Part IV: Attributes of Effective Sales Content
In today’s market, buyers have already done much of their preliminary research before they even
contact your sales force. In fact, it’s estimated that more than 70 percent of B2B buyers fully define their
needs before engaging with a sales representative, and half of B2B buyers have already made up their
mind before they speak to a sales person. Most buyers today are highly educated about your product’s
features and how it compares to other potential offerings even before the first contact with your sales
force, so the sales force must be able to add value through more detailed and specific information that
relates directly to the target customer’s specific challenges or potential benefits.
The sales force must be equipped to have conversations with business leaders about the value and benefits of a product. It’s not enough to talk about features and hope the customer understands the benefit to them. The sales force and every piece of content at their disposal must draw a straight line from the product to a business challenge and the benefit of addressing that challenge with the sales rep’s product. Discussions on a business level help establish the rep as a valued partner with equal stature to the company’s executives rather than a mere order taker.
Effective sales content helps the sales force to move a deal through subsequent stages of the sales process with this focused, demonstrated value. Effective sales enablement content achieves this demonstrated value through all of the following attributes.
Ineffective collateral describes features without providing a compelling reason for the customer to act, while effective sales enablement content helps the salesperson to move the deal to the next stage in the selling process.
For customers, effective content must provide new insight or thought-provoking ideas that challenge preconceived notions. Effective content may create this perceived value using customer stories, advancing new ideas through thought-leadership or showing subject matter expertise that is useful to the customer. When the customer does not perceive value in the salesperson or the content, they may avoid meetings or disregard content because they consider it a waste of their most valuable resource – time.
For sales reps, valuable content provides them with a reason to contact the customer, cross sell a product or a compelling value statement that creates a reason for the customer to act. It enables them to move the sales process along and helps to cement a relationship with the customer that positions the rep as a trusted advisor or valued peer rather than a mere order taker.
Sales content must be constructed such that it can be leveraged and reused across multiple channels and delivery media. It should be customizable to address the needs of specific target buyers with specific challenges or needs.
Just as web advertising is often constructed on the fly using CMS systems to deliver precisely targeted messages, the best sales enablement collateral delivers exactly the right message for a specific persona at the exact point in the sales process when they are ready to hear and receive the message.
Making content reusable helps to reduce the cost of producing assets while simultaneously improving the effectiveness of the content. Content and messages can be created once and used and distributed in countless ways. For example, some companies have had success by creating content that sales reps can easily personalize by adding a unique message. This might take the form of adding a personalized introduction to a canned video or using content in webinars and at trade shows.
Reusability could also take the form of message or content “snippets” that can be readily combined to create customized collateral. The same concept could even be applied to traditional content such as slides for a presentation. By using a library of slides cross-indexed by target persona, role, industry, challenge, benefit and sales stage, a rep can quickly assemble a concise presentation that encompasses exactly the right tone and message for a client meeting. Multiple spec sheets representing various products or configurations could be combined into a single data packet, or several video vignettes could become an engaging showcase of customer successes or endorsements.
Customers prefer to do much of their research on their own without relying on the sales force to present information and guide them through the process. When they have access to engaging content and collateral, they will use it to educate themselves about the product. However, if the sales rep is unaware that the customer has accessed content, a major opportunity to connect or reconnect with the prospect may slip by.
Reps need the ability to provide access to the specific content that matches the customers need and sales cycle stage, but the rep also needs visibility to know when the prospect has accessed the content. It is also helpful to know how long the prospect spent with the piece and if they downloaded it, forwarded it to other members of the organization or just took a cursory look at it. This knowledge enables them to create a strategy for their next contact with the prospect and can provide extremely valuable insight.
No matter how good the content is, if the sales force can’t find it when they need it, that content will remain unused. Any resources put into creating content are wasted without an effective content management system that helps to identify and serve the right collateral for a particular situation.
A content repository should have the ability to provide secure access to users inside the firewall, such as a company’s own sales force, and to users outside the firewall such as customers and prospects. Users today have little patience for paper brochures and data sheets, so enabling them to browse and research the offering on their own time is a better solution.
In addition, an accessible online content management system / content repository allows the sales rep to orchestrate and curate collateral to meet a specific buyer’s needs. Targeted content that addresses the user by role or by industry, for example, is much more effective that any general purpose content. In addition, sending a prospect to a personalized, curated page to learn about the product is often perceived as a value added activity performed by the rep on the prospect’s behalf.
However, before the rep can orchestrate these customized content portals, they must be able to find and identify the appropriate collateral. All content should be tagged with data or metadata that identifies the appropriate persona and sales stage. In addition, providing the ability for the rep to personalize the curated content collection with a unique message or greeting amplifies the impact with little additional cost or effort. Other ways to make content findable include embedding links in QR codes, sales materials or articles as well as websites. All content should be searchable, version controlled and up to date. It must be compliant with all branding guidelines, include the latest features, have up to date messaging and if it references pricing, it must be the most current pricing.
Responsive and engaging
Content must be easy to understand and to use. It must be up to date, easy to digest, conform to branding guidelines and be available from any device at any time. Unless content is engaging and useful, customers and prospects will disregard it and it will not serve its primary purpose of advancing the sales process.
Responsive content that displays properly on any screen is also of crucial importance because Internet access via mobile devices has been exceeding access from PCs since January, 2014 according to research from Enders and published on CNN.com 4 . This percentage has been steadily increasing month by month and shows no signs of a slowdown.
One of the ways to ensure that prospects and customers find content usable is to ensure that it is targeted to their specific needs. This may mean that effective content varies by role, by industry or by a unique challenge the company faces, as well as varying by sales cycle stage.
Understanding the buying persona’s role is crucial to ensuring that content meets their needs. For example, executives differ in their interactions with products and sales people differently than individual contributors or department managers do. Collateral meant to influence an executive must address the business strategy, return on investment and overall value of an offering. It must enable the sales person to position him or herself as a peer of the executive in order to advance the sales and earn the right to communicate directly at the executive level without going through lower level gatekeepers and
People whose roles include responsibility for P&L will focus on higher level values and benefits, support for defined strategies and return on investment while end users and lower level employees will nearly always show interest in the detailed features and specifications while disregarding other considerations.
Effective collateral and sales enablement tools should not attempt to address both audiences in a single piece of collateral. Focusing on features to the exclusion of benefits will negatively affect the executive’s perception of the sales rep and the product as beneath his or her concern. Conversely, too much focus on benefits to the exclusion of detailed specifications is a turn off for users who prefer detailed feature and specification descriptions.
The important point in creating targeted sales content is to understand the goals and objectives of the targeted individuals and to ensure that the content addresses these objectives clearly, concisely and directly.
Effective content must be memorable to be truly useful. The value of your content is as much a matter of how you say something as it is about what you actually say. Not only must your message be presented in a way that appeals to your target’s needs, it must also be stated in a way that separates your offerings from those of your competitors. Either the message must be uniquely compelling or the delivery must be uniquely memorable, otherwise, the content will not move the sales process forward.
Now that you understand what makes sales content effective, stay tuned for part five to help maximize sales content effectiveness.