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I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Alyson Stone on the topic of Content Marketing. Alyson Stone is currently the Content Director at Pipeliner CRM and previously the Director of Content Strategy at Nimble.

I took note of Alyson’s work because of the excellent job that Pipeliner CRM has been doing in using content, social selling and social media to position themselves top of mind as an easy to use and sales friendly CRM. From my perspective, Alyson’s content marketing strategy has been successful in achieving a game-changing differentiation for the rapidly growing organization, so naturally I was very curious to learn more about Alyson and pick her brain. Ms. Stone was kind of enough to oblige to an interview that we recorded and transcribed for you below. Enjoy!

Jeff: Hello and welcome. This is Jeff Zelaya from Triblio and I’m very excited to have my guest Alyson Stone on this phone call today and she’s going to be chatting with us about content marketing and its importance and the bridging of marketing and sales and some other hot topics that I know you guys are very interested in learning more about. So Ms. Alyson, thank you so much for joining us. How are you?

Alyson: Thank you for having me. I’m doing fine. I’m delighted to be here being interviewed.

Jeff: Yes. Well, I’m very intrigued by what Pipeliner CRM has been doing over the past couple of months. You guys are really everywhere. I see the name popping up in all types of different places and I know you are one of the many people behind that especially with the awesome content that you guys are putting out.

So I wanted to learn more about your self. So can you tell me a little bit about you, Alyson?

Alyson: Well, my background was corporate until my children needed to be raised and then I went into some more work, volunteer work in my town that let me be with them while they were growing.

Then as a second career, I had to decide what to do once I had an empty nest and I was able to – luckily able to discover the startup ecosystem and plugged myself into that and it just suited everything about my personality and my work ethic and being a remote employee. It was all just for me and being a startup – I call myself a startup girl. But it’s very much like – let’s rent the barn. Let’s put on the show. I will make the costumes. You do the lighting and everybody can just do whatever and dive in. I love that. I love that not being confined to the – let’s talk to the lawyers. I will tell you know in …

Jeff: Right. Yes, a very long, drawn-out process. So that’s great to hear that. This is a great fit for you and I know that for content marketing, it’s something that is – it’s a hot topic. There’s a lot of focus on it especially with startups and with marketers. There’s a big emphasis on content.

So in your own words, why do you think content marketing is so important in this day and age?

Alyson: Well, I like to say that the light dawned over Miami for me when I – it was several years ago. I was looking around and I read this story. There was this guy and he had a pool company and he decided that he was – the economy crashed and he was doing badly.

So he had this idea. He said, “I will go out and look for what questions people are asking about pools, and I will see if I can answer them on my website and maybe people will come to my website.” So that’s what he did. He looked and found all the questions on Google that people were asking and then he simply answered those questions to the best of his ability on his website.

That guy is Marcus Sheridan and his company became very, very successful, his pool company. Then of course he went into becoming The Sales Lion and that story just really – it was like a shiver ran up my back and I thought this is amazing because this is how writing can make businesses successful.

That was the real start of my immersion in content marketing. It’s just a very powerful and also a genuine way to simply help other people and at the same time do good for yourself.

It’s not exactly altruistic because of course you’re aiming at success of your own business. But it’s a tremendously satisfying feeling to be helping other people, to just think to yourself, “If I help other people, I will be successful.” It’s such a cosmic attitude and I hear so much of that from other startups that I’ve met along the way, the young generation who – they will say over and over to me. I’m not doing this to make money. I’m doing it because I’m changing the world.

“It’s a tremendously satisfying feeling to be helping other people, to just think to yourself, “If I help other people, I will be successful.”

– Alyson Stone, Content Director at Pipeliner CRM

But of course they’re making money themselves too because it’s the right model.

Jeff: Exactly. Providing that value and doing it to make an impact and make a difference and the money typically follows if you do that really well.

Alyson: That’s right. I’ve always heard that before but I never really understood it until this part of my life. It really is true. I’m not throwing my efforts out. I did a job for a long time where all I had to do was match textbooks to the requirements of the states and every day I would face that down and I would think, oh god, I know that nobody is ever going to read this. It’s just going to be a checklist on a document and it felt like I was just throwing my genuine intelligence out into the cosmos for nothing.

But this I now feel like you’re getting it done girl. If somebody is going to read this, somebody is going to take something from it and then I get emails that say they are and that is just satisfying. It’s big.

Jeff: Yes, technology has definitely changed in having empowered buyers to seek the type of information, seek reviews, seek that insight from others in making decisions on what to buy and they’re looking for people that are adding value and make decisions based off of that and I think that’s why we’re seeing a lot of similarities and more collaboration between marketing and sales at least in successful businesses.

