Connecting Content Marketing to Sales

How to use content marketing for improved sales enablement is a big discussion point among sales and marketing leaders. Most B2B companies rely on selling by direct sales teams to generate a large percentage of their revenues. For these companies, improving sales performance is a critical business objective, and sales enablement alongside the use of social media is seen as the best method for delivering company revenue goals.

When executed correctly, sales enablement has the involvement of both marketing and sales. Content marketing resources such as research articles, whitepapers, e-books, testimonials, video content and case studies plays a vital role in sales enablement. The marketing department are the ones usually tasked with creating the content assets.

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Does your sales team understand your content strategy?

Research shows there can be a mismatch between the content that marketing produces and the content the sales people need to progress their sales opportunities. The findings included that:

  • Only fifty four percent of sales people and sixty five percent of sales managers understand their company’s content marketing strategy.
  • While 65 percent of sales people and seventy four percent of sales managers say the content their company publishes is valuable to their customers.
  • However, a full fifty two percent of sales people and forty three percent of managers say the content their company publishes helps improve sales effectiveness.

The results show that nearly 50% of sales people do not understand the content strategy. So what is the issue?

b2b-buyers-decision

Lack of Smarketing!! As sales and marketing are not aligned on how a buyer buys. They probably have not mapped out the buyer’s journey together leading to disconnects between the two teams. In fact Forrester reported that one-third of B2B marketing leaders acknowledge that their biggest problem is figuring out how to serve up appropriate content to specific buyers when the time is right.

In your business do sales and marketing define the buyer’s journey differently? Marketing may have segmented the buyer’s journey into 5 or 6 stages.

.Apart from some buying signals on social media (some social selling tools are starting to monitor early stage indicators of buyers journey), most companies see the buyer when they are about to exit the awareness stage and enter the consideration stage. At this point the buyer starts to identify the right people with the answers on how to solve their challenges. They are actively looking for solutions and are self educating by accessing content to help make informed decisions. They are socially active on the social media networks, reading articles, downloading reports, looking for research and interacting with different forms of content to shape their next movement in the buying process.

Social selling engagement and marketing technology can assist a business with this stage to understand and track buyers who are downloading and interacting with your content.

Now buyers move to engage with vendor partners, they will subtly seek out relationships with a select few, ones that can help solve the problems the buyer has identified as being critical.

According to IDC, 75% of B2B buyers use social media to research vendors. The majority of buyers are researching online where they should find you (as a sales individual who they value) and most likely your competitors. The research shows they are looking at product features, reviews, testimonials, pricing and company information. – Source: IDC’s Social Buying Meets Social Selling: How Trusted Networks Improve the Purchase Experience

The buyer has most likely now consumed enough content and the content produced from the companies which have proved they can provide the solutions to the challenges they face.

At the final stage, the buyer will choose a vendor as their preference with maybe one other as backup. If any business is waiting until the vendor engagement stage (which marketing may own up to now) then opportunities are being missed. Forrester has shown that 74% of B2B buyers conduct more than half of their research online before talking to a salesperson. If the content marketing strategy and sales enablement (social selling as an example) do not create value early enough and help guide the buyers journey then potential new customers are being missed.

You can bet that if the sales force feels disconnected from the marketing team, it also goes the other way. The marketing department can be frustrated that the sales teams are not sharing enough content. Maybe the reason is that marketing and sales have not had the conversations to figure out what type of content the buyers respond to at certain points of engagement. Marketing can only produce content to support the revenue goals if they understand the buyer’s journey.

Sales and Marketing Alignment is the solution

Create a revenue team, where sales and marketing come together and developed a unified version of the buyer’s’ journey. Segment the content tactics to mirror your sales pipeline and buyer’s journey. ACD content marketing focuses the type of content created to match the three stages in customer acquisition. These are Awareness, Consideration and Decision.

Awareness content: This is mapped to the buyers why (Why do I have a problem?). This type of content is aimed at top of the funnel where the prospect acknowledges that there is a potential problem that needs a solution.

