Don’t slit your wrists if there is no sales guide. I was only given a complete sales guide once in two decades as an in-house marketing writer at high-tech companies, but I always managed to find enough information. This post provides tips for getting the information if it isn’t handed to you neatly in a single simple document with a nice red bow around it.
First: Know What You Need
What I have been doing in this series of posts is showing you the kind of information that is generally available to salespeople (pain points, competitive information, qualifying questions, etc.), and I would say that 80% of the battle for the copywriter is knowing what to ask for and how marketing and salespeople think. This is particularly true if you are a contractor and not on staff. Not only will you sound like you know what you are doing, but you are also likely to make your life much easier.
Second: Shadow the Salespeople
The first company I worked for was founded and controlled by engineers. It had no marketing department, but it actually did a good (although not very neat) job of transferring sales and product information to its writers. Although I wrote marketing collateral from almost my first day, everyone carried the title of “Technical Writer,” and we took sales training and had free access to all the material available to the salespeople.
At this company I first learned about sales-gurus like Tom Hopkins and Zig Ziglar, and I had access to a sizeable lending library of tapes by professional motivators like Anthony Robbins that the company purchased for the salespeople. I had a great time listening to these, and learned, on the one hand, that sales was hard work and not just glad-handing, and on the other, that salespeople are showered with tons of silly rules and lachrymose stories about overcoming adversity. For example, one guru advised salespeople to always listen to upbeat music and avoid composers like Mahler. God forbid a salesperson should listen to Mahler’s Kindertotenleider (traditionally translated as “Songs on the Death of Children”).
The tech writers were also invited to the monthly off-site sales meeting (with free breakfast at a local hotel) and the yearly Sales Kickoff (with free breakfast and lunch and guest guru).
Third: Find out What Is Available on Tape or Online
Although occasional in-person sales get-togethers are still important for morale, a lot of information is now passed from marketing to sales in online training sessions via web conferencing, especially if the company has sales offices worldwide. In-house writers can usually get themselves invited to these online meetings, but the sessions are almost always recorded and archived, and available online.
The yearly Sales Kickoff is usually still a “live” event, but it is now generally videotaped or broadcast on protected IP networks to various sites. Presentations for these meetings are often meticulously prepared and rehearsed and are very valuable for writers. Also multiple slides of solid text (aka, Death by PowerPoint) are now more the exception than the rule because of the new importance of and easy access to video clips and slide “building” techniques. Unfortunately, this does not mean the presentations are more effective and less sleep-inducing.
If you find these sessions tedious and/or annoying, you are not alone. I have been at mandatory sales meetings were everyone brought laptops and later smartphones and answered email or texted throughout the meeting, forcing management to forbid these devices (instead of looking in the mirror and asking why everyone was so bored that they wanted to hang themselves).
Usually you can still bring in pen and paper, so to stay awake, try searching out the main points and looking for language you can use or revise. If your attendance is optional, you are probably better off watching a replay online where you can stop and start the presentation and skip over any hoopla.