about their decisions when they connect with a wholesaler for purchase and installation.
Content types to consider: Chatbots, SMS/text messaging, personalized newsletters, user tips
Tip: Sustain the engagement by adding value.
The post-purchase period is a great time to share detailed user product reviews, customer testimonials, or fan-submitted videos demonstrating a helpful tip or new use. For example, publication design-centric software company Turtl has a customer-only monthly newsletter, The Egg. It is filled with exclusive tips and checklists, interviews with expert-level users, and thoughtful discussions on relevant topics of interest. There’s also a hall-of-fame page highlighting ideas, examples, and stories of success that users share on Twitter with the hashtag #WFT.