marketing team building message in a bottle

How athenahealth Unites Sales and Marketing Through Content

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It’s one of my recurring marketing nightmares: The PowerPoint deck I spent weeks on that clearly describes a firm’s distinct place in the market is all buttoned up. Then some arrogant, ill-prepared salesperson clumsily presents it to the customer or worse, took it upon themselves to edit the deck the night before, without the proper brand fonts installed and it lands with a thud.

Wait maybe I’m the arrogant, out-of-touch marketer who doesn’t get what it’s like out there on the front lines of winning over customers.

Even when sales and marketing are on different teams, for many B2B businesses, the delivery from the sales team is their most important marketing channel. It’s also the relationship most often fraught with friction and drama.

But not at athenahealth, where Kara Hadge Prone, senior content manager, and her team have figured out how to close that gap, cleanly delivering complex campaigns through multiple channels in a way that feels like a united brand to the audience that ultimately matters: the customer. Here’s how she does it.

Establish a Rhythm for Collaboration That Brings People in Early

Consistent content distribution starts with getting ahead of the curve. "One thing I do is every quarter, I talk to my stakeholders in marketing and communications and understand what their goals are coming up ahead," Prone says. "Then, based on that, I come up with a content calendar."

Prone focuses on the content assets that people will actually use. "We can hire all the freelancers we have the budget for, but even still, you have to have people on the team who have time to work with them and review the content," she says. "It helps in the beginning, at least, to get people to weigh in and confirm that you're making the right things."

Throughout the quarter, Prone has monthly meetings with the stakeholders who represent different marketing segments and channels. "We go over the calendar and check in on what's in progress and where the timing might have changed on something," she says. "We talk through potential angles, like who are some clients that we might want to feature in a piece of content, for example, or what direction should we take a piece in so that it aligns with the campaigns we are putting in the market."

The monthly check-ins help keep the stakeholder conversations rolling along. Prone tailors the meeting formats to each team to maximize the collaboration, and she looks for opportunities to create assets that satisfy the needs of multiple stakeholders. "Being able to just sit in the meeting and say, 'Okay, well you're asking for this thing and this other person is asking for a similar thing. What if we did this instead and it'll address both of your needs?' has been very helpful," she notes.

Dig Into the Data to Create High-Impact Content

Everyone is pressed for time, so you need content that cuts through the noise and that's exclusive to your organization. "When we're reaching out to physicians, it is a little ironic that sometimes our message is we know you're burnt out, and you have too many things in your inbox, but here's another thing to read," Prone says. "But I've always subscribed to the idea that if you're going to create content, it should be useful or interesting or entertaining. I think with the healthcare B2B audience, you really need to focus on that and be useful above all."

Prone likes to spend her time searching for content ideas in client data. "We have access to all this de-identified data on our clients, so we've been able to do different research projects that look at the data and come up with interesting insights that physicians or healthcare organizations can actually apply and get something interesting out of," she says. The results have been impressive. She and her team have developed a flu dashboard that looks at trends across athenahealth's network in diagnosing the flu. (Note: I'm looking forward to the coronavirus dashboard so I can know when to wear a surgical mask at the airport. UPDATE: They DID build something to help doctors track it!)

"Telling stories from data is such a cool opportunity now. I think when you have the opportunity to do it, it's something to take advantage of," Prone says. "We have to be mindful of how we're using that data and making sure that it's de-identified, especially when you're dealing with patient information. But because we have such a scale to our network, it's not too hard to do. We can look at things from a bird's-eye view and see something interesting."

Mine Sales Presentations for Content

Sometimes the best opportunities to improve content delivery are right under our nose. Recently, athenahealth had its first analyst day, where the executive team presented the company's strategy to industry analysts and consultants. Prone developed all the executive presentations for the event, but her work didn't stop there.

First, Prone and her team recorded the entire day. Then, she looked at how the delivered presentations differed from the scripted ones. "Hearing how they actually ad-libbed and put their own touch on it was really interesting," she says. "For example, sometimes they'll throw in analogies and really make it come to life."

When she was going through the transcripts of the event, Prone kept thinking: What can I steal from? What should I put into the talk tracks of this deck before rolling it out for broader use? "Filming presentations is a great way to be able to make the messaging more authentic and also just to take advantage of hearing how our leadership team talks about what makes us unique," she says.

Prone takes the insights gleaned from presentations and applies them to her content assets. Repacking is key. As an editorial strategist, she is looking for efficiencies and how to rework her top-performing content into shorter or longer versions that may be more effective.

“I've spent a lot of my time at athenahealth thinking about the process and how we can produce content that works for as many segments of our audience as possible,” she says. “That's always been a challenge — how do you coordinate all of your stakeholders, understand all of their needs, and make sure that you’ve got enough visibility into the future that you can create something for one sales segment to leverage in a campaign and it’s something that can work for somebody at the other end of the market when they do a similar campaign a couple of months down the road?”

Mary Ellen Slayter is CEO of Rep Cap. Before creating her own content marketing firm, she served as director of content development and a senior general business and finance editor at SmartBrief, a leading publisher of e-mail newsletters. Before joining SmartBrief, she spent 8 years at The Washington Post, where she authored the Career Track column and worked as an editor in the business news department. You can find Mary Ellen on Twitter @MESlayter.

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How athenahealth Unites Sales and Marketing Through Content

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