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Episode 7: How Marcus Sheridan's Content Strategy Saved His Life

Marcus Sheridan was burnt out. Each day, he was waking up early, driving two to three hours, sitting at a sales appointment for two to three hours, and driving home for two to three more hours. He didn't get to see his wife. He didn't get to see my kids. 

What was eating away at his time? Not getting to work with more qualified buyers. So to solve that, Marcus redefined his content strategy and starting selling at an 80 percent close rate.

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Episode Transcription

Hey, it's Jorie from HubSpot, and this is Skill Up -- The show where you’ll learn how to take your sales, marketing, and service skills to the next level.

As we’ve pointed out in earlier episodes, contrary to popular belief, marketers are not the only people creating content. In fact, at some companies, sales produces just as much content as marketing. 

And, yes, I know, ‘every minute a rep spends creating content is a minute they're not selling,’  But personalized content is exceptionally important^ to move leads through the buyer’s journey. 

You know what? Play some segment music for me. I have something I wanna say.

We’ll get to the ‘why’ in just a bit, but first I want to talk about ‘how’ -- How do you create a content strategy for sales enablement?

The first step is a critical one. You need to organize your sales content. 

Many companies already have high-quality sales content on their website. So, by centralizing alllll this existing sales content into one location, reps can find these resources to share with leads quickly.

And what’s this content you already have kicking around look like? Well, it could be in the form of customer case studies, whitepapers, ebooks, product demo decks, pricing and discount info, competitive intelligence briefs, and John Wick fan fiction. 

OK, fine, maybe that’s a “no” to your Keanu Critic’s Corner pipedream. But every other kind of content, internal or customer facing, is all fair game. And the most important of all these content assets are your case studies. 

Because, let’s face it, your best salespeople are your customers. 

In fact, as a rule of thumb, you should try and have a case study within the first six months of launching a new product.

Phew, ok, said my peace.

There’s plenty of different ways to host your content library. Tools like Google Docs, an internal wiki, or a CRM, are all at your disposal -- and they range from pretty cheap to free-99!

But remember, Bob Dylan, times change. And content that was once relevant to your target audience in previous years, may not perform as well today. So, keep this document library up to date so your sales team can always succeed.

And there’s one success story in particular I want to focus on for today’s episode. It’s from a conversation I had with Marcus Sheridan, you remember him…

[SHERIDAN: Hi I’m Marcus Sheridan of the Sales Lion]

Marcus told me a story that completely took me by surprise. 

It was about the near collapse of his company and home life, and how he finally learned to stop worrying... and love the content.

’ll let Marcus take it from here.

SHERIDAN: I am Marcus Sheridan. I am the CEO and president of the sales lion, and also I'm a former pool guy, river pools and spas. The river pool story is one that's been talked about a lot at this point in inbound and, content marketing circles, but a make a long story short, we started the company in 2001 things were going okay until the market crashed in 2008 and, uh, I remember the day of the crash, we lost within the next 48 hours, we lost five deposits of people, said, we're going to get a pool they withdrew that deposit, so we lost a quarter of a million dollars in business in the first 48 hours, and over the coming weeks and months, it got worse and worse, and by January of 2009, we're literally looking over the edge of bankruptcy, and I think I'm gonna lose everything. 

And that's when in January of 2009 I start to read all these fancy phrases like inbound marketing, content marketing, social media, all this stuff. And really in my mind, my simple pool guy mind, what I heard was, okay, so what you're telling me, and all this stuff that I'm reading is if I just obsess over the questions my customers ask every single day, good, bad, or ugly, and I'm willing to address them on the website through texts and video, I might save my business.

Okay, fine. So that's what we did, and we embraced this simple philosophy at the time we called it, they ask you answer. And we said, we're going to be the best teachers in the world when it comes to, in our case, fiberglass pools. And to make a long story really short, we did just that and we became the most traffic swimming pool website in the world.

Today we get about 600,000 visitors a month. And last year, we're the largest installer fiberglass pools in the country. And because we were getting so many leads outside of area that had to make a choice, do I stay where I am just installing pools in Virginia and Maryland, or do we do something with this huge brand that we've built, this momentum that we've built digitally speaking.

And so we started manufacturing pools as well, and that's gone incredibly well and incredibly fast period of time. And I would guess within the next 10 years, we're probably the largest manufacturer of fiberglass pools in the U S but that's the quick story of river pools. 

Let me tell you a quick story about how content had a major impact on our sales process with our organization.

And they really just, I mean, so many since, since understanding this principle, we'll call assignment selling. Since understanding this principle, I've taught it to organizations around the world. And every single one has a similar pattern. Let me describe. At the beginning of 2013 I was looking at my analytics from my website and some of my lead behavior, and I was comparing two groups of people.

