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40+ Mistakes Derailing Your Content Team (and How To Fix Them)

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40+ Mistakes Derailing Your Content Team (and How To Fix Them)

No content marketer works alone. Even if people who make up a content team of one still engage with colleagues, clients, and contractors. And everyone reports to a boss.

Great, productive interactions and collaboration feel exhilarating and inspiring. But not all collaboration falls into that category.

Challenges always arise when people come together (virtually or physically) to strategize, brainstorm, create, publish, and promote content. Mistakes involving resources, content operations, and more can derail even the most promising projects.

We asked the speakers at Content Marketing World 2022 where they see the biggest problems happening on content marketing teams. Their responses should resonate with anyone who has worked with people (and that’s everyone). But they’re especially helpful for content marketers.

Managing #content teams isn’t easy. But the productivity that comes from successful collaboration make it worthwhile. Steer around common pitfalls with help from #CMWorld speakers via @AnnGynn @CMIContent @Canto. Click To Tweet

Forgetting the Golden Rule

It’s the same mistake people make managing anyone – they forget the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would do to yourself.

First, treat each other like humans. Be flexible. Be sympathetic. Constantly put yourself in their shoes. My entire team follows each other on social media and shares what’s happening in real life. (Psssst … Real life is work life. If you have to have “balance,” you should probably get another job.)

When you work by the Golden Rule, you work “nicer.” You also build fans from within so that our overarching marketing strategy of evangelism radiates from the inside out. – Kate Bradley Chernis, co-founder and CEO, Lately

Fitting people into boxes

I think this applies to managing any team. Many new managers will fit employees into a box based on the needs of a business. But what if you shifted your perspective and looked first at the needs of your employees? What makes them tick? What do they enjoy doing? What makes their work shine? Once you understand your people, it’s easy to match their skills with what the business needs. – Amy Higgins, senior director, content marketing, Twilio

Asking for everything in one role

I’ve seen so many content marketing job descriptions that are wildly unrealistic. Unless you’re a small company, it’s a mistake to expect any one content marketer to “do it all,” especially if the scope of content marketing and expectations for its impact are bigger than the scope of your resources.

Stop spreading your peanut butter too thin – it’s a recipe for burnout. Instead:

  1. Increase the size of the team and allow individuals to focus on the work they love/are best at (with the opportunity to learn and try new things).
  2. Stop doing all the things and do fewer things better. Like Drew Davis asked in his 2021 CM World keynote, “What if we spend our creative energy wisely on one outcome?” – Carmen Hill, principal strategist and writer, Chill Content

Spreading your #ContentMarketing team too thin is a recipe for burnout, says @CarmenHill via @CMIContent @Canto. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Hiring only marketers

Mistake 1: Hiring only people with marketing backgrounds. (People with diverse experiences and backgrounds make for much better content). Mistake 2: Siloes. Maximizing the collaboration between parts of the team and content mediums (blog, social, video, audio) to repurpose ideas and content into different formats is a key process to establish. – Jennifer Jordan, vice president and global head of content, Babbel

Including only content strategists and creators

Content marketing teams are too often limited to content strategists and creators only. If we see content marketing as a company mindset and a culture, then teams should include colleagues that benefit from the content and who may not describe themselves as marketers: sales professionals, product developers, CEOs, etc. The team should also include the people who facilitate successful content marketing: IT and tech, CFOs, etc.

Defining the content marketing team as a broader team helps to avoid Joe Pulizzi’s law No. 1: The Law of They Have No Clue What You’re Doing. Within the team, the implementation task force consists of a content strategist and creators who take the responsibility of bringing ideas to life. – Bert van Loon, strategist, CMFF

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Looking for the same skills

One of the biggest mistakes in building and managing a content marketing team is too much focus on the same skills with the intention of producing a high volume of content. Teams should have diverse skills, diverse backgrounds, and diverse ideas and should be led by a data-driven leader focused on business results. – Bernie Borges, vice president global content marketing, iQor

#ContentMarketing teams need people with diverse skills, backgrounds, and ideas – and a data-driven leader, says @BernieBorges via @CMIContent @Canto. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Onboarding for specialization

Overspecializing is a big one. Instead of bringing on new people or agencies for every skill or channel, look for more T-shaped people (folks with broad knowledge across many content disciplines, along with one area of deep expertise).

