Creating an Effective Sales Enablement Content Strategy

Episode 210

November 15, 2022

Sarah Carson from packaging design and manufacturing company, Rohrer, talks about bringing together marketing and sales teams from two organizations, building in-house capabilities, and her approach to creating powerful sales enablement content.

Creating an Effective Sales Enablement Content Strategy Transcript:

Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.

Jeff White: Welcome to the Kula Ring. My name is Jeff White, and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how’s it going?

Carman Pirie: It is going well, Jeff. I think it’s interesting as we’ve been doing these podcasts that … I think we’ve had an interesting mix of folks. Certainly one of the consistent things among manufacturing marketers is the build-out of internal marketing capabilities.

Jeff White: Yeah.

Carman Pirie: I’m really excited for today’s guest because I think we’re going to be able to get inside that a bit, and that’s pretty cool.

Jeff White: It is. It’s certainly a topic that we come across both in the podcast as well as clients, the prospects that we speak with. The kind of growth and scale of internal marketing teams vary so much.

Carman Pirie: Yeah. I don’t know if I can … This may not be an exact quote, so I won’t attribute it. But it’s something like … I think 2012 was supposed to be the last year in North America where there were more agency side marketers than client-side marketers. We’ve now made that switch. That’s changed things for agencies, of course, but it’s changed things for clients massively as well.

Jeff White: I don’t think they see themselves as clients anymore if all the marketers have moved there.

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Well … yeah. That’s another question, I suppose.

Jeff White: Perhaps not.

Carman Pirie: But look, without further ado … Because it’s not all about us. Maybe we should introduce the guest.

Jeff White: Yeah, indeed. Joining us today is Sarah Carson. Sarah is the Director of Marketing at Rohrer. Welcome to the Kula Ring, Sarah.

Sarah Carson: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Carman Pirie: It’s fantastic to have you on the show. Sarah, why don’t we get started by just having you introduce yourself a little bit more fully and tell us a bit about Rohrer?

Sarah Carson: Sure. I have been with the organization for about a year and a half. My background is actually pretty diverse. I’ve worked for media publishers and digital agencies prior to coming to the manufacturing world of marketing. Rohrer is a North American packaging company. I think that they’re probably best known for the packages that you see at an office supply store. That plastic blister and the card that holds the new package of pens that you want to buy.

Jeff White: Very cool. And when you initially started with the organization that became Rohrer, it was actually something else. You were acquired last fall. Is that right?

Sarah Carson: Yes. I interviewed and worked with Transparent Container starting in December of 2017. Then throughout the spring and summer working with the executive team, we were going through a lot of due diligence processes and getting ourselves ready. Because in October, Rohrer officially acquired Transparent Container.

That brought together two really large packaging brands.

Carman Pirie: So a few dynamics at play here. Sarah, I know that you’ve done a lot of work of building out your in-house marketing capabilities and really shaping and growing the internal team in your time at Transparent Container and Rohrer. So help us understand that and what the current state of that evolution is.

Sarah Carson: When I started, there were two people who had been performing … I’m using air quotes, “marketing duties.” But there hadn’t been a Director of Marketing for over a year prior to my start. One of the first things that was new for the people at my team was that they actually became a team with a leader.

I found out of the gates that there was a lot of duplication for the work that the people were doing because one person reported to sales and the other reported to research and development.

What I thought was really critical to become efficient, and to make sure that the team was happy and successful, was to walk through what they believed their job descriptions to be, but also to try to work with them to figure out what they want their job description to be, or what they’re passionate about as a marketer. I find that when you can guide people on a career path that’s towards their passions, they’ll be more successful, they’ll be more loyal to your brand, and you can have a lot more impact as a department when you have a team of people who are highly engaged.

The two roles that we defined were really based on the kinds of marketing activities that happen day to day. Ultimately we honed in on digital marketing for one of the members of my team, and his work is really about everything that’s tied to Google Analytics, and lead generation, posting content and making sure that we’ve got clean data for our newsletters, and things like that.

