Creating Conversations That Matter

It’s frightening to admit it, but I’ve been writing about sales and the techniques companies use to improve sales performance for more than two decades now. It has always seemed somewhat ironic to me because sales is a job that I feel completely unsuited for.

Close a deal? You may as well ask me to draw up the blueprints for an office tower.

In putting this issue’s cover story together, however, it turns out that I just may have some essential sales skills after all.

Content marketing continues to emerge as a focal point of companies’ go-to-market strategy. It’s known by many names — brand publishing, brand marketing, inbound marketing — but the strategy boils down to one key skill that has been around as long as mankind: storytelling.

“Marketers are obsessed with storytelling, and conference panels on the subject lately have fewer empty seats than a Bieber concert,” states Shane Snow, Chief Creative Officer of Contently, a sort of matchmaker for content producers and the businesses that need them.

But the more I dug into it and the more I spoke with people who now make content marketing their livelihood, the more I tried to find the answer to one question: What’s new about it?

In my mind, the best salespeople have always been top-notch storytellers. Loquacious, gregarious schmoozers. (Embracing both the positive and negative connotations that come with the latter term.)

As near as I can tell, the key difference between today’s content marketing and the stuff (whether in print, spoken word or digital format) that has served for so many years as sales and promotion content is the subject being discussed. It’s giving customers and prospects information they want, not the stuff you want them to know about you.

“Your customers don’t care about you, your products or your services. They care about themselves, their wants and their needs,” says Joe Pulizzi in his book, “Epic Content Marketing.” “Content marketing is about creating interesting information your customers are passionate about so they actually pay attention to you.”

It seems rather obvious, and maybe it has been to companies that have done it well for several decades. The harder part, of course, is finding out what prospects want to know and how best to deliver that.

We can’t answer that in a single story, but maybe that’s fitting. After all, content marketing is an ongoing conversation.

Paul Nolan, Editor