In terms of the sales process, we often think of content as being geared towards generating leads and attracting prospects. Marketers use content to get leads to the first stages of the sales cycle, and then salespeople take over to push them down the funnel. The legacy of disconnect between marketing and sales teams means there’s also a disconnect in the content that flows between. But if everyone’s on the same team to drive profitable business actions, having marketing content and sales collateral at opposite ends of the room is redundant.
So why do we think of content in just the first stages of the sales cycle? Sales personnel share a wealth of collateral with prospects and customers throughout the life of the sales process. Each stage demands educated conversations and an accessible supply of quality information. Integrating the notions of of content and collateral would seem like a natural approach to drive value, improve consistency and maximize impact.
The traditional sales funnel is dead and morphed into a cyclical journey of buyer decision-making. Like marketing, the sales evolution is a response to technology, consumer needs and buyer empowerment. Like the rise content marketing, it is a clear move away from one-way funnels and broadcast tactics. We already know that customers feed off content and social data, and position themselves far into the sales cycles before ever connecting with a sales rep. With this in mind, businesses need to arm consumers with the right content at the right time, to help them make the best possible purchasing decisions. Businesses need to be content marketing and they need to be content selling.
The new scenario is a content ecosystem, in which both sales and marketing thrive on providing consumers with good content. Content draws leads, on-boards prospects and confirms sales. Content also boosts brand trust and reputation, and elevates customers as all-powerful brand evangelicals.
The Sales Cycle Evolved
Engagement is the word that connects the evolved sales cycle and the deployment of good content. Engagement, as in keeping prospects and customers interested, educated, and committed in a lasting relationship with your brand.
Traditional sales models focus on lead generation and pushing prospects down the funnel to the dotted line. Things are cyclical now, and reciprocal. Consumers are smarter, have more options, and have more control over their decision-making. Enter the need for continuous and consistent engagement. Enter the Customer Decision Journey. And enter the need for consistent content that lives and serves the needs of consumer across the entirety of their purchasing journey. The CDJ acknowledges that consumers are educated and are educating themselves throughout the sales journey. Sales teams need to make sure they’re being educated with the right content.
Enabling The Journey With Content
Sales enablement equips salespeople with the tools to “have conversations with customers at each stage of sales cycle.” Content is the tool that enables those conversations. Content attracts and draws in targeted prospects. Content educates those prospects and helps prospects solve their problems, and ultimately make a purchasing decision. Delivering valuable and relevant content makes that salesperson relevant and of value. Customers want vendors that can “have intelligent conversations and deliver effective value messages.”
How Content Enables the Customer Decision Journey
1) Awareness and Lead Generation
The building blocks of inbound and content marketing: content attracts prospects by providing useful content that educates and demonstrates thought leadership.
2) Lead Nurturing
Educating and informing prospects with good content welcomes them into customer decision journey. There’s an estimated 20% increase in sales opportunities when leads are nurtured with targeted content.
3) Trust, Loyalty, Brand Reputation
Worthwhile content also boosts credibility and builds long-term relationships. Providing valuable data to someone making an important business decision establishes you as a trusted source, and people remain loyal to that idea. On-point content goes miles in establishing brand reputations, and also consistent brand messaging is being delivered. Some “67% of executives say content that contains timely or unique information has a meaningful impact on their perceptions of a brand.”
4) Accelerating the Journey
Informative content educates and builds strong business cases for purchasing a product. In turn the entirety of the sales process is sped up. Educated customers, who are confident in their decision-making, will be less likely to hold back with objections. Effective sales content can also translate to decreased post-sale support calls.
5) Advocacy and Evangelism
In a social world, good content lives on far beyond the closing of any sale. Engaged and satisfied customers are brand advocates. If they get good information during the sales process, they’ll be sharing the word with others. Content also helps to tell customers about product updates and new offerings; reinforcing the reality that the customer journey does not end at sales close.
6) Targeting and Metrics
Not to be forgotten is the wealth of data that emerges from strategic content efforts. Valuable analytics generates every time content is published, shared, or links are followed; analytics that will narrow your focus and better target prospects.
Mapping Content for Content Selling
Most organizations already have great content in the works. The needs for sales can be more specific and varied, depending where one sits within the customer decision journey. Auditing your content assets and mapping your sales process will align existing content with your CDJ, your future needs, and the right channels for deployment.
How to Map Sales Content for the Customer Decision Journey
1) Audit Your Assets
Inventory and assess existing sales collateral and content assets. Here’s a sample tool for building an inventory of your sales content.
2) Buyer Personas
Knowing who you’re selling to and their specific needs is essential to developing a sales content strategy. Define your customer personas and look at what needs emerge at each stage of the journey, and what content might satisfy those needs.
4) Assess Your Customer Journey
What does your customer journey look like? Each sales cycle is unique for every business. Identify the key turning points for your customers and set them on a timeline across which your sales occur. What is the specific cycle your team applies? What are the unique consumer actions and needs?
5) Content Mapping
Content mapping helps you decide what content is most appropriate for your buyer persona, based on where they are at in the CDJ. It should start by laying out out a reasonable path for your personas to move through their journey, from evaluation to advocacy. Then look at where specific content items fit in. This overall process should identify the content assets presently being used, and then show the gaps where new content is needed.
5) Target and Create
Get your teams together and start addressing the gaps. Using your content map, build a strategy that will best serve your customers and prospects with the content they need. Content that will not just generate immediate sales, but lasting relationships.
Best Practices For Sales Content Creation
- Focus on mapping content to your personas and where they are in the customer decision journey.
- Less, not more. Make it easy for personas to consumer your content.
- Focus on education, not promotion. Product promotion does not come into play until later in the customer decision journey.
Prioritize great content and valuable information, format and design are important but come second. (Adapted from Hubspot’s Content Creation presentation)