By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing
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This week’s episode is entitled “The Importance and Power of Editing: A B2B Masterclass (in 30 Minutes!)” and our guest is Lisa Gschwandtner, Editorial Director at Selling Power.
I think as people have the opportunity to just publish things off the cuff on social channels, to just write stream of consciousness on a blog platform and just click, press, go…I don’t feel like we are as good at editing ourselves as we used to be. And so we talk about this. To start I ask Lisa how she decided editing is what she wanted to do? How did she begin her career in journalism and why is that something that she’s so passionate about today?
This and a lot more!
Listen in or read the entire conversation below:
Matt: Well thanks everyone for joining us again. For those of you joining us live on the Funnel Media Radio Network. Thanks so much for being part of your work day. If you’re joining us on the podcast, thank you so much for joining us again. We continue to be very humbled by the listenership we get across the B2B sales and marketing world. And if you like what you hear today and you’d like to hear a other episodes of Sales Pipeline Radio, you can find everything we’ve done past, present and future, up at salespipelineradio.com.
I’m really excited for today’s episode. We’re featuring every week some of the best and brightest minds in B2B. Today is no different featuring good friend, long-time friend, someone that I don’t get to talk to unless when you apparently do it as live radio because she was in everything else. I won’t get into the inside jokes there but Lisa Gschwandtner from Selling Power Magazine, thank you so much for joining us today.
Lisa: Thank you. It’s great to be here. I’m thrilled.
Matt: I have many a fond memory of being in this fine city, San Francisco with you and the Selling Power team with your sister Larissa, who runs the selling auto events and Gerhardt who is the publisher/founder of Selling Power Magazine, sitting at the media table just talking about sales. Talking about sales and marketing, working together. And one of the reasons I was excited to have you on the call was not just to talk about that, but just you are, I’m going to say this on live radio, you’re one of the best editors I have met and seen in action. And I think it’s a lost art today.
I think as people have the opportunity to just publish things off the cuff on social channels, to just write stream of consciousness on a blog platform and just click, press, go. I don’t feel like we are as good at editing ourselves as we used to be. And I wanted to talk about that today. So I guess maybe start off with how did you decide that this is what you wanted to do? How did you begin your career sort of in journalism and why is that something that you’re so passionate about today?
Lisa: Okay, great place to start and I am really grateful to be here. Thank you so much for the opportunity. Maybe it tells us something too, it kind of goes along with your question, that nobody ever asks me about editing. And I was thinking before this week I’ve been thinking about chatting with you and I feel like kind of a misfit in the sales and marketing world because I’m an editor. And it’s very interesting the way I landed in this place. So I am not a born salesperson or a born marketer. I think I feel more in alignment with a lot of marketers because I think they’re closer usually to content and writing, some of them, some kinds of marketers. And I’d put you in that category too. I’m not a journalist. I’ve never studied journalism, but I have studied writing and literature and the art of storytelling in school, and then in lots of writing workshops, creative writing workshops.
So I studied English literature at the University of Virginia. I got a Master of fine arts in fiction writing at St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga. And so I am like the kind of person who likes to sit and read. I read a lot. My first job out of school was as an assistant to a literary agent. So I have also worked in publishing. So you mentioned Selling Power. My father founded Selling Power Magazine as a newsletter, a print newsletter in the eighties, late seventies early eighties and he eventually turned that into Selling Power Magazine, which if some people are listening, they might remember that. I run across people all the time who do. The magazine is still around, it’s in digital form. So I think one of the reasons we’ve kind of lost the art of editing is just that the world has changed around editing. There is publishing as we know it. As we knew it in the eighties, nineties, 2000s, doesn’t really exist anymore, and everything’s sort of turned into digital content. We don’t really talk about publishing anymore. We talk about content. Everything kind of turned into content.
I have spent my life working for Selling Power Magazine. I started working in the mail room when I was a little kid and I started contributing to the magazine, which we have still a back page of the magazine that’s just the list of quotes and I would compile those quotes when I was a teenager. And the first article I had published in the magazine was in 1998 and I shared the byline. I was home from college and my mother, who edited the magazine, was complaining about an article she got. She had to find an article about sexual harassment laws for sales managers because the Anita Hill trial was in ’92 and in ’98 people who are still trying to figure out what does this mean, what is quid pro quo, what is a hostile work environment. And I was interested in that topic. I knew nothing about sales. I knew nothing, certainly about the technical aspects of selling, but I really was interested in that. So I said, “Well, I’ll look at it.” And she said, “Okay.” And I did a good job on it and she decided to let me share the byline.
When I started writing for the magazine, I worked on a lot of soft topics, what I would think of is softer topics like motivation or leadership or incentives. And when I graduated from graduate school, I really started attending events like Sales Force. Selling Power started the Sales 2.0 Conference, which is now the Sales 3.0 Conference, which is still in operation because as you know, technology and sales was just exploding. So there was a whole market to serve in terms of educating sales teams and sales organizations about technology. So that’s when I started learning about the things that your hardcore sales and marketing people know all about. So I haven’t really learned to speak the language of sales. I know what a sales pipeline is. I know what a sales funnel is. I know what prospecting means. I know all this technical language. Sales enablement. All these things that a lot of people who are drawn to journalism or writing or editing don’t know anything about.
