This whitepaper introduces business executives to a set of new realities about their market, audiences, and business strategies. It introduces a new role for sales and marketing information and content as a strategic imperative.
Sales and marketing content has always been a tactical support expense, and the responsibility of leaders of specific functions, along with their tactical teams. This has changed with the universal changes in the business and competitive environment. The internet has produced information empowered audiences, who have created new requirements for businesses, in order to meet top business objectives.
We believe this makes sales and marketing information and content a strategic imperative as a primary driver of top business objectives.
We hope these ideas and articles can help you provide internal education and stimulate executive and cross functional conversations.
In this report, linked content and embedded videos are integral to the information we are delivering. We encourage you to view them.
Table of Contents
Central New Reality
How would your thinking and approach to sales and marketing information and content change if you believed, as we have come to believe?
The traditional, siloed, project oriented, creative craftsman approach to content production is outdated.
It can’t efficiently support the content requirements of ALL customer engaging functions across the enterprise. It will not meet new digital content criteria of empowered buyers, their digital channel and format preferences.
It cannot scale without compromise.
Opinions are best delivered with context. While the ideas presented in this paper may apply beyond this stated context, they have been developed based upon a 20 year focus on B2B selling, with enterprises with complex offers or “considered” buying/selling process, typically with revenues over $50 million.
These companies have many “content constituents” who must be supported with information and content for job performance – basic, but especially optimum performance.
Across an organization information is created for multiple purposes. But sales and marketing content in these organizations must be customer-centric, buyer relevant and useful, typically serving an education purpose.
In the new era of the digital enterprise, digital content and channels, the “empowered buyer” has changed the customer engagement dynamic.
- Information and content drive top strategic business objectives (among many others):
- Profitable, organic revenue growth
- Marketing and sales effectiveness, lower selling costs
- Data on buyers and customers
- An exceptional customer experience.
- Information is an essential component for top performance by ALL functions that engage customers, not just the many marketing tactics, but including:
- Sales (inside)
- Sales training
- The sales channel
- Customer Service
- Functional and business performance suffers due to poor or unavailable information that supports core use case requirements of these constituents and their audiences.
- This makes sales and marketing information and content strategic imperatives for the business. Traditionally they been considered a tactical expense.
- The traditional, project oriented, creative craftsman approach to content creation, cannot meet the new requirements of the digital enterprise, digital marketing, digital content, or empowered buyer/audiences.
- Executive leadership tend not to have internalized this reality if they are aware of it, and translated it into strategic actions and accountability.
New realities drive new requirements that impact sales, marketing, content and content operations.
- Content must be audience/buyer relevant, useful, and for vendors, differentiated from existing content in the market.
- Content must be (continuously) created to cover primary use case requirements for all content constituent groups. It must be available when audiences are ready to consume (NOW), through channels, in formats and languages they prefer.
- The ability to scale content operations is a natural outcome of the relevance, format and continuous creation requirements listed above. The traditional content process cannot scale efficiently to meet the dozen or more primary requirements we have identified.
- A new approach to enterprise information and content, and a new content operations framework is required.
Click here to view a 2:46 streaming video deeper explanation of these new requirements.
New realities and requirements demand new approaches.
Organizations have five generic areas they can adjust to improve business outcomes: Strategy, People, Process, Technology, Investment. Of the five, marketing organizations have focused primarily on People and Technology to address new customer content requirements.
Investment has shifted from some traditional areas. But this has been an incremental, iterative approach at the tactical level in most organizations, not the result of well-developed strategy.
Strategy has been immature at best, undocumented (which by definition makes it not a strategy), and focused on improving specific content projects. This is important for content projects but doesn’t address requirements for an Enterprise Content Strategy.
Process change has been virtually non-existent. Process change is a major focus of our recommendations.
We introduce specific new approaches that organizations can take to address new realities and requirements.
We have developed and use a 6 Competency Enterprise Information and Content Strategy framework (links to blog explanation) which has evolved through our work with clients over the last ten years.
We have also developed a new Content Operations model and associated framework that we have found does a better job meeting new requirements. It is based upon a manufacturing structured, content supply chain process.
This 4 minute streaming video will introduce this new content operations model.
Attributes of a New Approach
How has your thinking about sales and marketing information, content strategy, operations, and investments changed over the last few years?
For most executives, content is considered a short life (one year or less), tactical expense, and the responsibility of tactical resources deep within siloed functions.
For marketers, thinking has evolved to adopt the concept of customer-centricity rather than vendor/product centric messages and content. They have embraced new tools and channels.
But thinking in marketing generally, about content specifically, is focused primarily on early stage, lead generation requirements for which marketing is most accountable.
For marketing as a discrete function this may make sense.
But who’s thinking about the information and content requirements of all functional groups across the enterprise who depend on information and content for optimal performance? Sales, the channel, customer service and other constituents are still left to figure out content for themselves. And there’s no synergy, efficiency of leverage of much of this investment.
What about your process for content? Who’s thinking about the most efficient and effective ways to meet new content requirements?
We have found some of the attributes of this new thinking, include:
- Content as a long-life (3, 5, 10 years), strategic asset, considered and treated as an investment rather than an expense.
- Content responsibility and accountability at the executive level as well as by each functional leader.
- Content strategy, planning, budgeting, decisions and execution conducted in a holistic, unified and coordinated manner.
Enterprise Information and Content Strategy
Marketing and sales content strategy has evolved from strategy work to make websites more effective. Those practices are now applied to other content projects. This is good for each content project, but a low level use of strategy.
