Marketing and Sales Content – Differences That Matter

What IS the difference between marketing and sales content?

This is a good question to ask across your organization. The answers will reveal people’s thinking and understanding about “content” in general. Notice how clear, specific, consistent and actionable the responses are. Or not.

Why does this matter? Effective sales content is a strategic imperative when selling in a digital age of hyper-connected, hard to engage, low attention span buyers.

Sales performance suffers due to poor or missing sales content. This is the common state across most B2B sales organizations.

According to SiriusDecisions, 65% of content created by marketing for sales is never used.

That’s not surprising to me. This has been the case for well over a decade. What’s shocking is not only that it isn’t resolved, it’s not improving! I believe the B2B sales content predicament is actually much worse than these statistics indicate.

This statistic and underlying research doesn’t address the adverse impact of required but missing sales content that was never created! Sales productivity and effectiveness opportunity cost significantly trumps the cost of content. 

Symptomatic of a Broader Content Problem?

This article will explain marketing and sales content differences and why this matters to B2B marketing and sales organizations.

It is axiomatic that you must diagnose problems correctly to understand and apply the best remedies.

If organizations have limited understanding of or visibility into the state of sales content, what other content-dependent functions and initiatives are under-served?

If you don’t know what makes sales content good and effective (before you create and use it), what other content categories are you unclear about?

The 65% statistic is a symptom. I’ve heard this delivered in webinars, events and through articles. When I ask people what they think is the core cause, the answers are general, not specific or actionable. “Content is unusable, not relevant, or users are unaware or can’t find it.”

The statistic and conclusions misdirect from the real cause of the sales content problem: few organizations really know how to create effective sales-ready content. They haven’t developed methods and practices that continuously improve the quality and effectiveness of sales content.

The belief that sales content is similar to and an extension of content marketing is misguided. This problem will persist until this thinking and the practices it produces, changes.

Causes of Misunderstanding Marketing and Sales Content Differences

Content strategy is still at a low level of maturity in most B2B organizations. When formally conducted, content strategy tends to occur within siloed functions, often at a tactic level. Examples include: content strategy for the website, for demand generation, social media, etc. Only 37% of companies in Content Marketing Institute research claim to have a documented content strategy.

Marketing teams that believe they have high content strategy maturity should validate this belief with an outside audit. This will confirm just how comprehensive and effective the strategy is, identify gaps, and ideally determine what the next level of maturity looks like.

When I interview marketers on the subject of sales content, I get two primary responses:

1 “We create content that should be useful to sales. Sales people either aren’t aware of it, or they can’t find/access it.” Indeed, this assessment is behind the exponential growth of sales enablement systems.

2 “We create the content sales asks for. We’ve never sold, especially in our environment. No one has trained us specifically on the characteristics of sales content.” 

For most B2B marketing organizations sales content is simply not considered a responsibility or priority. Their focus is content marketing. They have big challenges addressing those requirements. So they take priority.

I checked the Content Marketing Institute 2018 Trends report for supporting evidence on my sales content points. I found none. Nothing — as in no mention of sales or sales content — AT ALL. In fact, the word “sales” is used only twice in the report — as an alternative for “revenues”. B2B marketers don’t get much guidance on sales content from industry leaders.

Sales Organizations Don’t Provide Clear Content Requirements

B2B sales leaders are not immune from culpability for this problem. Most sales leaders have never sold in this digital and social era. As one senior sales leader in a very large technology company asked me, “What IS content, it’s collateral, right?”

Many sales leaders haven’t fully embraced the implications of selling in a digital world for their sales methodology and practices. Indeed, many are still trying to make the shift from a primarily product-centric sales approach, to a solution or value selling model.

As a result, sales leaders are no better at defining sales content requirements than their marketing counter-parts. During more than 15 years contracted to create sales content for B2B enterprise sales groups, it was our job to define sales content specifications. So it’s natural that sales groups assume it’s marketing’s job to figure that out.

As my opening question suggested, sales doesn’t understand sales content well enough to provide clear content creation specifications. Marketing doesn’t understand sales enough to know they need these details, or at least a detailed understanding of the use case, objectives and contextual relevance factors.

“Overall, there is a significant correlation between the effectiveness of customer-facing content and the level of relationships that can be achieved with customers.

The more effective customer-facing content is, the more likely providers can develop a high-level relationship with their customers.

Content matters. Content in context matters even more. “Customer-core” makes the real difference.

Content must become a sales force’s strategic imperative and a number one priority on every sales leader’s agenda. Highly effective customer-facing content that covers the entire customer’s journey is a must-have ingredient to remain successful in an ever-changing, buyer-driven world.”

Tamara Schenk, CSO Insights, Sales Enablement Research Director Relationship Building With Customers: Content Counts

Symptoms Of A Deeper Sales Content Problem

Additional symptoms that indicate you might have a bigger sales content problem that stems from misunderstanding marketing and sales content differences include:

  • Sales content strategy work isn’t a formal process
  • Sales content gaps aren’t known, considered and road mapped
  • Sales channel content isn’t considered, designed or developed differently than internal content
  • There are no specific, documented sales content quality definitions
  • Content briefs for sales content aren’t written or applied to specific assets before they are create
  • Sales content briefs don’t address sales-specific needs in sufficient detail, or aren’t reviewed with sales
  • Sales content quality measurement capability and feedback mechanisms are weak or unspecified

A good test is to ask: “How targeted and tailored is our content for optimal contextual relevance and personalization?”

We define contextual relevance in terms of:

  • Audience (general type, industry, persona),
  • Situation
  • Purposes (communicators and audiences)
  • Audience information requirements and questions
  • Content forms, formats and channels (among other factors).