There are times when a specialist is the right way to go, but especially for full-time hires, and especially if you’re a smaller team, you’re better off looking for utility players. – Andrea Fryrear, CEO and co-founder, AgileSherpas

Not saying no

A writing team’s bandwidth is not infinite, but many content leaders don’t have a framework or the confidence to turn down requests. This reactionary operational model may lead to burnout and, ultimately, turnover of valuable staff.

Every content marketing manager needs a process for managing and prioritizing content intake requests. This may include tying requests to broader marketing campaigns, gaps, and initiatives, defining standard pieces to be included in content bundles, and establishing metrics to determine effectiveness.

At technical B2B companies, it is highly difficult and inefficient to create quality content without consulting with a subject matter expert (SME). Support your team by evangelizing the business impact of content internally. Help clear roadblocks so your writers’ time is spent on sourcing and writing, not hounding unenthusiastic SMEs. – Wendy Covey, CEO and co-founder, TREW Marketing

Many #ContentMarketing leaders lack a framework or the confidence to turn down requests, says @wendycovey via @CMIContent @Canto. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Trying to do it all

The biggest mistake people make when managing a content team is thinking they can (and should) do it all, where small content marketing teams, or even one person, are expected to have expertise in copywriting, storytelling, design, demand gen, demand capture, SEO, organic social, paid social, podcasting, video marketing, blogging … the list goes on.

There is so much you can do with content marketing that it’s easy to overload your in-house team or feel limited by the available skillsets and time. But there is another option: outsourcing.

Working with skilled partners can help you achieve much more while alleviating pressure on your team. By doing this, you keep everyone operating within their zone of genius. I believe managing a high-performing content marketing team means balancing happy and engaged in-house personnel with strategic, nurtured partnerships. – Amy Woods, founder and CEO, Content 10x

Misunderstanding the editor-in-chief role

A lot of content folks graduate up into content marketing management and get frustrated about their role being so focused on project management, but that’s what the role of a good editor-in-chief is.

You need to train and set guidelines for quality, but you also need to manage the content calendar, educate others on how long types of content take to make, and spot when the team is creating two very similar assets that could be combined into one.

There is a lot of duplicative work on content marketing teams due simply to the lack of a dedicated project manager, which is the EIC’s job. – Tracey Wallace, director of content strategy, Klaviyo

Omitting quality assurance

Mistake 1: not having a quality assurance person or process. Mistake 2: not having a project manager.

As I’ve said, project management is not a nice to have for any project. It is critical for its success regarding scope, budget, and timing. When it comes to creative projects, project management is crucial to managing meetings, reviews, assets, and expectations. Project management should never be an afterthought. – Michael Weiss, vice president of consulting services and solutions, Creative Circle

Project management should never be an afterthought for #ContentMarketing teams, says @MikePWeiss via @CMIContent @Canto. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Failing to build bridges

Allowing the content marketing team to become siloed would be a big mistake. It’s critical for the content team to build strong bridges to every other area of marketing.

Pair a content marketer with a product marketer and extend that to other areas of marketing, creating “pods” aligned to a single product area or persona. This supports content-driven collaboration that’s scalable and productive. – Ali Orlando Wert, director of content strategy, Qlik 


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Not seeing value in integration

One big mistake that some organizations still make is not integrating the content marketing team’s efforts with those of the larger marketing department.

At best, this can result in the appearance that one group is unaware of the other’s activities. At worst, it can cost the opportunity to amplify messaging and ensure consistency. – Nancy Harhut, CCO, HBT Marketing

Disregarding cross-training

Always cross-train your team. In this era of the Great Resignation and COVID, it’s important to make sure that no one person is the linchpin of your team.

Your top performer may suddenly be out of the office with an illness or leave for a new job. Also, we’re all finally taking vacations and deserve some time unconnected from work. Projects can’t stop because one person is missing.

Cross-training team members to cover for each other can provide career growth opportunities. A team member may learn more about a different side of content marketing and flourish. Also, your projects will benefit from fresh perspectives. – Penny Gralewski, senior director, product and portfolio marketing, DataRobot

Make sure no one person is the linchpin of your #ContentMarketing team, says @VirtualPenny via @CMIContent @Canto. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Possessing a team-only mindset

Overlooking individual motivations as a root cause of team performance issues. Team members can find all sorts of plausible excuses for not meeting goals. Handling them in a one-off way just addresses symptoms without changing the team dynamic.

