Cracking the Sales Content Code

Brian Williams, PhD

The goal was right: bridge the divide between marketing and sales. Equip sellers with content that will help them sell.

Go way back to the mid-2000s. Sales enablement was a label for tech vendors that ‘enabled’ the management of sales content. The technology provided the backbone of an entirely new function. It would serve as figurative bridge between content creators (marketing) and content users (sales).

The potential of the new sales enablement function was exciting. For many, it was the dawn of a new era in the integration of sales and marketing. Fast forward, sales enablement is now an established discipline. So how are we doing with the original goal of delivering content to help sellers sell?

We think the report card is mixed at best. And at worst, we’ve regressed, causing damage to the system. Misguided efforts have overwhelmed many sales teams with too much stuff. Companies are pumping out an increasing flow of collateral, messaging, and other assets. Content management systems have become bloated.

Too many sales enablement functions are failing to live up to the original promise. Sales enablement teams need more than technology to partner effectively with marketing.

To crack the sales content code, enablement needs a sales content strategy.

Such a strategy guides the design, organization, and management of winning content. And it provides the much-needed foundation to link marketing and sales.

Building a Sales Content Strategy

Sales content includes a wide range of formats and media. We define it as any content that supports a rep’s engagement with buyers. Unlike one-to-many promotional efforts, sales content is used by reps to develop, nurture, and close opportunities. It covers promotional content (brochures, product sheets, other marketing collateral), positioning content (insights, thought leadership, and research), and sales process content (rep talk tracks, email and voice scripts, whiteboard templates).

So, what defines a strong sales content strategy? In our view, it’s four things:

1. The Right Metrics

Marketing and sales speak different languages. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But often this language difference results in completely different metrics. Enablement tends to focus on metrics like content downloads and clicks. On the other hand, marketing content metrics are often based on volume. And of course, most sales leaders only care about results. These metric differences create major disconnects.

The best enablement teams partner with marketing to measure a more complete view of content. They understand: use (was it accessed?), consumption (did the buyer consume it?) and impact (what was the result?).

Effective sales content strategies also facilitate frank discussions across sales and marketing about content investments. What content truly drives results? When is content not the answer? The right metrics will focus your content efforts (including what to say “no” to).

2. The Right Contexts

It’s not enough to just understand the ‘what’ of sales content. Winning sales content is situational. How is enablement tracking the ‘when’ and ‘who’ of the content? A sales content strategy will include this situational insight:

  • What’s the objective of the piece of content – to educate on the problem?, to disrupt the current way of thinking?, to compare solutions?, to build the case for change?
  • When in the buyer’s journey is a particular content asset being deployed?
  • To whom is it being directed at – what specific customer role (user buyer, champion, executive sponsor, budget holder, etc.)?
  • What were the specific deal scenarios and pursuit strategy being deployed (flanking, direct, pinpoint, vision, etc.)?

Understanding how different content and messages differ by situation allows marketing to take their efforts to the next level. Sales can help marketing build the right win themes, value propositions, and differentiators by tracking the situational context of content. Executing this part of your content strategy will also find the holes – the missing content and messages.

3. The Right Paths

A strong sales content strategy clarifies how content gets to the field. Too many content systems are structured in a flat or hierarchical file structure. This approach is nothing more than a glorified Windows Explorer interface from 1995.

Marketing and sales need a shared understanding of the sales content use cases. Once developed, it’s sales enablement’s role to organize the content for easy access. Leading sales enablement teams have embraced digital playbooks that create rep-friendly content pathways. These paths match how reps think, and are more natural ways to find content:

  • Buyer persona or role
  • Buyer journey stage
  • Type of sales meeting objective (educate, disrupt, transact, facilitate)
  • Competitive situation
  • Product use case
4. The Right Collaboration

Building effective sales content requires collaboration across multiple functions. Ideally, field marketing, product marketing, sales enablement, and sales would come together to discuss what’s working and what’s needed. Too often, marketing or sales are driving solo, leaving the other on the side of the road.

Collaboration can take on many forms. It’s important that the organization defines a sales content strategy and execution owner. Experts from other functions will likely need to get involved. Establish a workflow with rigor and a schedule so teams are held accountable.

The sales content strategy should outline these formal feedback loops between sales and marketing. Consider “quarterly business reviews” and use objective data to inform smart decision-making.

Bring Your Sales Content Strategy to Life

To get started on your sales content strategy, here are some practical steps:

Step 1: Create a baseline. Start tracking and analyzing your content. Seek to understand what’s being used and how. This can be done both quantitatively through an enablement platform and qualitatively by asking top-performing reps.

Step 2: Understand ‘why’ and ‘when’. Tag your content by various deal factors. Then map these into common scenarios facing your reps. Engage the field to learn why reps are using a particular asset vs. another. Patterns and gaps should emerge.

Step 3: Prioritize the gaps. Think through what you’ve assessed so far through the following lenses: What content gaps rise to the surface? Where are they using content, but in the wrong situations? How critical is content to helping the rep in that situation? Scoring each of the identified gaps allows you to partner with marketing to build a joint content roadmap.

Step 4: Collaborate. Build the content roadmap and use RACI to clarify roles – Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed. More likely than not you’ll need to need to bring in subject matter experts from the field or other functions. The more folks added to the mix, the more execution risks emerge. Use strong project management tactics to keep your collaboration on track. 

Step 5: Get to work!

Taking the Next Step

Executing an effective sales content strategy can be hard. There’s a reason why so many companies struggle in this area. Embrace the challenge and make a sales content strategy a priority. Contact us to learn more about our content planning workshops designed to accelerate your strategy.

Brian Williams, PhD

Brian Williams, PhD

Researcher, consultant, and sales leader, Brian uses a data-driven approach to drive sales effectiveness. His clients include leading sales organizations in financial services, technology, healthcare, and professional services. Using insight from academics and change management, Brian helps senior leaders and sales enablement teams understand and succeed in today’s more demanding market. His research has been published in Harvard Business Review and other outlets.