I’ve never liked sales. The few times I’ve done it — usually short-term stints selling radio ad time over the phone — I hit my sales goals and got my commission checks. But giving customers the hard sell made me deeply unhappy.
So I’ve been thinking about those experiences as I move from academia (pretty much as far from sales as you can get) into the world of content marketing. The “content” side of content marketing doesn’t scare me; I love telling stories. The marketing side of content marketing? That’s a little scarier.
But I wonder how much my fears about sales and marketing are based on the way we view men and women very differently when it comes to persuasion. Women who push too hard are considered to be, well, pushy.
It’s not surprising, then, that marketing is typically “feminine,” and sales is typically “masculine.”
But there’s also a lot of talk about how the sales funnel — and the traditional approach to marketing and sales it represents — is really out of tune with modern buyers and their buying cycle. It’s a 100-year-old idea that feels out of place in our world of digital branding and social media.
It’s also very masculine. The core idea of the funnel is very aggressive — get a lot of people at the top of the funnel and force them down the buying process by wearing them down. It represents an approach to marketing and sales that focuses on numbers, volume and quotas.
And it’s out of sync with content marketing, which is about building relationships and creating trust — traits that also get coded as feminine in our society.
So, to oversimplify a bit along gender lines, marketers (women) do the bulk of the emotional work of building and maintaining the relationships with clients and customers, and then salespeople (men) get the commissions.
So how does this dynamic affect women’s ability to market — themselves, their services, their B2B content — effectively? How can marketers feel empowered to tell their company’s story and be the expert in their own right without feeling like it ultimately comes down to sales, to pushiness? And how should we all think about modern marketing?
I spoke to Olivia Jaras, an expert on the gender wage gap and salary negotiations for women. She says it’s time to rethink our approach to persuasion and how we see the sales/marketing cycle.
We talked about marketing, the art of persuasion and how to build relationships that last.
You’re an expert in salary negotiation. What’s something people are surprised to learn about the art of persuasion?
People think of persuasion as this very aggressive act, this very masculine behavior, but people who succeed at persuading others are very good at creating a relationship, a bond with them. That’s something many women are very good at. And that’s what successful content marketers do.
There’s a wave that is cresting in content marketing. There’s so much noise about adding value through content. But all that noise and the competing demands on our attention and time mean that companies struggle to create real value for their customers and not just add to the noise.
It’s overwhelming. And we increasingly have a choice of where to focus our attention. You don’t get to command people’s attention unless they trust you. There’s this misconception out there still in the world of marketing that you can just create content and call that adding value.
The idea that people are just going to trust you and that you can build a huge following that way does not happen anymore. The reality is that marketing is no longer vertical. You cannot automate it, and this is where so many people are banging their heads on a wall. You have to build trust by building relationships with your audience.
So how do content marketers break through the noise and create real value? How do they persuade people to trust and value them?
Don’t go for the quick results. Salespeople and even marketers tend to think that quick results are the ones that matter. If you want to grow the next Facebook, if you want to create the next huge brand, you have to play the long game. You have to do that emotional work of slowly, painstakingly building trust.
You need people who excel at the emotional side of things, who are able to do that emotional work to create those customers that you want, the ones who feel supported, who can be those raving fans and become brand ambassadors.
But we tend to get lost in quick-results thinking. We say to ourselves or our team, “If I just create content and market and create an audience and land 500 small sales, it’s good.” Those sales are pretty meaningless though — the customer might like what you sell, they might not. People won’t fall in love with your company and your services just because you sell them a product if you didn’t help them solve their existential problems. If they didn’t feel supported. If they didn’t feel heard.
We all want to feel heard and we all want to further our own journey in one way or another. That’s why content marketing can be so successful. When you can come in and say, “I totally understand your problem. I see what you’re facing and it’s difficult. I hear you and I see you. Here’s a couple of options that can help you,” then you’re really adding value. Then you’re building trust.
How can marketers get recognized for doing the emotional labor of marketing?
Usually what you find in other forms of emotional labor — with kids and family — you don’t necessarily get paid for it. You see the rewards in the long run though. I think something similar happens in marketing. You don’t see the results instantly.
Nowadays it is so easy to quantify the impact of your digital marketing strategy. It is easier than it’s ever been. Facebook, Twitter, Google, they give you all the metrics of your content, what kind of audience it’s getting, who responded to it, even track your sales. You can funnel everything and you can see what’s working and what’s not working. But the biggest problem that content marketers and people in marketing in general make is they don’t take the time to discern “Who are your most valuable customers?”
It might be a great thing to make a quick $15 sale, but what’s the lifetime value of that customer? Your responsibility as a content marketer is to tell your company exactly who that valuable, lifelong customer is. What do they want? What problems are they looking to solve? How can you help them?
It’s not a light responsibility at all, because the best content marketers are the ones who are listening to the audience. You’ve got to be able to say, “I understand these numbers. I see how this market is going to fluctuate, what’s working and what’s not working.” And you’re getting this information directly from your customers because you’re listening to them. You are the one that has your finger on the pulse of your audience. Honestly, CEOs are too busy making strategic-level decisions and managing the company to be in touch with the people that they’re serving.
Marketing is about discerning what the person in front of you wants and needs, and figuring out how can you give it to them.
And that’s how you build trust and influence behavior.
So the paradigm isn’t just get the largest number of sales possible, but focus on building quality, long-term relationships. How do we do that?
People hear they should be posting four times a day on Instagram or that they need to stay on top of the current algorithms. But does that really keep you top of mind of your ideal client? For your ideal client, your most valued customer, if you build a relationship with them, if you really listen to what they need, you’re going to be top of mind whenever they need you.
So many people are just rushing to sell. But when you can feel that there’s a sales pitch coming, it turns off buyers. It makes them feel like they are not being heard. You know that feeling when you’re talking to someone but you know they are just waiting for their turn to talk? They’re not really listening. For a lot of salespeople and even marketers, they are just waiting to pitch.
With building relationships and listening, you don’t get that instant-sale gratification, those quick numbers. But you do have all the metrics at your disposal to be able to 1) identify who your most valued customer is and 2) see exactly how the relationship moves from initial contact to pitch to sale.
Persuasion is all about knowing what your audience wants and needs and making your case in a way that shows that you understand that. There’s really no replacement for having that one-on-one conversation, that personal interaction. Marketing has moved so far from the top-down funnel approach to sales. The way you grow a brand now is horizontally. People see your services, they see that you add value, they feel like you understand what they need. At the end of the day, it’s really about that basic human need to feel heard and understood.