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Sales Tools: Using Content to Support the Sales Process

Sales Tools Using Content to Support the Sales Process
Reading Time: 13 minutes

Sales Tools Using Content to Support the Sales Process

Why Content and Sales Go Hand in Hand — Your Best Sales Tools

In this post, we’re going to show you how content can be one of the best sales tools for your Sales team.

You’ll also see how companies like yours use these strategies to take their sales process to the next level.

It gets better:

All of these strategies are working GREAT right now.

Now let’s get started.

Sales vs. Marketing

Sales vs. Marketing

This is an all too common dynamic that is the bane of every CRO. The idea that the two critical arms of Marketing and Revenue Generation are at odds with each other seems out of place in our world of inbound, agile, and horizontal corporate structures…yet it manages to persist despite the rapidly changing face of business.

The reason for this might surprise you. Hint: It isn’t just a holdover from the dark days of silos, stenographers, and three-martini lunches.

This divide persists due to the fact that most companies don’t really know how to effectively create a marketing enabled sales process. Thus, the rise of one of 2018’s favorite business buzzwords: Sales Enablement.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Sales enablement works. It is a service we offer as consultants and we even structure our marketing engagements based on how we can enable our client’s Sales teams from the outset because, like it or not, Sales and Marketing are on the same team.

With that in mind, I’m going to let you in on a secret. Effective sales enablement isn’t as difficult as it seems. In fact, I’m going to give you a very simple thing you can start doing today to make your two difficult, revenue-generating children get along.

Start having your marketing group produce content as a sales tool that supports the selling process.

Seems obvious, right?

You might even think that it’s already happening in your company, but I’ll lay odds that you’re probably wrong.

As a consultant, long-time marketer, and sometimes salesman, one of my favorite questions to ask companies we work with is: “Does your marketing team produce content that helps your SDRs advance prospects toward a close?”

The answers are usually painfully different based to whom the question is addressed.

CRO: I think so.

CMO: Definitely…I mean, we make AMAZING content but I don’t know how much they really use it.

VP of Sales: Not really. We have some pieces we like, but most of them were created by our SDRs.

In-the-trenches SDR: Not at all. I don’t even know where to find that material, and I don’t have time to dig it up.

See what happened there? Pretty remarkable disconnect throughout the team.

So let’s eliminate that disconnect.

We’re going to discuss why content should be one of your sales group’s best tools.

I’m going to go into depth about the why, but after that, we’ll discuss why content as a sales tool is so vital in a B2B environment and how it looks in each phase of the buyer’s journey.

Ok. Time to get enabled.

Why Content Is So Important as a Sales Tool

Humans are natural consumers. Consumption is deep within the core of our nature and drives the majority of our interactions. However, the rise and ubiquity of social media coupled with handheld devices capable of presenting media in a convenient and enjoyable format have focused our hunger on information and entertainment in a way we couldn’t have imagined even 10 years ago.

I can hear some of my readers saying: “Yeah. Sure, but that is a marketing thing.”


Content can be your best sales tool.

The idea that content is the best way to speak to both current and prospective customers isn’t a new one. David Ogilvy was taking advertising in that direction as early as 1949 when he revolutionized campaign development by writing copy in a personal, consultative, and common voice that addressed consumers as individuals. He is called the Father of Advertising (and admittedly we marketing geeks love him) because he found a way to make a single catalog ad outperform a team of door-to-door salespeople.

He found a way to connect with people, overcome objectives, and trigger action with content. His approach worked so well that it changed the entire way companies engage with consumers…or we would still be selling items by knocking on doors with suitcases under our arms.

So now I can hear my hardened SDRs and ISRs saying: “Well yeah, but that was consumer goods. What I sell is too complex, and besides our product is B2B. Content can’t do the job in my space.”

Wrong again.

Content is even more important as a sales tool in today’s B2B environment than within the B2C ecosystem.

Why B2B Should Utilize Content as a Sales Tool

Why B2B Should Utilize Content as a Sales Tool

The complexity of your product and the sophistication of your buyers is the exact reason that B2B sales needs content more than anyone else.

The B2B sales process, because of its inherent nature, requires a longer sales cycle, targets a smaller potential client pool, has a higher purchase price, and involves multiple decision-makers. It’s a complex equation.

To address each of those obstacles requires multiple touchpoints with a prospective client to educate, consult, and address objections.

If you could cut out a few of those touchpoints with content that effectively educates, consults, or addresses objections, then you can shorten the sales cycle and progress prospects faster.