I know Pipeliner CRM is doing a great job of bridging their marketing team with their sales team. Can you share some line on that? How are you guys working together and making sure that everyone is on the same page in terms of adding value to the prospects and the customers?

Alyson: Well, for one thing, I have to say upfront that none of us – I think all of us share the attitude that we kind of don’t understand how come it hasn’t been traditionally marketing or whatever they’re calling it now, because we just don’t see how you could put a wall between them. It has to be a joint – it just doesn’t seem possible that it could be separated and we have to balance everything between us.

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I mean sales cannot get the leads they need and carry the ball forward with customers unless they have content that’s backing that up, good content on the website, good content in our nurture campaigns, good content in the blog, and other – we have a reference library now. So that’s another way we’re sharing it and my boss, he has a tremendous emphasis on educating people and having that educational material available to them all the time.

That’s all stuff that sales can use and we draw insights from them every day. What do you think is the most important feature that I could talk about? What do you think customers want to know about the product? That’s just golden information. So working in tandem, there’s just not any other way to do it, especially B to B. I mean B to B especially.

Jeff: So one of the questions I have is, “How do you decide the type of content to create?” and it looks like you use the salespeople actively to get insight from them to survey them and say, “Hey, what are your prospects talking about? What are they questions that they have?” and you use that as inspiration to create content.

What are some other inspiration sources for you, things that you look at or trends that you look at as – and use that as inspiration to create different types of content?

Alyson: Well, of course I would call it immersion. I immerse myself. I call it the “Zen of the ecosystem”. I spend a lot of time before I start my workday going through all the – see what’s trending, who’s talking about what – what our competitors are doing, what’s popular, who’s doing news jacking and how and what is getting traction.

Then that all – and then I blend that with the idea that we’re really trying to give people the best information about all these things with sales, primarily now at the moment, social selling activities.

Then I pull from that. You have to use some thought leadership too to lead because it’s not always – Henry Ford once said you have to make up your own mind about what customers need sometimes because if you ask customers what they wanted, they would tell you faster horses.

So they don’t – you have to use some leadership and say, “I think they need to know about consultative selling,” or I think they really need to know some practical advice about using – doing prospect – prospecting with LinkedIn.

Even though that might not mesh completely with our products, it does mesh completely with our product because it’s helping them do better and then if they do better, they’re going to use their CRM better and that’s all to our good.

Jeff: Excellent. Alyson, with all the content that you’re creating, like your content library and your social media engagement and all the different blog posts that you guys put out, how do you measure – at the end of the day, how do you measure the success of your content? What is the yardstick for that success?

Alyson: Well, of course we use Google Analytics and we have analytics in our social tools and so the three of us, the marketing team, we get together and discuss what’s working in that – under that flashlight. But then I would say that mainly it sounds a little bit not scientific, but we look for trends over the long term. We’ve lived this before in another company, so we know what works. We know that if we do X, Y, Z, this chore every day, all of us for six months, it’s a slug, it’s a chore. But we know that it works.

So we look for that trend over the long term rather than day to day and of course we look for things like how many people looked at that blog post and which kinds of blog posts do best and things like that. But as long as that trend is going up and to the right, for all of our efforts, we know we’re building the brand. We know we’re getting the brand name out and it’s not exactly neat. It’s a little messy but over time you can really see that you’re doing – that doing the right things gets you where you want to go. It’s not sporadic. Marketing is not glamorous. It’s just pushing a rock, everything, every day for a long time.

Marketing is not glamorous. It’s just pushing a rock, everything, every day for a long time. – Alyson Stone, Content Director at Pipeliner CRM

Jeff: And consistently those efforts over time, they get you to that – that rock could be at the top of the mountain.

Alyson: Correct, correct. We’ve seen that happen before and we know that that works. So that’s – once you have that experience under your belt, and you know the success will come, it’s easy to be – easier to be diligent.

Jeff: And besides Google Analytics, what are some other tools that you trust on, to help you with your content creation and content marketing and social engagement?

Alyson: Well, social engagement we use HootSuite. I use HootSuite. I know Rachel, our Chief Listener, uses a lot of different tools. I also use – sometimes I look at my tweets if I see something interesting or – I kind of dabble in those. But the big thing for me is – the big tool is not a real tool, an app. It’s my editorial calendar. I’ve developed that over time through the last two jobs and when you have a good editorial calendar and a good way to track the people and authors that you’re dealing with, which we can do in our pipeline, you’ve got this golden ball of goodness that helps you stay focused and keep the right reminders set and it’s a lot smoother when you can do that and to me the gating factor for all that was the editorial calendar. My strong suit is not long term planning. My strong suit – I can’t even do it with groceries for a week. I’m having trouble with it. So I tell everybody that I work with, now just be aware I am not good at planning ahead. So the ed cal helps me with that a lot.