Use content marketing tools like personas and journey maps to reflect on your internal team’s motivations for getting the work done and see if the team performance doesn’t skyrocket. – Jenny Magic, founder, Better Way to Say It

Ignoring the individual

It’s a mistake not to deeply understand the individuals on their team. As marketers, we spend a lot of time learning about our audience – building personas, finding out what motivates them, and understanding what makes them tick – all so we can create better content for them. Why wouldn’t we do the same thing with our teams? We should deeply understand them so we can manage them more effectively and support them in doing their best work? – Monica Norton, head of content marketing, Yelp

Not looking to the future

A common mistake that marketing team leads make is overlooking the team aspect. Your content marketing team is made up of individuals with unique experiences, goals, and passions.

I see content marketing leaders not helping their employees to define their career path. It’s important to understand where everyone on your team wants to go (which may or may not be into a leadership position), so you can provide the right growth opportunities.

A second mistake I see frequently is that marketing teams rarely have a good content library or information repository. Give your team, including marketing consultants, the resources they need to thrive. In way too many organizations, people are unaware of existing content that they can reuse, repurpose, or link to, leading to duplicating efforts. Similarly, templates for common deliverables like blog posts, thought leadership plans, and channel audits are a great way to streamline work.

A final mistake is when teams treat all content as lead-generation content, thinking that content must have a hard CTA that drives people into the funnel. That’s simply not how relationships are built and can undermine your content strategy. Sometimes, the best call to action is a piece of content that’s the next step in a learning journey, not in an immediate buyer’s journey. – Erika Heald, founder, lead consultant, Erika Heald Marketing Consulting

Expecting creators to be SMEs

The biggest mistake is thinking your content team can be your sole subject matter expert. Yes, they are experts, but their role is to be curators and generators that herald the brand’s voice. But they can only do so if other members of your organization proactively contribute meaningfully to the thought leadership desired by your audience. – Karen McFarlane, chief marketing officer, LetterShop

Your #Content team shouldn’t be your sole subject matter experts, says @karenkmcfarlane via @CMIContent @Canto. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Looking only inside

From a brand perspective, one of the biggest mistakes I see is limiting content creation to the bandwidth of an internal team. No matter how niche or regulated your industry is, I promise you there are extremely talented freelance writers who can support your crew.

Prevent burnout internally by paying well for professional freelancers. This also presents your internal team with a growth opportunity they might not otherwise have at a large company.

Allow them to give feedback, edit, and manage external resources like their own micro-team, and you’ll help them branch out from a traditional content role and build their professional skill set. – Haley Collins, director of operations and content, GPO

Micromanaging

Leaders who micromanage their teams stifle creativity. Leaders who ignore their teams create apathy.

If you lead a content marketing team, neither of these scenarios is ideal. You want to let creativity flourish on your team while assuring team members that you are there to support and guide them if needed. – Andi Robinson, global digital content marketing, Corteva Agriscience

#ContentMarketing leaders who micromanage their teams stifle creativity, says @hijinxmarketing via @CMIContent @Canto. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Overlooking strategy and goals

Not understanding the actual strategy and goal driving the creation of that piece of content and then effectively communicating that to the team. If you don’t know what action you want each piece of your content to drive, you’re missing the mark. – Brian Piper, director of content strategy and assessment, University of Rochester

Not communicating your team’s mission

Mistake 1: Not having a goal for each channel. All channels must play a role. So, the one in charge of creating content for that very specific channel can always work with a challenge in mind.

Mistake 2: Your team doesn’t know what your content mission statement is. What happens then? Your team will implement dozens of informal guidelines, which means following no guidelines at all. – Cassio Politi, founder, Tracto Content Marketing

Diffusing the focus

Mistake 1: Unclear outcomes – just asking a team to create content isn’t enough. Exactly what are you trying to accomplish with the content you create?

Mistake 2: Too many outcomes – inviting your team to increase engagement, raise brand awareness, generate leads, become the industry expert, drive sales, and increase your search ranking with your content is asking too much of your team (not your content).

