A recent study really got me thinking about the role of the sales team in the B2B content marketing process, and vice-versa.
The ITSMA 2012 How Buyers Consume Information study asked an interesting question: “At what stage in the buying process do you find it most useful to engage with sales reps?”
The top responses to this question stuck with me:
- Epiphany (24 percent): Keeping up with industry/technology news and events
- Awareness (23 percent): Learning more about potential solutions and solution providers
- Interest (24 percent): Identifying a shortlist of solution providers
Until I saw this data, I was under the impression that sales teams provide the greatest value to prospects who are at the final stages of the B2B buying process — those who are evaluating vendors and solutions and those who are ready to negotiate and close a deal.
It is true that a company’s sales team is invaluable at these final stages. But sales also has a vital role to play during the rest of the process — that of trusted adviser. And that is a role that B2B content marketers can capitalize on.
Though the ITSMA study surveyed organizations in many different industries that purchase major technology solutions at costs of more than $500,000, its findings hold particular value for any company looking to explore ways that B2B sales and content marketing teams can work together for their mutual benefit.
One thing this study confirms is the existence of the social buyer — someone distinctly different than a traditional buyer. This is not a surprise given the ever-increasing use of the web by buyers seeking information — and the ever-increasing use of the web by companies to share content. Yet it is important to understand this type of consumer and his or her online behaviors.
Social buyers spend more time consuming content online (6.5 hours per week versus 4.3 per week for traditional buyers), and are more likely to engage in online conversations. This fact validates the time and energy B2B content marketing teams spend on creating educational and useful content: Prospects are indeed searching online for information to help them during the buying cycle.
The study also revealed that social buyers interact with sales teams differently than those who take the more traditional route to researching product or service options: With the amount of information available on the web, social buyers are better able to self-educate about many aspects of a product or service or a company. This would seem to reduce the need to interact with sales representatives.
Yet these very same buyers are looking to sales people to serve as advisers during their buying process. They want sales to help them accomplish specific tasks, such as finding unique perspectives on the market, identifying subject matter experts, and accessing benchmarking data and best practices.
Because the sales team plays a role earlier in the process — at stages formerly reserved for the marketing team to make an impact — the way these two teams relate to each other must adapt to be effective. In today’s digital marketing environment, there are definite benefits to marketing and sales working together to reach the social buyers, such as:
- A more unified approach to creating content and reaching out to prospects and customers
- Better understanding of the buying cycle and how prospects consume content
- Better understanding of the needs of the audience
Content and the sales rep
Do you see where content enters into the picture? Think about how the sales team can use the content you create to help with their role as advisers. And think about how you can create content specifically designed for the sales team to use in that role.
Here are just a few examples of content you can create to help the sales team address these issues in each stage of the process, in their advisory roles:
- Content that provides perspectives on the market and solutions, like white papers, case studies, or blog posts. For example, Bongo International created white papers to discuss issues its customers may encounter when shipping internationally.
- Content that challenges a prospect’s thinking, such as articles, analyst reports, or presentations. Take a look at this video Verizon produced on allowing employees to use personal and consumer applications in an enterprise.
- Content written by subject matter experts, like white papers, eBooks, webinars. For example, Axway’s webinars showcase its experts as they discuss risks in financial services.
- Content that discusses benchmarks and best practices, including survey results, white papers, or eBooks. Consider Vodaphone’s white paper on the BYOD (bring your own device) trend.
- Content that enables prospects to understand alternative solutions, like product comparisons, analyst reports, or white papers. For example, HID Global distributed product comparison charts for its security identity products.
- Content that gives advice about making the decision, such as case studies, ROI calculators, or webinars. See Cisco’s Total Cost of Ownership and ROI calculator for migrating RISC server infrastructure to Cicso, as an example.
- Content that helps build the business case, including analyst reports, white papers, and ROI calculators. Microsoft features analyst reports on its website to serve this purpose.
Also consider creating content specifically for the sales team’s use, such as presentations, scripts, or discussion questions. Annotated white papers or case studies can also be developed that will help them better understand the market by calling out relevant discussion questions and decision points that they can use in their customer interactions.
The sales rep and content
There is also another side to the content + sales coin: The sales team has a lot of good insight and information to help the content marketing team shape its content to better meet the needs of its target consumers. After all, these are the people who are out on the front lines, in the offices of the executives the marketing team is creating content for.
If there is a formal process to share information, the sales team can provide useful feedback about what content is helpful for prospects, what content is not as helpful and why, as well as what media or methods of delivery work best. This is a win-win-win.
The marketing team can better meet the needs of the audience and the sales team. The sales team can help the marketing team and be trusted advisers for prospects. And customers and prospects will get access to the most useful and relevant data when and where they need it.
There are many ways to formalize the process of sharing information between the two teams. The key is to keep a few principles in mind as you develop a process that works for your organization.
- Align goals of both departments with those of the organization.
- Align work processes, with members of each team having access to information from both sales and marketing.
- Integrate software tools used by both teams, starting with the CRM software and the marketing automation applications.
- Clearly define the point at which a prospect becomes a qualified lead, so both sales and marketing are working with the same understanding about who manages what parts of the buying cycle.
Cisco has developed a program that incorporates many of these principles. It includes a process that enables both teams to fully understand lead management and provides a mechanism for the marketing team to automatically share relevant content with the sales team. Incidentally, the company was awarded a 2012 Sales and Marketing Integration Award by DemandGen for the program.
B2B content marketing is about creating thought leadership and materials that help buyers understand and clarify their needs, solve problems, and make informed purchasing decisions. Your sales personnel can play a vital role in this educational process — if they are given the right encouragement, motivation, and tools to participate.
Ultimately, the goal of both the sales team and the content marketing team is to build, maintain, and strengthen the relationships a business has with its customers and prospects. And while a content team’s approach is one-to-many, and a sales team’s approach is one-to-one, it’s the production of useful, relevant, and insightful content that can unite their purposes to better serve buyers in your market.
For more insight into the ways content can benefit businesses on an enterprise-wide scale, read “Managing Content Marketing,” by Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi.
Cover image via Bigstock