Why the Last Thing You Want is a Sales-Driven Organisation

Yikes - Sales people writing marketing copy

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

You know what scares me? Nearly every client I speak with tells me they’re a sales-driven organisation. That’s a big problem if you ask me, especially when you consider my clients work in marketing. I spent five successful years working in direct sales. Trust me when I say the last thing you want is to have your sales department setting the agenda for content marketing.

I cut my marketing teeth when I was working as a sales person. When I didn’t have the content I needed, I started writing my own. The very last thing a business wants is to have sales people creating their own content. I could go into the myriad reasons why but that’s another post, if not a whole series. Suffice it to say that even if your sales people can write, they won’t tell the story that’s going to ensure long-term success and future sales for your company. They’re going to tell the story that gets them to the next sale. It’s quite likely the content they create on their own will be ineffective. In the worst-case scenario, marketing will end up in some sort of damage control when the customer begins to realise they’ve been sold a bill of goods.

Here are 9 reasons why you don’t want a sales-driven organisation:

  1. Marketing becomes reactive. When the sales department is setting the agenda for content, marketing spends all their time reacting – putting out fires, cranking out copy under pressure of deadline and trying to cobble together a story based on a hodgepodge of emergencies.
  2. Sales people have different goals. Sales people have very definite goals that almost always revolve around making their own quota. Even if they’re set up to sell a solution or work within a larger team, any good salesperson is going to pull out all the stops to ensure their quota is met as a first priority. If they’re setting the agenda for content, you’re likely only to produce content for the bottom of the funnel even though that’s a disaster for a long-term strategy.
  3. Sales people don’t like to change when something works. Once a sales person has had a success, i.e. earned commission from a sale, it’s nearly impossible to get them to change the way they work. They will want you to keep producing the same infographic, video, white paper or case study they think helped them close business. Again, you’ll be chopping and changing tactics with no real strategy behind the effort.
  4. Good sales people have a narrow focus. Honestly, all they care about is their product. Sure they’ll give lip service to a broader story within the organisation. Unless they can earn money from it, they’ll push their portfolio at the expense of everything else. Marketing needs to tell the whole story.

    Yes, the sales funnel again, this time colour coded.

    Image courtesy of Jonathan Crossfield and Content Marketing World

  5. The tail shouldn’t wag the dog. Marketing’s job is to create content and messaging that populates a sales funnel and pushes prospects out the bottom as customers. Sales people are only focused on the bottom of the funnel and they will consistently insist on content and tactics to address the bottom of the funnel. When marketing is driving things, a lot more activity is coming into the top of the funnel. Content marketing can keep people moving through the funnel and even capture people that want to enter at different stages.
  6. The most successful sales person gets to set the agenda. When you get to the 3rd quarter of a financial year and the numbers aren’t shaping up, good intentions go out the window and everyone goes into hard sell mode. The most influential people in a sales organisation instantly become the ones who have the best ability to bring in business. Sales people chasing quota adopt a tunnel-vision approach to getting the sale and everyone in the organisation is instructed to do whatever it takes to support them. These people will not consider the next quarter, the next year or the next five years when making content demands. Your content marketing takes on a very narrow focus with a short shelf life.
  7. Sales people are transient. You’re only as good as you next sale and the award-winning hero of the sales department can easily be looking for a job six months later. Good sales people are huge targets for poaching. Often motivated by money, it doesn’t take a lot to woo them to another company. If the architect of your content marketing is a sales person, chances are you’ll be constantly changing direction with each new person coming into the department.
  8. When panic sets in, things get ugly – for marketing. When they’re not making their quota, sales people start trying to place blame and marketing is always first on the list. If you’ve done exactly what they asked and it doesn’t work, you’ll be blamed for not doing your job. And, to be honest, marketers who let sales set the marketing strategy should wear that blame.
  9. Creativity is stifled. The battle cry at Content Marketing World Sydney was “Be creative.” When your sales staff is writing content on the fly to suit a particular sale, I guarantee you they aren’t being creative. They’re churning things out as quickly as possible, probably working late into the night to get it done. At best you can hope for competence in the finished result but I wouldn’t count on it. No matter how earnest their effort, it’s not going to be the kind of content that becomes an asset to your business.

Some of my best friends are sales people

Does it sound like I’m being hard on sales people? Not at all. I know these things are true because I’ve done that job. I know what it takes to make quota and nothing, especially the marketing department, could stand in the way of a goal-oriented sales person. (If they’re not goal oriented, you probably need to start looking for a replacement. #justsaying) In most sales organisations, if you underperform you’re not going to have a job for very long so these people are often working under immense pressure.