The other member of my team, she’s focused on what we’re calling marketing services. She will manage staffing, trade shows, or all of the creative aspects of our brands that come up both with campaigns, communications, signage, and all that kind of stuff that is critical to making sure that we have a refined and unified brand experience for both internal and external partners.

Carman Pirie: I think there’s a couple of pieces to this not to get too far removed from here is that … One is that you … You know, a lot of people just starting out. Okay, what’s the work that needs to get done that they see immediately in front of them and then start carving up responsibilities accordingly.

But you started from passion and worked your way back. I don’t think everybody does that, to be honest. I think you’re going to be commended for having that thought process, and I’d be curious to dive into that a little further.

And then the other thing is that I think there’s some wisdom in how you’ve chosen to just really look at what are those day to day kind of requirements. Understanding that you have a small, focused team, you’re going to weigh on external resources on occasion, et cetera … how best to kind of divvy that up.

I think that both of those things … I don’t know if uncommon is the right word or not, but I think it seems to be very much key to the success thus far.

Sarah Carson: I’ve seen it work where you talk with the people on your team and refine their roles, or create a career path for them before. When I was in the media world, I had a team of 26 people. That’s a lot of different personalities, and a lot of different goals, and ambitions. Getting that personal connection with each of the individuals on my team helped me understand what was the potential of a strategic plan.

If I knew that I had people that were strong enough to manage accounts differently, then that could be something that I could launch quickly in a strategic plan instead of adding in all of the tricks of trying to hire for a unicorn role.

In previous roles where I had a lot of sales people and we wanted to make sure that we were managing our accounts really well while growing as fast as possible, I started to work with those people who liked sales but really loved the problem solving for customers. From that, I took a pool of over 20 sales people and kept some of them at outside sales, but had the others in the office as account managers who were really focused on helping the salespeople by managing their accounts day to day. Then doing things like suggesting incremental opportunities based on these really strong relationships that they were developing.

I don’t think that those people would have been successful if I didn’t know that it was something that they were excited to do. When I had done that in the past, it taught me a lot about how people react to a manager who seems to have their best interest at heart.

It’s really meaningful. It brings meaning to their work and it also brings a lot of success to the organizations that I work for when we have a team of happy people who are loyal and engaged.

Jeff White: I think that it’s also interesting on a delineation of execution standpoint because you’ve effectively delineated on more traditional marketing for one of the people versus a purely digital understanding it, and natively digital marketer for the other.

In a lot of cases, especially within mid-size manufacturers, everybody has to play a part in the digital. There isn’t often room for one person to kind of run with one side or the other, and have that split that way. But I think it does allow people to truly excel at the things they’re good at.

Sarah Carson: Right. It’s not like these people work in little boxes and never talk to anybody outside of it. We still collaborate as a team-

Jeff White: Sure.

Sarah Carson: … and see how the work that one does lifts up the other. But when we approach a task, we can very quickly get to work because we know who does what. The roles are clear.

Carman Pirie: I’d be curious. It’s funny because, of course, in some ways there’s a … Even with this delineation of role, there’s still a unicorn nature to it in some way. I mean, we’re talking about a digital marketer that’s half content marketer, half data analytics, half website manager, et cetera.

Jeff White: That’s too many halves.

Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s not a math podcast, thank you.

Jeff White: You’re the one with the business degree.

Carman Pirie: On the other side of it … On the traditional side, those are a wide number of skill sets. I don’t know how … I mean, part of me wants to ask you which of them you think would be harder to replace. But that’s really nice, because they’re going to listen to this podcast.

Jeff White: It’s not fair.

Carman Pirie: I guess, how do you feel? Do you feel in some ways that you’re managing a couple of unicorns there? And is that at all a concern? I don’t know.

Sarah Carson: Well, I feel fortunate to have them both for sure. Neither one of them wants to do the other person’s job. I could start by saying that. I couldn’t replace one with the other and still keep that at a level of engagement and joy.

