Using Valuable Content to Build Trust Through the Sales Process

Valuable ContentPlease welcome guest-blogger Sonja Jefferson to Trust Matters today. She’s founder of Valuable Content consulting firm, and author of the Valuable Content Marketing book. I have high regard for what she does, and think you’ll enjoy this.


I’d like to make a distinction. ‘Content’ is the words on the page you are reading. It’s the copy on your website, the blog you posted last night, the videos, images and tweets that you share. When we’re talking about content we just mean words, knowledge and information.

What lifts a piece of content above all the noise is the value it has to the person reading it. The term we use is valuable content’. Valuable content is supercharged content – words, knowledge and information shaped for your particular audience. It is content with a bigger purpose, useful information created for a niche; quality collateral that really hits the mark.

Valuable content is meaningful content and it will help you build trust at every step of the buying process. Here is how I’ve seen it make a difference to consultants and professional advisors along the long road to a sale.

Valuable Content For Every Step of the Sale

Growing awareness: Online or off, the right content will help you be found. Search engines reward valuable content. Just like your prospects, the Google algorithm is getting better and better at recognizing and blocking spam. But if you regularly share useful, relevant content in your blog articles and social media updates you’ll build your reputation and network, and rank as a helpful expert in your niche.

“I was struggling with an issue, and didn’t feel I had the whole picture. I searched on the web and found a really useful article by X. Funnily enough someone in my network had mentioned them favorably recently too.”

Generating interest: They’ve found your website, do they find something relevant and useful when they get there? Most websites and marketing communications are nothing more than self-oriented propaganda. We follow the 80/20 rule of thumb: aim for 80% valuable content and no more than 20% promotion. Pack your website full of engaging content, just for them. The key is to focus on the client and their issues: how-to articles and valuable guides are far more engaging than a brochure.

“That article really got me thinking. It made me curious about the people behind it. I checked out their website and found a veritable library of information on the subject – more articles, some interesting slide sets, a great video.”

Proving your expertise and motivating them to buy: Buyers are more likely to want to work with thought leaders and experts in a given field, and your published content helps you earn that title and builds trust in what you can do. When you’re up against a competitor, valuable content gives you an edge. When clients see your passion and expertise shining through, you gain an added level of credibility.

“The quality of their content, as well as their case studies and testimonials, gave me confidence in their ability and set them apart from their competitors.”

To convert all this good will into action is often a matter of good timing. Not everyone will be ready to buy straight away, so motivate them to keep in contact with you – connecting on social media and a simple email newsletter once a month will keep you front of mind.

Making it real and deepening the connection: Turning the spark of interest into a burning desire to meet means engaging prospects on a deeper level. Online tools like the Trusted Advisor Trust Quotient Assessment are a great way of helping potential clients experience the way you could help them; valuable in their own right. Webinars are another way to let potential clients see you in action. Hearing your voice, seeing you answer questions in real time make the benefits of your services come alive. Put the customer and his challenges at the centre of your world, and show them clearly not just how you help someone like them, but how your insights and experience could directly benefit them, for real.

“Every contact with them is valuable to me. I can see they develop good relationships with clients. They are a good fit for my world.”

Help Your Clients Along The Sales Journey

Marketing with content is more than just a lead generation activity. It’s an invaluable tool right through the process from first touch to long-term relationship.  Help your buyers along their sales journey with valuable content. Provide genuinely useful information at each stage of process – from ‘just looking’ to ‘just about to buy, big time’. Use it wisely and people will get to know, like, and trust you, and remember you when the time comes to buy.

[You’re in the right place if you want an example of best practice. Just look around you on the Trusted Advisor website.  You’ll find content here for every step of the sale, from tweets to articles, to e-books, online tools, webinars, his newsletter and of course Charlie’s books.]


Carpet Bombing Content Marketing and Trusted Advisors

Let me connect a few dots. I’ll start with content marketing, and end up with entry-level minimum wage trusted advisors being advertised on

Always Be Publishing

Let’s start with an article about content marketing called “Always Be Publishing.

The idea is simple enough; instead of talking about yourself, start a conversation. Don’t pitch yourself; instead, “Create a story that looks and feels like a real news story.” The article promises, “The more you share with others and the more often you invite others to participate and converse with you, the more likely your content will be shared.”

Fine, but note that if everyone followed this advice, we’d be inundated with posts on LinkedIn, Quora, Facebook et al, with everyone positioning themselves as a discussion-leading expert, whose objective is to drive more and more traffic, until we drown in traffic.

