how to rock at relationship marketing like the best sales pros

At least 32% of business-to-business (B2B) marketers create more company-centric content than customer-centric.

Yikes. That’s not good.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s important to have great content that explains exactly how your product or service can help your customers. But that sort of content will have its greatest impact long after your prospects know, like, and trust you.

B2B marketing campaign customer centricity

Another 27% of B2B marketers write more customer-focused content. That’s great. But there is something to be said for including company-focused content that helps your readers understand why they should buy your product or service after their first few experiences with your awesome content.

That’s why the 41% of B2B marketers who combine company- and customer-focused content will win the sale at the end of the day. Here’s why, and exactly how you can do it, too, with a little thing we call relationship marketing.

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Your Prospects Don’t Care About You, Your Product, Or Your Service (At Least Not Yet)

In January, my wife and I spent some time in New Orleans. It’s great, by the way—a city full of music.

While walking around town, musicians would spot us, walk over, and ask us to buy one of their CDs for only $10.

But we didn’t buy a single CD.

On the other hand, we saw a ton of street performers actually playing their music. They were out, showing visitors like us their awesome talents, and simply had a guitar case open with a sign that read $10 a CD.

Anytime we stopped to listen, we gave those guys a few bucks.

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Think about those two scenarios applied to your marketing:

  1. You can write content that talks about your product and nothing else, then hard sell someone on purchasing it.
  2. Or you could show your readers a preview of what you’re capable of first, show them you’re a company full of talented folks, and let your content sell for you.

I bet you can tell which sales technique is more effective.

The street performers who showed us a preview of what we would get by buying their albums gave us the chance to get to know and like their music enough to trust that their whole album would be great.

Why Content Marketing Is Your New Salesperson

While it’d be great if you could go out and meet every one of your prospects like the musicians (or salespeople) in New Orleans, it’s just not going to happen. Especially not anymore—because people want to find your solution on their own without your help.

In fact, 84% of folks prefer to research on their own instead of having someone do it for them.

Their first experience with your brand is through your content. Your content needs to build that relationship. And that relationship cannot begin with a hard sell.

And while some even argue that relationship selling is dead, their arguments even further the importance of experiences and relationship marketing. Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson take to the Harvard Business Review to explain why “Selling Is Not About Relationships”, but rather about being a challenger.

The best salespeople:

1. Teach their prospects.

They focus the sales conversation not on features and benefits but on insight, bringing a unique (and typically provocative) perspective on the customer’s business. They come to the table with new ideas for their customers that can make money or save money — often opportunities the customer hadn’t realized even existed.

Apply This To Your Marketing: Publish helpful content (the kind that doesn’t just scratch the surface). Participate in the ensuing conversation with blog comments and social media. And create experiences people will remember long after first meeting you through content.

2. Tailor their sales messages.

They have a finely tuned sense of individual customer objectives and value drivers and use this knowledge to effectively position their sales pitch to different types of customer stakeholders within the organization.

Apply This To Your Marketing: Understand your audience and their challenges super well. Never be afraid to go super niche or narrowcast your prospects with your content.

3. Take control of the sale.

While not aggressive, they are certainly assertive. They are comfortable with tension and are unlikely to acquiesce to every customer demand. When necessary, they can press customers a bit — not just in terms of their thinking but around things like price.

Apply This To Your Marketing: The best salespeople “win by pushing customers to think differently, using insight to create constructive tension in the sale.” Help your readers understand that they can improve the way they’re currently doing something—even if they didn’t know they could. Focus on customer value while pushing your readers outside their comfort zone to understand there is a better way.

And I would argue that doing all of that builds positive experiences with your content. And that, in turn, serves as the foundation for a relationship.

So, if the best salespeople build relationships to sell, how can you apply those same practices to build your relationship marketing?

So, What About “New Age” Sales And Marketing Then?

Pitches and cold calls are out. At least, that’s what some sales pros have been saying.

Prospects are more informed than ever before when they make buying decisions—84% of them, in fact.

So, what is the solution? When Entrepreneur asked Tony Parinello that question, this is what he had to say:

Let’s face it: Buyers are more educated than ever before. What we sales and marketing types need to focus more on is understanding our prospect’s world—and the best way I know of to do just that is to ask intelligent questions.