Jeff: Great. Alison, I’m curious. You normally – when you’re making decisions to buy different products, what’s your content consumption looking like? Can you walk me through the steps that you might take in a buying decision?

Alyson: You mean me personally?

Jeff: Yes.

Alyson: So I guess I’m a typical representation of the new buyer. I do my research before I talk to anybody at the company. I dive in. I read everything. I look at reviews. I look at who’s knowledgeable. Sometimes I can tell a company doesn’t look too – it looks rocky and I want to make sure they’re in it for the long haul.

“I’m a typical representation of the new buyer. I do my research before I talk to anybody at the company. I dive in. I read everything. I look at reviews. I look at who’s knowledgeable.”

– Alyson Stone, Content Director at Pipeliner CRM

I just want a little refrigerator for example. I just want a little mini refrigerator and I spent an hour and a half doing the whole search on Google and looking at who’s best and why versus cost, and I was able to determine after a half an hour or whatever, that I was going to make a decision to buy something that was less expensive that might be a little bit of a crapshoot with long term viability. But I ended up buying something from Costco because it was $160 instead of $360. So I traded price for quality although it turned out to be perfectly good quality. So I think I’m typical of that new buyer.

Jeff: Yes, we’re seeing a lot of that, a lot of the research phase and going to Google and looking at reviews and doing a lot of comparison shopping and ultimately making the decision that is best for you and all those factors weighing in, all the different criteria.

Alyson: We really get it that the reviews – I mean I know personally. I’m sure you have the same thing. Those reviews mean something to me. Not so much in the individual review but in the aggregate and we are – that’s one reason we focus on – we want people to tell us how they feel. We want their feedback, because that guides us and if we’re not getting a good review, we want to know why.

Jeff: Excellent. Where do you see content marketing in five, ten years? What’s the future of content marketing in your eyes?

Alyson: Well, I used to make predictions like that but I would never make predictions for five years anymore, because things change in two months. It’s so crazy with how fast things move. But it’s an interesting question because it has kind of been a stampede now with the content marketing train. But in the end it’s going to be – it’s going to boil down to the brands who are truly educating their audiences and helping them succeed are the ones who will endure. That’s my opinion.

“It’s going to boil down to the brands who are truly educating their audiences and helping them succeed are the ones who will endure.”

– Alyson Stone, Content Director at Pipeliner CRM

That’s with everything, not just with content marketing. But I just think if you go into this with an attitude of helping other people succeed, that almost anything you do is going to be better in five years.

Jeff: That’s a great way to look at it, Alyson. For anyone that’s just starting their career with marketing and with content marketing specifically, what advice would you give them? I think from our conversation today, I got a lot of great tips. Being organized. Having an editorial calendar keeps you on track, being able to communicate with sales, to get their insight and use that in your content creation. That’s some great advice. Being able to use different tools that really track to see what’s working with your content and doing more of that, and then understanding that this is an industry that changes very rapidly. So you got to be ready for those changes and expect the unexpected.

So those are some great tips. What else would you add to that? Anything else that you would add?

Alyson: I would say stay curious and I try new things every day. I absolutely try new things every day. I don’t count on a lot of sleep. You do have to embrace this idea that you said of quick change and rapid velocity. It’s very difficult for people to absorb who aren’t used to this. I mean when I was growing up, we had a phone and then in three years, we might have a phone that was a different color.

Then in three years, we might have a wall phone. Everything moved along. The future was coming but you didn’t really see it happening. You couldn’t really – it wasn’t that quick. Now, just think what we’re carrying around for our phones since – I mean that changes every time there’s a new update from Apple. It’s some crazy new thing that’s – it’s just you have to be willing to accept the head-spinning, neck-snapping change and you can’t have an ego while it’s happening.

You have to put your ego in the back burner, be willing to fail, be willing to experiment, and do it every single day, I have to squish my perfectionist attitude down, about everything I do and just say, “I have to get it done.” Get it done.

“You have to put your ego in the back burner, be willing to fail, be willing to experiment, and do it every single day.”

– Alyson Stone, Content Director at Pipeliner CRM

Jeff: Yeah.

Alyson: Sometimes it’s one of those things where you have to do the best you can and then sacrifice the last 20 percent of the polishing, because you have so many things to do. So that’s what I would say is – put your ego in the back burner and buckle up, because it’s going to be a …

Jeff: It’s going to be a heck of a ride. Well, Alyson, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us and your experience. We got a lot of great insight from this conversation and we wish you continued success with Pipeliner CRM and the team. I love all you guys. You guys are doing a great job. So, keep up the great work and thanks for again your time.

Alyson: Thank you Jeff and back at you.

Jeff: All right. Thank you for joining us.

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