Oh wait, that’s pretty much what’s happening.

Carpet-Bombing Content

There are two problems with this carpet-bombing approach to content.

First, it is desensitizing. The pharmaceutical industry embarked on something like this for a decade or two, called “reach and frequency.” It meant blitzing doctors’ offices with come-hither wink-nod ex-cheerleader reps whose job it was to perform a canned script, get the doctors to sign a statement, and then leave them free drug samples.

I’m sure content-marketers would insist that this is not a valid analogy, but it’s not all that invalid either. The carpet-bombing of message is common to both. Just as with kids’ advertising on TV, the mind numbs after a while, and all that remains is the dull lizard-brain throbbing at the ghost of the memory of meaning.

The other problem with the “always be publishing” mantra is that it inevitably degrades quality. I remember during the “empowerment” craze, someone pointed out that if you empowered stupid people, you’d get powerful stupidity.  And unless you believe all content is created equal, this brings up the same conundrum.

The Word Formerly Know as Content

“Content” has become a word whose connotation has become content-neutral. Here’s what I mean by that.  Once upon a time, it was an epithet to say, “He’s all sizzle, but no content,” “that was zero-content consulting,” or, “the cover looked great, but the content didn’t live up to the promise.”

Nowadays, “content” too often means nothing more than the bits and bytes that take up space under a headline. (I want to take a moment to note an important exception, Valuable Content, whose very title insists on a value judgment; kudos to them. But they are all too rare).

All too common is SuperSpun Articles, from Jonathan Leger, who promises:

“Never write another article again! Generate thousands of highly unique [sic] top-quality articles at the push of a button!” …We GUARANTEE that no two generated articles will EVER have more than 25% duplicated content (usually far less than that). The odds are one in ten million that two articles will be 20% the same…”

He can do this because he’s generated “spinner” software that looks up synonyms and the like and generates nearly infinite variations on “content,” all of which are “unique” in the search engine optimization game driven by Google. And we have come to refer to this as “content.”

In this world, even the old line about a thousand monkeys typing for a thousand years and writing Shakespeare is no longer funny!  Because the “point” of “content” is no longer literature, or even meaning – content has become the pink slime of words.

The point of “content” is to push our reptilian buttons, increase our SEO ratings, and raise our Klout scores.

I can live with art for art’s sake having been lost; even education for education’s sake.  But when meaning for the sake of meaning is lost, I don’t know what to do.

What do words mean when words aren’t intended to have meaning?

Pink Slime Trusted Advisor

Here’s the other dot to connect (the first one was Always Be Publishing).

Exhibit 1. A ad for Michigan Farm Bureau Insurance headlined Trusted Advisor / Insurance Agent. The ad says,

    • “We have over 400 trusted advisors across Michigan who markets [sic]  the products and services we offer.”

Exhibit 2. Trusted Advisor Account Service Management Sr. Advisor for Dell SecureWorks. Here is the first of seven “job responsibilities:”

    • Proactively monitor support distribution lists/customer service ticket delegations for potential escalated issues with customer accounts in order to curb potential dissatisfaction issues which may include responding to customer “how to” questions; Update customer delegate Helpdesk, Trending, and Incident tickets requesting update and closure
    • Knowledge requirements include MOAM1, LIAM1, and DCAM1

When Maister, Galford and I wrote The Trusted Advisor in 2000, we started by saying, “While none of us begin our career as a trusted advisor, that is the status to which most of us aspire.”

At the time, it seemed an unremarkable comment. Imagine our astonishment if someone had told us, “Hey, in only 12 years, there will be over 400 trusted advisors in just one insurance company – and in their Michigan operations alone!” Not to mention they’d be required to know MOAM1.

Words in a Meaningless Environment

Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be afraid of. I happen to believe that if we are subjected to a campaign of verbal carpet-bombing and told it’s marketing, and that if all of us are taught that the road to success is to always be publishing more content than our neighbors, then there are certain predictable outcomes:

  1. Words will progress asymptotically toward meaninglessness
  2. “Content” will become the verbal equivalent of beige, no longer requiring a qualifying adjective
  3. Writing will become mechanized

Oh wait, we already established that’s what happening.

4. The abuses of language outlined above will cross over. In addition to losing connotative meaning, they will cause us to lose denotative meaning. We will no longer be able to tell a trusted advisor from a transactional subject matter expert.

That means the first exhibit in our book, which portrayed a 4-step progression from subject matter expert to trusted advisor, will be rendered not just meaningless, but incomprehensible to many.

Apparently that’s already happened to the people who write employment ads.