Content as a sales tool can make for faster closes, and more prospects in the pipeline sound good.

The next reason has more to do with how the sales process has evolved than who you’re targeting.

The traditional B2B “sales funnel” is a thing of the past. Since the emergence of the internet gave birth to the hyper-educated buyer, sales have been evolving from a predictable linear model to a much more diverse and jumbled path.

The new, messier, path requires marketers to consistently remind prospective clients of a B2B brand through relevant, new content on an increasing number of platforms. That is really the true nature of “content marketing.”

Marketers are using content to jog memories and cultivate a relationship with prospects at each point on that wandering journey. All that happens before you get the MQL, but why do you think it stops in the SQL phase?

Let me put it to you another way.

When I work with Sales and Marketing teams to accelerate growth and eliminate leaky funnels and pipelines, one thing I like to get a sense of is why a prospect doesn’t become a close.

Seems obvious right?

Sadly, it’s not that simple. Mainly because of a term that, in my opinion, sales professionals use way too often: “Went Dark.”

Why didn’t the deal close after four touches? The answer is almost always “Prospect just went dark.”

All it means is that for SOME reason the prospect chose not to re-engage with the sales process. The reasons for that could be related to any qualifying factor in the old BANT framework (Budget, Authority, Need, or Timing) or, more commonly, the prospect just got too busy to deal with the sale right now.

Whatever the reason, they don’t want to engage with their SDR.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have something to offer them that keeps your product in front of them?

Yes, the answer is Content.

Content can address objections. Content can be passed through to those with authority. Content can reiterate and summarize a need in such a way as to jostle a timeline.

Content ALLOWS the prospect to engage with the product in consideration of their terms. Hence, content becomes a valuable sales tool.

For all these reasons, content is WAY more compelling than your fifth “friendly reminder” email.

Content as a Sales Tool — Doing It Right

So, you’re still reading.

That means you’re on board with the concept, but the issue is that if your marketing team isn’t producing sales collateral (that the Sales team ACTUALLY uses) there is a reason for it, and that is an execution issue.

Let’s look at how to do it correctly.

We’re going to look at what content to create or deploy at each of the critical sales stages—Connect, Explore, Close—as well as the best practices for aligning content creation and use between your revenue-generating teams.

Creating Content That Supports the Stages of the Sales Process (aka The Buyer’s Journey)

If just one style of content could do the job, then Sales and Marketing would still be focused on methodologies developed in the 1950s. One call, one meeting, one advertisement to rule them all was the golden fleece that many salespeople and marketers tried to discover.

However, as we know now, that doesn’t fit how we buy as companies or consumers.

Couple that with the fact that we’re competing against, quite literally, tens of thousands of other offers, ads, and decisions within a buyer’s mind space and the noise is overwhelming.

As such, Sales and Marketing have evolved to support the different steps of both the Buyer’s Journey and the Inbound or Consultative Sales Process.

These methods allow the buyer to engage in a way that fits how people actually like to make decisions and is problem—not solution—centric.

That last point is important.

For this to work, CONTENT NEEDS TO PROVIDE VALUE. It needs to engage and be worth the prospect’s investment in time and energy. If you’re just talking about yourself (or your product), no one wants to listen for very long. I’d much rather you talk about me, and my problem, than you and your solution.

Since you’re reading this, you probably already get that, but if you’re reviewing your marketing and sales pieces and all you see are things about your product…you’re probably not ready for what I’m talking about. (Or maybe you see the error of your ways and you’re ready to change your mindset.)

Assuming you’ve got that covered, let’s look at what content as a sales tool should look like at each phase.

Connect / Awareness Stage

Connect Stage content (Awareness Stage for our marketers) within the sales process is hard for many people to get their head around.

That confusion is understandable since the idea of sharing something with someone who you haven’t really identified as a prospect seems risky.

It isn’t…as long as you’re talking about the prospect and offering value.

You can’t hit them with anything that puts you, or your product, up as a solution yet. You’re not even sure if they have a problem you can solve, so don’t talk about you. Speak to them about their challenges and make sure your content pieces are curated to their industry or position.

Here are a few content ideas that work well in early phases:

Tip Lists/Tips – These are easy to create, easy to consume, and do well on social media. One of my favorite clients targets small businesses. So he bases his tips on things he’s learned as a fellow small business owner. These tips aren’t related to his brand or solution but instead focus on things ANY small business owner could benefit from. Needless to say that it works for him.