Matt: To follow up on that, I could easily argue that your background in creative writing, your background in just literature, has exposed you to a level of storytelling that even journalists don’t necessarily get access to. And I mean, let’s face it, like with all the sales tech, all and getting the world and sometimes I think the actual message and the actual story gets lost. We think that the tool is going to sell for us. We think that the tool, too often I see the tool used an excuse for poor copywriting, or poor content. And I think that it might make good editing even more important to create story lines and messages and experiences with content that really shows some separation from that. And so I could argue that as that technology continues to explode, as salespeople have a harder and harder time getting through to their customers and prospects, that those additional, those more varied approaches are going to become more and more valuable.
Lisa: I agree. The trend that I hear about and see is the complexification of selling. B2B selling has always kind of been about complex sales cycles and lengthy sales cycles and dealing with buyers and groups. And all of that is intensifying for lots of different reasons. Buyers are buying in bigger groups. That’s become the norm for sales that used to be simpler. They are becoming more complex and it’s putting a lot of pressure on sales people to exercise skills that… It takes a long time to develop those skills. They need to operate at a more sophisticated level. I mean we’ve always been writing in Selling Power about the need for business acumen, but the need for business acumen in 1990 is much different than what it is now because there’s so much information available.
And marketing teams are trying to support sales teams with good content and I think you’re right. What I see, I mean I work not just with Selling Power, I work with marketing teams, CMOs, press PR people who submit content on behalf of their clients, and then sometimes I just work with practitioners or sales consultants or sales trainers, and everybody kind of has their own particular approach to content. And what I see a lot is that the value of an editor is that you get an outside perspective on your message and what you’re writing, the story that you’re telling, before it goes out to a larger audience. You’re right where a lot of content starts, marketers in particular, they tell me, they’re like, “We try not to pitch. We try not to write too much about our brand, and it can be a very fine line to walk.” At Selling Power we always talk about content. Our frame for content if you will, is to combine thought leadership with actionable, how to tips.
Selling Power has always been a trade publication. It’s not journalism. We’re not trying to shine a light on hidden stories or uncovered things. It’s supposed to be instructional. And the most common issue I see is that people either go too far up field trying not to pitch or they end up just writing a description of what their offering does.
This applies really a lot to marketing teams that have highly technical offerings. You don’t see that so much with sales training, but the caveat there is that a lot of sales trainers are onboarding new techniques and things like technology tools that help them spread their messages and their content, their stories. So they end up saying, “Well, this is how our modules work.” And that’s not really what people are interested in. Where I always start when people come to us is I asked who is your audience? That’s what I asked you before we were going to do this program. I was like, “Who’s listening? Who’s tuning in?” Because I want to keep them in mind. I want to give them tips that are helpful for them.
That’s always where I start and what it seems now the challenge for marketing teams who are creating content is that they need to not just keep their ideal customer in mind, the actual people in mind, they’re really writing for two audiences. They’re writing for their ideal customer. They’re also writing for Google. They’re writing for algorithms. And the approach that you take to this is going to really depend on where your company is, where you are in your growth phase in your business. But what I see is a lot of content that just sounds extremely robotic.
Matt: Oh absolutely. I agree and I want to talk about that. We got to take a quick break here, pay some bills. I want to talk more about that and some of the things inside and outside of sales you see that really keep audiences from paying attention. To keep audiences from driving engagement. And I think that there are some good cross-functional lessons that we can all take out of this. We’ll be right back.
Paul: All right, let’s pick it back up with Matt and his guest, his editor guest. There’s a title we don’t hear much about anymore and I’m reminded as a student of American literature the importance of great editors. I had to go look up the guy Max Perkins here who discovered F Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Thomas Wolf and they always credited his editing with turning their books into classics here. I think you have to have an editor to tell good stories.
Matt: Well, I think it’s a critical skill. I think Lisa said earlier in the interview about the idea that if you’re writing something, you stare at it so long you can’t see things that other people can see. And I think a trained editor, someone that has experience can ask the questions like, Lisa has like, “Who’s your audience? What are you trying to get across?” And really help you hone that message and because I know Lisa probably won’t toot our own horn, there’s a friend of mine here in Seattle, or I guess up in Seattle since I’m in San Francisco today, who runs corporate communications for a publicly traded company and is a former speech writer for presidents and for some well-known people in the Seattle area, tech founders you would certainly recognize.
And I think people that have been down that road that have not just had to write a blog post or a tweet here and there, but really have written things to the level of State of the Union address. That’s written at the level of sort of people announcing major pacts between companies or between countries. The words you use, it’s not just the blog post, it’s getting Google. I mean some of these things really echoes for a long time and even if you’re not writing for presidents, the words you use are associated with you forever. Lisa, I don’t know what you think. I mean am I making too big a deal about it? I feel like the language you use has, especially in the world of the internet, has echoes that we really have to be a lot more considerate about.
