How to empower your sales team with thought leadership

15 May 2018

Content, and specifically thought leadership, is now recognised as the perfect means to help drive the business development (BD) process. Sharing content with prospects helps sales and BD representatives show empathy with their pain points. It also helps steer that prospect towards accepting your solution as their solution.

The prospects love it, too, as it helps them stay informed on industry developments, trends, and new technology and processes – in turn, helping them do a better job.

Which is why content marketing leaders work with their sales teams to plan and create content that will convert.

Content is now more essential than ever to the sales process

Grist's best practice content marketing survey found B2B marketing leaders understand the power their sales team can add to content and are using thought leadership to enable the sales teams to improve.

As well as building brand awareness, we found B2B leaders use content for a number of sales enablement purposes:

  • To communicate competitive differentiation (77%)
  • To help clients discover solutions (77%)
  • To keep in touch with clients and prospects (62%)
  • To drive lead generation (54%)
  • To support the pitch process (54%)

But we know that many companies are still heavily siloed, and the sales and marketing teams could be working at cross purposes. The good news is there are ways to overcome this, and to start working together to enable the sales and BD processes.

We found content marketing leaders work in specific ways, involving sales from the outset, re-creating content for business development purposes and ensuring content is tailored to business goals.

Get feedback early and often

It seems so simple, but it can be difficult to put into action. Still, involving sales representatives from the start of content creation can help you to deliver the most effective content.

Gain as much client insight as you can from those at the coalface and provide content that is most useful to the sales teams.

But take heart – even the best of the B2B bunch are yet to fully link sales and marketing. Only 46% of our leaders said they involve sales in the content planning process. This means there’s an opportunity to become a true content marketing leader.

Create centrally and repurpose

Involving the sales team from the early stages does not mean letting sales dictate what the central content function should be doing – far from it. In fact, 77% of our content marketing leaders said content is centrally produced, and then tailored to the needs of sales.

This is an approach we see often; think, for example, PwC’s CEO survey.

Making your content work for business development can mean providing specific cuts of the data or involving others in the interview process.

BD teams will often have an idea of who to interview based on their own research. It can also mean using a hub and spoke model for a large content asset, ensuring there are angles that work across blogs, infographics, social media, webinars, podcasts, videos and so on.

The best B2B firms use an average of nine formats for each piece of content. “Slicing and dicing” gives sales and BD the opportunity to choose the format that best fits their outreach and prospect.

Align content to business goals

Of course, even the most engaging content won’t hit the mark for your business unless it is sufficiently focused on your objectives and service offering. It can be easy to get carried away with newsjacking, or with wanting to get in on big conversations or juicy keywords, but all content must lead back to your business objectives and service offering.

Without this, the sales teams won’t be able to tailor it for client meetings, pitches, outbound contacts. They won’t be able to use it to get their own name in the press, or to provide fuel for speaking opportunities at both internal and external events.

Alongside your content campaigns and thought leadership, help the business developers by adapting your content to sales enablement materials. These might include conversation starters, editable presentations, case studies and how-to guides that the sales team can immediately and easily use in their existing process.

Remember where you sit, too!

Ask sales and business development for feedback at the beginning and end of a campaign to find out where improvements can be made. But, don’t expect them to manage the content creation process. That’s marketing’s job! Working as a team, though, can ensure the outputs of your content programme hit the mark for all in the business, and help growth, too.

Tales from the inside

Richard Fitzmaurice has been CMO at global professional services firm TMF Group for six years, building the team from scratch and going through several iterations of best practice.

At all stages of that journey, he’s invested in “good content” to ensure what the wider marketing function and business needs. Today, that process includes a monthly content board, where representations from each region and portfolio get a chance to discuss their priorities.

He talks of the content matrix concept, which puts the stages of a prospect’s journey across an X axis and the company’s services along the Y axis; it’s then marketing’s job to fill the gaps with content and collateral. It’s designed to show where the company is content-lite.

“In this era of distraction – email, WhatsApp, smartphones, tablets, voice assistants ­ the volume of sales type communications is growing but actual sales conversations are dying,” says Fitzmaurice.

“Globalisation, widespread competition, slowing economies and the ‘disruptive’, fast-emerging technologies all have changed habits and human behaviours. We can no longer rely on traditional communication methods and sales people can no longer rely on traditional sales methodologies.

“I’m over-simplifying here, but we used to be able to get away with effectively saying ‘here is our payroll proposition, would you like to buy it?’ We must change the conversation. Clients today are focused on business outcomes. They are interested in reducing risk, solving the challenges they are facing and realising their aspirations.

“They turn to peers and social networks to self-educate before turning to potential suppliers. To truly engage them we must demonstrate that we make a concerted effort to know their world, that we are prepared with insights and ideas to add to what they already know.

“One initiative to help us realise that goal at TMF Group has been a project between the global sales and marketing teams. Together, we developed new sales enablement ‘story decks’ - new presentation materials to help us have refreshing conversations around three initial scenarios: business expansion, consolidation and acquisition.

“The talent development team are helping us develop methods of ‘certifying’ our sales force to deliver these decks which will, of course, evolve over time and cover other potential scenarios. Slowly, but surely, we are putting better assets into the hands of our sales teams. The stronger our initial conversations are with prospects the more likely it is that we will get to work with them.

“Good content either educates, entertains or inspires, and when done correctly, the reader is able to connect the value your organisation could add, despite being unable to find a specific sales pitch.”

Find out what else leaders do differently in the Best Practice Content Marketing Survey

Best Practice Content Marketing - download CTA

Author: Andrew Rogerson

Andy is a co-founder of Grist, and account director for many of our professional services clients. His recent projects span the full range of marketing communications, including integrated content marketing programmes, web development, thought leadership and video. Prior to founding Grist, Andy was marketing director at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London and New York.

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