What if your “sales content problem” isn’t the real problem, but a symptom of the problem?
Given the role of the sales organization to deliver primary business outcomes — new customer acquisition and profitable revenue growth — if your sales content sucks (technical term in the content business) why would you think your marketing content is any better?
“So what, isn’t this semantics,” you ask? Well, how you define a problem has a lot to do with how you go about solving it. It affects your orientation, and approach.
I watched with interest the webinar How to Unclog Your Sales Pipeline, with Craig Nelson of CallidusCloud and Scott Santucci of The Alexander Group, moderated by Gerhard Gschwandtner from Selling Power. There may not be three people who know more about the B2B sales enablement problem. Each has thought about and worked on the best ways to to solve it for years. I never miss an opportunity to hear them.
In addition to many useful insights, a key point they made was the need to fix the sales content problem.
After the webinar, Callidus provided a Sales Content Success Plan, a high-level guide that makes many good points. When it comes to content, there seems to be common understanding and near universal agreement about “what to do” — at a high level.
But companies experience breakdown in the “how to do it” execution. I don’t mean specific techniques, rather, how to “operationalize” a strategic solution. Read Address Your Content Marketing Gap (includes a video explanation.)
As a result of 20 years creating content for B2B marketing and selling organizations, my company developed a methodology to operationalize content strategy. In this post I’ll apply that approach, along with supplemental resources, to help you fix your customer, and sales content problem.
Problem Solving Principles
Here are a few principles we use to guide our problem solving activities. When it comes to problem solving, Steven Covey is a good place to start.
Start with the end in mind. Recommendation: identify your primary external audiences along with the internal “content constituents” who serve them. Identify the business decisions those audiences want to make. Your content-related objective is to help audiences — buyers for your sales organization — make good decisions. For this article I will focus on buyer decisions.
Take an “outside-in” perspective, and work backwards from the desired outcomes. Recommendation: get a deep and thorough understanding of your buyer’s decision process. The purpose of process analysis is to gain insights that come from greater refinement. Determine and document:
– The specific decisions they must make at each stage of that process,
– The questions they have, and information they require, to make each decision,
– How (where) they prefer to receive that information.
Simplify. Recommendation: “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” (Albert Einstein)
Address all primary problem solving levers: Strategy, Investment, People, Structure/Process, Technology. Notice how much of the sales enablement content problem is driven by technology vendors and considerations. Where is process change in this conversation?
Enroll and align all key stakeholders. “Content constituents.”
Get to a holistic and unified solution to the problem. Don’t settle for point solutions. They almost always aren’t.
Actionable. Create clear actions.
Recommended Approach and Practices to Fix the Sales Content Problem
To operationalize a solution to the sales content problem requires a comprehensive effort. Too often it’s treated like “whack-a-mole.” I have a colleague who observes, “It’s much easier to write a check and purchase technology, and hope that solves the business problem, than work the underlying system and process issues.”
To start, get real! Deal with the inherent complexity of this problem, and the actions required to solve it. The problem and required actions involve a complex amalgam of inter-related elements. See the primary problem solving levers above and the 6 competency framework below. Read Complicated vs. Complex: B2B Sales Strategy.
In this 5 minute segment from the webinar, the speakers make the point that to improve sales effectiveness, sales conversations matter most.
I recommend you consider:
- Conversations ARE content.
- Content supports conversations.
- Content extends conversations. Read What is Content?
The primary actions required to fix the sales content problem are summarized as a detailed outline in How To Execute Content Marketing.
Our content strategy framework provides a helpful and overarching guideline for this work, please read Executive Summary: 6 Competency Framework for Marketing and Sales Content Strategy.
- Understand Audiences/Buyers
- Conversation Support
- Use Case Requirements
- People Support
- Content Operations
- Infrastructure and Tools
The remainder of this article will highlight three essential points from these primary articles that are typically neglected by most organizations. Detailed explanations are provided in the linked articles referenced in each section below.
Key Point One — Understand Buyer Decision Process and Questions
Your business, go-to-customer, marketing and sales strategy and plans should be used as background for your content strategy work.
When it comes to content and conversations, contextual relevance is everything.