Consideration content: This reflects the buyers how (How should I solve this?)  Where by consuming more information they have identified what that problem is and who could maybe solve it.

Decision content: Getting the buyer to identify the “who.”(Who has proven they could solve this) They have defined their ideal solution strategy and who they will engage with based on relevancy of data they have accessed.

By mapping the ACD content strategy on the buyers “why” and the “how” will give the sales team earlier opportunities to engage with prospects.

By aligning sales and marketing as a revenue team they can work together to create content that is relevant to buyers to match what stage they are at. The power in connecting content marketing and marketing to sales will create powerful assets that the buyer truly values.

B2B Sales Techniques for a Digital World

The buyer’s journey is changing sales models and how B2B sales teams sell. Sales 2.0 as a sales technique has been around nearly ten years now but still many companies struggle to embrace it. If you are in B2B sales then Forester projects that over the next four years, 1 million B2B sales people will be replaced by self-service e-commerce. Those that want to have a long term career in sales will have to up-skill and move away from transactional selling while companies will have to embrace a sales model along with sales processes that adds value to the buyer’s journey.

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One Million US B2B Salespeople Will Lose Their Jobs to Self-Service e-commerce by 2020

The reality is (and numerous research proves it) that increasingly B2B buyers prefer to research solutions online plus then conclude the cycle by buying the products and services via the web. How many companies still insist buyers to engage with their sales teams as part of the buying process? Maybe it’s time for sales leaders to transform the historical sales models, one which facilitates a highly social, seamless buying environment where maybe the website and not the sales teams are at the heart of how companies procure and sell.

So are B2B sales dying? Absolutely not but it does mean we have to recalibrate our view of the sales process and what it means to be a sales professional. The sales funnel is no longer being calibrated and decided by sales as the buyers decides where they are in the process. The good news is that a company’s potential customer base is bigger than ever, thanks to social media, the web and accessibility of communication paths to buyers.

Sales needs to rethink where and how to add value in the buying process, when and with what should sales people engage with the buyer so it improves the buyers journey are critical questions coming down the line. The old sales methodologies of marketing bringing in leads for the sales funnel where sales would then commence the process to qualify prospects based on some internal criteria to narrow down the focus to the most likely to convert to customers is disappearing.

It just does not work like that any more. Buyers are not travelling a journey prescribed in some sales manual or CRM system; they are taking their own journey and leaving sales models in the rear view mirror. But the key message for sales here is NOT about catching up (more sales training anyone) with the buyer’s journey but where along the road can we add value. It is about the buyer needing information, resources, guidance, advice and help depending where they are on the journey,

Below are some suggestions on what it will take to be successful in sales for the road ahead and to add value to the buyer in their journey

b2b-buyers journey

CONTENT TIMING IS VITAL AS BUYERS MOVE ALONG THE ROAD.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, 80% of decision makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus advertisements

A recent report from Forrester showed that over 33% of B2B marketers acknowledge that their biggest problem is figuring out how to deliver relevant content to specific buyers when the time is right. I recently wrote about “How to Use Content Marketing the ACD way” which may be worth reading.

IF OVER 66% OF THE BUYER’S JOURNEY IS DIGITAL, MAKE SURE YOU ARE WELL ROAD SIGNED.

If you read up on new sales methodologies or social selling, you have probably read that 67% of the buyer’s journey happens before sales ever get involved. Well this does not have to come true. Yes buyers are doing research online before contacting sales, so smart sales teams should position themselves as helpful signs or stopping of points along the way. Social selling, credible social presence, inviting and quality (even personalised) content will help flag you to buyer’s as they travel in search of solutions.

BUYERS TRUST OTHER TRAVELLERS ALONG THE JOURNEY, SO SALES CANNOT BE STRANGERS HITCHING A LIFT AT THE SIDE OF THE ROAD.

