(Editor's note: As the world of B2B content marketing grows, ever-increasing numbers of journalists are moving into the field. In addition, a large crop of new grads are coming into the business ... often with little to no understanding of how content marketing works or what role journalism plays in it. This is the first of a four-part series on some of the cultural barriers that workers face in the new world of B2B content marketing. In this piece, I'll be making some suggestions about how folks with a journalism background can get past one of those barriers -- working with the sales staff. I'm hopeful that other folks will offer their suggestions as well. The second and third posts in this series will look at other cultural barriers. In the fourth and final part of the series I'll address how B2B journalists can preserve traditional ideas of journalism ethics in this new piece of the media world.)
Journalists don't like salespeople very much.
As a general rule, journalists don't like anyone. But journalists don't like salespeople even more than they don't like other people.
I'm a journalist. I've been one for decades now. And I assure you this is true. (Note: if you're a salesperson who is reading this, please understand that I don't mean you. I'm crazy about you. I'm talking about other salespeople. You're wonderful. And I love what you're wearing today. That's a very flattering color on you.)
I don't know if salespeople like journalists.
They probably don't. Most people tend not to like journalists.
And yet these two professions have managed to work together at publishing companies since the invention of the printing press.
And the key to their success was this: they didn't really talk to each other.
On the contrary, the publishing industry built an entire cultural infrastructure (separate offices, differing chains of command, ethics codes, etc.) to ensure that journalists and salespeople didn't talk to each other.
And that was fine in traditional publishing, where the value of the product required that sales not influence editorial.
But in content marketing, things are slightly different.
In this new world, content creators are judged (to a degree) on whether or not editorial influences sales.
Write ledes; Generate leads
As the content-marketing industry has grown in the past few years, B2B journalists have moved along a path that looks like this:
a. working as creators of pure editorial supported by traditional ads, then changing to
b. creators of pure editorial supported by lead-gen ads, and then changing to
c. creators of pure editorial that is, in and of itself, a lead-gen tool.
(Note: becoming a creator of something less than pure editorial is a distinctly different path. That's marketing communications or public relations, and should not be confused with content marketing.)
B2B journalists who move into content marketing find they no longer have a sales team that supports editorial. Instead, journalists find themselves creating editorial that acts as part of the sales funnel.
And salespeople have no idea how jarring this is for us.
Life at the Movies
If you've been in the B2B publishing game for awhile, then consider the following questions:
Have you ever known a salesperson who decided to stop selling ads for his magazine and start writing articles instead?
Have you ever known a journalist who gave up his byline and decided he'd rather call prospects than call sources?
Part of the reason for this is that the skills between the two professions don't transfer well (although I often tell young journalists that they need to develop some sales-type skills, i.e., the ability to handle rejection, a willingness to accept a pay-for-performance compensation structure, etc.)
But the core reason that journalists and salespeople don't exchange jobs is that the the two professions attract extraordinarily different types of people. They are as different as night and day. They don't mix well. They see the world in fundamentally different ways.
Here's what I mean:
Have you seen "Glengarry Glen Ross," the movie with the breathtaking, pitch-perfect dialog written by David Mamet? If so, then you know the famous "Coffee's for closers" monologue performed by Alec Baldwin.
The salespeople I know admire the Baldwin character. Sometimes it's an open admiration. Sometimes it's a grudging admiration. But most often it's a sort of joking, off-hand admiration that manifests with frequent quotes from the monologue itself. (This is similar to the way some of my friends from Wall Street frequently and jokingly repeat the "greed is good" quote by the Gordon Gekko character from the movie "Wall Street.")
But journalists don't like the Baldwin character.
We admire Mamet's writing. Hell, we adore Mamet's writing.
But we see Baldwin's character as repulsive.
And in our heart of hearts, we fear he's representative of the world of business.
And, more importantly, as we move from being journalists to being content marketers, we sort of worry that we're becoming just a little bit like him.
Getting to know you
So as I said earlier, we can assume salespeople don't like journalists. But what do salespeople think of journalists who become content marketers?