Curated Articles (Blogs) – If you can write informative, non-salesy articles of your own…do it. If you can’t, or don’t have the bandwidth, the trick to this one is that you don’t have to even write the articles (although be sure to give credit to the authors and get permission). If you put together a collection of good writing within a relevant industry about a common issue or topic and share it, people will appreciate your effort. You’re doing the research for them and saving them time, so they will be willing to stay in contact with you and value your communications.

Portfolio or Gallery – People like easy to consume content (sort of the basis of this whole social media thing) and someone who would never read a sales email WILL take the time to review a photoset or look at a portfolio. A bonus is that visual content is memorable, so your communication or share should stick.

Free Downloads (Guides, Infographics & Whitepapers) – These require more of a commitment to create, but having your marketing team deploy valuable, professional resources that solve a problem for your prospects will pay off. Rather than just sending them another “Just Following Up” email, share a content piece that is relevant to their product, problem, or industry. It shows that you’re invested and willing to share info and add value without getting a commission.

All of the content listed above is easy to consume, and better yet provides something of interest and value to the prospect.

REMEMBER, keep it focused on them…not you or your amazing solution. There shouldn’t be a hard sell anywhere, about anything, at this stage. Just give them something they want to read or can benefit from and they’ll remember it.

Exploratory / Consideration Stage

Content to support the Exploratory Stage of a sale is more plentiful and easier for most companies to produce. The reason for this is that you finally get to talk about yourself and your product, but you still need to resist the urge to deploy the hard sell. This content is a sales tool, but with information, education, and only a gentle reminder of your product or profession.

At this stage in the sales process (or the Buyer’s Journey) the prospect has become aware that they have a problem that needs solving or a job that needs doing. They are looking for resources that help them clarify that solution.

Good Marketers use this phase to educate and good Sales teams take this opportunity to consult, so make sure the content you are sending them aligns with those goals. The content should be structured so that it can be used as a sales tool.

Types of content to support consideration and exploration include:

Case Studies (about similar B2B firms) – Everybody loves a good story, particularly one that reinforces our perceptions, and that is really all a case study is. A good case study always has a hero, a challenge, and an obstacle eliminated. Sending a stalled prospect a relevant case study might provide the push they need to feel good about their options.

Long-Form Content (eBooks) – Longer form content is the norm at this phase because the prospect is engaged in the problem-solving process so they are willing to consume more information. If you are involved in a complex product or long sales cycle, eBooks should be a backbone of your content library. If they are relevant, problem-centric, and current they can be a great tool for SDRs to share with prospects.

Demo Videos – Demo videos can eliminate a lot of prospect objections very quickly. Seeing the product or solution in action is engaging and compelling. Also, don’t assume that just because you have the demo up on your website that your prospect has seen it. Feel free to reference it again throughout the sales process.

Webinars – These are a must for complex sales and considered buying processes. A good webinar should share insights and educate about an issue, development, or advancement. If your marketing team hasn’t put a webinar together yet, get them going now. I’m willing to bet you have a surprising collection of subject matter experts in your company. Talk to your execs, your developers, and your SDRs and find out what they know better than other people in your industry. Nothing adds credibility to a sale like the feeling of dealing with an industry leader.

Newsletters – Everybody wants to put these in the Connect Stage. So many marketers I speak with will brag about the number of people who subscribe to their newsletter. They are usually more humble when they see that most of their newsletters go unopened or that none of their subscribers convert. The trick to a newsletter is that they inherently want to be brand and company focused, so let them be. Just don’t push them on people who haven’t been identified as an active prospect.

Advise / Decision Stage

This SHOULD be the easiest phase for most companies to deploy content in the sales process, but surprisingly very few do it correctly. The reason for the breakdown is that Sales is already talking with the prospect about a specific opportunity, so there is an assumption that all of that marketing-generated content has done its job.

The problem with that assumption is that deals are lost or “go dark” in this phase all too often. The right piece of content, at the right point, can be the perfect sales tool to save the deal.

Here are some types of content that do well at the Advise or Decision stage:

Service Guides – A prospect having a better understanding of the product or solution can only benefit you and a guide is very effective at overcoming objections from other stakeholders that may be involved with the decision or implementation.

Special Offers – Everybody loves a deal, and feeling like we’re taking advantage of a bonus offer or discount can make boardroom approvals go much more smoothly and make your point of contact look good to their superiors.

