For those of you who don't know my complete story (and why would you), there was a time in my career when I was responsible for the marketing, revenue, and operational efforts of a multi-million dollar business unit that sold offering envelopes to churches.

Offering envelopes are about as sexy as ... um ... NOTHING.

Nevertheless, we managed to sell more than 130 million of them a year to more than 12,000 customers.

Tackling this subject taught me much of what I know today as content marketing. How do you sell offering envelopes when no one really wants to buy them? When I figured out we needed to sell a process around the use of the offering envelopes and not the product itself, I had to become somewhat of an authority on church giving. (At 27 years old, I had a few things to learn. My work was definitely cut out for me.)

So here is what I did:

  • I went and visited our top 10 customers. I wanted to say thanks and understand why they were spending an obscene amount of money on printed paper.
  • I talked to just about everyone I could about church giving—pastors, church members, major givers, denominational leaders, etc. What I learned was everyone was concerned about funding operational expenses, not offering envelopes.
  • I read every book I could get my hands on. I felt like I was in graduate school.
  • I trolled the web looking for anything I could find—whether it was a sermon, drama, research, editorial, etc. I did this almost daily.
  • I spent time with our manufacturer who had been in the business decades before I was even born.

I took everything I gleaned and ...

  • Started writing about it on a blog. That was 2006. (This later ended up as a book.)
  • Began sharing what I learned with groups of people ask questions about church giving.
  • Approached editors of industry publications to write on the subject.
  • Invested in social media and connecting with others online.
  • Shaped our marketing messaging around the questions our customers were asking.

It's amazing what you can learn when you ...

  • Talk to people deeply invested in the outcome of what you're selling. (Hint: We are all selling something.)
  • Study what others are saying on the subject.
  • Listen to the questions the target demographic is asking.
  • Assemble what you've learned, make observations, and draw some logical conclusions.

When you do those things, suddenly you are seen as an expert. Being an expert doesn't mean you know everything or invented anything. It simply means you know more than the person you're talking to.

Try it. You'll be amazed what you'll learn in the process. You'll earn the right to shape the conversation along the way. And that—of course—is where the real fun begins.

Have you ever worked your way into being an authority on a subject you were previously unfamiliar with? How did you do it? What did you learn? What advice do you have for others who want to do the same thing you did?

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