Parinello goes on to explain that those questions should be open-ended and prompt longer responses than just yes or no. And that we should ask and listen a lot more than adding to the noise.

Hm. This new age stuff actually sounds a lot like what Dale Carnegie wrote about way back in 1936 in his book, “How To Win Friends And Influence People.”

So, once again, it’s about building relationships.

And you can do that with your content. Here’s how:

6 ways to find your prospects' challenges and connect your content to sales

  1. Ask your readers what they’d like to hear from you.
  2. Ask your customers why they use your product or service.
  3. Listen to their big challenges on social media.
  4. Look at the questions they ask you in your blog comments.
  5. Listen to the questions they ask presenters at events.
  6. Review your most successful content to learn why your audience loved it.

Give Away Your Secret Recipes

Just like those street performers in New Orleans, you can give away the recipe for your secret sauce, and people will still buy what you’re selling.

give away your secret recipes to win friends and influence people

In fact, some companies give away their most successful recipes—very literally.

Living in Minnesota, there is an awesome brewery I love: Surly. Those guys partnered with Northern Brewer Homebrew Store to share tons of their recipes so homebrewers could replicate their beers.

It takes a super loyal fan to want to clone a beer. And guess what? When you brew your own version, won’t you probably also buy that brewery’s beer to taste how close you made it? From experience, the answer is yes. You would.

And that, in a nutshell, is how giving away your secret recipe in the form of content will actually help you sell more.

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By sharing exactly how you do things successfully, you build thought leadership in your industry. Relationships are built on trust, and when smart people see how smart you are, they’ll want to work with you.

If you give away how to do something without your help at all, your audience could do it… but they still might not have the time, knowledge, or experience to do it as well as they could when they have your help.

Will Old School Sales Models Work In Your Content Marketing?

There are a couple old school sales models that people still talk about. And they get pretty interesting when you combine them with content marketing.

Break and fix.

This is when a salesperson shares something jarring, then something rational. Psychologists were able to convert 80% of study participants by disrupting their trains of thought with something out of the ordinary, then following up with something agreeable.

Apply this to your content marketing: Show your readers a problem they’re experiencing now but may not even know about it, then provide the solution in your content.

1. Write content that promises utility.

Think of headlines that look like this:

How To ___ That Will Help You ___

Or even this:

23 Ways To Get Even More From ___ To ___

The thing in common with this method, is that it connects the main idea of the content to a promise of what your reader will learn.

how to write headlines that promise results with relationship marketing

There’s a reason our headline analyzer ranks power words like how to and that will so high: It’s a promise of extremely useful content. And we know 34% of people share content simply because it’s super helpful.

Headlines like that indicate a desired state, too. If you do ___ you will become ___. We want to become better at what we do; it’s human nature.

When your content promises that and follows through—you’ve created a magical experience your readers will remember.

write better headlines with this free headline analyzer

Write Better Headlines With A Free Headline Analyzer

The headline analyzer will help you:

  1. Use headline types that get the most traction for social shares, traffic, and search engine ranking.
  2. Make sure you have the right word balance to write readable headlines that command attention.
  3. See the best word and character length for search engines like Google and email subject lines, while also seeing how your readers will scan your headlines.

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2. Help your readers do something better—even if they don’t know they’re doing it wrong.

Sometimes, it’s easy to believe that just because you’re doing something, it’s as good as it gets.

Take, for example, a blog planning process. If you have one, that’s great, right? But what if there were a ton of ways to optimize that process to save even more time for every single person involved in the process?

You’d be interested.

While it might seem like every topic has been covered before, you can focus on creating content for those topics better than anyone else.

Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing. —Peter DruckerClick To Tweet

Like that blog planning process example, doing the right things is being effective. Doing those things even better is being efficient.

If you focus your content on a common problem your readers experience, then focus on a unique angle, you are providing something no one else is doing. That’s how you can help your readers do something better—even when they don’t know that what they’re doing is wrong in the first place.

This is why every piece of content from the CoSchedule Content Marketing Blog is long-form: We don’t just scratch the surface, but provide helpful, actionable content to help our readers become better bloggers and content marketers.

