Content Marketing Meets Sales

The traditional sales funnel is dead – made irrelevant by instant access to analysis, opinions, and other data. Now, business teams can make smart buying decisions by researching via online channels and social media. In fact, analyst firm Sirius Decisions reports that the majority of the B2B buying process is executed via these channels prior to engaging with a sales person.

Content Marketing Supports this Shift

Yet the shift in how buyers assess purchases hasn’t stripped marketing of its power to influence. Marketing increasingly generates awareness and affects the buying process with the development and distribution of compelling business content.

That has led to a Content Marketing arms race. Vendors are rushing to produce informative and engaging content to advance prospects through to close. White papers, ROI tools, presentations, and other collateral are now being produced by vendors in incredible volumes.

And in order to deliver this content to prospects, we’ve seen the rise of marketing automation and social media tools. These technologies permit marketers to target relevant Content Marketing to prospects.

The concert between modern marketing tools, Content Marketing, and underlying analytics has led to astronomic growth for its best practitioners. Companies like Adobe, Cisco, Hubspot, Marketo, and Pardot are masters here.

Content Marketing Needs a Partner

At the same time, the shift in how buyers select solutions was supposed to lead to the vanishing of the sales team. But sales hasn’t lost its relevance, only its traditional model of selling. For important purchases, business-to-business (B2B) buyers still partner with sales people to ensure that business case development, pricing, and roll-out proceed as planned.

So, sales people will continue to be central to a B2B purchase. But their role will change. Because buyers interact less frequently with sales people, every single interaction with a prospect must be high-value. That means providing insights that help to advance the sales process and demonstrate mastery of the market.

Also, a significant component of a B2B sale consists of the development of an internal business case, sellers can help here too. They can offer up information that helps a buyer formulate a watertight justification for the solution that they want to buy.

Because of the central nature that content takes to these two activities, we need to recognize a new focus area, Content Selling. And sales organizations must take advantage of the lessons of Content Marketing to make it effective.

Welcome to Content Selling

Marketing automation tools deliver timely messages to prospects. And sales people must do the same. Humans by our nature filter out the vast bulk of information that comes our way. We have to do so to preserve our sanity. We tend to process information that is meaningful to us in the context that we are in. Think of a pizza commercial on Super Bowl Sunday, or a hotel review after you’ve booked a flight.

A similar set of context matters in B2B sales. Communicating implementation guides and best practices early in a sales cycle won’t resonate.  Sending prospecting emails that don’t speak to prospect’s specific pains will fall on deaf ears. And arriving at a client site with generic success stories will cut your meetings short.

So, a Content Selling approach allows sales teams to target relevant content to prospects. That supplements Content Marketing by the Content Selling dictate:

Content Selling enables sales people to efficiently discover, deliver, and track the effectiveness of messages that advance a sales engagement.

But there are some key challenges:

  • Content access: Content marketers are at the coal face every day, so it’s easy for them to get relevant content for Content Marketing campaigns. But sales people are often left trying to locate relevant information. Or, they use familiar content from days of yore.
  • Process efficiency: Sales teams send lots of emails to prospects. Are they using effective messaging? If template content is tough to access, use, or provides no way for sales people to improve their messaging, it’s not useful.
  • Content timeliness: When sales people are on the road or on a call, they need to pull-up and present content quickly. Most interactions are rapid-response, so Content Selling needs to reinforce speed.
  • Content relevance: Is the email, phone call, or collateral you’re communicating to a prospect aligned with their specific pains? Content Selling can’t be about “close enough” content. It needs to be the right message.

By taking a Content Selling approach, sales people can communicate with their prospects in a more targeted and resonate way. Next month I’ll take a look at the various categories of Content Selling tools that have emerged in the past 24 months to address this need.