If you sell the way you did 10 years ago, you don’t need a sales content strategy. There’s little strategy required to tell people about your company, products, features — just don’t forget those benefit statements!
But if you’ve truly adopted a customer-centered sales philosophy you know you have new requirements.
The new realities of selling to self-educating, digital era buyers has made having the right information an essential tool for sales professionals. The right content addresses every key buyer decision point throughout the customer engagement process. The importance and complexity of this requirement demands a strategy.
Sales people need content to sell
In B2B sales, especially a complex, considered or value sale, sales people still generate most of their sales “leads.” They develop virtually all sales opportunities.
As it is for marketers, content is essential to capture prospect attention and generate interest. For sales people, tracking prospect content consumption indicates interest, intent and timing. Content is needed to get into more customer conversations.
Digital era buyers want to conduct research to prepare for conversations with vendor reps. In supporting this desire, sales people “earn the right” to a conversation, often ahead of competitors.
The right sales content can eradicate three costly and inefficient selling behaviors:
- The four-legged sales call (or more) where subject experts are required to deliver important but complex information
- “I’ll have to get back to you on that” — when the above aren’t present
- The BIG DEMO — often too early in the sales process, with effectiveness diluted by too many stakeholders and competing agendas. Demo snippets in content that demonstrate important points, in targeted ways, delivered at the right time, and shared with other stakeholders, are a much more effective selling technique.
While conversations are the foundation of professional B2B selling, complex and important information must be supported by content. Content improves conversations that must be shared with other stakeholders. Examples include: explaining and proving the cost of current state business problems (why change), customer education elements (or unlearning as CEB calls it), explaining and proving value.
But using content to sell is a new sales competency. Sales information and content strategy must also define the training and support requirements to enable sales reps to execute effectively.
Sales people aren’t getting the information and content they need
This isn’t just an issue of “findability.” This is about information and content that’s required but not available when it’s needed. It’s also about existing information that doesn’t adequately meet the selling task.
This research from CSO Insights is among many that highlight important content areas that need improvement. We often find sales organizations aren’t fully aware of their needs until they occur. In this list are the top categories of content reps report need improvement.
Marketing people don’t know how to create content for sales
Not all marketing content is effective sales content. Marketing people know how to create marketing content. Most marketers believe the content they create is sufficient for sales people. They believe the problem is lack of awareness and access by sales. This is a debilitating misunderstanding.
Most marketing content addresses the first two buying stages.
This content can be useful to sales people if they have access to all the elements required to effectively use it: emails that link to landing pages that offer situation appropriate content. Seldom is content packaged this way and delivered to sales reps for easy use.
Marketers lack models and specifications to guide sales content development.
Effective content is developed on purpose. This requires a clear understanding of key sales use cases. You must know the purpose or “job” for which sales people and their customers want content at each engagement point. Sales people want to accomplish sales outcomes. Buyers want answers to specific questions. They want information that supports stage specific decisions.
When we initially assess our client’s “buyer journey” maps, we often find they don’t provide the information and insight required to inform useful sales content for each stage or party.
By way of example, here are important yet often missing sales content assets:
- Conversation starters
- Questions and problem diagnostic, analysis guidelines
- Visual support for key conversations (not presentations)
- Content that supports internal customer conversations when sales people aren’t present
- Inventory of facts, research results and quotations related to key topics and points
- Proof points for both business problems and solution approaches
- Sales presentation versions for key scenarios
Without an appreciation for the context in which sales content will be used, it’s difficult to get the contentS right. Content isn’t properly focused. It doesn’t connect with what occurred previously or comes next. It isn’t in the right form or formats:
- Text — micro (social posts), short (stories, explanations, examples), long (case studies)
- Audio / video
Effective content is relevant to each situation, purpose and audience. This inevitably requires some degree of tailoring. An example of this is the high use of PowerPoint. Sales people require content they can edit and configure before delivering so it’s relevant to each engagement’s objective. This should apply to most sales content including customer stories, case studies and videos for example.
While content requirements should be reviewed with the sales organization, often sales people aren’t much help proactively defining sales content requirements. They don’t think about or define use cases and detailed content specifications required to create effective content.
Poor or missing information and content has an adverse business impact
Top business objectives that are adversely impacted include new customer acquisition, win rates, and sales productivity. Sales productivity and efficiency significantly impacts selling costs.
Despite most company’s limited ability to measure direct impact of content on sales performance, we have third party research and sales people assessments as initial measurement proxies.
“Our research shows poor content cuts the likelihood of a vendor making the shortlist by 30%.”
Content gets sales people in the game: Information-enabled, self-researching buyers create the new reality that “content” is our first product. Content helps us find and get found by interested prospects.
Information and content is essential for building customer relationship and trust:
“Content is the foundation of almost any other sales enablement service.
Overall, there is a significant correlation between the effectiveness of customer-facing content and the level of relationships that can be achieved with customers.
Content matters. Content in context matters even more.
Content must become a sales force’s strategic imperative and a number one priority on every sales leader’s agenda.
Highly effective customer-facing content that covers the entire customer’s journey is a must-have ingredient to remain successful in an ever-changing, buyer-driven world.”
Easy access to the right information and content improves sales productivity and efficiency.
Numerous studies indicate B2B sales people spend between 20 and 30% of their time finding and creating content. On average B2B sales people spend 35% of their time in active selling with buyers.
Some content preparation is necessary. But if your sales people are spending time creating original content, rather than configuring existing content, the result is poor, single use content AND lower sales productivity.
The reality is probably worse if your sales people forego content because it doesn’t exist or they can’t find it.
Market Realities and Sales Information and Content Strategy
New, digital era realities begin with the “fact” that from our buyer’s perspectives, we’re all selling in a sea of highly commoditized products and services. Even our high value solutions are perceived this way.
Information plays a key role in the strategy of leading companies to use the way they sell to differentiate their sales people, offers and company. Their sales people use content to create value for prospects even before they become a customer.
Content Reasons for Sales Content Strategy
So isn’t this marketing’s responsibility?
Only partially. My cynical response however is, “how’s that working for you?”
This endeavor must be collaborative with marketing. We can no longer even consider, let alone operate marketing and sales as separate, siloed functions.
Content should be created primarily because you have something useful to say and people want to hear. This means you need what CEB in their Challenger Customer book calls “commercial insights.”
Insights involve helping customers see and understand their business in important but different ways. They are differentiating factors. But they aren’t invented by sales people. They are the by-product of a well-developed sales and marketing content strategy.
For guidance on how to develop a sales content strategy please see B2B Sales Information and Content Strategy.