If you listen to many of the social media voices in sales enablement today, it’s easy to believe that the solution to your sales effectiveness problems lies in better content systems. Deliver up the right content at the right time to your sales people, and you’ll enable them to perform effectively.
Unfortunately, the reality is that a content enablement system alone won’t serve up the results you need. Yes, content sharing and tracking tools provide cool features. They allow you to more easily organize and share content, eliminating the clumsy back and forth email process. Some of them offer neat metrics, so you can see who engages with content, when, and how. All good capabilities that makes salespeople’s days easier.
But the hype around these tools is overblown.
Why Content Enablement Alone Is Doomed to Fail
Way back in 2012, a “new” hot thing was rising: Content marketing. It promised to automate marketing and deliver highly qualified leads to sales with very little effort. It was supposed to save salespeople from cold calling, among other things. But the reality is that most sales departments were distinctly underwhelmed by the quality of the leads delivered, and in most cases, cold calling is anything but dead.
Too often, content marketing is poorly aligned with the customer’s true decision making journey, it doesn’t reach the right stakeholders, and anyway it’s now operating in a saturated marketplace. The good news is that the failure of content marketing to deliver on its promises has lessons to teach us about how to make sure sales content enablement doesn’t suffer the same fate.
Here are three things content marketing got wrong, and how sales content enablement must do better:
- Failing to Align with the Customer’s Decision Making Journey. When salespeople are provided with sales content that is divorced from the sales process, they’ll either ignore it or they’ll use it inappropriately. For instance, sales calculators are cool tools to share, but when they’re shared too early in the process, they can cause the buyer to focus on the price before they’ve fully understood the value of your solution. Likewise, a “how to” guide provided at closing can cause confusion in the buyer’s mind and delay or damage the close.
- Targeting the Wrong People. One of the biggest failures of content marketing is that it usually targets researchers rather than decision makers. This problem is exacerbated by the focus on “engagement metrics,” which favor the preferences of researchers (who may engage with content repeatedly) over the preferences of decision makers (who may only read something once, and often in printed form). Likewise, when salespeople are provided with content that addresses the concerns of users, for instance, and they deliver that content to executives, it creates a disconnect in the buyer’s mind and undermines trust.
- Providing an Excuse to Avoid Direct Engagement. Sending an email with a case study is easy. Picking up the phone and calling is hard. But often, the phone call is what’s needed to move the deal along. When content is pushed as a solution to sales problems, the result is often less direct engagement, and therefore less success in sales.
Where to Start Instead
There is a place for content and content systems in sales enablement. But that place is not first. In first place, always, is strategy focused on the customer. Top performing sales teams start with a deep understanding of customer needs and the customer’s decision making journey, and build sales strategies around that understanding.
With the right strategy in place, processes can be established that help sales teams to execute on the strategy. Then, the processes must be placed in the salespeople’s and sales managers’ workflow, so that it becomes a part of their daily routine.
With strategy, process, and the right technology to simplify process-oriented workflows in the team’s hands, then it’s time to think about what content enablement systems can support the strategy and process.
Finally, the strategy, process, methodologies, behaviors, and tools must be trained and reinforced to ensure your team is executing on the systems you’ve put in place. Within a well-designed, executed, trained, and reinforced system, content in context can help to truly impact sales performance.