Research shows that only approx. nine percent of B2B buyers trust vendor content especially when it comes to data and claims. So they look for independent signs and also they trust information that comes from people they trust: valued social influencers, social network connections, ex-colleagues and friends. Sales has to work hard to get trust by offering valued contributions, staying in touch with existing buyers and sharing information that helps even when it’s not your own. Avoid the big neon signs about special offers, free coffee for everyone and buy today. Seek first to understand (where is the buyer on the journey) and then let the buyer be understood (what do they expect). A socially engaged sales mentality is a must.

INVITING THE BUYER IN WITH GENUINE HOSPITALITY WILL BE THE MOST PRODUCTIVE.

This is not an outbound V inbound argument, outbound sales will always have a place, it’s just about deciding where to place it! Day was when only cold calling and mass broadcasting was the only way for companies to talk to buyers. Sales 2.0 along with social media have flipped this on its head. In an Aberdeen Group report, they found that on average, the most successful sales firms got sixty percent of marketing leads from outbound marketing, while forty percent came through inbound efforts. However the inbound leads converted at a higher rate. The lesson here is these firms used content and not sales pitches to invite the buyer in regardless of whether outbound or inbound. Be a trusted, helpful resource to the buyer along the journey and not interrupting them is the way to get the attention of buyers.

buyer-stages

SALES AND MARKETING ALIGNMENT

Finally, one last thought. On the buyer’s journey, sales, marketing and customer service are seen as a single entity. The term “Smarketing” has been thrown into the mix as a means to convey that sales, marketing and customer service have to collaborate more closely. All departments working as one will create a deeper understanding of the journey a customer takes to engage with your company.

In the socially connected, social media business world, everything moves at a faster pace and this is driven by the buyer. Any business that hopes to get the attention of the traffic on buyers road then they must understand where the potential buyers are coming from, what they demand along the way, and be wherever they need you to be with the right service.

Social Selling Training

As someone is involved with social selling training I am often asked about best practices including how to engage with a prospect for the first time. Let me start by introducing The 5 C’s of social selling. Credibility, Connecting, Content, Conversations and Conversions.

social-selling-training

Next it is important to understand that social selling is a process not an event. There are more networks than LinkedIn to target plus there are rarely short cuts to building value and trust with potential customers. True engagement via social media networks is like building the pieces of a jigsaw, the customer see’s the picture being built (with content sharing and participation) and then once they see the full picture (lead nurturing) you are now in a position to commence the sales phase, also known as customer consideration and decision.

Here are a few tips I would like to share.

THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER IN SOCIAL SELLING = VALUE.

To me, the most important thing is always provide VALUE to your potential customers and social network.

Social Selling is a game changer because it allows sales people to interact with buyers exactly where they are doing their research – online. Due to the change in the buyer’s journey and self-educational content being published online, sticking with old sales models and techniques is no longer an option. If buyers do not see the value a business or sales person can bring (credibility), they will simply move on to someone who will.

However, if a sales person goes our way to help the buyer through their journey from research, awareness to consideration with content and helpful conversations, they will have presented themselves and their company as a partner to potentially do business with. Therefore, always strive to provide to your social network and prospects.

SO HOW DO WE “PROVIDE VALUE”?

Well, providing value to people simply means being helpful.

At a detailed level, providing value on the social networks can be separated into a series of helpful actions (sharing content and information, engaging in conversations etc) so buyers come to acknowledge the sharer, which overtime gives sales people a deeper understanding of the buyer’s profile. Sharing is about giving freely really useful information on an area of interest, market trends, latest research or vendor whitepapers including the competition. It could be facilitating the introduction to someone the buyer might benefit knowing. Another share could be to notify them or a group to a webinar, event or briefing that would be beneficial for them to attend. These are just a few examples of how sales people can provide value to contacts and connections on an on-going basis (stay visible).

