This article was also published in the June 2014 edition of Top Sales World Magazine

Selling is a Series of Conversations – Underpinned by Content

If you are in the sales, sales enablement, product management or product marketing, you know that a B2B sale is really a series of human to human conversations with different buying constituents across the buying cycle, from the first touch on the Website, to contract closure.

  • Conversations that must be supported by buyer-relevant content.
  • Content presented in the context of where the buyer is in their journey and the value buyers derive from using products, (not features and benefits).
  • Content that underpins consultative “point of view” discussions for disruptive technologies and enables “why-change” conversations and presentations early in the buying process, as well as the “why-me” conversations at the business-end of the buying process.

This article seeks to address two content-related problems

  1. Evolving from an artisanal content development approach
  2. Creating content that gets used to support sales conversations that create value for buyers in context of their stage in their buying process

Symptoms of a Content Problem?

IDC suggests that marketers and sales enablement professionals struggle to create relevant content and get it adopted and used by salespeople and despite best efforts, up to 80% of marketing created content is never used by salespeople.

When I refer to sales and marketing content, I mean:

  • Proof points,
  • Capabilities,
  • Positioning & differentiation,
  • Buyer personas,
  • Sales-ready messaging templates,
  • Call prompters,
  • Presentations,
  • Sales solicitations,
  • Follow-up letters,
  • Blog-posts,
  • PR and Lead-gen campaigns,
  • Videos & Infographics,
  • EBooks and Whitepapers

This week, I asked a sales enablement leader in Europe the following question: “How do you rate the quality of the content your sales team is using to support conversations across the buying cycle, from the first call through to call closure”?

His answer was “between 2-3/10”.

He added, “there is some very good content in the SharePoint; pdf’s, success stories, tutorials and webinars that are searchable and findable via metadata, but aside from a few successful salespeople, most salespeople are not using it”.

“Another problem we have is that salespeople are comfortable selling our low margin products, not the high margin solutions we need them to sell to grow. The issue is that adopting our type of solution is disruptive to the buyer organization and involves change and displacing an incumbent. It’s a different conversation – we are talking to business guys about how to run their operation more efficiently, not procurement and our guys are comfortable with procurement.”

This is a familiar problem and content to support conversations that create value for the buyer and enable suppliers to lead with insight and point of view is a first order objective

Why Content isn’t Used

Here is a list of the top-10 reasons I have heard in recent conversations on why content is not used by salespeople.

Please feel free to add your reasons in the comments:

  1. I couldn’t find it (this is usually close to the top of the list)
  2. The content wasn’t usable and it was quicker to hack-it.
  3. I didn’t have time to look for it on the sales portal
  4. What I need is probably there, but I have to find the right document and cut and paste what I need and that takes too long.
  5. Our salespeople will not use Salesforce and it’s all in there
  6. The stuff in the portal is out of date and there is too much duplication
  7. It’s too product-centric
  8. It’s not relevant for our market
  9. I’ve got all of my own stuff and don’t use the marketing material
  10. It’s all product and I need to help buyers understand why they need to change

Content Creation as an Operational Discipline

I asked Jim Burns, CEO of Avitage, a 20-year content creation specialist, for his view on the changes needed to evolve content creation from today’s problematic artisanal approach.

“Customer-facing content must be pre-produced so it’s ready the instant it’s needed. This requires preparation and planning. The sales organization must requisition content based upon specific use case requirements. Content specifications should be documented much the way new product specifications are documented.

This allows subject experts and production specialists, who do not know why content is needed, how it will be used, and what it must accomplish from a communication perspective, to know how to create it.”

Listen to a 5 minute deeper explanation streaming audio.

An intuitive content delivery platform is required where salespeople don’t have to invest any effort to find, use and reuse the content they need.

Content Helps Drive Transitions in the Buying Process

The IMPACT B2B buying cycle (see fig.1) from the book, Why Killer Products Don’t Sell, by Ian Gotts and Dominic Rowsell is an acronym that describes buyer behavior and what actually goes on in the B2B buying organization.

Armed with this knowledge, we can create marketing content to engage, build awareness and proof for our “ideal customer” and create sales content to facilitate the conversations and formal communication that help drive transitions in the buying process.

Buy Cycle Marketing and Sales Content

Summary and Take-aways.

If you are struggling with the “content problem” and would like to learn more about setting up a structured content publishing system as part of a strategy to operationalize content management, you are invited to view this on-demand series of short content-process-videos. (no sign-up)

You will quickly recognize the value in a methodology, set of disciplines and enabling technology platform that creates potential to move content development from a silo’ed craft-industry to an operational process.

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