To get the right context, you must start with the first two recommendations mentioned above:
- identify your primary external audiences;
- get a deep and thorough understanding of your buyer’s decision process.
This is our first content strategy competency: Understand Audiences/Buyers.
If you work from an “inside-out” approach, and start by analyzing your existing content, mapping it to your sales process, you’ll miss the critical buyer and sales conversation orientation.
This assessment sets up everything that follows. It puts you on the right path to fixing your sales content problem.
You’ll want to get as specific as possible. But as an example and starting point, use these categories from my colleague Michael Cannon‘s article The Most Persuasive Answers to Your Customers’ Top 6 Buying Questions.
- Why Consider?
- Why Meet?
- Why Change? – Value of project, risk
- Why Buy vs Make? – or make do
- Why Now? – Priority, urgency, risk
- Why You? – Differentiated value
Key Point Two — Define Sales Content Use Case Requirements
The next critical context step is seldom, if ever, done. Define and document your sales content use case requirements. This is the third content strategy competency. Read Need Better Content? Define Your Use Case Requirements.
The objective is to determine what content you must provide to help your buyers. This is content they aren’t getting through basic online research. You must identify the content that is essential for you to provide in order to deliver value to buyers, to differentiate your company, and to reduce their decision time (your sales cycle time.)
Analyze the questions and required information of each buyer role, for each stage of the buying decision process. Ask:
- How important is this question/information to the buyer’s decision? (Triage to prioritize)
- What information/content can you curate from third parties? Content curated from “safe” sources (non-competitors like analysts or respected influencers) is an under-appreciated tactic. Perhaps as much as 60% of your sales content should be curated.
- What content must you create?
Your proprietary content should reflect your unique insights. It might explain your unique view of the buyer’s problem and underlying causes, that “set up” the need for your unique capabilities. Read Got Content Problems, Apply Problem Cause.
It could introduce and explain a buying vision, value model, and recommended buying criteria, as well as information that helps buyers resolve their internal issues.
But content must also help sales professionals accomplish specific selling objectives. Sales content is most effective when it’s designed for a specific person and purpose. First, you must define what those objectives are.
For a more complete explanation, read about the second content strategy competency, Conversation Support Competency.
A great perspective for this work is to apply this idea developed by Clayton Christensen. Read What “Job” Do You Want Your Content to Do?
Key Point Three — Document Specific Sales Content Requirements
The people who create content, whether internal or external resources (agency or production company), have no clue about selling content.
This is a realistic assessment not a criticism. They don’t understand the use case context, how specific content will be used, what you want it to accomplish, how it must be designed and packaged, and a whole host of related issues.
Think about your content as your first product for prospective buyers. Once you have defined primary use case requirements, you must define the specific characteristic of that content. Think of communicating requirements to content creators in a manner similar to the way product features are communicated to product development organizations.
In the webinar, Scott Santucci refers to “purpose built” content assets. Most of your existing content was not built for a specific purpose. It was built for a very general, “one version suits all” purpose. This is part of the problem.
Document the specific, contextually relevant characteristics of each sales content asset you require. Use a Content Requirements Document. Read Before Your Next Content Project.
Here are some example categories of sales content from our checklist. The idea is, for key conversation scenarios, sales teams require inventories of:
- Conversation starters and guides
- Emails — for common purposes
- Social posts: Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+
- 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 you want buyers to adopt – competitive context
- Value Model, and how to express it, proof points for
- 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
- Language inventory – Topics, themes, words and phrases to use/avoid – resonance tested
- Sales support materials (content) packaged for each key “conversation” scenarios – ready to deliver,
- Links to related, supporting content
- Visual support, images, videos, recorded demo segments
- Sales Playbook elements – as real-time support
These resources and recommendations will get you on the right track, and give you a good start. But you undoubtedly have many questions. And time may not be on your side. If these ideas resonate with you, we welcome a conversation to discuss the implications for your sales teams and business. Schedule a Conversation
Related and Sharable Information
Webpage Series: To Resolve the Sales Content Dilemma
A good starting point, as well as regular practice, is a Marketing and Selling Content, Strategy and Content Operations Healthcheck
Sales professionals need assistance using content, see: New Sales Competency: Use Content to Sell