In my experience, the best social sellers are the ones who follow the 5C’s which is supported by doing research and being creative. Let’s say that during your research you see “snowboarding” in the interests section of one of your prospect’s profile, try sharing a cool snowboarding video with some text (could snowboarders be better business people) to a group or directly to the prospect. You could make a lasting impression, create awareness and establish credibility.

social-selling-mantra

HOW SHOULD I REQUEST A LINKEDIN CONNECTION TO A PROSPECT?

Connecting is the 2nd C in the 5C’s of social selling. Before we discuss how one should request a LinkedIn connection, let us state what you should not do.

1 Never send a generic connection request to a prospect

2. Never include a sales pitch or mention your product/services in a connection request

None of the above will start your business relationship off on the right footing. Why not try a conversational approach. Using a casual tone just let the prospect know that you understand they have in interest in “abc” and you are available if ever they need information in your area of expertise. The only goal here is to maximise the chance of the prospect becoming a first degree connection. Doing so makes conversations, content sharing and building credibility easier as you set out on a conversion journey with the buyer.

Provide content and value:

Providing Context – Why is this prospect getting sent a connection request? Did they look at your profile, like or comment on some content you shared? Do you both share mutual connections?

Providing Value – People buy from experts, so position yourself as a valuable source on information for some specific topics.

The request text might read like this:

“Dear [NAME],

Thanks for looking at my profile and commenting on the article I shared in [name of group]. If you ever require information on [area of expertise], feel free to use me as a resource for whitepapers and research.

Kind Regards,

[NAME]”

When it comes to connecting, if you do not have some real context, then do not send a connection request. It is better to nurture the prospect through Content and Conversations to build up your Credibility prior to requesting a connection.

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SHOULD I WRITE AN EMAIL TO A PROSPECT?

Surely Social Selling has nothing to do with emailing a prospect I hear you say. Believe it or not but social selling and email prospecting can go hand-in-hand. You see, we now know that social selling provides us with a new way to engage with buyers AND it also provides insights into their social media lives. Some buyers are socially aware and others are socially active. These insights can be used to decide if the prospect fits your ideal customer profile alongside how to engage with them. Thanks to B2B lead generation tools, a prospects email address can be easily acquired so combining social selling with a warm emails can increase your chances of receiving a positive reply. .

As the buyers journey has changed It is important to interact with the prospect where they are active online whether that is LinkedIn or elsewhere. If the prospect is not active on social media then no point trying to engage them there, so sometimes trying the more traditional methods of communications such as an email or phone call can work better.

There is so much more to social selling, feel free to contact me regarding training workshops or comment on your own training tips.

How to Use Content Marketing the ACD way.

Many companies struggle in how to use content marketing to drive their sales or business upwards. No big surprise as today’s buyer is more educated and savvy than ever. Smart marketing leaders know that traditional marketing methods are becoming less and less effective by the day, so turning to social media and content marketing as a means to drive traffic and leads makes sense . In fact social media/online advertising will overtake traditional advertising this year, posing opportunities and challenges for many companies.

But social media and content marketing is not the same thing. Yes they do operate hand in glove with each other however one is focused on “consumption” while the other is based on “participation”.  The goal of content is audience consumption, while social media is all about audience participation.

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According to the Content Marketing Institute, 80% of decision makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus advertisements.

So think of content as a beautifully prepared meal that people want to consume, social media as the room where they sit talking about the lovely meal they just have eaten and social networking is how you make people aware of your food in the first place.  They key to using content marketing is to create different meals aka content themes (chicken dinners become boring after a while) to keep people coming back for more. The same way we create different meals for different times of the day or weather, we also need to vary our content according to the different stages our prospective buyers are at.

I call this

ACD Content Marketing   

I believe your content tactics should mirror both your company stage of development and your sales pipeline. ACD content marketing focuses the type of content created to match the three stages in customer acquisition. These are Awareness, Consideration and Decision.

Awareness Content

Awareness content is heavily SEO focused, a new business or one targeting a set of keywords for Google traffic will create allot of this type of content. It is aimed at potential buyers whom have no previous awareness or interaction with your business. The goal here is using keyworded content to get searched and seen by as many people as possible. Themes for awareness content include such titles as – how to, tips on, a guide to etc.