Strategy is the only key to success

The only way to get out of the reactive cycle created by a sales-driven culture is to change to a marketing-driven organisation. Content marketing implemented with a sound strategy is the perfect foil. Mark Schaefer spoke about how to do this recently in Sydney in his Content Marketing World keynote address. He believes content can be the centre of power for an organisation. Likewise, Robert Rose has introduced the idea of a Content Creation Management (CCM). He envisions CCM operating as a corporate group responsible for the company story and guiding all other content including sales collateral, PR and training. When content is at the centre of an organisation, the sales department have a lot more time to focus on selling and less time trying to concoct a story they think will get them to quota.

The mandate has to come from the top

I’m not in any way claiming this is an easy shift. In fact, it’s quite likely a hard slog requiring many skirmishes if not downright power struggles. It’s vital the C-Suite supports and endorses a content strategy or you might as well sharpen your pencils in anticipation of the next content demand from the sales department. Jonathan Crossfield frequently writes and speaks on how to win the C-Suite over to content marketing. I recommend you get in touch with him for advice on what to do and what to avoid doing.

What marketers have in common with the tortoise

If you haven’t already figured it out, this is a story about the tortoise and the hare. Sales is a sprint and good sales people want all obstacles removed from their path. Marketing, on the other hand, is a marathon. Careful preparation and a strong content strategy is the best way to guarantee success and pave the way for sales. You can’t have sales drive marketing any more than you can take a sprinter’s approach to a marathon. Marketing needs to drive the organisation. When that happens, there’s not a sales person that complains about it.

What do you think? Should sales drive an organisation?

The Good, Bad and Ugly of Content Marketing World Sydney

Content Marketing World was held last week in Sydney. I presented at the three-day event (that’s the storyboard of my globalisation presentation) and attended as many sessions as possible. Acting on one of the key recommendations, I’ve resisted the “race to report”. Instead, I have intentionally deliberated the good, the bad and the ugly parts of the conference and share them here with you. One thing’s for sure, content marketing in Australia is entering a new phase and it brings both positive and negative aspects.

Graphical Recording of Globalising Content for an International Audience presentation

Graphical Recording of Globalising Content for an International Audience by Kelly Kingman

Don’t rent

Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, opened the event with advice to quit building content and communities on platforms you don’t own. Speaking about social networking and sharing sites, he mentioned a few popular channels including Facebook. His view is that when you spend time and effort building pages of content on an address you don’t own, you’re only renting space. Sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter are encouraging you to become ensconced in their properties.

I think Joe is right about this. Over the past year, we’ve seen less return on our rental properties as they all pursue ways to earn more revenue. Facebook, in particular, is making it hard for brands to gain influence within their own communities unless they agree to promote posts.

Bobbi Mahlab from Mahlab Media presented an excellent case study on the benefits of owning your own property.  IPWEA – The Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia – have painstakingly created online communities attached to their own website and are enjoying impressive traffic and community engagement. Their key to success lies in an integrated content strategy combining email, online and offline content.  This in, turn, has created revenue opportunities for IPWEA.


Tell stories

The battle cry of the conference was ‘tell stories’ with your content.  Bernadette Jiwa, brand story strategist and author of Difference, gave a passionate keynote address dedicated to storytelling. Her view is that marketing is not a department but should be the centre of storytelling excellence in your company. It’s also the way you create difference for your brand. Jiwa raised a few eyebrows when she said, “empathy is the most underrated business resource we’ve got.” She made the point that consumers make decisions based on emotion because humans are ‘feeling people who think’. If you’ve ever had a ‘gut feeling’, you know it’s true.


Personally, I was blown away by Jiwa’s presentation but I know there were eyes rolling in the room. That’s a big problem in the Australian content marketing industry. Many service providers – and brands to a certain extent – are still looking for an easy answer to content marketing. Telling and writing good stories is hard. If you’re not prepared to do either, I say you should get out of the content marketing space altogether.

If you’re one of the skeptics, consider Black Milk Clothing. They’re a Brisbane-based company with the most ebullient following you could imagine. They’ve never spent money on advertising but rely on storytelling to market their company. According to Cameron Parker, Head of Sales & Marketing at Black Milk, they tell stories at every opportunity. Their sales receipt comes with a 556-word note that does nothing but make you feel like you’re part of their gang.  That’s just a tiny example of how bringing your customers on a storytelling journey creates brand loyalty no amount of corporate-speak can manage. Which brings me to the next lesson . . .

Get ‘off message’

Tim Washer, social media lead at Cisco Systems urged content marketers not to insult the intelligence of our collective audiences. He spoke about the problem with ‘creativity by committee’ and why it almost never works. He also addressed the insistence by many companies to plaster logos and brand messages on every piece of content. Washer reminded us that our consumers are smart and deluging them with marketing messages is one of the least effective ways to communicate.

