What’s Wrong with Today’s Sales Content and Conversations?


In the classic film “Glengarry Glen Ross,” an anxious salesman played by Jack Lemon defends his dismal performance by claiming “the leads are weak.”

Whatever you think about this familiar complaint, it seems that a new problem is undermining the success of salespeople everywhere: the content of their interactions and conversations is weak.

According to Forrester Research, “Business decision-makers are unimpressed with much of the content B2B marketing produces and sales puts in front of them.” Consider this Forrester stat: 80% of sales conversations do not meet the expectations of the executives who agreed to take them.

Such data suggests salespeople are generally not well supported in their efforts to engage prospective clients.   

But it’s worse than you think. According to the American Marketing Association, 90% of sales-enabling materials created by marketing never get used. So where do the materials come from? The AMA finds that salespeople spend — on average — 30 hours per month creating their own. That’s right: 30 freaking hours!

Apart from the extraordinary waste of resources associated with these worst practices, just imagine the reaction of prospective clients that are presented with inconsistent and incoherent messages throughout a buying cycle.

Marketing and Selling Teams are Massively Misaligned

So, what’s going on here? Here are three factors to consider:

  • TOFU Focus: In many companies, marketing focuses on awareness and demand generation to the exclusion of other key activities. When marketing’s primary measures revolve around leads generated, it’s not surprising that attention would be concentrated at the top of the funnel (TOFU). But this means marketing may not be well prepared to provide sales with relevant messaging assets and support at the post-lead stages of the funnel.
  • ALLFU Needs. While marketing gurus often talk as if marketing does all the heavy lifting (getting buyers 60-90% of the way through a decision process), the reality is actually quite different when the stakes are high. Indeed, reps own responsibility for 50% or more of their own pipelines in the world of the complex sale. So they need assets to support them at all stages of the funnel (ALLFU) — even the earliest stages where prospecting is critical. If they are to act as “insight sellers” that challenge the buyer’s status quo, they need powerful messages and content to open doors. Beyond that point, they must be armed to conduct compelling conversations. Unfortunately, they are under-supported (or perceive themselves to be) as prospectors and conversationalists.
  • No Systematic Buy-In. Some observers might suspect that sales rejects content produced by marketing because the quality of that content is poor. While this may be the case sometimes, it’s even more common for salespeople to reject it because they (or sales colleagues they respect) haven’t been appropriately consulted in the development of the story or the message. Front-line sellers feel no ownership of the message when the message development process does not appropriately represent them or their experience. With no commitment to or confidence in the story/message/content, they end up creating their own.

How Do You Get Buy-In for the Message?

So how do you address this debilitating state of affairs? How do you ensure sellers proceed with messages that matter and engage in conversations that count? Here are two vital actions you must take:

  • Ensure your sales content is truly actionable. While marketing (and sales enablement) leaders are often careful to address these questions, it’s worth revisiting them: Is the message compelling and relevant, concise and shareable? Does the message/content fully speak to the concerns of the target customer at the appropriate stage of the buying cycle? Do you have messages/assets that both lock onto the cost and consequences of the status quo and drive the buying team’s stakeholders to consensus? Is the content appropriately packaged (e.g. video, blog post, e-book, briefing presentation, solution presentation, success story, etc.) in relation to the result being sought?
  • Ensure your message is crafted through consensus. It’s no use creating a powerful message and impressive content if your sales team doesn’t carry it forward with confidence and conviction. You need buy-in. But it’s hard to get it when you are in one specialized department charged with supporting another one. Gaps are inevitable. And that’s why it’s so critical to have boundary spanners in the mix – independent parties that are strong at building cross-functional consensus. When marketing dictates a message to sales or throws content over the wall, the outcome is often predictable. Better, in many cases, to rely on a trusted third-party that can facilitate the development of a message and help drive product, marketing, and sales organization consensus around it.

While Alec Baldwin’s Glengarry character famously screamed “coffee is for closers” at a dispirited sales team, let me suggest something else in a more encouraging way: Consensus is for closers. To take sales content and conversations to the next level, it’s critical to ensure that boundaries are spanned and everyone— product, marketing, and sales — is fully committed to the message.

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