Awareness Content is served up on:

  • Social Media Sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Instagram, YouTube etc.
  • Posted on Blogs – Medium, WordPress, LinkedIn Pulse and Blogger.
  • Published to your own Website and Landing Pages
  • As presentations on Slideshare or Learnist.
  • Visuals (including Infographics) on Visual.ly or Imgur.
  • SEO link building to places like Scoop.it, Quora, Pearltrees.

This type of content is usually on-going as a business targets new keywords or sets of customers. It is important to capture their interest via newsletter or update sign-ups. Then you can now move to creating “consideration content” or content that is focused on getting customers to select you as a vendor.

Consideration Content

As you build traffic, repeat visitors, newsletter subscriptions and social network connections a business should start to blend in consideration type content into their content strategy. This is where you use content to nurture (lead nurturing) prospective customers.

The goal is to create content that will “nurturing the customer” meaning informing them on why/how your product or solutions will solve their problems. At the beginning consideration and awareness content can often be have similar traits as in keyword focused, but try to leave the SEO to aside as you progress, switching the focus on going deeper with informative and insightful content. The content is still served up on all the channels lists in the previous section plus emailed to your subscriber base.

Consideration Content should include:

  • Whitepapers
  • Research articles
  • Success Stories
  • Case Studies
  • Valid and Verifiable Customer Testimonials
  • Interviews (text and video)
  • Webinars
  • Sharing other forms of proof (reviews/awards/wins)

Decision Content

Decision content is offered to your qualified leads (sales and marketing working together) from lead nurturing them during the consideration phase. This content should be personalised, specific and introduced at the right time in the sales process. I suggest business splits decision content into “pre-close” and “post-close”. Pre-close content can be vital to closing a sale so should be planned out carefully.

Types of Pre-close Content may include:

  • Onsite or Virtual Product Demonstrations
  • Existing customer reference with detailed implementation
  • Personalised Proposal
  • Pricing Documents
  • ROI Presentations using existing customer cases

Lastly, there is the “post-close content”, this can include surveys, up-selling and cross selling content and referral requests.

Ensure you create content to welcome new customers and solicit feedback as part of your content arsenal. Also make sure to produce content templates that thank them for their purchase. Also post-close content should include sharing information on your newest products and upgrades.

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Wrapping it All

The ACD marketing method has other benefits, used correctly it can be a superb way to gather valuable insights. Content marketing is the marketing of the here and now plus the future. It will only develop in its sophistication and personalisation as the social media networks become central to sales and customer interactions. Content is the always on, 24/7 plug-in to the internet world, always there guiding your potential customers even when you are asleep. The key to to create attractive and appealing content that will be consumed by the reader that matches where they are in your sales pipeline.

The Bitter Business can help create or work with your social media marketing or content marketing strategy, helping you to understand what type of content works and which aspect of your content creation needs to be improved to deliver more traffic, more leads and more customers.

The Sales Process

The sales process is a repeatable model that a business deploys for the sales teams to follow when moving a buyer from being a prospect, to a qualified lead and on to a paying customer.  This is an introduction to defining what is process could look like for your company.

sales-process

A sales process could be split into segments such as Knowledge, Research and Sales.

Knowledge

Product features and benefits  – Competition

Research

Define target market – Ideal Customer Profile – Sales intelligence on prospects

Sales

Prospecting/Social Selling/Lead Generation
Connecting
Presenting
Closing
Continuation

While the “Sales” element is the implementation aspect of a sales process, incorporating Knowledge and Research ensures a more holistic approach to customer acquisition. The below is a condensed version of how a sales process  template might look.

TYPICAL STEPS IN THE SALES PROCESS

Prospecting

This is the 1st step and involves finding new leads or “lead generation”. Prospecting is based on the research you have completed into potential buyers. Now using this information the sales teams use social selling, content sharing, social networking and any data to tee up the prospect prior to connecting.  Prospecting is not a smash and grab event, it may take weeks or months to build up enough influence with a buyer before a connection is made.