Define one clear outcome for your content marketing strategy and watch your team thrive. – Andrew Davis, author and keynote speaker, Monumental Shift

Expecting too much

Not getting out of their own way and thinking that one person can (and should!) do two people’s jobs. – Chris Ducker, founder, Youpreneur.com

Involving too many stakeholders

One well-intentioned inefficiency is an overly large group of client-side stakeholders, which can result in both content creation by consensus and approval paralysis.

Don’t get me wrong, we love enthusiastically engaged clients, but we also love leaders stepping up to be accountable for individual client-side teams. – Diane di Costanzo, chief content officer, Foundry 360, Dotdash Meredith

Not providing the foundation

It’s incredibly important to provide brand standards to your content marketing team. Each brand has its own point of view, voice, and do’s and don’ts. Make sure your content marketing team is intimately familiar with these brand standards to ensure your content looks and feels and sounds like your brand. – Brittany Graff, senior director of marketing, Painting with a Twist

Focusing on the little things

Mistake 1. A failure to understand the full process of developing/creating content and trying to micromanage each person and their responsibilities.

Mistake 2. Not giving your team the resources they need to be successful or the latitude to try and test new ideas. – Michael Bordieri, senior content solutions consultant, LinkedIn

Forgetting to give the tools

Failing to give their team the right templates, processes, and tech that can make them more efficient and effective at their jobs. – Paul Roetzer, CEO, Marketing AI Institute

Seeing only stars

They have good experiences with a few superstar writers, so they try to get along without content briefs and creative briefs. As a result, they cannot scale. They don’t have sources of truth, and they kill their writer morale with developmental edits that are unreasonable. – Jeff Coyle, co-founder, CSO, MarketMuse

Zigging and zagging

The big mistake I encounter with content marketing teams is not starting and following a strategic path with clear and identifiable goals. Content marketing is not easy. As a team, we need to decide what success looks and feels like before we begin a project.

Another mistake is not giving the team the resources or adequate time to be creative. Burnout is a real thing and can happen so quickly if you are not willing to prevent it or recognize it when it does happen. – Jacquie Chakirelis, chief digital strategy officer, Quest Digital/Great Lakes Publishing

Going for the wrong things

Focusing on quantity over quality. Spammy keywords or hashtags. Not getting feedback before posting content. – Tim Schmoyer, founder/CEO, Video Creators

Casting doubt with lack of information

Teams need certainty. Marketing teams struggle with creating a clear vision and a change plan for new initiatives.

Identifying influencers and who will be impacted is a key first step in getting the team to adopt new ways of working. Take a broader perspective and consider what you can take off their plate to improve team performance. – Melissa Breker, strategic business advisor, Breker Group

Thinking tactically

Telling content marketers what to create and focusing on tasks vs. outcomes can be serious errors. – Michael Brenner, CEO, Marketing Insider Group

Not writing things down

Not having a documented plan. Too often, what we do is kept in our heads and not duly noted and documented. It makes it very hard to share the plan with anyone else or for them to jump in when nothing is documented. – Meg Coffey, managing director, Coffey & Tea

Going in many directions

The biggest mistake is no clear editorial mission statement with a focus on a specific content niche. Without it, teams have no clear common goal. They might have a different understanding of the content qualities that would make the publication they contribute to the best source of information in the defined niche or who they write for.

We want them to be creative and to contribute their ideas and skills, but at the same time, the sum of all these efforts should have a single direction.

It’s like pulling a cart: If everyone pulls in their own direction, we will go nowhere. The most likely result will be inconsistent content with little audience resonance. – Igor Bielobadek, digital marketing senior manager, Deloitte

Forgetting content marketing’s roots

The biggest mistake I have seen — and made — is forgetting that content marketing is ultimately rooted in creativity. Yes, you need a strategy. Yes, you need structure. Yes, you need a keen measurement plan.

But you also need to give a team of creatives — writers, editors, photographers, illustrators, videographers, audio editors, and more — the freedom to experiment. Create a culture where thinking creatively is encouraged. Give people the freedom to have bad ideas and even fail from time to time. Because for each bad idea, there also will be a gem. And ultimately, content made by creators who feel free and love what they do will be more resonant. – Chris Blose, founder, Chris Blose Content

Discouraging creative workouts

Never strangle your content team’s creativity. Sure, sometimes boring stuff needs to be created. But if you can’t let your team flex those intuitive, creative muscles, they will move on.