Washer is a funny guy with serious comedy credentials but he insists anyone can successfully add humor to their content.  He proved that by showing funny videos on staid topics from both IBM and Cisco.

Be remarkable

An indication that content marketing has matured was the repeated recommendation to do something amazing with your content. It’s becoming obvious many of the content marketing practitioners have figured out producing content can be a grind. I definitely include myself in this category. While two or three years ago the conventional wisdom was to create a lot of content, the advice this year centered on creating great content, amazing content, remarkable content. Both Robert Rose, Chief Strategist at the Content Marketing Institute and Tim Washer counselled attendees to spend time working on nurturing our creative brain.  The internet is awash with mediocre and rotten content right now. Creating more of that isn’t going to cut through anything.

Agencies are wrecking the joint

One thing that surprised me this year was how many agencies were in attendance. Content marketing has become a buzzword in Australia and there’s a bandwagon mentality in play. It seems like the SEO and social media gangs are viewing content as a bolt-on tactic and that should raise alarms for brands. Most of the marketing content from these groups is weak which is a worry. If you can’t create awesome content for your own business, how are you going to do it for a client? Marketing brochure from Editor Group titled These are a few of our favourite things

There are notable exceptions, of course, like Mahlab Media who was mentioned earlier in this post. I loved the brochure from Editor Group, self-professed literary geeks, word nerds and pedants for punctuation. It’s a little booklet giving excellent examples of content, why they love it and the lesson learned from each one. I read the whole thing, cover to cover. When was the last time you did that to a marketing brochure? I’m sure the alphabet runs through their blood stream.  I’m also encouraged to see Cirrus Media has journalist and content marketing expert Jonathan Crossfield contributing to their blog along with folks like Jeff Bullas and Edwina Lawry.  These are the kind of groups I want to help with a content marketing project and ones I’d recommend to my clients.

Another one to watch is King Content. Craig Hodges started ‘King’ in 2010 and was one of the first people in Australia to recognise the shift in marketing. King Content recently opened a second office in Melbourne. Interestingly, Hodges hired Todd Wheatland, the former CMO at KellyOCG, as Head of Strategy. That, to me, speaks volumes about King Content’s commitment and vision towards content marketing.

The ugly bit

There’s no doubt the industry is maturing but we still have a long way to go in Australia. We didn’t see a lot of Australian brand stories this year indicating we have a lot more work to do creating successful content marketing programs. I got pretty sick of hearing vendors bleat about their own products and was surprised how often this happened during presentations. I expect to hear from sponsors of the different streams by way of session introductions but really wish the hard sell is left to the exhibition stands.

There was also an undercurrent of superiority in some of the attendees that bothered me. In some cases it felt like people were going to sessions not to learn but to find fault. There were rumblings that there were too many international speakers, an assertion I find flabbergasting. We’re not on the bleeding edge of content marketing in Australia, far from it. If we, as an industry, can’t recognise the value experience brings, then I’m worried about the quality of service being delivered to Australian brands.

In one session I didn’t attend, the speaker was heckled from the floor. Knowing what it takes to put together an hour-long session (hours upon hours of preparation) and the guts it takes to stand in front of your industry peers and speak, I find it appalling. I would hope these issues are addressed directly with the conference organisers in the future. The content marketing culture in other countries, especially the USA, is open, inclusive and supportive. It will be a complete shame if we can’t foster that here. I hope these aren’t early warning signs that the backbiting and sniping rife in the PR and advertising sectors are coming across to content marketing.

Overall impressions

I came back from the event exhausted and inspired. What more can you really ask from a conference? I’m encouraged to think we’re moving away from strategies focused on volume and vanity metrics to one of quality storytelling. When I hear about examples like IPWEA and Black Milk, I get excited about the opportunities we have to do something very different with marketing.

But, like every other content marketing conference I’ve attended, the call to action is daunting. This year I commit to getting more sleep, spending more time thinking and less time doing. I’m giving myself permission to focus on the creative side of content creation. I’m convinced this shift will produce improved quality and go a long way to creating amazing content strategies.

 Did you go to Content Marketing World Sydney? What were your impressions?

Content Marketing Disasters From a Global Perspective

I’m putting the final touches on my presentation for Content Marketing World in Sydney next week. I’ve been collecting examples of content that didn’t quite make the cross over from one region to the next. Sometimes it’s an epic fail like this quote from Thomas Edison that got chewed up and spit out in too many translation cycles:

Edison quote mangled in translation


Brand damage

Other times, the language makes perfect sense but doesn’t support the brand, like this sale I saw advertised at a Ralph Lauren store in Bali a few years ago.