Connecting

This step entails initiating a contact with the set of prospects the sales person has teed up as to understand their business, uncover needs, gather more information, see if a product to prospect fit exists and gauge their potential to move up down the sales pipeline. This step may be played out over several conversations and may include site visits, free trials, free samples, product demonstrations and proof of concepts prior to moving down the pipeline to the presenting step.

Presenting

This step is about formally presenting your proposal or solution. It can include some sort of buyer urgency lever in certain situations. In value based or consultative selling this step can be time consuming, so it should positioned deep into the sales process for well qualified prospects. This step also covers off any objections, hurdles or customer policy adherence. Again, this step may take time and repeated interactions to conclude.

Closing

This step is involves buyer realisation of opting for your offering, concluding any final negotiations or pricing and buy-in of all decision makers.  It most companies it concludes with a Purchase order, signed order or contract.

Sales Process is Different from Sales Methodology

Now that we have covered off the “sales process”, I want to introduce the phrase “sales methodology”. Sales process is different from methodology and here is why.

The sales process (what to do) refers to mapping out specific steps, criteria and list of actions that a sales person must follow including updating the sales pipeline, in acquiring a paying customer.

The sales methodology (how to do it) is the approach or framework given to the sales team via training on how each step in the sales process is expected to be carried out.

Nearly every company needs both, a strong sales process and a sales team trained on the sales methodology which has been proven to deliver success.

sales-process-methodology

Examples of Sales Methodologies

Solution Selling

Solution selling has been around for over 30 years, this method involves needs discovery which then focuses on the customer’s pain points ahead of promoting the company’s products. Products are instead framed as solutions, and emphasis is placed on achieving agreement on what a resolution of the customers’ pain would look like.

Consultative Selling

This method grew out of solution selling, it differs in that consultative selling is centred on the sales person positioning themselves as a “trusted advisor” to the buyer, the premise being that they will gain authority and trust as time goes by in the buyers journey towards a purchase.

The Challenger Sale method

The Challenger Sale method is taken from a book of the same name.  The book outlines some five types of sales peoples profiles, the hard worker, the relationship builder, the problem solver, the lone wolf, and the challenger. The challenger profile was the one matched to high performance in sales. The challenger is characterised by a willingness to invest in learning about a buyers business, then to challenge the customer on their preconceptions (technology adaption, product match, ideal solution) during the sales process.

Social Selling

Social selling can be seen both as a sales model and methodology. It continues to rise in popularity alongside the rapid evolvement of the buyers journey from “being educated” to “self educated”. While not strictly selling, this method is weighted to driving up prospect engagement (with content, white papers, social conversations) by first creating great awareness and then getting buyers to consider the company. This acts as a prelude to direct customer connection.

Sales is a Process, Not an Event

Implementing a sales process with clear steps should result in:

Improved Outcomes. When carried out via a series of set actions, outcomes will improve leading to sales and higher margins.

Repeatable Activity. All sales activities should be repeated and repeatable to obtain the same desired outcome by any sales person time and time again.

Measurable Results. All outcomes that can be measured and compared

Relevant to All. A well mapped out sales process can be duplicated for other units or divisions.

Just having a documented sales process in place will not guarantee anything. Just like looking at someone’s LinkedIn doesn’t lead to a hot lead. Proper and repeated use is what makes the difference.

Regardless of the sales process steps or even the sales methodology you deploy as a company, success in sales hangs on two key locks, the ability to establishing real credibility and the ability to build trust with the buyers. Once your sales model is set up to achieve these two things then revenue will get generated. As buyers are now social in nature (and become digital natives) it is important to understand their journey. It is now all about the buyer as they are in control; they know what they want and when they want it. The key for sales leaders is to make sure that the sales organisations and sales training processes are in line with the buyers signals and expectations.