Nearly all SaaS companies use content to generate leads, but that’s usually where the collaboration between content and sales ends. The content team has a job to do, the sales team has a job to do—each works independently of the other.
Animalz is a small (but growing) company, and for the last 18 months or so, I’ve been tasked with running our blog and handling our sales. It’s the first time I’ve ever experienced a complete feedback circle. Content affects sales, which affects content. It’s a cycle that ought to be completed at all companies but almost never is.
I spent years—like, nearly a decade—working in content marketing without ever talking to a salesperson. What an unbelievable oversight. All that time I spent trying to come up with topics, doing keyword research, trying to figure out how to optimize calls to action, etc.—it was all done in a vacuum. I didn’t really know what the sales team was hearing and what resources they needed to close more deals. I could have invested more time in earning business, and less time worrying about pageviews and bounce rate.
I spent years—like, nearly a decade—working in content marketing without ever talking to a salesperson. What an unbelievable oversight.
Now that I’ve had the chance to do both sales and content creation simultaneously, I have some thoughts on how all content and sales teams can work together to achieve better results. This is an area ripe with opportunity—even the smallest bit of collaboration can make a big difference.
1. Create Content for Lead Gen
This is the most obvious way that content and sales teams can work together. But think for a minute about how your team comes up with topic ideas. Ideally, the content you create for lead gen—ebooks, reports, white papers, etc.—is the result of collaboration with content, sales, and product marketing. If you’re part of a smaller company, just sit down with the head of sales and talk it out. If you’re part of a larger company, find a willing account exec, and buy them a coffee so you can pick their brain.
This is fairly obvious, and I won’t belabor the point. Talk to your sales team and the content you need to create will become obvious.
2. Create Content for the Bottom of the Funnel
Content marketing is most often used to drive top-of-funnel awareness. That’s one way to use it, but it’s certainly not the only way. Readers that come in via top-of-funnel content have a long way to go before they can realistically become paying customers. Awareness is just one small step—and content marketing can be used to support users in many other parts of the acquisition cycle.
Bottom-of-funnel content—the stuff that speaks directly to buying, integrating, budgeting, purchasing, etc.—is sorely underutilized. I didn’t realize this until I started running sales calls. The conversations I was having were completely different from the messaging on our blog. An article like “What Is Content Marketing?” is perfectly useless in a sales setting. An article like Why Venture-Backed Companies Struggle with Content Marketing is immensely useful. We addressed this in a hurry, and it’s made my life much easier.
Bottom-of-funnel content is useful for the prospective buyer when it speaks to problems they are currently experiencing or about to experience. We do this kind of content all the time:
- Why Venture-Backed Companies Struggle with Content Marketing → When I notice that a prospect has recently raised money, I can talk to them about problems they will likely encounter but don’t even realize yet.
- How to Take Your Content Upmarket When You Take Your SaaS Business Upmarket → The desire to move upmarket is a common trend among SaaS companies. This article provides a template for adjusting content strategy. It’s highly useful to small but valuable group of companies that we’d like to work with.
- Technical SEO for Content Marketers → Many people we talk to have a vague notion that they should do something about technical SEO but don’t know where to start. This article is a starting point for a conversation about a content team’s role in SEO.
All of this is helpful for the buyer, but it could be even more useful for your internal team. When you go through the exercise of creating bottom-of-funnel content, two important things happen:
- The content team learns a lot about how the sales process works, what happens on sales calls, how the sales team responds, etc. All of this can influence future content.
- The sales team has a larger catalog of materials to work with. Examples are much easier to cite when they’ve been well documented.
In my own experience, it’s very important to be able to cite specific examples on sales calls. This is hard to do in the moment—most good anecdotes are fleeting. But if your catalog of examples has been documented, you can easily speak to them, reference specific data points, and even send those articles as part of the follow-up.
This goes both ways, of course. The sales team should be trained to reach out to the team when they are in need of resources. Here’s our account exec Drew doing just that. This led to a long and useful thread with tons of good examples, some of which will become part of future Animalz blog posts.
This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: bottom-of-funnel content must be created in partnership with sales. Content teams should not assume that they know what to write about or that a sales team is even aware of the content they create. Work together for best results.
3. Write About the Product
Content marketers seem to have an aversion to talking about their own products. You can’t slap a pop-up box on a high-level, product-agnostic blog post and expect people to dive into your app.
People like trying new tools. They like improving their workflows. They want better data, easier-to-read dashboards, saved costs, improved integrations, etc. Give people the most specific information you can about your own product. Your sales team will thank you when they can point prospects to engaging content designed to get folks excited about the very thing they are trying to sell.
Writing about the product can manifest itself in a few different ways:
- Template gallery → Most SaaS companies present new users with a blank slate, making it very difficult to get started. Templates could be the job of a product marketing team, but the best ones are wrapped in context and are easily discoverable in search. This is where a content team can really help. Example: Asana Project Templates Gallery
- Integration libraries → Not all SaaS apps benefit significantly from partnerships and integrations, but for those that do, it’s important to create tons of material for the partner marketing team, the sales team, and the end users. No one does this better than Zapier—this is no surprise, given that their entire business is built on integrations. Talk to your sales team to understand which integrations help close deals, then create how-to content, screen-share videos, one-pagers, or whatever else they need to work more efficiently. Check out Zapier’s master list of apps. It includes content on all of the most popular integrations.
- Product updates → Product updates provide handy fodder for email newsletters and provide a contextual reason for salespeople to reach out to disengaged leads. The actual content of these articles should focus on the feedback that salespeople get during the sales cycle. If, for example, several leads have lapsed because the product lacked an API or a certain integration, the product update should highlight that in the title and discuss the specific benefits the new feature offers. Example: Provide Better Customer Support with Wistia for Zendesk
4. Ask the Sales Team to Contribute Content (and Make It Easy for Them)
The content team should shadow sales calls now and then. This is obvious and easy—all you need to do is listen.
The sales team can get involved in content, too, though it’s not quite as easy. You should encourage your sales team to contribute occasional posts to the company blog, but you should not expect them to follow the same process the rest of your writers do. Here’s why:
- Forcing them to learn a new process creates too much overhead. You want this to be easy.
- They have a lot of other work to do and can’t be expected to work with the same efficiency as full-time content creators.
- They almost certainly have good content ideas but will need help shaping their thoughts into an interesting piece of writing.
We spoke to Geoffrey Keating (formerly of Intercom, now Segment) about his process for getting subject-matter experts who are not writers to contribute content. Among his many useful tips, one stood out: Do not provide feedback the same way you would to the rest of the team. Your content team should be used to having the crap beaten out of their writing. Marking up a doc with dozens of comments will deflate outside contributors. Instead, Geoffrey recommends, schedule face-to-face meetings, where you can provide feedback with plenty of context.
The results are remarkable. Check this piece, Assembly required – 45 sales tools to build the ultimate tech stack, which was written by a member of the sales team. The quality is far better than most other articles on the topic because it was written by a true subject-matter expert and polished by a professional content team.
Not only do you have to make it easy—you have to make it gratifying as well. Once their work is published, celebrate it.
Fix the Broken Content/Sales Relationship
Take action on just one thing from this post and you’re almost certain to see better results. It might not help you generate more pageviews—content to support sales rarely does—but it will help the company bring in new business.