- VP of Marketing / CMO
- VP Sales
- Product Marketing
- Sales Enablement
Purpose: Introduce a new perspective and suggested approach to improve customer conversations and content, as well as the productivity, effectiveness and efficiency of marketing, sales and content development teams.
- Conversations and content creation require common inputs
- Why make individuals have to figure out universal inputs
- Design conversations, develop universal inputs, and deploy inventories of support elements to all customer facing and content creating people
Conversation Support Competency for Content Strategy
When we talk with people about content strategy, and the preparation required to create effective content, most are familiar with the first competency in our 6 Competencies for Marketing and Sales Content Strategy — Understand Buyers.
“Personas! Yeah, we’ve done those!” Well …, ok.
But think about what else constrains your ability to create quality content and get it deployed quickly.
Now, think about your sales reps, people in customer service and HR, your sales channel marketing and sales people, and the content they need to create as well as the conversations they conduct. Right …
Lack of good inputs, available when needed, has to be high on that list of constraints.
Conversations are Content, Content are Conversations
We refer to this competency as Conversation Support. Not all conversations are conducted in the traditional, live manner. In today’s online, on-demand world, more conversations you care about take place through content, and through other people, than through your people directly.
The “job of content” is to support live conversations, as well as to deliver conversations when your trained experts aren’t available to do so.
The Conversation Support competency involves the preparation and documentation of universal inputs that are the foundation of great content, and effective conversations:
- Language to Discuss Buyer’s Problems
- Competitive Positioning and Supporting Messages
- Buyer Questions, Answers and Innovative Insights, Supporting Examples
- Company point-of-view; Solution Vision; Storyline
- Key Points for Educating Buyers, Buying Criteria,
- Value Model, Language and Proof Points
- Inventory of: Stories and Examples, Language, Phrases, Words to Use and Avoid Using, Facts and Data, Research Results, Quotations
- Visual Support, Graphics, Images
Think of these elements as your core, company-wide, foundations for content development.
Traditionally this has been called “messaging.” But messaging is the wrong connotation, and too limited in scope for what’s really required.
The common interpretation and use of “messaging” is, in effect, “what we want tell you.”
“Conversation” on the other hand, is two way, and ideally involves more listening than telling. I can still hear my first sales manager’s mantra, “tellin’ ain’t sellin’ son!”
Isn’t it really conversation — dialogue — we want to foster? The Conversation Support competency provides the structures that support this behavior.
The Buyer’s Problems
This begs the question, “conversations about what?”
Hopefully, when you developed buyer personas you identified the business problems your products, services or solutions address. You mapped specific business problems that each “persona” or business role you sell to cares about. Often, the result of this work is a cursory list of problems.
With the Conversation Support competency you take this initial problem work to deeper levels. You determine the best ways to “language” those problems in ways that:
- Capture buyer attention,
- Generate interest and motivation to change,
- Educate buyers about their options, the implications of options,
- Address buyer questions and
- Begin to influence a different approach to resolve problems that favors your offers.
We recommend using the Problem/Cause model we discuss here.
Identify and discuss the underlying causes of your buyer’s top business problems you address. Define the business impact, cost or “pain” as some call it, of each cause that contribute to the larger problem. Buyers can see and relate emotionally to the impact of specific causes easier than they can to high level business problems.
This model recommends you map your key capabilities to specific causes and demonstrate how your capabilities resolve the adverse impact, and delivers value, to each specific cause of the higher business problem. This is a tangible and credible value association for buyers.
Context — Your Buyer’s Options — Your Competition
Context is essential for effective communication, especially to prompt action and changes to the comfortable state of status quo.
Context is the environment you speak into. This starts with business problems, and extends to the options available to your buyers to deal with problems.
Most organizations naturally think about direct competitors. In addition, consideration, positioning and conversations must be developed to address three other types of “competitors”:
- Indirect, external alternatives
- Customer internal resources and alternatives
- Do nothing, continue to live with the problem
These alternatives provide different approaches to solve the problems than you and your direct competitors provide.
Consider an example of a company with a complex, solution oriented offer, and a protracted sales process because the typical buying team involves six to sixteen participants in different functional and buying roles.
The business problem is win rates of actively worked opportunities are low.
Think of all the potential causes of this problem, including: the skills, knowledge or techniques of the sales people. Skills, knowledge and techniques could each be addressed by multiple, different approaches. Examples of different approaches could be formal training, coaching, in person expert assistance, content and related tools, just to mention a few.
As product offerings broaden, new or complex capabilities are introduced, and sales/buying processes also become more complex, competitive alternatives will arise more frequently in conversations. This threatens to delay or derail selling momentum.
Forcing every customer-facing, or content-creating person to figure this out for themselves is not a sensible practice. Yet without these elements developed, tested, documented and made easily accessible, this is what you are doing.
Buyer Decisions, Questions, Answers and Innovative Insights
One simple way to think about how buyers buy is: they buy when their important buying decisions are made at each stage of their process, to progress through to the final buying decision (rather than a “no decision” decision as so often happens.)
Decisions are made when the important questions at each stage are answered in ways that indicated it makes sense to take the next step, ultimately to make a change.
