- Jamie Shanks
How content transforms salespeople and influences buyers
Does your sales team understand your content strategy? Chances are the answer is a resounding “No.” And you’re not alone. Recent research from Richardson, a Philadelphia-based sales training consulting firm says that there is a disconnect between the content that marketing produces and the needs that sales reps have to advance sales opportunities.
Richardson interviewed 400 sales professionals and sales managers, and found that only 54% of sales professionals and 65% of sales managers say they understand their company’s content marketing strategy. This means that nearly 50% of sales pros don’t understand it!
Not only that, but only 52% of sales pros and 43% of sales managers say that the content their company produces helps improve effectiveness. Again, this means that nearly half of sales pros and managers feel that the work is not valuable!
WHY DOESN’T SALES UNDERSTAND YOUR CONTENT STRATEGY?
It’s quite simple: sales and marketing haven’t sat down together and discussed how a buyer buys. They’ve never drawn out the buyer’s journey together, resulting in a huge disconnect between the two departments.
If you ask sales about the buyer’s journey, they’ll say it begins with the demo, proposal, and negotiation. But that’s not the case! Buyers are now buying in the same way that consumers buy. Forrester reported that one-third of B2B marketers acknowledge that their biggest problem is figuring out how to serve up the appropriate content to specific buyers when the time is right.
The sales team doesn’t realize that marketing defines the buyer’s journey differently. They define it as having five stages:
Stage 1—Status quo
A buyer doesn’t realize they have a problem. They’re content with how things are at the moment and are unwilling to consider a purchase decision. The stage of status quo doesn't last and eventually buyers will progress to the following stage.
Stage 2—Priority shift
In this stage, something internal or external happens where a buyer is forced to re-evaluate how they do things today. They now recognize they have a problem. This is due to a few things that force a buyer to shift their priorities.
This maybe include a competitor who has a new product, a shift in personnel, or capital. Whatever the trigger may be, the buyer has indicated that the status quo no longer works. The priority shift moves them to stage 3.
Stage 3—Conceptual solutions
Buyers start to identify the right people, process & technology—the ways and how to’s of solving these problems. They’re looking for solutions and are performing their due diligence by consuming content and information to make an informed decision. They’re online, on social media, reading articles, reports, research and digesting various pieces of content to make an informed buying decision.
This is where a marketing automation platform helps significantly. It will help you understand and track the buyers who are downloading and digesting your content. With the right insight, your buyer progresses to stage 4.
Stage 4—Vendor review
In Stage 4, buyers start to look for partners and seek out relationships that can help solve the problems they’ve identified as being top priority.
Source: IDC's Social Buying Meets Social Selling: How Trusted Networks Improve the Purchase Experience
75% of B2B buyers use social media to research vendors according to IDC. The majority of buyers are online researching about you as well as your competitors. They’re looking at your product features, pricing, reviews and who you are as an organization.
They’ve consumed enough content to which companies can provide the solution to your problem.
Stage 5—Purchase decision
In this final stage, buyers will choose a vendor. If you wait until the vendor review stage then you’re missing out on opportunities. 74% of B2B buyers conduct more than half of their research online before talking to a salesperson according to Forrester. If you don’t provide value early enough and help prospects shape their journey then you risk walking away from a potential new customer.
While sales feels a disconnect with marketing, it also goes both ways. Marketing can’t understand why the sales team isn’t sharing content. This is because marketing hasn’t had a conversation with sales and figured out what’s moving the needle for buyers. Marketing needs to understand the buyers’ pitfalls and challenges.
WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS?
After you’ve come together and developed a unified language of the buyer's’ journey, you need to segment that journey into 3 stages:
Stage 1: The “why.” It’s at the top of the funnel. The prospect has acknowledged that there is a potential problem or opportunity.
Stage 2: The “how.” The prospect has now identified what that problem or opportunity is.
Stage 3: The “who.” The prospect has now defined their solution strategy.
Concentrating on the “why” and the “how”— the first 3 stages of the buyer's’ journey provides a great opportunity for the sales team. Sales can re-enact the day in the life of a buyer and talk through the pitfalls and challenges, the questions that buyers are asking themselves, such as
Why do I have a problem?
Why should I solve this?
Why is this a priority?
This allows sales to help marketing to produce content that is relevant to buyers. Marketing always has to come up with content ideas themselves. But they’ve never walked a mile in a buyer’s shoes. This is where sales can really help marketing understand what is truly important for the buyer.
Beyond the process, take a look at the following infographic that describes the different skills of a modern sales professional and how they leverage content.