As B2B selling organizations attempt to transition from a product to solution or value sale, they must deal with the new realities of selling in a digital era characterized by self-educating teams of buyers.
This new reality has made high-performing, situation-specific information and content a strategic imperative for B2B organizations in general, and direct and channel sales teams in particular.
Two of the most under-served B2B functions when it comes to content are direct and channel sales organizations.
There are many reasons for this. Too many executives aren’t aware of this imperative or the impact it has on new customer acquisition, revenue growth, selling costs or customer experience. As one senior sales executive at a large technology company said to me years ago, “what is content, it’s collateral, right?”
Whew! Sadly, this mindset is still prevalent today.
Marketing departments assume the content they create is suitable for sales. Often it isn’t. We find neither sales nor marketing organizations have a good method to define sales content requirements. They also don’t develop content specifications that instruct non-sales content experts on how to develop effective sales content.
Content is the first “product” prospective customers “acquire” through sharing their attention and contact information. It is the “currency” that earns sales people consideration by prospects for initial conversations. It should deliver the information buyers need to accelerate their decision process in favor of the providing vendor.
Symptoms of missing or ineffective sales content include:
- Anemic prospecting results and low sales pipeline
- An inability for sales people to effectively educate buyers to influence changes, and favorable buying criteria
- Low win rates — getting outsold.
For clarity about what content really is, please read What is Content?
We recommend sales organizations think about sales content in three categories:
Perhaps the most overlooked sales content is sales knowledge. This is sometimes referred to as sales performance support.
As the graphic below shows, there are many categories of knowledge that are important for sales professionals. The volume is staggering. The dynamic nature of each category, when you really think about it, makes you appreciate the challenge all sales people have to stay current — and for new hires this is especially difficult.
Too often sales knowledge is considered the domain of training, or personal responsibility.
Knowledge acquired through a training process, when it isn’t regularly used or reinforced, atrophies after just a few weeks. This is why SiriusDecisions and others recommend “incorporating learning into daily activity.”
“As enablement organizations mature, they focus on incorporating learning into the daily activity of reps – instead of limiting themselves to separate, event-based training sessions. The consistency and quality of this information directly affects the usability of activation (buyer-facing) and empowerment (rep-facing) content.”
Sales knowledge also includes knowledge buyers need. Again, from the same SiriusDecisions article:
“In addition, there is meaningful crossover in the knowledge requirements of reps and buyers, even though communications to these two audiences are delivered through different assets.”
If marketing and sales organizations don’t explicitly identify the knowledge buyers need to make a favorable buying decision, they can’t support those requirements. And if they aren’t distinguishing sales knowledge requirements, customer requirements are most likely overlooked as well.
Here are two symptoms of this problem. The first is organizations don’t design and create content for the purpose of helping buyers enroll and educate others on their buying team. The second is sales people can’t conduct effective conversations to share knowledge across buying teams. Reps who can provide this service are most favored by buyers.
Learning must shift from an individual endeavor and responsibility, to a collaborative activity. This point is made by John Hagel in Scaling Learning in an Exponential World.
“We’re rapidly moving from a more stable environment to a global landscape that is shaped by exponentially improving digital technology infrastructures. In the face of these exponential changes, if we’re not learning faster, we’ll rapidly fall behind. But what does learning really mean? In the context of a rapidly changing world, learning means developing new shared practices that can increase impact in a world of mounting performance pressure.
Let me emphasize that the learning I’m talking about doesn’t occur in a training room – it occurs in our day to day work and living environments.”
Aren’t new shared sales practices exactly what you need to be competitive? Isn’t this what is meant by “creating value and differentiating yourself through how you sell, as much as what you sell”?
Knowledge must be delivered to be used. Sales is fundamentally a communication profession.
Communication support is required for all sales modes and methods. Knowledge, delivered as pre-engagement preparation support, improves communication effectiveness. Reference the graphic above and lists below for categories of pre-call prep.
Some of the best sales communications are initiated by asking the right questions. Sales people benefit from an inventory of those questions.
For important or complex messages and conversations, visual support are a critical category of sales content.
This helps not only the messenger, but the recipient. The amount of “live” time a sales person has with a prospect is so short, on the phone or in person, situation-specific sales content is required to convey most of the information. Often, complex ideas must be reviewed, considered and shared with extended B2B buying teams. (See SiriusDecisions Report excerpt)
One of the most important actions you can take to provide communication support to your direct sales and channel teams, is to design key engagement conversations. Sales conversations ARE content. And situation-specific information and content is essential to support effective sales conversations. See B2B Sales Conversations — By Design.
Another communication support action that has a huge impact on sales performance but is hardly ever done is to deploy inventories of ...
- Conversation starters and guides — See Example
- Emails – linked to appropriate content — See Example
- Social posts: Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ — See Example
- Anticipated questions buyers will ask
- Answers to buyer questions (objections) with support and proof: facts, research, stories
- Questions to ask buyers — open ended as well as pointed
- Specific buying criteria to establish in the mind of buyers – competitive context
- Your value model, and how to express it, with proof points
- A high level, over-arching point-of-view, and accompanying storyline
- Key Points for Educating Buyers
- Key Message Points – Differentiated value points
- Unique insights
- Stories and Examples: Problem related stories, Customer Stories, Key point stories
- Facts and Research Results, Quotations
- Trigger Events
- Language inventory – Topics, themes, words and phrases to use/avoid – resonance tested
Situation-specific Sales Information
Situation-specific content supports sales people and performs best. It’s created on purpose by design.
In our client work we have discovered that the best way to decide what sales content to invest in and create (content strategy) is to work through the sequence of identifying Knowledge and Communication Support requirements first.
Another essential approach is to conduct and document key engagement use cases. We seldom see this work done. When done well, the insights that are obtained provide priceless inputs to sales conversations and sales content development.
When you do this work you will discover a broader requirement for situation-specific sales content. More than single content assets are actually needed. There are many content assets required for each key engagement touch point, or “conversation” scenario. Examples include:
- Emails linked to appropriate content for key scenarios (prospecting for example)
- Social media messages linked to content assets
- A library of links to related or supporting content, web assets, articles, 3rd party content
- Direct links to videos files should never be delivered, even to YouTube or your video service provide. Videos should be embedded in landing pages that promote the purpose of the video, motivate consumption, and offer alternative next steps
- Visual support for key conversation points, stories or proof points, as well as recorded demo segments for software sales are further examples of situation-specific sales content
- Lead handoffs, supported by knowledge and communication support, will be acted on more quickly and effectively than just lead information
- Topical microsites of related content offer interested audiences media options as well as the opportunity for deeper understanding, than does delivery of single assets
Sales content works best when situation-specific assets are grouped by key scenarios, that are ready to deliver.
These and related ideas are discussed more fully in an interview on Barb Giamanco’s the Razor’s Edge podcast: Right Message, Right Support, Right Sales Content with Jim Burns.