It’s difficult to create content for these combinations of relevance factors. But this is what’s required for effective sales content. Sales is a highly personalized, mostly one-on-one game. Vendors of sales enablement systems frequently complain their customers don’t create content in ways that optimize the functionality of their systems.

Marketing and Sales Content Differences That Matter

As I prepared briefings and this blog on this topic, its nuanced complexity became even clearer.

Despite more than 15 years thinking about and developing sales content frameworks to guide the creation of quality sales content by my firm for our clients, key points and this table required several weeks to evolve. When it comes to content creation, details matter.

This short video provides a narrated explanation of this table. If video doesn’t display inline click to view in a separate tab.

(This video, related slides and other assets are a microsite linked below.)

Most often, sales doesn’t need a complete document, presentation, article or webinar. They need a snippet from these assets. They need a quote, research fact, graphic, one or two slides to help a conversation, a small segment from a webinar with an important explanation or message by an expert or customer.

I call this micro-content. [See Micro-content — the most important content type you don’t manage]

Sales needs a repository of source content elements they can use to create or tailor a presentation, proposal, blog, letter or even a custom web landing page. I call thisContent Source. [See Content Source the secret sauce to quality content]

Sales people need ALL content required for a particular use casegrouped or relatedso they quickly find everything they need to do that job.

Examples include emails or social posts to deliver a finished document or article asset. Video, not as a YouTube link, but inserted into a landing page with an explanatory abstract and links to related content. Knowledge and Communication Support aids to help them prepare to use the asset, and guide them in using it. Examples here include technology, industry, company or role background information.Questions to ask, questions to anticipate hearing, and answers to questions are other examples.

Often this “content” is in the form of text, links, or graphic files. How do you manage and deploy these asset types? How difficult is it for users to find, select and use these assets?

Checklist of Marketing and Sales Content Differences

Sales content is best considered in three primary categories:

  • Knowledge; Conversation and Communication Support; Situation-ready Content
    • Knowledge requirements include those for both sellers and their audiences (most marketing thinking and planning focuses almost exclusively on audience needs — important but not sufficient)
    • Sellers require continuous knowledge, learning and performance support embedded in daily activities and systems
    • Conversation and Communication Support — examples include inventories of emails, questions to ask, answers to customer questions and many others listed here
    • Conversations are content. As such, key conversations are best designedand tested in a manner similar to testing content. Then they can be applied universally by the sales organization
    • This approach helps discover the deeper insights required, as well as identifies required visual and other communication support assets
    • Communication support assets that are designed for customer’s internal conversations to enroll colleagues and stakeholders and build consensus. This is a critical and not typically provided asset group
    • Situation-ready content — all supplemental educational and proof assets.
  • The context for sales content requires that it be tailored to each specific customer and situation
  • It speaks to individuals more than market segments or even general personas
  • Contextual relevance means content meets a specific purpose, and ispersonalized more than generic
  • Sales content must support specific information requirements in the buying/selling process
  • It is prescriptive more than descriptive
  • Sales content is question based, leverages unique and relevant business insights, and supported by stories and examples
  • It provides answers to specific buyer questions, supported with proof

What’s Required to Realize Effective Sales Content?

Organizations must change their approach to sales content. Specific sales content requirements must be defined as a requisition process.

Detailed content specifications for each asset or asset group must be provided to content development teams, be they internal or third party. This is similar to specifications for new product features. This makes sense, afterall, content IS a product.

Preceding this action, use case requirements must be defined and assessed. [See How to Define Sales Use Case Requirements]

Sales content must be tailored by sales people at the point just before use and delivery.

This is especially important for your sales channel. They want to configure training, marketing content and campaigns, as well as selling content as a combined story.

This means content must be designed, created and packaged for distribution in a way that allows editing and final configuration and assembly to be completed downstream, by sales users. (Horrors!)

Actually, this has been occurring for decades. It’s called PowerPoint. It’s one of several reasons PowerPoint has been the lingua franca of marketing and sales organizations. Think of PowerPoint as a communication model to be extended, more than a technology to be critiqued.

This of course means upstream production approaches and techniques must change. We discovered that an approach using micro-content, modular design, andconfigured assets makes this work.

At the detail level — and content creation is all about getting specific details right — there are many more elements to address that make this work better, faster, cheaper, at scale, without the compromises required by the traditional, outdated content process currently in use. [See What is a Leveraged Content Supply Chain]

Why B2B Marketers Should Care

If B2B marketers want to keep up their ability to provide value to the organization, they must move beyond traditional marketing tactics and early stage lead generation content marketing initiatives. Supporting engagements across the whole buyer journey is one way. Support for the communication and content requirements of other customer-engaging functional groups in addition to marketing is another.

Better content performance — for sales and marketing content — means better marketing and sales performance — and business results.

Perhaps the most immediate reason is Account Based Marketing (ABM). Success with ABM initiatives requires tailored, personalized, contextually relevant content. Including but going beyond industry and persona factors, it must address individual company and people requirements.

For the imminent future, we must all have a higher appreciation for the reality we’re living in an age that requires accelerated learning to keep up with exponential change. One example of this is a present but not generally recognized content requirement to operate in a Content-as-a-Service (CaaS) manner.

CaaS is required to serve audiences who expect to self-configure and assemble relevant and useful finished assets from an inventory of Content Source. Your sales, sales channel, partner and customer organizations need this today. Very soon, it’s the rest of the world.

The technical elements for this already exist, no big deal actually. What’s missing are the operational processes needed to produce, manage and deploy content that supports this objective. What is coming in short order is automated assembly of ALL content types, well beyond that of today’s early stage dynamic web page displays.

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