And you’re right. I think that either of them may be difficult to replace because it was their experience with the company well before I came there. That helped them get that big picture view of where they fit within this department.

Carman Pirie: Let’s jump into some of the functional roles beyond that that you’ve … You’ve also talked about taking a different approach to account management and lead gen under the marketing umbrella. Help me understand that.

Sarah Carson: Our companies both prior to acquisition had embarked on some initiatives to manage small accounts. Small accounts, they have a lot of things going on. They might not order as frequently, and their orders are relatively small. I always talk about how Linda Evangelista used to say that she wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day.

Yeah. And so I’m talking about those accounts that are less than $10,000. A lot of times, the salespeople really want to focus on their big whales. What happens is that our organization started to see some attrition with these small accounts that are really easy to steal if someone just paid some attention to them.

One project that we embarked on recently was to create a new role within our organization, and it’s called Emerging Business. We have two people on this team. One has been performing a lead gen role within the marketing department where she was managing all of our inbound leads and qualifying them before we passed them onto salespeople. The other member of the Emerging Business team is a 20 years sales veteran with our company. She’s got tons of firsthand experience for how the larger customers work with us, and what kinds of problems she can solve with our solutions.

So we created this new Emerging Business team to focus on our smallest accounts. They can now give those accounts a white glove treatment that makes them understand how valuable they are to our company. Then they can … as Emerging Business account executives, they can help grow that business. Especially with this acquisition, Rohrer primarily printed the cards that are part of our packing. Transparent Container primarily performed the thermoforming for the blisters.

There’s an opportunity with all of those small accounts. If you buy a card, you probably have a blister. If you buy a blister, you probably need a card. If no one in sales was taking the time to call you and tell you about what the new opportunities are, we’re leaving half of our money on the table.

This group manages about 10 times the number of accounts as an outside salesperson for our company. They also take on all of the leads that come in through our website, and phone calls. A lot of people scratch their heads when I say that that group is part of the marketing department. But for us, it’s day one access to what’s going on with a really large scalable amount of leads and accounts. So that as marketers, we can hear the kinds of stories that customers bring to us, or the solutions that they’re looking for. We can produce some best practices that can apply throughout the organization.

Sarah Carson: One of the things that I perform as a marketing director is a weekly email to the sales team that helps with sales enablement and effectiveness. Capturing these stories from busy outside salespeople may be … Well, it would be much more difficult. Here I’ve got two people on my team who can offer me 10 times the number of stories.

Jeff White: I think that’s really interesting. It’s not necessarily a common tactic that we’ve seen. I mean, in a lot of cases … For example, we had Murray Bain from Stanpac on the podcast. They’re a packaging producer of ice cream, and milk containers, and things like that as well as coffee cups and other things.

Their tactic for dealing with this was to set up an eCommerce store, so that the small accounts could get that attention directly by the site rather than needing to speak to an inside sales or accounts team.

I’m guessing that with the customization required for the blister packs and other things that you make, eCommerce might not be a solution that could replace these people.

Sarah Carson: Yeah. I listened to that and I learned a lot of really interesting information. It’s true there’s a lot of customization for our products. But then once something turns into a reorder, there’s none. It’s just the same thing again.

We’re actually working on a portal for customers to perform some self-service as well. The thing is that not everybody wants to go through that process. We need to make sure that we are not leaving money on the table.

That’s one of the reasons that we will continue to grow within this team. They might do more work to drive people to the portal as it goes live. I still think that a portal for us would be significantly less successful at selling new opportunities or communicating additional product lines that may be useful for the customer. I think that comes from day to day conversations.

So having this team where … one of their measurement metrics is the number of conversations that they have with existing customers.

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Carman Pirie: I just love the way this is organized and I really like that you’ve leveraged from the start the kind of marketing benefit of having those … basically a direct connection to that activity rather than it being abstracted from marketing’s view.

