How to get sales buy-in on thought leadership

You’ve established a content marketing strategy, mapped out a buyer’s journey and developed a thought leadership program. While you’ve checked the boxes in what is commonly becoming marketing table stakes for success in today’s B2B environment, chances are there is a missed opportunity right in front of you. Or down the hall from you. Or sitting in one of your regional offices. A gap in the process that, when bridged, can lead to even deeper customer engagement, brand differentiation and business growth.

I’m talking about the opportunity to leverage your sales team as thought leaders and active brand advocates who can deliver your content directly to your customer.  

In our recent Vision 2020 survey, more than 50% of responding marketing and communications professionals noted connecting marketing and sales teams as a top priority for the year. I see a path to get there by adding PR to the sales process and establishing your sales team as thought leaders.  

Where to begin? Here are a few ideas to start the conversation and get sales to help spread the word.

Identify early adopters. In nearly every organization, there are those individuals who readily embrace change and welcome new ideas and opportunities. Seek those people out in the sales team and bring them into your PR program early and often. Ask them to share their feedback on the types of content that is most helpful in the sales cycle, and share with them what already exists to support their conversations and outreach.  

These conversations allow you to uncover areas of expertise where they can become contributors to the content and subject matter experts to put in front of media. What are those topics, services, industries and trends they are most immersed in? You can then align subject matter expertise of sales with future earned media opportunities, including bylined articles, blogs, speaking engagements and more.

Securing a few media wins with the early adopters helps give the PR program added credibility internally. They become advocates and start to share with the broader sales team how they are using their media coverage as another touchpoint with customers.

Merchandise media wins. Arming your sales team with earned media coverage of your business, products and services can put the right message in a prospect’s hands at the right time to help move deals forward, providing third-party credibility to their sales pitch.

Articles, product placements and influencer reviews can be used for manual email outreach by your sales team to nurture leads during conversations that take place throughout the sales cycle. This should be second nature to your sales team and woven into how they communicate with your customers. Also, consider adding an “In the News” page to your website as a destination for sales to direct customers and pull relevant media articles to share with prospects. 

Train and repeat. While sales professionals are comfortable speaking to potential and existing customers, a media audience can make even the most seasoned salesperson uneasy. Before putting your sales team in front of media, either in person on the trade show floor or via phone for interviews, help prepare them by offering a media training exercise. 

Focus on message delivery, tone, body language and approaches to redirect the conversation. Create scenarios for the hard questions and suggest responses that reinforce their expertise and position them and the brand as industry thought leaders. Capture a mock reporter interview on video to play back to show what worked well and where more training may be needed.

For one B2B client, we leaned on a longstanding relationship with a key trade editor to participate in media training for sales leading up to a critical trade show. The editor shared what makes a great interview from a media perspective and what he most values when covering industry trade shows to make the most of the media’s time. 

Optimize social selling. Seventy-five percent of B2B buyers and 84% of C-level executives say they are influenced by social media when making a purchasing decision (IDC). Developing a LinkedIn SME program helps build credibility for your sales team and can also boost their confidence in how to use the channel for social selling. Establish guidelines for post content and frequency, suggested hashtags and best practices for connecting with associations. 
An audit of the sales team’s LinkedIn profiles is another opportunity to help boost their status as a thought leader and ensure they are optimized to best engage with customers and prospects for when they do share your company content. Do they have a professional photo? Have they solicited recommendations from peers and customers? Are they joining and participating in relevant professional groups?
PR tells a story about what you know, not what you make or sell, which aligns perfectly with the approach of the best salespeople. They are great storytellers, not product pushers. Bringing sales into the PR process can be a mutually beneficial approach to boost thought leadership and increase sales. That’s a win-win marketing and sales can both get behind. 

To read more, check out this case study highlighting how deeper sales integration in PR can deliver meaningful results.