The design point for your B2B sales content strategy must be your buyer’s engagement model, mapped against your sales strategy. Fundamentally, it must be conversation centered.
Without well-defined and documented sales use case requirements, effective sales content strategy is not possible.
Rarely do we meet companies that have even considered this, let alone defined and documented specific requirements. You can find an introductory explanation of this idea at Need Better Content? Define Use Case Requirements. This post will step you through a process to define and document requirements.
Pre-requisite to use case definitions are two competencies we identify in our 6 Competency Framework for Business Level Content Strategy. These are Understand Audiences and Buyers Competency and Conversation Support Competency. Essentially, sales use case requirements define the purpose and context in which sales content will be used.
Sales Use Case Requirements Context
The general context for your use case requirements are:
What is their interest — their business problem, issue, defined solution approach or product category (for active buyers)
Why are you speaking — what’s the purpose of the conversation, of content, the desired outcome and decision the buyer will make at the conclusion of each engagement. We refer to this as the “job” both the sales rep and the buyer want content to do for them at that moment
When is this engagement — at what stage of the buying decision process — or perhaps it’s before there even IS a decision process
Where and how will this conversation take place — the engagement and delivery method, the time and timing, channel, media, form and format.
Another important consideration are the different sales roles for which content is required. Constituent groups might include:
- Direct sales
- Inside sales
- Sales engineers or product support
- Target or Account based selling
- (Internal) Channel Sales
- (External) Sales channel sellers
Some of these stakeholders may require different content. Often stakeholders require similar content, but the purpose, voice or format must be different. This is one factor that has constraint delivery of useful sales content to date. No one has taken the time to understand and define requirements at a level of detail to inform content creators who are not sales experts, and lack familiarity with the engagement details of the sales process.
There are generic use case categories that apply to each major customer engagement or conversation area defined below. These include by example:
- Prospecting: email, vmail, linked content
- Sales referral support
- Pre-and-post meeting communications
- Live conversation support – visual & related content
- 3rd party sponsor / Mobilizer support — to conduct internal conversations without sales people present
- Educate buyers, answer questions, provide information
- Provide key support elements: research and facts, quotations, stories, proof points
Define Sales Use Case Requirements
Before we step through a process and specific checklist of activities and considerations, here are some guiding principle and practices.
Define your sales use case requirements for content based on key engagement touch points and conversations.
Buyers must make specific decisions at each key point. To make decisions, information is required and questions must be answered. Your organization (usually marketing) should develop these insights as foundational inputs to content strategy.
To reinforce and maintain customer-centricity, start with and work from a topic orientation, rather than a product orientation. This might be a business problem or issue of interest to buyers.
We recommend simplifying the process by using a framework derived from CEB Challenger Customer concepts. (See Unpacking Challenger Customer Insights) We refer to this as a “three stage sales approach”.
Stage One – The “A” Problem Oriented Sales Use Case Requirements
The first important sales conversation category involves getting B2B buying teams to understand and align around their business problem. Buyer teams must cost the problem, and reach consensus to prioritize solving the problem. Challenger Customer refers to this as “breaking down the ‘A’, the status quo.”
As you define content use case requirements for this stage, consider buyer and seller activities, decisions and required information, as well as answers to questions. We find it useful to think of each of these as “a conversation for:
- Attention — Why consider the problem? Interest — Why meet? Potential impact of the problem
- Consideration — Why Change? Model to understand the business problem differently than currently do: Problem-Cause-Impact; Mental Model;
- Permission to change — use a vendor point-of-view to introduce something new that has occurred, perhaps an industry change, or something buyers are missing, that “gives them permission” to be released from living with, and holding on to, the current state
- Prove the cost of status quo — Use research, analysts, a problem cost calculator, to deliver proof of the cost of status quo
- Enroll all relevant stakeholders in understanding the problem (A) — answer key questions, educate buyers in ways that build consensus
- Support conversations — with customer stories and explanations that helps them see they are not alone, and also creates urgency and even embarrassment about the status quo
- Why Now? — highlight risks or a compelling outcome that are missed, begin to estable a baseline for eventual value conversation (Current State vs. Future State — Cost to get there
- Risk if no change
- Urgency — identify organic urgency factors
Each of these can be short or very long conversations. But generally, these are good examples of critical buyer conversations. Get them right, you get a higher likelihood of trust, influence and knowledge. Execute poorly, and your position isn’t as strong. (See Sales Conversations — By Design)
Stage Two – The “B” How to Change and Solution Approach
CEB presents compelling evidence that buying teams must reach consensus about the approach to solve the problem. This is the biggest risk point in B2B selling. Help buying teams resolve this breakdown point, and you should have the trust and insight to know where you stand, and how to win.