Let's return again to "Glengarry Glen Ross." Key to the tension between Baldwin's character and the sales staff are the nature of the leads. The salesmen aren't performing. Baldwin threatens them and their jobs. Shelley Levene, played by Jack Lemmon, complains that "The leads are weak."
To a salesperson, content marketing can seem an ill-defined and unfocused effort that delivers weak leads. And this is largely, I suspect, because salespeople are perplexed by content marketers' goals.
That shouldn't be surprising. Content marketing is growing like crazy in B2B companies that have no experience with editorial operations of any kind. Even the most experienced salespeople are novices at working with content marketers.
And in a sense, the salespeople are right. Content marketing often doesn't deliver leads that are easily closed. Content marketing is more about about creating an environment that can lead to sales. It's as much about though leadership as it is about lead-gen. It's as much about conversing with existing clients as it is about attracting new ones.
But content marketers do this because it's what works today. Business has changed. Buyers have changed. Content marketing is just part of a broad, systemic shift in how B2B industries buy and sell.
And we journalists/content marketers have no idea how jarring this is for salespeople.
If B2B journalists are going to succeed as content marketers, we're going to have to find some common ground with salespeople. We have to get them to understand what we do, how we do it, and why it's valuable.
Traditional marketers have faced similar challenges for years. But for content-markers -- many of whom were traditional journalists or college students just the other day -- this is all new.
The good news is that people much smarter than I are working on these issues. For example, it's worth your time to read Jennifer Watson's recent piece for the Content Marketing Institute on how to communicate our value to the sales staff.
But allow me to make a few suggestions of my own.
First, become a salesperson. Spend some time every month selling your services outside your job. Make a little money on the side. Learn to prospect. Learn to move potential clients through your own sales funnel. Learn to close.
Second, ignore Baldwin. Years ago I watched "Glengarry Glen Ross" with a bunch of journalists. And I wasn't surprised to see that there was universal sympathy in the group for Jack Lemmon's character, Shelley "The Machine" Levene.
If you've seen the film (or the original play), you'll remember that Shelley is in desperate need of money to provide medical care for a sick daughter. Shelley behaves badly as a result. He commits a crime. He falls into sin, if you'll excuse the religious phrasing. He behaves immorally ... drifting toward becoming more like the clearly immoral figures played by Baldwin and Al Pacino.(Pacino's speech on morality is another high point of Glengarry Glen Ross: "There's an absolute morality? Maybe. And then what? If you think there is, go ahead, be that thing. Bad people go to hell? I don't think so. If you think that, act that way. A hell exists on earth? Yes. I won't live in it. That's me.")
Levene also operates at a distinct disadvantage to the other salesmen -- he's from another time. As the Wikipedia entry on the movie puts it, "Levene's decline is due to the old-fashioned nature of his methods: his presentation as a grinning, successful, confident salesman with a casual swagger immediately telegraphs to modern clients his identity as a smooth-talking shyster looking to disarm them with reassurance; Levene has been unable to replace his obsolete tactics with new ones and suffers financially as a result."
Journalists, who have seen our own share of woes as our traditional employers have collapsed and our long-practiced skills have diminished in value, have a soft spot for Levene. We understand him, maybe even relate to him. He's the sort of person we're drawn toward -- complex, contradictory, troubled. In short, he's a story.
So here's my idea:
If you've made the move from traditional journalism to content marketing, it's time to stop seeing Alec Baldwin every time you see a salesperson. Learn, instead, to see Jack Lemmon.
Learn to see your coworkers as what they are -- regular people with sick children, financial pressures and moral quandaries.
Just like me and you.
Third, become Baldwin.
If the first two approaches don't work, try a little Baldwin yourself. Never admit that content marketing offers anything less than the perfect, easily closed lead. Wave a stack of index cards in front of the sales team and say, "These are the new leads. These are the Glengarry leads. And to you they're gold, and you don't get them. Why? Because to give them to you is just throwing them away. They're for closers."