Sales enablement: the missing link in your content marketing strategy?
Anyone involved in technology marketing knows that thought leadership and content marketing have become an increasingly important part of the mix in recent years. This is borne out by recent ITSMA surveys:
- ‘Thought leadership development and dissemination’ was ranked number 1 in IT services marketers’ priorities in 2014
- 64% of IT marketers said they planned to increase spend on content marketing in 2015, against only 2% that were planning on decreasing it
However those same marketers are often failing to harness their thought leadership content to enable their sales teams. A separate ITSMA survey found that only one-fifth of the B2B services marketers who create thought leadership say they excel at using it to empower the sales force (as opposed to other purposes, like reputation-building).
Are you a ‘Publisher’ or a ‘Sales Enabler’?
ITSMA identified two distinct types of marketing organisation, labelled ‘Publishers’ and ‘Sales Enablers’. While the former might publish thought leadership content, they’re poor at using it to support their sales activities. The ‘Sales Enablers’ are far more adept at using thought leadership in the later stages of the sales process to shape customer requirements and build confidence, as well as in the early stages to create customer ‘epiphanies’ and generate awareness.
Content marketers’ failure to focus on sales enablement is troubling given that sales is a critical link in the chain that links thought leadership to revenue. Most B2B technology sales rely on the involvement of a salesperson at some point in the process, and all that investment in content isn’t going to generate a return if sales aren’t properly equipped. There’s little point generating leads with your insightful, opinion-led content if the salesperson that speaks to the customers isn’t able to develop that conversation and convert it into a sales opportunity.
Challenge customers’ thinking and redefine their needs
There’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that the most successful salespeople today are the ones that use insight and ideas as the cornerstone of their sales approach. Research from the Corporate Executive Board, published in Harvard Business Review, revealed that the highest-performing sales professionals have moved beyond traditional ‘solution-selling’ to ‘insight-selling’. Instead of focusing on identifying and responding to established customer needs, these star salespeople are far more inclined to challenge existing customer thinking and try to redefine their needs.
These findings were backed up by research from RAIN Group (published in the book Insight Selling, Schultz and Doerr, 2014), which looked at more than 700 B2B purchases and found that the most successful salespeople were those that ‘harness the power of ideas to inspire buyers to think differently and influence agendas’.
Tips for enabling your sales teams
So what can marketing teams do differently to ensure that salespeople are equipped to use thought leadership to create opportunities and close deals? I’ll address this question in more detail in a follow-up article, but for now here are some ideas to think about:
- Ensure that your sales teams are actually aware of your thought leadership activities – i.e. what themes you’re talking about, what content you’re publishing (might sound obvious but doesn’t always happen)
- Get upfront input from your sales teams to help inform your content strategy – this will increase buy-in and yield useful insight (after all, they’re the ones actually talking to customers on a daily basis)
- Take the time to educate sales teams about how they can use insight and opinions to initiate a new type of customer conversation (use real or hypothetical case studies to illustrate the approach)
- Ensure that you can explain the customer journeys that lead from a specific piece of insight to an opportunity for your products and services
- Distill your insights and opinions into concise, usable ‘take-outs’ that sales teams can use within their customer conversations – provide these as briefing notes to sales
- Ensure you have content assets which are going to be relevant at each stage of the customer journey, recognising that the customer’s interests and needs will change as they go through that journey
- Build your insights and opinions into your product collateral and sales tools so that they’re consistently reinforced with your salespeople and your customers
- Engage your sales teams in the process of sending relevant content to their target contacts and then ensure they follow up with them
If you’d like to discuss how OneGTM could help you better align your content marketing and sales enablement activities, call us on 020 3693 1211.