I received a call from a colleague who started a new sales job with a software company.
“We have no good content to serve as door openers, or to nurture target accounts who aren’t ready to meet. All we have is product collateral.”
Sales content for key sales engagement points are the most underserved content requirements in most B2B organizations.
Little or poor prospecting is both a symptom and casualty of this reality.
There are many important reasons for this (please don’t shoot the messenger, not all may apply in your organization):
- Marketers don’t know what sales people need.
- Sales managers and reps actually don’t know what they need either, until the situation occurs and they can’t find it!
- Marketers don’t package and deploy content to sales that marketing may be using for lead gen and nurturing.
- Sales doesn’t know how to requisition content from non-sales resources who need explicit content specifications (not unlike providing product specifications).
- Marketers lack a methodology to conduct use case requirements and turn them into content specifications for their creation teams.
Find vs. Create Sales Opportunities
Find vs. Create sales opportunities is such an important distinction it’s usually one of the first questions I ask marketing and sales teams I meet.
Amazing to me how few understand the question, let alone have considered it for selling implications, or what content to create, and how.
If you’re still in an organization that pitches products, you don’t know you need this kind of content, or care. You’re living with “collateral”.
But if you’re shifting from product to solution/value selling approaches, you simply will not succeed without good selling content.
In B2B selling, as CEB in their Challenger Customer book eloquently and visually explain, most buyers are a long way from the active buying state that sales reps desire. (At that now famous 57% stage of their buying process when they will speak with vendor reps.
“Find sales opportunities” fit the “mental model” of too many sales people and managers. This is product-oriented, transactional selling, based on active (“find ’em”) deals. Usually it’s replacement selling. And it’s “red ocean” selling.
Most companies cannot exist on the volume of active, find opportunities. Low close rates and discounting associated with this type of sale don’t help either.
The alternative, “create opportunities,” is what most B2B selling is about. This involves finding prospects who have an “active” problem — but they aren’t even close to being ready to buy.
This reality has implications for how sales reps should (change the way they) prospect, and respond to “early stage” leads. It should affect selling content as well.
Quite simply, you cannot create opportunities, or conduct a consultative or value sale, without educating your prospects.
Why Use Content to Sell?
Given the nature of diverse B2B buying teams (again, infamous 5.4 number of buyers on an average buying team), you might only reach buyers through content, especially in the very early prospecting and awareness development stages.
Prospects don’t want to talk to sellers before they’re 57% of the way through their evaluation process for many reasons. Most of them based on painful experiences when they do.
This means sales people must “earn the right” to that first and second conversation.
Content, which includes compelling voice mail and initial phone conversations, are the critical tool.
Whether content is delivered through a referral source, email, or social media, good content is currency that earns you attention, and maybe even a little respect (but don’t count on that).
And what about cultivating and enabling referral sources? How do you do this? Is it a well-considered systematic process that includes well defined content requirements? Mostly we see periodic ad hoc activity, or referral selling is a rarely employed tactic.
Referrals are a highly overlooked tactic, but typically immature practice when it does exist.
But what do you call it when your “champion,” ideally a “mobilizer” in CEB language, agrees to “refer” you to others in their organization?
How have you designed and created content to maximize the likelihood of referral success? How do you remove the risk your referral source will do a bad job introducing you without effective content? Weak referrals are nearly guaranteed for a complex offer. Perhaps this is the reason the tactic is tried but abandoned.
What Content is Missing?
The best B2B sales content and conversations are based on unique commercial insights.
If you don’t have unique, customer relevant insights, you’re at a distinct selling disadvantage.
Making significant content investments without insights is a poor investment. Your insights and content must “lead back to your unique, sustainable capabilities” (CEB).
Identify topics, concepts and themes (problems and related areas of interest) you can speak to that are important to target buyers. These too should be topics where you bring unique insights. They frame engagement conversations and identify content to source.
We recommend marketing, along with sales enablement, deploy inventories of sales support content. Primary examples include:
- Unique insights, and language for talking about them (see below)
- Conversation starters and guides
- Emails and social posts that link to customer relevant content
- Questions to ask buyers — open ended as well as pointed
- Buyer questions
- Answers to buyer questions (objections) with support and proof: facts, research, stories
- 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 – linked to supporting content
- Stories and Examples: Problem related stories, Customer Stories, Key point stories
- Facts and Research Results, Quotations
- Content packaged for each key “conversation” scenario (sometimes called sales “plays”) – that are ready to deliver,
- Visual support, images, videos, recorded demo segments
Sales Content Priorities
A good sales content strategy is based on well-defined use case requirements. This identifies and priorities “must have” sales support and content.
Coverage and critical mass of content is important here. Gaps can sometimes cause prospects to “drop out”.
Here are three minimal category priorities:
- Pre-call prep — sales playbook content about prospects, their problems, how they buy, who to engage and how.
- Emails linked to content for key engagement touchpoints, starting with “door openers” and nurturing content.
- Analysis questions that relate to your key insights, related to customer problems, the cost and risk of the customer’s status quo.
Most sales professionals know selling is about asking the right questions, the right way.
This is especially true for complex, value selling. If you’re in pitch or tell mode, you aren’t listening. You won’t learn much this way. And learning, especially early on with prospects, is what B2B selling is all about.
Marketers don’t understand this, so they encourage us to “tell stories.” Telling stories is part of a good conversation. And they must be delivered at the right time, in the right way.
So let’s have marketing deploy an inventory of stories they think we should be telling. If you haven’t been in your selling role for 5-7 years, where are you supposed to get those stories?
Pay attention to research from SiriusDecisions about the number one content type B2B buyers prefer across the entire buyers journey (see SiriusDecisions B2B Buying Study — Presentations most impactful content). But let’s make presentation content as visual support for short, interactive conversations, more than formal presentation pitches or worse, DEMOS.