Comparison to Competition (experience, process, pricing, etc.) – I know you couldn’t wait to send this one, but I’m glad you did. This is, unsurprisingly, the most common piece of content in the sales arsenal. Make sure that it is presented in a way that is professional and easy to understand. Too much technical depth, or appearing sloppy, can kill a deal and make those competitors you’re shooting down look better.

In-Depth How-To and Service Delivery Articles – Similar to Service Guides, how-to and service delivery articles from existing users can both excite a prospect and establish reasonable expectations around the product or solution.

Pricing Information – Yes, it is FINALLY time to send it. Again, just make sure it is presentable, professional and understandable. Also, be sure that you are not sharing anything that you don’t want your competitors knowing. It is all too common to use one product’s pricing to get a discount on another.

These content types are just a few examples of the sales tools you can send and when it is appropriate. As the content environment grows, more and more options emerge all the time. So feel free to get creative.

Best Practices for Creating Content That Supports Sales

Best Practices for Creating Content That Supports Sales

Now that we’ve covered what to send and when, the next issue to address is how to make all these things come together.

Here are a few tips to get your content going out the door and working as a sales tool.

1 – Get Sales and Marketing on the Same Page

As I mentioned earlier, despite vast changes in our business environment, Sales and Marketing are all too often not communicating with any efficacy or frequency.

To start defeating that old pattern, set a specific meeting between the two teams to discuss content at least once per quarter. Let Sales start the conversation by sharing the common objections they encounter during the course of a sales conversation. That should inspire Marketing to either create some new pieces or share some that Sales might not be aware of.

From my experience, these meetings usually start a little cold, possibly even defensively, but if managed correctly they can evolve into great brainstorming sessions.

Marketing loves to appear brilliant, so they’ll appreciate the new ideas or new uses for their beloved content. Sales love to feel supported and understood, so they’ll be happy to have someone helping them and saving their time. And everyone will be happy and have more enthusiasm moving forward once they see the content used effectively as sales tools.

2- Align Content with the Stages of Your Customers’ Buying Cycle

Now that you’ve got Marketing thinking about new content pieces, or sharing existing ones, you need to make your content library align with your customers’ buying cycle.

The goal here is to get things organized in a way that works for the Sales team.

Most content libraries and companies work up-funnel. The reason for this is that all companies are created in the Decision Stage with a specific solution and specific buyers in mind. I’m willing to bet that, even if you are not heavily invested in content marketing, you already have eight pieces of Decision Stage content.

So with that stage covered, get all your other content together, and then get the Sales team to sort it out by thinking up-funnel.

The dating analogy works well here. You usually don’t talk solely about yourself, or marriage, on the first date (at least not if your planning on a second), so keep early conversations focused on the prospect and things that build the relationship.

If you don’t like all the MoFu, ToFu marketing-type speak, just think about this hierarchy: Solutions, Options, Ideas.

At the beginning of the conversation with a prospect (i.e. one who has not been identified as a hard opportunity), you just want to talk about ideas that may interest your prospect.

Once a prospect becomes an opportunity, they know they have a problem and you can present options.

Your Decision Stage content is your solution…your product or service.

Get your content library sorted out in a way that makes sense for your team in a way that it’s able to be used as a sales tool, and then comes what is actually the most important piece…

3 – Keep Your Content Readily Accessible

If your Sales reps can’t find it in less than 30 seconds, then they won’t use it. They might say they will, but they won’t.

So take advantage of your CRM’s file system. The Sales team is living in their CRM already, so if you make the content easy to access they’ll be more like to take advantage of it.

If you don’t have an advanced CRM solution, set up a shared folder (Google Docs kills it) with a simple, blunt file structure and obvious naming conventions.

Here’s an example:

Connect Collateral

  • Tips lists
    • 10ways_tomake_secure_passwords.pdf
  • Infographics
    • Better_Cloud_File-Structure.pdf

Explore Collateral

  • DemoVids

Once you have it sorted, have everyone bookmark the shared folder in the toolbar of their browser of choice, again, with an obvious name.

They now have content readily accessible, sorted in a way that makes sense, and can use it as sales tools throughout the process.

Final Thoughts

Sales no longer exists in a vacuum or relies solely on product knowledge, acumen, or charm to close deals.

Your customers are consuming content, so it only makes sense to have your Sales team using it to advance the conversation. Content is the sales tool you’re missing.

By getting the marketing content strategy aligned with sales needs, your company will produce better content, that is more usable, more effective, and creates higher ROI.

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