In Marketing and Sales Content — Differences That Matter I identified the problem that few people explicitly understand the difference between sales and marketing content. Does this really matter? During 20 years creating sales, marketing and training content for B2B organizations we discovered it really does.
I believe this misunderstanding is a primary cause of poor or missing situation-ready sales content. This matters because the quality of sales information impacts B2B sales and marketing performance, as well as revenue growth.
For companies pursuing account-based marketing tactics (ABM) I suggest success depends on information that is more like sales content than marketing content.
The question addressed here is, “what can be done to improve sales content?” I will offer a prescription for what to do, based on adopting a different content design point, and how to do that.
Consider for a moment the infamous marketing and sales disconnect and alignment challenges. You’ve been addressing these, possibly for decades. Progress is being made. Except when it comes to sales content.
How do you align now around sales information? The disconnect shows up in some form of a common conversation:
Sales person / team: “This content sucks, I won’t use it.”
Marketing person / content creators: “Why? I’ll fix it.”
Sales: “It doesn’t work, it doesn’t fit my situation. I don’t have time to do your job, I’ve got to create the content I need for my meeting tomorrow.”
There are many versions of that vignette. You get the point. So here’s what I think is really going on here.
Sales people don’t think ABOUT content. They just want to use it and have it help the sale. But they have an intuitive sense for what will work. Often this comes from their experiences with existing content.
Truth is, marketing people don’t think about SALES CONTENT.
They create what they create. They know what they’re doing (don’t they?). They’ve been telling stories and creating content for years. Even went to school for this (sales people didn’t, most probably didn’t even take marketing.) Marketers apprenticed in some fancy marketing agency to prepare for their position.
I’ve found that for sales content there’s no common language, no common process to guide the sales content discussion. There’s no basis for alignment.
Marketing vs. Sales Content Summary
Here’s a simple framework to clarify these differences. Reflect on these points. Discuss them with your colleagues. Then discuss them with your opposite role (in sales or marketing).
Purpose of Marketing Content — to generate conversations.
Purpose of Sales Content — to support conversations with a specific account, buying individual or group.
Conversations ARE content. Situation-ready sales information is essential to help sales people prepare for conversations, to support the delivery of live conversations, and to deliver relevant support after conversations.
Outcomes for Marketing Content — individuals (prospects, customers, influencers, etc) identify themselves (database of subscribed audience), engage and consume content, agree to an in-person conversation (lead), positive impact on brand.
Outcomes for Sales Content — value is created with prospects, success at specific buyer stage opens opportunity for continued engagement, relationship is elevated (trust, useful).
Primary Approach to Marketing Content — engage audiences by telling stories, delivering in forms and formats required for audience preferences and channel requirements.
Primary Approach to Sales Content — create value by providing answers and insights to specific customer questions, support with stories and examples, deliver proof.
Ok, we’re starting to see some differences, but nothing appears actionable yet.
The Design Point for Marketing and Sales Content
What is the content design point for the traditional B2B product sale? The product. Collateral centered around features and benefits. Even case studies and customer testimonials were/are product focused. (See graphic at top of page)
What is the content design point for marketing content? The target market/segment, persona, and topic (area of interest, business problem, pain point, etc.) Marketing does this to scale communications.
What is the content design point for training content? The individual.
What is the design point for customer service content? The question.
What is (should be) the design point for sales content? The Specific Conversation.
Say what? Don’t I mean “sales conversations?” H/T to the CMO who provided this feedback. Nope. I mean “The Specific Conversation.”
The words “sales conversations” invokes only a concept. Concepts are a universal cause of obfuscation, poor communication and execution. They’re too general, not specific enough for clear, mutual understanding.
Success for sales people occurs one conversation at a time. Get The Specific Conversation right, you advance with the customer opportunity. Get it wrong, you’re gone.
Each important and challenging conversation is THE design point for effective sales content.
Effective, situation-ready sales information must be specific and useful, for both the user (seller) and consumer (prospect). This means content must be created on purpose and in context. The Specific Conversation defines the context. This is why it must be the sales content design point.
What is the content design point for sales channel content? The partner use case.
Play around with that for a while. I’d love to hear your thinking about this. Channel content requirements are woefully underserved. If your channel revenue exceeds 20% of total revenue, and your revenue growth strategy is heavily depended on channel success, apply this thinking to your sales channel content strategy.
Update to Original Post: Several people have asked,
“Why does marketing have three elements in their content design point — market/segment, persona, topic — while the other categories only have one?”
My response is available here.
How to Get the Sales Content Design Point Right
So this sounds complicated. How can mere mortals make this work?
While it takes some work, this approach is actually quite easy. In fact, if your marketing people have executed the “core competency” of identifying all important customer touchpoints, you have an excellent starting point.
“Customer experience/engagement is a core competency that every company needs to cultivate. The goal of every company interested in using customer experience as a competitive advantage is to create a positive and consistent experience at all of the touchpoints.”
Laura Patterson, Vision Edge Marketing
Here are the steps to define sales content requirements using The Specific Conversation as the content design point. This applies to sales, channel, even marketing and especially ABM content:
- Define key sales engagement use cases, based on the buyer decision process and their stage-based decisions across the process.
- Identify important and challenging sales conversations within each use case.
- For each conversation, develop a conversation framework. This is an outline of the purpose, approach, sequence and key elements of the conversation. It is not a script. Elements of the specific conversation framework should include:
- Knowledge requirements for both the sales person and the audience / prospect (in each conversation within each key use case).
- Conversation and communication support requirements for sales users and prospects. As CEB points out, customers require support for internal conversations to enroll colleagues, build a business change (why change?), or decide the new approach to solve the business problem (how to change).
- Situation-ready information — to provide additional support. For example, this can be to set up a productive conversation, as well as post call follow up. Prospects might need deeper explanations, further education, stories or examples and proof points that don’t fit the time allotted for live conversations. This content can also be shared with the extended B2B buying team.
- To complete the process decide on content priorities. Review with key stakeholders to determine which assets will be funded and which will be road mapped or not created.
- Develop a Content Brief for each asset. This provides explicit guidance to creative content developers. Without a robust brief they can’t understand how each asset should be designed and developed to support sales communications in the specific context and purpose in which that content will be used. (See Content Jobs to Be Done.)
Late Night TV Show Guest
Consider guests who are invited to appear on late night TV talk shows. Do they just show up and wing it? It might seem that way. Most of these conversations appear relaxed and informal, like two old friends talking.
However, guests have a lot at stake from these “important and challenging conversations.” Audience decisions to attend a show, movie or make a purchase will be based on the guest’s performance. Quality conversations that create entertainment value for audiences, will also impact the brands of both the guest and the show.
These conversations are not left to the host to figure out. Guests literally design the specific conversation. They provide the host with the equivalent of a Content Brief. This literally puts both parties on the same page. It prepares each to have a great exchange and create value for their “customer” — the audience.
Just like sales conversations, these aren’t scripted. They’re designed. This allows both parties to have fun, even become extemporaneous, while keeping conversations within the allotted “air time.”
Of course there’s more to getting the contentS of sales content right. But without the right design point to define context, even great contentS risks not being relevant or appropriate for specific buyers and sales situations.
For a level deeper model for creating content see Objectives Based Content Strategy Framework
A critical but mostly missing category of situation-ready sales content is support for internal customer conversations. If the ideas in this article resonate you will want to share and discuss them with your colleagues. As both an example and resource, I offer Sales Content Design Point – Conversation Support. This page contains the graphics from above, as well as additional related content that may be added from time to time.