Lisa: You’re correct. The language that we use matters. It kind of depends on where you’re talking about applying that message. Writing and editing used to be really owned tightly by publishers and publishing houses. I mean Max Perkins is long gone. What has moved into the space, it’s become a lot more dynamic, communications in general. So that content really encompasses, when I think about content, I no longer just think about writing, which is what I work with. It can be video. It can be what we’re doing now, which radio is ancient, but podcasts are new. The way people consume it is new and we didn’t write anything to produce this. We’re just talking off the cuff.
And that’s what I think salespeople are so comfortable with. But this is the reason that we sit down and consider it a sales script or a sales process. Eventually you learn those words and phrases that engage people and capture their interests and move the conversation along as opposed to just, “Hi, how are you? I’d like to tell you all about my product today.” Which is still essentially what a lot of teams are doing. And yes, the value of an editor is you have, again, an outside perspective to help you conceptually with the message that you’re spinning or that you’re creating, that you’re crafting.
Matt: Even if you’re describing a product. Even if you’re writing a sell sheet, that is not I think an opportunity or an excuse just to write a bunch of technical language that describes the tool. I think there’s still an opportunity to tell the story of what it does. There’s still an opportunity to put it into the context of the people that you’re writing for. And I see this with technical writing and with product writing and something that comes out of product marketing a lot, where the content tends to be still very descriptive and not very engaging. So that a fair distinction? How do you think about that, even for content that is less about maybe telling a broad story and more about sort of explaining something.
Lisa: For content that’s more about explaining your product or… Well, here’s what I think. I think that what I learned in school about storytelling is that there are three types of conflicts. Man versus man, man versus nature and man versus self. You’ll notice that the common denominator there is man. So people really like stories with people in them with characters. And that is why if you have a technical product, you really want to lean on your customer stories. What is this doing for your customer? And then again, think about your audience. What are their pain points? So this is a really a conversation about value, which is a very complex topic, very difficult to understand, especially for salespeople who are just learning or marketers who are just learning. It’s difficult to really truly define your terms. You can say stuff like ROI or you can say something like value proposition, but do you really know what it means?
And the process of writing forces you to dig into the deeper layers of what something means. When I am going through and editing something, always ask the question, “So what?” After a sentence, after a paragraph. I made a statement. I have a paragraph. I have an opening paragraph, I’m going to read it and I’m going to ask, I’m going to put myself in the mind of my ideal reader who is my prospect or customer and ask myself, “Okay, I just said that thing. So what? What does that matter? What’s your point?” And a lot of writing that I see or a lot of messaging that I see doesn’t really answer that question. It seems like the marketers are very busy trying to use the terms that they’ve decided on that are important. And by terms I usually mean something like jargon, which has not engaging. But if you can tell a story about a person, about a customer, like this customer was in this position and had all these pain points and was bleeding revenue in this area. And then we came to this customer and had a discussion about how our offering could help. They onboard this solution and these were the results that that customer saw. Now you have a customer who’s happy.
That is why that’s a good story. And the best stories are sort of a blend of lots of different things. So as a marketer, you think about, “Okay, what are we doing? What’s our content stack? We have webinars and white papers and case studies and blog content.” And the best content that you get is going to be kind of a blend of all of those things. It’s going to tell stories about people and it’s also going to include those proof points. It’s going to include numbers. It’s often really hard, it’s frustrating for marketers, I know they try to get stories from customers and they’re like, “We can’t get permission from them.” Anonymize it. Just anonymize it. As long as you can use those numbers. Say an enterprise company, the global reach, was able to increase sales performance by X percent.
That’s the kind of thing that the people you’re trying to engage will find compelling. Because buyers are so busy, there’s a lot of content out there and they’re really just either tuning out entirely, because they don’t have the time, or they kind of get halfway through the process. They kind of show a little bit of interest and then they give up. It’s really imperative to craft a compelling story because that is reflective of your brand and your voice as a company and who you are in the market and how you look compared to your competitors. All of those things.
Matt: Absolutely. Hey, unfortunately we are out of time. These conversations always go way too fast. And Lisa, so this has been so great to have you on Sales Pipeline Radio today. If you liked this conversation. I hope that you desperately need your marketing and sales teams to hear this message and the importance of good editing, strategic editing, and taking the customer’s approach to your content no matter what form of content it is. You’ll find a replay of this episode up at salespipelineradio.com in a couple of days and we’ll have a highlighted blog posts up on heinzmarketing.com in about a week. We’ve got some great episodes coming up over the next couple of weeks. Make sure you join us every week, 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern live, as well as on salespipelineradio.com. But until then, for my great producer Paul, this is Matt Heinz. Thanks for joining us on another episode, Sales Pipeline Radio.
Sales Pipeline Radio is sponsored and produced by Heinz Marketing on the Funnel Radio Channel. I interview the best and brightest minds in sales and Marketing. If you would like to be a guest on Sales Pipeline Radio send an email to Sheena.