This means, you’d better understand what those key questions are. Further, you’d better know what the answers need to be to motivate buying teams to take the risk to shift status quo, especially if it involves working with a new (unproven) vendor.
In survey after survey, buyers report difficulty distinguishing vendors and any unique value they will provide. Providing innovative insights (please stop calling it “thought leadership”), with supporting examples and proof points, are important ways to do this.
Why should individuals have to figure this out for themselves. Buyer questions, and your best answers, should be vetted, tested, documented and made available to support key conversations.
Differentiate and Create Value Through the Way You Sell
This has been a core premise of our work for decades.
As you work to move beyond feature-benefit conversations that buyers can’t differentiate, a different conversation is required.
Point-of-View: Selling through a point-of-view (POV) that sets up a problem/solution vision is a proven, effective technique.
A POV provides a conversation structure that keeps people (content creators and sales/customer facing people) from slipping back into traditional, vendor-oriented viewpoints, supported by feature-benefit statements. This is your status quo. You must develop new structures to support this change.
The problem/solution vision is your ability to frame the problem and design the solution approach in ways that benefit your offer. When combined with the powerful “problem-cause-impact-capabilities” model discussed above, this will help keep content and conversations customer centric.
Storyline: Before your people start “telling stories,” make sure you have an over-arching storyline to deliver your point-of-view and vision. Each story should connect to this storyline and support a sub-element of it. You may well have multiple storylines, depending on the size of your organization, different communication purposes, audiences, problem areas, etc.
Here is an example from one of our storylines, with basic elements highlighted for illustration.
Identify Who — Many B2B marketing and selling organizations that sell complex, solution oriented offers, have adopted a strategy of educating prospects with content that is relevant and useful to buyers, in order to find and be found by those buyers. This is typically referred to as inbound or content marketing.
Identify Why, Problem Impact — Most companies struggle to produce a constant stream of quality content that meets the many new requirements this new strategy introduces. This lowers performance of content dependent programs like lead generation, sales and the sales channel.
POV, Cause, What’s Changed — Through our 20 years producing content we determined the traditional, project oriented, creative craftsman approach to creating content cannot meet these new requirements.
Avitage Recommended Approach — We believe companies need a more leveraged and efficient content operations model. Think of this as a content supply chain process.
Solution Impact, Value — Enterprise organizations that have adopted this approach tell us they get more value out of their content and content investments. They grow revenue faster by attracting new customers. They lower selling costs by shifting lead generation and other activities from less effective, high cost, direct sales resources, to lower cost, more effective tactics.
And, they realize a new, strategic business objective: to acquire data on customers and buyers that gives them a competitive advantage going forward.
A point-of-view and problem-solution vision, packaged as an easily re-told storyline, sets the table. It intrigues, stimulates new thinking and raises more questions than it answers. It triggers a lot of conversations.
Deploy Inventories Of …
We encourage you to move more of this universal input development work upstream into your planning and product launch activities.
Why wait until downstream execution activities to figure all this out, or even to create core content? Yet this is the approach prevalent in most organizations today.
We believe the current method requires the wrong people (siloed functional and tactical people), to do the wrong work (strategic, universal planning), at the wrong time (under execution deadline pressures) with the wrong resources (skills, tools, budgets).
We believe this is a core cause of poor conversations and content.
Why not have the best internal and external resources for each aspect of this work, conduct the research and analysis, design conversations and support elements, for important, common “conversation scenarios?”
We recommend you design important conversations for:
- Attention & Interest
- Why Meet
- Why Change
- Topic Education
- How to buy/Criteria
- Value/ROI Model
- Why Now (urgency)
- Why Us
- How to implement
- What’s next
Support your well-considered and designed conversations, and as well as content creation efforts, with inventories of language for:
- Key Points for Educating Buyers,
- Buying Criteria, and how to influence,
- Value Model, and how to express it, with proof points
- Stories, Examples, Quotations
- Phrases, Words to Use and Avoid Using,
- Facts and Data, Research Results,
- Visual Support, Graphics, Images,
- Links to related, supporting content
This makes a very good start. But here’s how you can take it to an even higher level. Pre-produce and deploy to sales, marketing, customer service and other customer facing people, inventories of:
- Landing page copy, especially for each formal content piece
- Tweets, LinkedIn and Google+ posts
- Other common content that is repetitively delivered by many people
Good, Fast AND Lower Cost
When you investigate and evaluate the major impediments to creating quality content, in a constant, timely manner, at ever lower costs, you will find the list above a helpful guide to both the causes and the solution.
Lack of these inputs delays planning, preparation and the specific inputs for each project. Think of projects that were delayed as you waited for the few, busy, subject experts to become available to provide these inputs.
Content creators require significant time (and cost) to come up learning curves, and acquire and prepare working assets. Review, evaluation and remediation cycles are a major culprit that can be dramatically reduced by pre-vetting universal inputs, and getting everyone “on the same page.”
The traditional content production process struggles to optimize “good, fast and cheap.” Today you have many more conversation and content requirements that must also be optimized. You will need to change your process. But it can begin with your next project, by implementing the recommendations above.
By applying the Conversation Support competency as part of your comprehensive enterprise content strategy work, you will improve your ability to get the most out of your content and your content investments.