I’ve often said the difference between sales and marketing is that marketing owns the message and sales owns the relationship.

Farm over hunt

Harvest by St0rmz

Some folks suggest that the onslaught of social media, content publishing and real-time search has rendered the need for a traditional sales department unnecessary and to that I still contend: sales still owns the relationship. While content and context are easier to put out there, online connection and community are still best supplied by a person.

So, the fundamental purpose of a professional salesperson has change little, but the function of an effective salesperson in today’s content-driven environment has changed dramatically.

The skills once required, and sadly still taught in most sales training programs, are no longer applicable and organizations and independent salespeople that get this are exploring, evolving and adopting an inbound selling mindset.

Below are five ways that content marketing has changed selling.

1) Listen over say

Salespeople have always been taught to probe, listen and offer solutions. Well, in today’s world they must listen intently before they ever pick up the phone, send an e-mail or draw up a solution.

Salespeople must monitor the social graph of a prospect in order to begin to mine for opportunities, frustrations and buying signals. They must also be adept at constructing ways to put the pieces of information together in a package that opens doors and starts relationship building.

2) Insight over information

A great deal of the salesperson’s role at one time was to deliver information. Most salespeople today face the possibility that a prospect may actually know as much or more about the product, service or solution being offered as the salesperson doing the offering.

Today’s salesperson must provide context and meaning, must aggregate and filter and must become a resource of insight for today’s information overloaded buyer.

3) Proof over promise

Price is a direct reflection of the buyer’s perceived value. This doesn’t always mean it’s a reflection of the true value or even rational reflection of value, but the ROI question will never go away unless, and until, an organization can show proof of value rather than promised value peppered throughout marketing materials.

Today’s salesperson must commit to working deeply with clients to help measure and communicate true value received as a completion of the sales process. With that piece in place, today’s salesperson can offer proof as part of the trust-building, lead-conversion process.

4) Publish over prospect

Marketing departments around the world are scrambling to feed the market’s expectation that they can instantly find content on any subject or need imaginable. Search engine usage has made consistent content production mandatory.

Few salespeople see writing content as a good use of their time, but it’s a skill that today’s successful salesperson has embraced. Not every organization will allow their salespeople to blog, but the ones that do have the opportunity to create a stream of content that is potentially informed with real-life customer stories and experiences. Smart salespeople have also begun to curate content as a way to become a resource for their clients as well.

5) Harvest over hunt

This last change probably runs counter to traditional selling as any of the others outlined above because it sounds so passive. Salespeople have been taught to hit the street, knock on doors and close deals.

The problem is the street is closed, the doors are made of bits and no one answers the phone anymore.

Working the soil, planting seeds and watering the harvest with care is the new metaphor for turning “know,” “like” and “trust” into “try,” “buy,” “repeat” and “refer.”

This post originally appeared on American Express OPENForum

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Well said John!

  • Many things have changed over the years and content still makes selling that much easier.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • So true the old ‘buy mine it’s the best product’ does not work anymore.

  • Well said. The basic pillars of marketing and sales remain constant regardless of the medium.

  • John, excellent points.  I don’t  think cold calls are very effective anymore.  By that, I don’t mean that salespeople shouldn’t call on clients without being solicited.  I mean that salespeople should “put themselves out there” such that a “cold call” isn’t so cold.  The prospect, even if she doesn’t know the saleperson, should have at least heard his name.  The salesperson that fails to brand himself will fall behind.  Sales 2.0 is taking the “cold” out of a cold call.

  • Mile High Business Plans

    Beyond just blogging, social media and the internet has allowed us to communicate with our customers more intimately than ever before. People want to help you, just ask them for ideas. This will also lead to increased brand loyalty because the customer will feel apart of the process.

  • I love the direction of content marketing because it is no longer about stuffing keywords in content and getting rewarded by the search engines for content that makes no sense

  • One thing salespeople could do if they don’t personally like to blog is to feed their stories and experiences to marketing. Marketing can include these in their blogs. And this level of communication will deepen the symbiotic relationship with marketing.

    • Carmen Sognonvi

      Great point, Tiffany! Since salespeople are at the front lines, they’re also the best people to gather customer success stories that can then be turned into content for blog posts, videos, etc.

  • Consumers no longer want the hassles of long lines, pushy salespeople, telemarketers or wasteful junk mail in their mailboxes. Gone are the days of door-to-door sales, expensive direct mail campaigns and newspaper ads. Welcome to the age of YouTube and Presidential Campaign candidates embracing Social Media Networking.

  • Carmen Sognonvi

    Ok, can I just say that I love this:

    “Salespeople have been taught to hit the street, knock on doors and close deals. The problem is the street is closed, the doors are made of bits and no one answers the phone anymore.”

    I may have to get that framed and hang it on my wall. 🙂

  • This is very insightful. I totally agree with you on the first part about “listen over say”. There information that you can use to build up a sale when you talk to a customer over on the phone. I am trying a referral marketing method in trying to get more out of my shop. I’m hopeful that I could get the word out without trying to go door-to-door with a flier at hand.

  • “Salespeople have been taught to hit the street, knock on doors and
    close deals. The problem is the street is closed, the doors are made of
    bits and no one answers the phone anymore.”

    I had to repost it, and agree with Carmen; I was skimming the article until I tasted that sentence:).

    Keeping up with the latest marketing tools and processes definitely requires an acceptance (and recognition) of change, an open mind, and a thirst for learning!

  • 1. These are really valuable points
    2. But, it also depends on what you sell
    3. Sales people are always under pressure
    4. Very hard for a salesperson to be at right time, and at right place

  • Randy

    I really enjoyed this post, and I think you bring up a very good point about the impact that content marketing has had on sales. As a sales director myself, content curation–the process of finding, organizing and sharing online content–has been particularly eye opening. It achieves the same outcome as traditional content marketing, only with less time and resources. Curation allows companies to share only the best, most-relevant third-party content about their industries, which contributes to thought leadership and brand awareness, and ultimately makes the salesperson’s job that much easier.

    -Randy Bernard, Director of Sales for HiveFire, http://www.getcurata.com

  • Avery interesting distinction between purpose and function. It would be fascinating to hear the results of a survery to see how many of us really make a distinction between to two and which we instinctively think is more important. You certainly make the point that if we are too bound to our function we may not be able to continue to fulfil our purpose in an ever changing environment.