Why the break and fix method still works.

how to create content that sells

It’s the classic problem + solution = outcome model. If you introduce a problem, then provide a solution in your content, that’s exactly what your readers are looking for.

The outcome is how they’ll do something better than they’ve ever done it before. And that outcome is made even better when they use your product or service.

Foot in the door.

This is when a salesperson asks their prospect to buy something that’s relatively cheap, then asks them to buy something more expensive.

foot in the door sales technique applied to relationship marketing

But it sucks to ask someone to buy from you the minute you meet them. Remember those folks in New Orleans who point blank asked me to buy their CDs? It’s pretty abrasive.

Use your content to build a relationship first, then ask for the sale.

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Apply This To Your Marketing: Ask your readers to do something simple first, then build up to something bigger.

1. Ask for a social media share first.

34% of people like to share helpful content, and 73% share content to remember it.

It’s easy to share useful content, and creating an experience your readers will remember is super important to help them get to know you. I definitely fall into both of those sharing categories, and it’s really likely your readers will, too.

2. Trade awesome free content for an email address.

Speaking from experience at CoSchedule, there is no better way to gather email addresses than this. Plus, there are dozens of tools to help you do this (OptinMonster, Leadin, and SumoMe List Builder just to name a few), and they’re super easy to set up.

This is just a little more effort for your reader than asking for a social share, because they are giving you permission to send them relevant content.

OptinMonster lead conversion cookie

This is an example of an OptinMonster lead conversion cookie. Read all about content distribution and get your free e-book.

We call these cookies at CoSchedule. We give our readers something sweet for a bit in return. Various formats of these have helped us increase our email subscribers by 90% in just 6 months. Imagine what it could do for your blog.

3. Provide a free trial signup (if you can).

Just like great content hints at how great your product will be, a free trial is a preview of how much better your customers lives will be after they purchase your product.

This takes a bit more dedication from your prospects. Think of time to learn something new, knowing an end date to “free” is coming, and making a purchase decision in a set timeframe.

However, “free” is a super easy way to experience your product for the first time. And you can make that offer through your content marketing.

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4. Make it an easy purchase.

Do you see the pattern of how you’ve helped your prospect build up from a super easy decision (a social share) to slightly more advanced (trial of your product)?

That gives your readers time to build a relationship with you through content. And as all salespeople know, relationships help sell. Now that they trust you, it’s time to ask for the purchase.

Really, this is an art of compliance based on social psychology. And psychology works for content marketing.

Why the foot in the door method works for content marketing.

You never know when someone is experiencing your content for the very first time or has seen your stuff a bajillion times.

help readers engage with your content through relationship marketing

Giving your readers the ability to choose their own adventure with your content will help them create valuable experiences the way they want them to be.

How To Get People To Care About You, Your Product, And Your Service

I mentioned trust about a million times in this post so far: It’s one of the most important parts of making a purchase decision.

In fact, Mark Schaefer wrote an entire book on it. And Robert Rose and Carla Johnson also published a book recently about experiences being the next game changer in content marketing.

I dove deep into research to understand how to grow our blog with some core elements of psychology. One of the most interesting parts of that research was about the Psychological Foundations Of Trust.

how to build relationships with your readers through the dyadic model of trust

And trust only comes from building a relationship. Good relationships are based on great experiences.

This isn’t really new. But it is super fun to tie this into content marketing:

  1. Find commonalities between your prospects’ challenges and the solutions your product or service provides.
  2. Provide those solutions through helpful content for free.
  3. Help your reader have a positive experience with your content (tone, usefulness, not too salesy, etc.).
  4. Publish and share that content consistently to build expectations of awesomeness.
  5. Include useful calls to action in your content so when your prospects feel secure, they have the opportunity to convert.

And that is how you can use your content to build a relationship with the 84% of people who research before ever calling you:

  1. Understand your audience, teach them, and provide a unique perspective with your content.
  2. Ask questions, always learn, and never be afraid to iterate.
  3. Give away your secret recipes to position yourself as a thought leader.
  4. Promise a solution to your readers’ challenges—beyond what anyone has ever told them before.
  5. Provide multiple calls to action ranging from little commitment to purchase.
  6. Publish that awesome content consistently.

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How do you build relationships and experiences with your marketing?