Jeff White: For the marketing and sales alignment. The email that you’re talking about, Sarah, is just … I mean, that’s a lesson that many marketers can take and bring some cohesion with their sales teams.

Sarah Carson: Yeah. I think that one of the primary reasons we started the newsletter is because we can expand our marketing through thought leadership. I think a lot of people think about content marketing as a way to promote thought leadership.

For me, I also want to put a multiplier on that by helping all of the salespeople become thought leaders within their own communities. It kind of started from this concept of making sure that they were aware of what’s going on in the industry, and giving them content about the industry that they could then share with the customer as part of a follow up conversation. Or use it on LinkedIn or Twitter. So that it wasn’t our website that was the only resource or validation that Rohrer knows what they’re doing in this space, but that any of the people that customers speak with have a really strong understanding of the packing industry as a whole.

Carman Pirie: And how many outside sales team members are we talking about here?

Sarah Carson: There’s 16 reps that are working in the field plus their managers. Our designers are really involved in the sales process as well. The list of people who receive the email is around 30.

Carman Pirie: Are there any common characteristics for the people that you feel get the most benefit or use out of it?

Sarah Carson: Well, I use HubSpot to send the email. That has been interesting to see who are the people that open it every single week and click on it. And then, of course, I can see on LinkedIn whether or not they’re sharing the content.

I’m going to keep sending it to everybody. It’s not meant to be a ‘gotcha,’ but more like a service that we can provide. I feel like there are certain account managers who are a little bit more consultative with their customers versus those that are transactional. You can find success within either of those categories, but those that are the consultant who want to engage with designers and want to provide packaging solutions that push the limits of design … those are the ones who really take advantage of the content that I’m sharing with them as well.

Carman Pirie: Interesting. I wish I would have been smart enough to have a clever followup question. I didn’t really think of where it was going. I was just more, like … So often we think about those people who say, “Oh yeah. I don’t know. It’ll break down on age, or it’s break down on digital savviness,” or what have you.

I’ve kind of liked that the division wasn’t there. That the division was on are they more of a consultative salesperson or more of a transactional salesperson. And those consultative salespeople are the ones who get more advantage of it.

Of course, that’s a nice direction for content development as well. Of course, as you’re creating content to help enable that sales process, you’re doing usually through the consultative sale ends. It stands to reason.

Sarah Carson: Right. I love the Spin Sucks blog, or Gini Dietrich’s Spin Sucks. One of the things that she talks about a lot is the PESO model, which is the media you can use as a brand. The P is for paid, earned, shared, owned. So that’s how she gets the word PESO.

I kind of think of our sales team as part of that owned media. They can help me promote the content on our website as well. With anything that we do, we have to think about what’s in it for the salesperson. Or what’s in it for our audience. Making sure that I’m giving them things that are useful for their conversations with a customer is key. And then if they can give me feedback about what they need, that helps me build my content strategy going forward across any of those media types.

Carman Pirie: Have you … What has been the most successful that you’ve used to harvest that feedback from the sales team? And I think that a lot of marketers would love to have feedback from the size sales teams members about … that could help direct content creation, et cetera.

I’ve noticed many struggles with getting it. So how do you do it?

Sarah Carson: We have our struggles, too. But there are two primary methods that I use to collect content ideas. One is we just sent out a link to a Survey Monkey to the salespeople in the most recent Monday morning email. We asked them to share with us either some trends that they’re seeing in the industry or tell us about a customer problem that we solved through packaging.

Either one of those answers helps me with either writing a thought leadership piece or a case study. What a lot of the reps are learning is that once they give me a little bit of information, I will help build it in a much larger piece and then we attribute the content to them. It helps them get some notoriety.

So the surveys are one useful way to collect data from a lot of people. The other thing that I preach and lead by example is that I pick up the phone. I call salespeople on a regular basis and ask them about their territory or I ask them about a sale that I see in a call report. I just kind of push them to start to share those stories with me.

