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 do not actively and effectively use content to sell are missing an important opportunity to differentiate, lower selling time and costs, and accelerate successful sales outcomes.
“Social selling” while new and popular, is simply a different, and hopefully more efficient way to research buyers, to network, and to conduct initial engagement. But it doesn’t represent a significant breakthrough in the way B2B sales people sell.
Traditionally, sales people have made limited use of content to sell. (Emails, presentations, brochures, letters and proposals.)
Haven’t two perennial sales problems been 1) marketing not creating content sales finds useful, and 2) sales people not able to find the content they need (poor repositories and content organization)?
This is further exacerbated by great confusion about what “content” even is. This isn’t semantics, it has important implications for this objective to use content to sell, and is fully explained in this blog.
In the digital era of the online, self-educating buyer, the role of content is shifting from a short-use-life expense, to a long-use-life asset that drives marketing, selling and even top business outcomes. This makes customer facing content a strategic imperative for B2B enterprises.
When you use content to sell you align with how B2B buyers buy.
Buyers want to research before engaging. They want to be informed before meeting so they maximize the value of the precious time required by a live meeting with vendors and colleagues.
For complex, important issues, they need to understand, reflect and share new insights. This is what content does for buyers.
Consider some of the key sales use cases where content plays either a leading or key support role. Organizations that sell complex, solution oriented offers, must educate customers to their viewpoint on customer problems, recommended approach to solving those problems, as well as justification for key decision criteria.
An overlooked reality is the limited amount of “facetime” most sales people have with customers. Phone conversations are short. In person meetings are often less than an hour. And a good sales call is where the sales professional is asking questions and listening to gain a better understanding of the customer organization.
Prospects are typically not interested in a lecture, even if it’s called a presentation. Sales conversations can be more efficient and effective when sales people learn to “set up the listening” by introducing a key idea, but provide the deeper explanation through content.
What’s Required to Use Content to Sell?
At an overview level, sales people need three things:
- Sales people need the capability to deliver the right content to their customer or prospect. This delivery capability must also notify the sales person when the content has been viewed. This viewing data must be captured by the delivery system and transferred to the organization’s data repository.
- To make the communication relevant and useful to each audience, sales people must be able to easily and quickly edit, customize and package content so it’s appropriate for each situation. Typically, good planning and preparation will minimize this effort. But examples include associated email copy, optional content, the ability to decide the number or sequence of multiple content pieces that make up each delivery.
- To find and select required content, sales people require a single access point to key sales content, regardless of where the source content is stored. Content must be logically organized and tagged for effective search. Ideally, content is clearly packaged and labeled for key selling scenarios. But as sales and sales support people become more experienced with this practice, their use of content will expand beyond pre-packaged scenario content.
This requires a support resource to find or create content that supports specific sales use case requirements. Logical organizing and tagging schema (taxonomy) are essential to enable effective content discovery.
For sales people, a primary purpose for using content is to stimulate conversation. When a complete content use case is examined, it becomes clear there are many “pieces” that comprise the final deliverable. For example, in addition to the email previously mentioned, sales people benefit from:
- Voice mail messages to use when sending content
- Social posts if content can be delivered through Twitter, LinkedIn or some other social channel
- Conversation starters, questions to ask or listen for, and key points in the content
- Related or optional content that can be used in place of, or combined with the primary asset
A Program to Use Content to Sell
For 20 years Avitage has created sales, marketing and training content for B2B enterprise organizations. Over the last 15 years we developed a standard practice to use content to sell for our own organization. We’ve learned what works and what causes lower results. We developed techniques that have proved very effective.
Perhaps the most important recommendation is to make this a program rather than a technology led activity, an event, or worse, an informal set of uncoordinated activities. Unfortunately, the latter is the state we most regularly see.
Here are recommended primary program elements.
- Program Goals, Purpose, Plans — align to overall sales goals and plans
- Methodology and Techniques
- Program Manager — someone who owns sales support and program success
- Enroll the content creation organization for support
- Define Sales Use Case Requirements for Content
- Assess Existing Content (“Mapped and Gapped”) — map to use case requirements, identify content that works, needs updating, or is missing and must be created
- Prepare and Package Content
- Prepare Sales Orientation and Training
- Assess technology infrastructure and tools available, required
- Identify integration requirements
- Identify activity data acquisition and flow process into data management and reporting system
- Initial sales training session
- Ongoing sales coaching
- Review of feedback, missing content, make adjustments
- Program Support
If this were easy, your sales people would already be doing it. But it’s not easy because there are so many inter-dependent elements required for success. So make sure you approach this as a formal program.
Your sales people can target content more exactly than any other channel mechanism, presumably to your best targets. They also can select the right timing. You have a significant leverage opportunity by tapping into the collective social channels like LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.
Start by defining your primary use case requirements. This is hardly ever done, and is a critical activity. This will help you prioritize selling scenarios and associated content you will start with. Use this to identify the best opportunities for fast success. It will also help you deliver a “complete solution” to your sales teams.
Develop Content Headers for every piece of content. This information makes it fast and easy for sales people to preview content in a search result, to determine which few pieces most likely meet their specific requirement. Don’t make them read the PDF or listen to the video or webinar replay to figure it out.
The technology to deliver content with tracking and notification is readily available and cheap. Make sure you select a system that can capture the consumption data, and pass it through to your marketing automation, CRM or designated data repository.
Treat this as a completely new practice. Traditional sales use of content was so limited, and for very different purposes, as to be irrelevant to the practice you want to develop. Help sales people to see content as your first offer to a prospect. Used well, content will help them gain credibility and trusted status. It is essential for educating and influencing buying criteria in a complex sale.
Selling without content is like fishing without a bobber. Your fishing bait is underwater. Without a bobber it’s difficult to determine if a fish is nibbling and it’s time to set the hook.
Your bait is your offer, value messages or problem solving insights. But the only insight you have to specific buyer engagement, especially with online, stealth buyers, is through the content you cast out to target prospects.
With the protracted, multi-person buying process of a complex sale, content helps sales people know with whom, when and how to engage.
Avitage Blog – New Sales Competency: Use Content to Sell
From Kapost – How Content Transforms Salespeople [Infographic]
From McKinsey – Building marketing and sales capabilities to beat the market
Avitage Blog – How to Fix Your Sales Content Problem