Buyers must agree on the gain or value they will realize from this approach. They must define the capabilities required to execute on that approach. This makes it possible for them to identify which capabilities they currently possess, which exist through current vendors, and which they must procure. Then they must assign a budget figure they are willing to invest in new capabilities to realize their expected gain. This number becomes a baseline budget.
These are conversations about:
- Alternatives: status quo (do nothing), small fix, direct competitor, different approach
- Solution vision and approach
- “Unlearning” self-educated buyers from pre-conceived ideas, through education and facilitation
- Required capabilities
- Identify existing capabilities to execute solution approach, alternatives, relative costs, identify missing capabilities that are required, expected cost of those
- Decision criteria
- Stakeholder enrollment to consensus
- Alignment around a common value model
- Investment level (budget)
As you evaluate these use cases, and design or review existing conversation designs, the content required will become evident. Review this with sales teams to validate both your use case definitions, and the resulting list of content requirements. Your assessments may even enhance sales people’s understanding of buyer requirements at each key touch point.
At this point, this work is just about defining the use case requirements. This is to provide input to a subsequent review, prioritization and decision process.
Stage Three — “C” Why You?
CEB didn’t even bother putting the “C” vendor decision on their graphic. Probably because this occurs automatically due to the nature of sales people. But partially because if you’ve successfully navigated and supported the first two “sales,” or buyer decision stages, and the solution approach is a good fit with your capabilities, there really shouldn’t be much you have to do at this point. It is sometimes as easy as “let me show you how we’ll help you execute on your vision.” This is what it means to “sell ahead of the RFP.”
These are conversations about your:
- Experience and credentials
- Table-stake capabilities — must have capabilities that you and most other providers have, but buyers need and must validate
- Key capabilities aligned to important capabilities identified by the buying team
- Unique capabilities
- Best combinations of capabilities that can’t be matched by competitors
- Your differentiated value
- Ability to execute implementation, adoption, and to optimize business outcomes at lower risk — customer stories support specific risk points, customer concern areas, differentiators
- Answer to the big — but often unstated — buyer question: “What happens after I say ‘yes’?”
Core vs. Extension Principle
For every key conversation, apply the “core and extensions principle.” Core relates to main elements of anything. Examples in this work are business problem, message, conversation or content requirement.
Extensions are the variables to the core that create custom versions. Examples include: sub-elements to business problems, as well as modifications for differ audiences, industry verticals, personas, buying stage, or competitor context.
The recommendation to use core and extension practices is driven by the preeminent requirement for content to be relevant to each audience and situation. It’s also a way to deal with the inevitable scale challenges that occur from optimizing relevance.
Document Content Requirements
For every key engagement and conversation use case requirement that warrants content support, a specification document must be completed. By way of example, here is a simple version we call a “Content Header.”
This basic information is not only used as input to the content creation process, it becomes the metadata for the final assets that are delivered. This makes content tagging, search, review and selection a faster and better experience for all.
Your requirements document must also define other important variables for each content piece. Again by example:
- Quality — define quality criteria for each content piece — key points for the ContentS, insight, facts, images, stories, audience needs – see purpose
- Time — timing, frequency, when needed
- Cost — relative value that justifies investment levels
- Relevance factors – context, versions
- Languages — if global use is a factor, indicate which languages each asset must be published for
Assess Prioritize Decide Budget and Create
The result of this work defines and documents Sales Use Case Requirements. Throughout an organization, each group that engages external audience will find this work benefits content quality, relevance and usefulness. Properly executed, it will improve coverage and availability. When shared, they can be reviewed as part of an enterprise-wide content use case assessment.
This provides a way to assess common content requirements. It enables optimizing content investment on the most important topics and use cases.
It also makes possible creation of content for multiple purposes, audiences and personas, buyer stages and industry verticals, forms and formats — from a single work stream. To learn how to execute on this, read about the Content Supply Chain Operations Model.