We believe organizations should adopt a formal Enterprise Information and Content Strategy that goes beyond content projects, websites or marketing tactics, to address the requirements of ALL customer engaging functions.
We recommend you investigate our 6 Competency Enterprise Information and Content Strategy framework. Our methodology provides detailed functions, skills, and recommended actions for each competency. With our clients we continually iterate this model.
Sales and marketing information requirements should be documented within the appropriate functions, in a manner similar to new requirements for products and other strategic business assets. These feed a formal process that takes an enterprise perspective for investments that have cross-functional, strategic implications. (See blog, Use Case Requirements competency).
Deep understanding of audiences (by segments), their problems or interests, and relevant decision processes, are among many universal and foundational inputs to content creation. This research and documentation is best done in a professional, well-planned and funded manner on behalf of every content constituency group (core elements). Each group can develop function-specific additions to this core profile (extension elements). (Understand Audience (Buyers) competency).
This applies as well to the many areas of development and decisions required within the competency we call Conversation Support competency. (Explanatory post.)
Collectively, we refer to these as documented Customer, Information and Content Frameworks. They support all content related activities, from high level planning down to very operational activities such as copywriting, the design of nurturing campaigns, or sales conversation preparation.
How has your content budgeting decision-making process changed?
Is it still the sole responsibility of tactical people within each function? How well are these decisions coordinated across tactical groups within a large function, such as marketing, and across functions that share common audiences or offer characteristics?
How do you know you are making the best level or mix in your investments?
Does your organization really know how much is spent on customer facing content? (See blog, Getting Content ROI Right)
So much content creation is embedded in bigger projects like product launches or events, or just a core part of people’s jobs.
Even more content is created in a very ad hoc manner, often by people who probably shouldn’t be. We estimate this could be 3 to 5 times sanctioned content expenses, probably much more.
An aggregated content line item, as exists for other corporate assets, will help organizations get more out of their content, and content investments, through a different approach to financing content.
Traditionally, decisions about what content to create, why and how, are made within functions and tactics.
What if the organization adopted more of a portfolio management approach, and considered content investments strategically.
From the perspective of promoting audience / customer / buyer-centric decisions, think about how much of the “core elements” of your content are common across each of your functions, product lines, or even divisions.
Content Operations Execution (Content Operations competency)
Are they a series of discrete projects executed within the constraints of the budgets, competence, time or focus of each tactic or function?
Are they initiated by an event or campaign requirement, or is content pre-produce in whole or in components, well before it is required, based upon a thorough content strategy and planning process?
How is work assigned across internal or third party resources such as agencies or production vendors? This change alone introduces many important decisions and support requirements. (People Support competency.)
How dependent is your process on subject experts for content creation beyond domain related insights?
How many content outputs — versions, forms or formats — are associated with a typical content project?
We have introduced a Leveraged Content Supply Chain process (webpage and video explanation) that meets digital content criteria, at scale, without compromise.
With the traditional, project approach, content is created by subject experts or professional content production specialists, often outsourced agencies or production companies. They produce specifically defined work products, with input from domain or specialty experts, within a project timeline. Production work is a sequential process. Scaling content operations with this process requires incremental resources in virtually a one-to-one manner. But even this breaks down at a certain point as software designers have previously discovered.
A leveraged content supply chain process differs in approach, process and procedures.
Here is a brief overview explanation. This approach typically starts with a shift from a project initiated by a specific, product requirement, event, or campaign, to a supply chain process directed by an information and content strategy.
A content supply chain process works similar to a manufacturing supply chain, where components are specified and sourced from the best resources, at the best time. This creates an inventory of components that are custom assembled and delivered, often in a specific location (country) when final product is ordered.
A key hallmark of this shift is from product, event or campaign oriented work, to identified core topics and themes for content. The content strategy should identify core audience topics or issues.
A second hallmark is work is directed by use case requirements documented by each “content constituent” group.
Content strategy work should produce a prioritized work plan with documented specifications for all the versions, forms and formats to meet identified “core” and even significant extension purposes. Extension purposes might include variations for personas, buying stages, industry segments, for example.
Content is designed for multiple purposes, audience issues, audience personas, buying stages, industry verticals, content forms (micro, short, long) and formats. These workstreams are defined in the strategy and planning process.
For example, inputs for new content creation are continuously acquired. Required inputs are based on the work plan as well as supporting frameworks. Content is often created in a modular fashion to provide the flexibility to support many final forms and formats.
Often, final assembly is left for tactical groups who tailor content so it is relevant for each situation or personalization based upon their specific use case, format or delivery methods.
This process typically yields 5 times production output right away, compared with the traditional process. But outputs significantly expand as maturity and proficiency grow.
Early planning combined with pre-produced, modular assets means faster content time-to-market. Content quality, especially in terms of audience relevance and usefulness is dramatically increased.
Over time this approach flattens content cost curves, even as volume scales exponentially.
Center for Content Excellence
A center of excellence is a proven organizational mechanism for transforming processes to produce breakthrough results.
Centers for excellence are used to support the change management nature of these initiatives.
While a common business practice, the idea of a Center for Content Excellence was introduced to me by Doug Kessler of Velocity Partners (UK) in 2013. It is an idea ready to to be acted upon.
For new content operations it can provide program and project management support as new process, procedures and even techniques are introduced.
With complex, multidisciplinary work areas such as content operations, individual apprenticeship is usually required to guide and reinforce new process, procedures and recommended techniques over time.