Polo special price for  stripper sign

Amateur mistakes

Or, the content has obviously been developed by someone who is not a native speaker for your region. As a result, the text is accurate but looks so amateurish it makes a poor impression in the eyes of the consumer.

Content written in the style of English as a second language

Failing to appreciate colloquialisms

But often globalisation problems have nothing to do with translation. Disney really stepped in it with this cookbook for English speaking countries outside of the USA.

Cooking with Pooh cookbook

Unintentionally funny

The headline in this article from my local paper got a huge chortle from American visitors who didn’t know parrots could be promiscuous. (The accompanying photos didn’t help when it appears council workers are overly eager to connect with the parrot.)

Parrots put out

Lost for words

While I can appreciate it’s difficult to market your company in a different region, being at a loss for words isn’t really effective, either.

Butter and Salt Candy

 Shamed by your own content

While these examples are funny in many ways, if you’re trying to establish your authority or influence consumers, you might just end up shaming yourself and doing more brand damage than you imagined.

Shamed by English

Where to find help

I’ll be outlining things you can do to avoid experiencing problems like these in your own marketing and providing a lot more examples. If you haven’t already registered for Content Marketing World Sydney, why not do it now? There’s still time and if you use Global100, you’ll get an additional discount. I hope to see you there.

Lastly, special thanks to Glenn Murray from Divine Write who loves this stuff  as much as I do. Many of these examples were found in Google+ communities he fosters and  manages.

What globalisation disasters have you seen? I’d love to have more examples so please share.


What is the global content opportunity for your business?

Consider this; 99% of the Internet users on earth do not live in the Australia/Oceania region. Because Australia has a high online penetration, it’s easy to forget we’re a comparative drop in the bucket to the rest of the world. Our nearest neighbour, Asia, is the biggest geographic region in the world. If we really are living in the Asian Century, there’s a huge opportunity for Australian businesses to make their content more attractive for a foreign market. Read more

How Mobile is Changing Everything For Marketers

As I prepare for Content Marketing World Sydney 2014, I’ve been reflecting on the wisdom gained at the 2013 event. An edited version of this post first appeared as a print article in The West Australian newspaper last year. The lessons are still incredibly relevant and definitely worth revisiting in light of Google’s recent implementation of the Hummingbird algorithm. I’m really looking forward to hearing Todd Wheatland speak again this year. (Plus he’s based in Sydney now so hopefully  the content marketing community in Australia gets to see a lot more of him.)

Joe Pulizzi at Content Marketing World Sydney

How Mobile is Changing Everything for Marketers

If ‘mobile’ is part of your future planning, it’s time to make it a priority. Todd Wheatland made this point in his presentation at Content Marketing World Sydney. A graduate of UWA and Curtin University, Wheatland is currently based in Paris as the VP of Thought Leadership and Marketing at Kelly Services. His presentation on visual storytelling was an eye opener.

Smart phones dominate

Todd Wheatland of Kelly Services

According to Wheatland, over 70% of Australian mobile phone users aged 15-45 use smartphones. In his estimation this makes mobile a mature issue or a “done deal”. But the big problem for brands is most content isn’t suitable for viewing on a mobile device. As the smart phone becomes an extension of the human arm, viewers increasingly expect content to be available at their fingertips.

When people are on social networks they also want to consume something without having to leave that place,” explained Wheatland.

Ultimately you may be trying to promote a big piece somewhere, let’s say it’s a white paper sitting on your own website.

If you’re sitting on Facebook and saying ‘Hey, we just got a new report, go download it.’ that’s not good. That does not play well in a mobile social environment.”

Social layer trumps websites

Wheatland attributes this to the change in search engine algorithms. Images and video are prioritised by Google.

It’s happened dramatically in the last 18 months and will continue to happen more.

Your social network and the content that they’re sharing and engaging with is going to start appearing more heavily in search results.”

Multiple devices are the norm

Not only are consumers plugged into their phone, they’re likely to be using multiple devices and often in unison.

We have TVs, we have desktops, we have laptops, we have tablets, we have mini-tablets, we have phones – all this stuff. We’ve basically taken TVs off the wall and put them in our pockets.”

The challenge to marketers, in Wheatland’s view, is the difficulty in anticipating where the content will be shared, who will be looking at it and how that behavior will change over time.

What this means for marketers

As consumers lose interest in visiting websites, marketers must ensure their stories are being distributed in places that drive traffic to your business. As search engines and consumers give preferential treatment to videos and images, you can’t rely on your website to deliver your brand message.

Why not join me at Content Marketing World Sydney? You can register here.

What are your thoughts on how content marketers can embrace mobile technology?