That doesn’t always mean they need to write creatively. Sometimes, a new project or even a new framework can help them glow. It never hurts to ask them what they need to do their best work. It might not be what you think. – Gina Balarin, director and content queen, Verballistics

Fixing rather than teaching

  1. Knowledge sharing is critical. As a member of leadership, you’re privy to far more context than the people you manage. It’s critical that you share that context with your people. This can be anything from an emerging trend your salespeople are encountering on calls or a news story about your competitors. Give your people as much information as possible so they don’t miss out. Open an update channel on Slack (or whatever your chosen platform may be) and encourage people to share links and insights there. Then lead by example. Start dropping links and insights there, and your team will follow.
  2. Fixing instead of teaching. If one of your content writers isn’t hitting a point well enough or is missing something in terms of tone or message, don’t just rewrite it. Take a moment to pinpoint the actual issue and then let the person figure out how to fix it. If you rewrite them, they’re not going to learn and will keep making the same mistakes. Trust your people to fix their own work. They’ll do a better job than you, I promise. – Inbar Yagur, vice president of marketing, GrowthSpace

Assuming too much

The biggest mistake is assuming everyone remembers to create from an overarching goal. Producing content for social media requires us to move outside the traditional sales-driven content.

But we have to remember that we exist to complement and supplement our company’s business. It’s easy to forget that and just “play on social.” It all has to ladder up to the business goal, but in a voice and context relevant to the social audience. – Jason Falls, senior influence strategist, Cornett

Failing to work cross-functionally

Remember, content marketers may not be the right people to tee up your content for buyers within campaigns. This is where demand or growth teams need to work cross-functionally with content marketers to map the buyer journey.

Every campaign has a channel, and the content is often the destination. This mindset is crucial to getting your content marketers to think about their role in acting as the connective tissue within your organization. – Randy Frisch, chief evangelist, Uberflip

Failing to promote

One mistake would be failing to promote the content once it’s created. Public relations professionals are great at both creating content and promoting it, which is why I believe you shouldn’t silo off these two teams – they should be working together. Also, don’t overlook the role the social media team plays in this process.

Squeeze all the juice from each piece of content that’s created. That means if you write a customer success story, why not pitch it to your key industry publications? They may want to include it with a link back to the original piece on your site. Then, you can promote that on social media.

I’ve even had editors contact me about a client’s thought leadership piece or customer story they saw in another publication, asking if they can also publish a version of it. It works. – Michelle Garrett, consultant, Garrett Public Relations

Concentrating too much on numbers

They overmanage the campaign KPIs instead of managing the conversations (think conversations you want to be part of in your industry). They forget human metrics for people – joy, fun, experimentation, playfulness.

It’s a big mistake not to give teams latitude to experiment. The bigger mistake is not to remember that human metrics – humor, creativity, and joy – matter. Stop treating humor like a bandage for shitty culture and leadership. We have to stop treating it like campaigns and one-offs. It’s got to be part of your culture and how your team operates.

I see leaders often blaming marketers for bad content. If you don’t make it safe, fun, and part of the culture to fail, have fun, learn, and grow, your team won’t. Stop blaming marketers for crappy culture. If your culture sucks, so will marketing. – Kathy Klotz-Guest, founder, Keeping it Human

Stop blaming marketers for crappy culture. If your culture sucks, so will marketing, says @kathyklotzguest via @CMIContent @Canto. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Thinking they know

Believing that content is simple because it looks simple. Great content should have elements that require cross-functional skills: SEO, images, writing, video, podcast, development, editing, etc. If you’re managing folks, be sure you understand what goes into their day and the duties assigned to them.

We all hate the ask for showing ROI, but it’s critical that content be aligned with sales and the messaging they need. Your team can’t just be creatives; you’ve got to understand pipeline attribution and the user journey. – Jenn Vande Zande, editor-in-chief, SAP Customer Experience

Make a better content marketing team

Think of these mistakes as fodder for self-reflection. After reading each, decide if the error happens in your organization or your team.

Then ask yourself if it’s really a mistake. You may find what doesn’t work for someone else might work for you (or vice versa).

Fix what you can and collaborate to address the rest.

The important thing is to review your content marketing team operations intentionally. And that’s never a mistake.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

Amazon pillows.

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

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  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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