So our marketing services person does the same thing. She looks for big sales, or she’ll visit a plant and see something weird, or cool running on the lines. And then we’ll just start to target the salespeople as if we are some inside sales group ourselves trying to sell the idea of producing more content and working with the marketing team.

Carman Pirie: That’s really, really cool. I bet, too, that these efforts are more successful than they would otherwise be because of that newsletter that you send out. It kind of inherently drives a bit of reciprocity expectation, right?

If you’re giving so much out, in some ways at some point somebody has to give something back in order to try and keep that relationship in balance. You know?

Sarah Carson: Yeah. I hoped it would work out that way. It seems to be working out that way. I also have the sales managers who are engaged in the process as well, and they’re supporting the work that I’m doing by encouraging sales reps to reach out to me proactively when something interesting is going on.

The Rohrer salespeople had not had this experience before. The Transparent Container salespeople had had it for about a year. So now we’re starting to see more engagement across the entire department where people are reaching out to us before we even ask for anything to let us know about something good that happened in their territory. Or a good conversation that they had with their customer. And it’s nice to be able to work faster through this process.

Carman Pirie: I love it. I think this has been incredibly helpful, Sarah.

I wonder as we bring our conversation to a close if there are any parting pieces of advice that you would give? Not that you haven’t given enough already, but … Maybe it’s nice to keep it open-ended, see what else comes out.

Sarah Carson: Sure. I think that to be a successful marketer, one of the things that has been really useful to me is reading as much as possible. I feel like that helps me grow my empathy muscles. It’s good for me to understand all the different kinds of customers that we work with, but more importantly, it’s good for me to have empathy and understanding of all the different personalities I work with within my organization.

And that has really helped me become successful with a lot of the work that I do. People see the marketing department as a partner. I know that in organizations I’ve worked in the past, there’s been a contentious relationship between marketing and sales. Or this stereotype that marketing is just trying to get you to stop using the logo the wrong way.

Sarah Carson: What I’m trying to do is build bridges so that we’re working together and amplifying each other’s voices in ways that help the organization grow.

Carman Pirie: And I like how it’s not focused on tactical things to align marketing and sales, but rather more attitudinal and overall approach based, right? I think that comes through in this conversation loud and clear, Sarah.

Sarah Carson: Well, thanks. I’m glad to hear it. I mean, we still measure everything that we do. We still run campaigns and count clicks, and ROI. I think that all the other work that we’re doing is just as important.

Carman Pirie: Well, one certainly powers the results that you see in the other.

Jeff White: Yeah. True.

Carman Pirie: That’s clear. Sarah, thanks so much for sharing your experience with us today. Thanks for joining us on The Kula Ring.

Sarah Carson: Yeah, it was great to visit with you both. Thank you so much.

Carman Pirie: Take care.

Jeff White: Cheers.

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Sarah Carson

Vice President of Marketing at Rohrer

Over her 15-years of experience in media and marketing roles, Sarah Carson has helped 1,000+ businesses define marketing and sales goals and implement strategic plans for long-term success. Carson specializes in marketing strategy, niche targeting, and leadership/culture. Her experience includes leadership roles within brands, publishers, and a digital services agency. Carson’s work spans many industry verticals, including Manufacturing, E-commerce, Real Estate, Retail, Education, and Healthcare. She attributes her success to years of collaboration with some of the greatest sales and marketing people in Chicago, implementing digital marketing programs for a diverse client list, and voracious reading habits. Sarah Carson is currently the Vice President of Marketing for Rohrer Corporation. Rohrer is a North American packaging design and manufacturing company. Their award-winning team provides partners with a wide array of custom packaging solutions and the industry’s largest combo program. In her role, Carson designed a marketing strategy focused on lead generation, sales enablement, channel management, and corporate communications.

The Kula Ring is a podcast for manufacturing marketers who care about evolving their strategy to gain a competitive edge.

Listen to conversations with North America’s top manufacturing marketing executives and get actionable advice for success in a rapidly transforming industry.

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