This group here had filled out a form and said, I want to get a quote for swimming pool, and they ended up not buying, and this group here had filled out a form. To get a quote for a pool. And they ended up buying. So I said, what is the difference? What is the difference between the non buyers versus the buyers?

And I noticed the number 30 just kept jumping out underneath the group that had bought. And of course that number 30 represented the total pages they had viewed. And this is what we found specifically, and this is very critical that if somebody read 30 or more pieces of our content or consumed 30 or more pieces of our content, before the initial sales appointment, they would buy 80% of the time. And if they didn't hit that number, the closing rates were about 25% which was industry average. And so we went from being incredibly average to being elite. Sales organizations. I said, my goodness, I've been selling the wrong way for years because for years somebody would call me up and say, Hey Marcus, I'm checking out your website or heard about you from a friend.

Could you come out to my house and give me a quote for a pool? And like every other pool guy, I would go out to the house and I would give them a quote. But I would get there and I would answer the same questions over. And over and over again. And in fact, this is what we found as we've worked with sales organizations-- 80% of all the questions that sales professionals gets on a first sales appoint payment are the same questions almost every time, 80% yet as organizations, we continue to send them out there to answer those same 80 percent. What would happen if before you met with that prospect? They not only knew the answer to those 80% of questions, but they had heard them from you. They had heard your voice, explain it to them.

They had seen you explain it to them. They knew the answers because you had taken the time to teach them through the digital mediums that we have available to us today. Yes, you're right. Sales cycles would go down. Sales appointments in terms of time would go down. Closing rates would go up.And the fact is we would spend dramatically more time selling,and less time teaching where when the face to face experience. 

But yet we keep sending them out there to teach the same things over and over again when all that stuff should have happened beforehand, which is why the content we're producing should be extremely sales- based, in other words, very buyer centric questions. Not fluff.

And that's what we started to do at River Pools. And that's what we've taught companies to do. So in other words, you'd call me up and you'd say something like, "Hey Marcus, I'm checking out your website. Could you come out to my house and give me a quote for a pool?" And you see knowing the power of 30 page views for us, this is how that response changed.

I would say, "Sure, I'd love to come out to your house, but you're getting ready to spend a lot of money. And if you're going to spend a lot of money, I know you don't want to make any mistakes. So as to make sure you don't make any mistakes, this is what we're going to do. As we're talking on the phone right now, I'm going to send you two things that you're really gonna like.

The first thing I'm gonna send you is a link to a video. That's awesome. This video is going to show you the process of pull, showing up, going in the ground patio, going around it, all the cleanup. This way you're going to see the whole thing and this way, when I come out to your house on Friday, you're not going to say, 'so Marcus, what does this process look like?' You're already going to know which sidebar that just saved me 35 minutes on the sales appointment. 

The second thing I'm going to send you is this guide, if you will. This guides great because it's going to answer all those little questions you have right now about pools.

Like, should I get a heater with my pool? What's the best type of heater? Should it be gash? Should it be electric? Should it get a cover? What's the best type of cover? Should it be mesh? Should it be solid? We're going to answer all those questions. It's a little bit long this guide is about 30 pages, but I promise it'll be well worth your time.

Will you take the time to review those things before our appointment on Friday?" 

And do you realize 90% of the time the answer is exactly the same? Sure. That's the answer. And then if they do that homework, I know that 80% of the time they're going to buy. And just so this hits. Home when life was great and the economy was booming in 2007 and everybody could get a loan for a pool and it was easy to buy a pool.

That year we sold 75 pools. In order to sell 75 pools, I had to go on 230 plus sales appointment myself. My whole life that year was getting up early, driving two to three hours to go to a sales appointment, sitting in a home for two to three hours, and then driving two to three hours home. I didn't get to see my wife. I didn't get to see my kids. I didn't get to work with more qualified buyers. 

And then we understood the power of content as a sales tool, and then we integrated it into our entire sales process. And then the magic happened. And by this point, I had moved on and I wasn't just the pool guy. I was now doing the sales and marketing consulting, and we had brought in other salespeople that supposedly weren't as skilled at sales as I was. 

And let me give you some real numbers. In 2013 we sold 110 pools. In order to sell those 110 pools, we went on about 150 sales appointments. Now you can do the math, which sales team was happier? Them in 2013 or me in 2007?

And that's because I was doing it wrong.

Incredible. Incredible! And so obvious why content is one of the most important parts of sales enablement. 

So make sure you’re using content before AND during the sale. You’ll save yourself so much time, you can finally start that hobby in falconry. Or, whatever you’re into!

I’ll see you next episode, where we get all Hollywood and talk contracts. Only this one is between your marketing and sales teams.

I’ll see you there!