Creating or improving your content often starts with a lot of detective work: sorting through documents and files, interviewing users and stakeholders, asking the hard questions (do we really need this?).
All that research and digging is important. But what if I told you there was an easier place to start? Something you can do to lighten your load? It won’t take away the research, but it will give you a framework for it, helping you start the process with the end in mind—helping you take the pulse of your clients without a three-month user-research project.
That magic starting point is your sales team.
They’re the ones seeking out new clients, wooing them, getting them to sign on for your service or buy your product. They’re the ones who hear the initial hesitations and concerns. And they’re also the ones who know what features or sales tactics turn up the excitement for your buyers. So it only makes sense that we build our content projects—which are targeted at these buyers—on the knowledge and experience of our top sellers.
Where to start: Interviewing them
When it’s time to start a new content project (be it strategy, website, newsletter, social media, or publication), it’s also time to set up interviews with your most successful salespeople. Remember: They answer questions about the company, the product, the service every single day. They’ve got a handle on communication that other stakeholders may not. So take full advantage of the time that you’re given, asking questions like:
- What features or benefits of the product/service get the most questions?
- What product/service is your top seller?
- How do you describe the company to a prospective client?
- What features or benefits cause your prospects the most confusion? Why?
- Who’s your typical customer? What do they care about?
- How many touch-points are in your typical sales funnel? How many calls or emails before the client buys something?
- What do you think pushes them over the line from prospect to buyer?
- Talk me through your sales process.
These questions and others like them can help you put together a framework for understanding every other document, interview, and user-research finding. And they can make it easy to identify trouble spots in current communications.
For example: If your sales team says their clients buy your content management system because it’s easy to use, but your website always leads with security features, maybe it’s time to test some new website messaging.
What if they’re busy? Or persnickety?
As you know, sometimes it’s hard to get interviews with anyone—let alone a busy sales team. But it’s going to save you lots of time, research, and money to start with sales.
So, here are a couple tips for getting slotted into a busy schedule:
1) Let them know they’re important to your process. This isn’t just another item on the to-do list. You’re not just consulting them because the CEO tells you to. Their knowledge and experience is key to the project’s success. And as you use their feedback to improve the website, newsletter, publication, etc., your plan is to make their job easier.
For example: If their feedback is used to make a more robust technical FAQ area on the website, they could spend less time explaining technical features and more time selling.
2) Be friendly. Thank them for their help. Bring brownies. Or cake. Let them know that you want ongoing feedback—that their opinions matter at the interview stage, but they also matter every day afterward. If they think of something else, hear a new client question, or run into a new challenge, you want to know about it. Throw your door wide open to these client-facing communicators.
What comes next? Training
Once you’ve started the process with some key interview questions and an open invitation to share their thoughts, experiences, and client struggles with you in the days to come, it’s time for some training. Your sales team can be an ongoing asset by not only offering insight from their client calls, but by asking deliberate questions in their client conversations. Questions like:
- Have you been to the website? Did you find what you were looking for there?
- Have you been to our blog? I think we have a post that would interest you.
- What made you decide to buy today?
- How did you hear about us?
If you train your salespeople to keep content and marketing top of mind, making sure to ask key questions when relevant, you’ll start to see trends emerge and change over time. It’s user research, only cheaper. It’s marketing, but always targeted at already-interested prospects.
So keep this in mind: If you want to know what your clients want, ask your sales team. If you want to be constantly improving, train them. And never forget to say thank you and let them know how vital they are to your process.