New Sales Competency – Use Content to Sell

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Sales guy with laptop sitting on wall water and city behind600x337


The digital era has ushered in many behavior changes, especially for B2B buyers. Sales professionals have been slower to change their sales methods to adapt and align with new buying processes and the expectations of buyers.

Those who are not actively and effectively using content to sell are missing an important opportunity to capture a selling advantage, lower selling time and costs, and accelerate successful sales outcomes.

“Social selling” while new and popular, doesn’t yet represent a significant breakthrough in the way B2B sales people sell. As currently applied, social selling is primarily a different (and hopefully more efficient way) to research buyers, to network, and to conduct some initial touches.

In reality, and almost by definition, most sales people have never really used content to sell. Two supporting reasons for this are the traditional lack of sales ready, customer relevant content, and poor ability to find content for specific selling situations.


SiriusDecisions Perspective

The significance of this issue is under-scored by SiriusDecisions’ clarification of their assertion that 67% of the B2B buyer journey is conducted digitally.

First, because in most B2B business models, sales people must still generate 60-90% of leads.

They must do this of course, without the legions of content marketers who’s primary day job is to create content, deploy content to well-honed lists and social channels using marketing automation systems and related social media technologies.

Second, because in addition to conducting individual prospecting activities to generate most of their leads, each rep must:

  • Cultivate and develop individual leads into qualified opportunities
  • Meet and create relationships with typically 3-10 buying team members, who often were never touched by marketing
  • Actively work the opportunity to a successful conclusion
  • Process the recordkeeping and activities necessary to record a sale and get a new customer set up
  • Support existing customers
  • Try to get home before the kids go to bed, and spend the weekends at soccer games and other family events

And the “tools” to support this work? Please answer this for your organization.

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As SiriusDecisions clarified:

“Digital is pervasive across both of those types of interactions (human and non-human).  It’s time to pull the pendulum back. It’s not a digital interaction vs. a sales interaction. Digital facilitates (both) those interactions.”

Integrated campaigns are a must, Kopec noted. The SiriusDecisions buying study revealed that on average, there are 17 buyer interactions in a committee-buying scenario. Nine of those are human. In a consensus-buying scenario, 14 interactions are typical, with eight being human. Independent buying scenarios typically see 11 interactions, six of which are human.

“While buyers interact with sales representatives the most in the education phase, buyers interact with sales reps from the beginning to the end of the buyer’s journey.”
Demand Gen Report

What’s At Stake?

So much is at stake for individual sales reps, their managers and senior business management it baffles the mind why this hasn’t been addressed sooner.

  • New customer acquisition, existing customer satisfaction, renewals and expanded buying
  • Lower selling costs through improved selling effectiveness and efficiency
  • Lower embarrassment of sales managers and business executives due to missed forecasts and “must win” deals that are lost
  • Sales rep success and job satisfaction
  • Lower sales rep turnover and the high costs of rep replacement and ramp up costs

Underlying Causes

So why is this the case? There are so many reasons.

We have written about content as a strategic imperative of the business.

Most senior business executives, who developed their experience in a pre-digital world, simply haven’t embraced the significance of the new realities of the digital era. They have never had to deal with, let alone think about content. Content was always the purview of creative or subject expert people, at low tactical levels, deep within siloed functions.

Executives haven’t yet faced the implications of these new realities, and the new requirements they create.

The accelerating pace of change is hurting executives who aren’t keeping up with new learning. Low cost, high functionality, cloud based technologies are transforming the nature of work, the nature of the enterprise, and catching executive teams unprepared with adequate or timely responses.

This thinking also applies to sales executives, as well as most of their sales people. Locked in traditional approaches to selling, not enough are demanding this essential support from marketing counterparts.

Without explicit input and requests from sales, in the form of defined use case requirements that document specific content requirements, marketers are both too busy addressing their own lead gen priorities, and lack understanding of how to support sales in this regard. This is a legacy problem, now exacerbated by the new role and importance of customer educating content.

Marketing can’t be let off the hook. Who else is responsible for customer facing content creation? What function is clamoring to become “revenue marketers?” Marketers have been hearing, and hopefully reading, about understanding buyers more deeply, especially their buying decision process.

Marketers have invested in resources and technology to “deliver the right content, to the right people at the right time” — possibly through “57% of the buyers journey”. They simply haven’t recognized or applied this thinking to their sales counterparts.

How To Help Sales Use Content to Sell

Tamara Schenk Content for Sales Quote

If we’ve learned anything trying to solve important business problems over the last decade, it should be the importance of taking a programmatic approach. Too often organizations have invested in technology hoping it alone would solve the business problem (CRM, marketing automation).

Organizations are attempting to move from “random acts of content” committed by siloed tactical groups, to a content strategy approach, ideally one that goes beyond marketing, websites and specific content projects.

The elements of this program we’ve outlined in Sales Professionals Use Content to Sell. This is an outline of the key elements because each organization will be at different levels of maturity in each area of their 6 key content competencies we have identified. Some important highlights are:

1.  Defined and documented content use case requirements across the entire buyer journey and customer lifecycle.

This work applies to both sales and marketing. It requires a deep understanding of buyers, of how they buy, and the key touch point interactions. This should yield an understanding of where content is most important. It guides content creation priorities.

2.  The operational competency to design and create content for audience/buyer relevance. Relevance can be based on the business problems vendor offers address, buyer personas, buying stage, target industry verticals, and competitive context (buyer alternatives), among other relevance factors. This also includes different formats based on preferred channels.

3.  The ability to deploy content in ways that make it fast and easy for sales people to find, access, use and deliver content for specific selling scenarios. Organizations need an information architecture that defines content categories, relationships and structures to organize content. (Taxonomy)

Content delivery, with notification of consumption, and tracking for metrics and analysis, is key here. This is not about static content management.

4.  Continuous training and support is critical. To start with, almost by definition, most sales people have never really used content to sell. The core cause of this problem has always been lack of sales ready, customer relevant content. Most content has been vendor, product, feature benefit oriented. It was not useful for customer education, a primary selling use case. What content was available has always been too difficult to find.

TWEET – Most sales people have never really used content to sell. 

5. Sales people must become familiar with primary content assets. There’s no getting around this reality. Just like business travel requires activities that feel (and are) a drain on sales productivity, to effectively use content to sell requires people to take time to read content.

This is such a solvable problem. Those organizations that have made the shift in their marketing functions to creating buyer relevant and useful content are poised for immediate success.

The feedback marketing will receive as sales delivers this content in micro focused ways, on the organization’s best prospects and customers, will inform and improve marketing efforts.

Related Information

It Takes Marketing Leadership to Drive Sales Transformation

Turn Content Into Sales Currency 

Content Marketing vs. Content Selling — Content Strategy for Sales 

How Good Content Fuels Modern Selling


Resolving the number one unconsidered cause of low B2B sales and marketing performance, and revenue growth …
… the inability to deliver effective knowledge, conversations, and situation-specific information (content), in context, at scale
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