imagesMost of the comments we have seen around content marketing are neglecting a key (if not the key) ingredient – the salesperson. Many marketers act as if though all they need to do is publish volumes of carefully-crafted and gorgeously-charted whitepapers, articles or e-books and the buyer will come knocking at the door, check in hand. Here’s a definition of “content marketing” from the Content Marketing Institute:

Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.

What this definition misses and I’m afraid many marketers do as well is take into consideration that salespeople are both an audience for and messenger of the content. What inevitably happens is that marketing creates a vast library of content that salespeople ignore because the collateral doesn’t help them in their day-to-day selling activities – some studies claim up to 80% of sales content is not used. Fortunately, there are some marketing leaders that think more holistically about content marketing.

We recently met with a VP of Marketing at a very large technology company with whom we’re discussing a strategic sales enablement initiative to include development of sales tools, both rep and client-facing. He shared a very innovative approach to how he thought about serving the sales enablement needs of his close to 2000-person sales organization. His perspective was that in order for sales tools to be highly useful to and widely adopted by the salesforce, you essentially need to think about the introduction of a new tool in much the same way you would bring a new product to market.

Specifically, he advocated using a method akin to the “Crossing the Chasm” strategy. In other words, initially identify and target one group of salespeople that are most likely to need, use and advocate the tool (the “early adopters”), and then use this group as the base for prototyping, building and eventually “marketing” the tool to the rest of the sales organization.

He pointed out that in order to increase the likelihood of enabling the sales tool to “cross the chasm”, these “early adopters” need to be both social and influential. If there were such a thing as a Net Promoter Score for salespeople, the initial target group would have a tendency to score as being “extremely likely” to recommend, based on their endorsement of previous initiatives. But in addition to being strong advocates, they also need to have clout, so that their recommendations are meaningful and catalyze adoption.

He uses four criteria to define the “ideal customer” for the “early adopter” target group: a) high degree of influence, b) high degree of responsiveness, 3) high degree of advocacy, and 4) size of regional sales employee base in which the rep is located. It’s a scientific approach in its logic but not application. He has no data to mine to analyze and find the potential early adopters. Instead, he relies on field sales management, industry marketing, and product marketing leaders to recommend and recruit 10-25 candidates. These “early buyers” also become part of the solution because they help build, test and iterate the sales tool, thereby significantly increasing their buy-in and advocacy. Once the tool is created and “certified” by this core group, they become part of the roadshow to teach and promote the tool.

The lesson: If you want your content marketing efforts to have maximum reach and impact, start with your salespeople. Follow this approach and your content will be hand-delivered to the customer and used to spur and structure discussion and, ultimately, to help advance and close the sale.