Using content for selling

Freddie Ossberg05/06/2018

Here, we outline a detailed strategy for empowering your sales team with content. It looks at the role of content in the sales process, the importance of getting internal buy-in and how to turn a lead into a brand advocate.

The advent of the information age and an ever‐evolving purchase journey are transforming the B2B sales process. But what does this mean for today’s salesperson?

Sales was once the first touchpoint when potential buyers needed an expert opinion. A salesperson could discuss a business problem, reframe it and point the buyer towards a particular product or service. But today, the typical B2B buyer is 57 per cent of the way through the purchase process before they engage directly with a supplier. They do almost all their learning before the salesperson has any influence.

Much of this early learning is shaped by content. Research from Demand Gen shows that half of B2B buyers read 3 – 5 pieces of content before engaging with a company.

However, simply creating content is no guarantee that you will sell more. Just 5 per cent of branded content receives 90 per cent of the engagement.

One reason for this is the quality of the content brands produce. Clever marketers know they need to be providing audiences with useful insights to reach them when they are learning, not buying. Thought leadership may explain the benefits of ‘alternative action’. But true commercial insight – highlighting the ‘cost of inaction’ – is significantly more compelling.

Brands must also incorporate content into their ways of working. Nearly three quarters of content churned out by B2B marketers goes unused. To successfully drive sales through content, you need to get your internal stakeholders – particularly your business development and sales teams – to adopt content‐driven selling.

Find out more about how to create an effective content strategy.

Download our 2010 Content Marketing Handbook today.

A joint sales and marketing strategy for content

There is a saying in rugby that the forwards decide who wins the game and the backs decide by how much. Marketers must influence and educate prospects before the sale takes place, in the same way rugby forwards combine graft and guile to march the team upfield towards the opposition try line. Once they’ve made those hard yards and created that all important scoring position, it’s time for the backs, or the sales team, to swoop in and seal the deal.

Your sales team might initially be reluctant to have discussions about content when it does not seem imperative to achieving their KPIs or revenue targets. But remind them that you are all on the same team.

Have a game plan

Sales should be involved with your content initiatives from the start, at the planning, creation and execution stages. They no doubt have a specific set of market challenges and can guide the content creation process effectively.

Meet with your sales team regularly and have a concise but flexible content calendar. Get ideas from them and collaborate on the execution – they are at the forefront of client needs.

Pass the ball

Content is a two‐way street. Ideally, the marketing team will control the messaging and create content that enables the sales team to be more successful. But marketers need to remember that sales is on the frontline of client conversations and can share valuable insights to ensure messaging remains relevant.

Marketers may sit on their thrones thinking: “I make great content, that’s my job done.” But how can you ensure your content is relevant if it’s not being used? Equip your sales team with the tools they need to leverage it properly.

Build an internal content bank with explanatory notes, templates and trackable links so your sales team can keep it front of mind while you are keeping things on message.

Do a victory lap

Seeing is believing. Share success stories, metric uplifts and anecdotes about lower sales resistance with your sales team and celebrate the rewards of your combined efforts.

Your business should have countless anecdotes about how the use of content in sales has dramatically shortened sales cycles, built trust and increased revenue. Help internal stakeholders to see this by doing a ‘landscape audit’ of their competitors’ content activity.

How to turn a lead into a sale with content

When it comes to nurturing a prospect to the point where they’re ready to make a buying decision, the first step is to get into their mindset. This is where client and sales‐facing functions are useful. Collect insights from your colleagues to really get under the skin of your prospect’s needs and behaviour.

Prospects want…

  • To discover the newest, most up‐to‐date information about their industry and forecast future trends
  • To understand more about brands or services that can solve their business challenges, without being sold to
  • To weigh up the results of their information gathering and begin to narrow down their shortlist of providers
  • To make a purchase in their own time and feel they are being treated like a partner, rather than an account or customer

They might…

  • Turn to news sites, broadsheets, search engines, LinkedIn, customer reviews, blogs and colleagues to gather information
  • Browse your website to discover more about your broad product offering and see client testimonials
  • Start to care about price once they get in touch and begin that conversation (which may become the differentiator)
  • Ignore your attempts to upsell and cross‐sell, as they have made their purchase already and have better things to do

Before they’re invested, they won’t care about…

  • Company news and service updates
  • Product‐focused content, webinars or events

How to create an effective content plan

Once you have a picture of what your prospects are looking for, what will turn them off and where they will do their research, map out the messaging you need at each stage of the funnel. Keeping your distribution channels in mind, decide on the best ways to bring that messaging to life to reach your audience:

  • Create primary research about their industry, formatted using searchable terms with compelling, new headline figures. This will often take the shape of curated flagship research, with editorial commentary for context.
  • Create further educational content about specific business issues, backed up with case studies and expert opinions. This might involve publishing well‐designed white papers, with high production values and an independent feel.
  • Ensure that client success stories are created in line with the same high production values as the rest of your content. Make them available to the sales team with curated emails reps can use in their follow‐up efforts or gated content with data capture forms.
  • Keep other departments in the loop about ongoing campaign activity and be clear on how they can use different resources. Repurposing some of your most popular online content as PDFs is a great way to lower the barrier to use for sales.
  • Create cheat‐sheets for sales reps with industry research, reports and other content they will find useful during sales conversations.

Decide roles and responsibilities

Once your plan is ready, sit down with sales to agree what counts as an MQL and what is an SQL. Spell out which triggers will signify a lead’s readiness (e.g. a PDF download) and how they will be qualified (e.g. a marketing nurture programme or sales call).

You will also need to consider which timelines you are working to and how quickly leads will need to be qualified. Once you have reached a decision, feed these details into a Service Level Agreement you can refer to throughout your content marketing initiative.

This process may well mean your sales team must take a shot at something new. Internal change is hard and selling using content will involve adapting the usual sales pitch. They will be responsible for logging all of their prospect interactions in your CRM, for leads and missed opportunities. If MQLs are not converting, being able to go back to the record and find out why will help fix the process.

Finally, your sales team must provide marketing with updates on what’s working and what’s not. This includes feedback on the content itself, its format and prospect responses to receiving it.

How to measure content marketing success

It’s important to know which metrics you want to track and what they signify to optimise and improve the content process. Content marketing for lead generation is a long‐term game, with different metrics at each stage of a prospect’s lifecycle telling you what’s working and what needs some adjusting.

In the awareness stage, you will be looking at spreading your message as effectively as possible. Depending on the channels you use, this will mean measuring how large your reach has been. Metrics for this can include impressions, views, opens and shares. Vary your messaging and test different channels until you reach the right audience.

The consideration stage is where a prospect is starting to relate potential solutions back to their needs and looking for the best match. Engagement metrics such as clicks, dwell time, pages per session and downloads indicate how well your message is resonating.

Tracking engagement over time lets you see how your nurturing is going. Using marketing automation software to track metrics like these will help you know when a lead is qualified, depending on what counts as a qualification trigger (e.g. replies, enquiries). It’s useful to track this data along with the number of MQLs you generate, how many turn into SQLs and ultimately how many become sales.

Remember to focus on one variable at a time when optimising your content strategy, so you can attribute any change in performance to that particular test.

In summary

  • It’s more important than ever for B2B brands to make an impression on prospects during the research stage of their journey using content marketing
  • Get sales on side early and share your learnings with them to create impactful content for all stages of the funnel
  • Plan your content using insights from different departments and ensure that sales has the resources to use that content effectively
  • Measure and optimise your programmes to improve your content marketing results