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    Sales leaders are confused about what content can do

    Sales content is a hot topic right now, with companies like Hubspot preaching the value of being able to organize, track, and measure content designed to support salespeople.

    “Inbound sales” promises to reduce time to sales and increase sales productivity in the same way that inbound marketing promises to improve lead generation from marketing. They claim high moral grounds saying that sales and marketing in the past was deceptive and pushy. With their content automation tools, they say, customers will come running to you instead of away from you. Articles like "cold calling is dead" and "social selling is the future" generate a lot of likes online.

    The hype around sales content can lead salespeople and their managers into complacency.
    George Brontén

    Content sharing and tracking tools do offer some pretty cool functionality. You can more easily organize and share content, eliminating the clumsy back and forth email process. They can also provide really neat metrics, including the ability to see who engages with content, when, and how. When properly implemented, these tools can be helpful to salespeople.

    Unfortunately, the hype around sales content and corresponding tools has created significant confusion around what content can do–and what it can’t. Several years ago, the “new” field of content marketing promised to deliver a silver bullet for more effective marketing. But in fact, that promise never really materialized . Likewise, I predict that the new craze around “inbound sales,” at least in a complex sales environment, will follow a similar path. Its focus on content may produce some results, but won’t live up to its overhyped promises.

    Why the sales content hype is overblown

    Back in 2012 and 2013, content marketing was the big new thing that promised to automate marketing and deliver highly qualified leads to sales. It was supposed to save salespeople from cold calling. But, as we chronicled elsewhere, that’s not what happened. The culprits in this case were poor alignment with sales, inability to reach all the right stakeholders, and the effects of market saturation and content inflation, after an initial flush of success.

    Unless we learn the lessons of content marketing’s failures, sales content will follow the same trajectory. Here are four reasons it won’t deliver on its promises:

    1. It’s not aligned with the buying process

    Buyers love content. It allows them to engage with you without having to talk to someone, and to answer many of their questions for themselves. This can be great for your sales department when it frees your people up to engage in high value activities. Unfortunately, too often sales supportive content isn’t aligned with the buyer’s expectations, and as a result it works to undermine rather than support the sale.

    When salespeople are provided with sales content that is divorced from the sales process, they are likely to either not use it, or not use it appropriately. For instance, they may share price calculators too early in the process, before the buyer is ready to start considering details, and before they’ve fully understood the value of your solution. Likewise, they may share early process content, such as a “how to” guide, too late in the process. In either case, buyer time is wasted by content that is not appropriate to where they are in the process, which undermines trust–a critical ingredient in sales.

    2. It targets the wrong people

    When salespeople are not properly trained and supported in their use of content, they may send content to the wrong stakeholders, again undermining trust. A press release about a new partnership will be of little interest to a user who is trying to decide whether the product has the functionality they’re looking for. Likewise, an ebook about implementation is not useful to a CEO who wants to know how the product serves their strategic goals.

    Focusing on engagement metrics doesn’t resolve this problem. If your salespeople are worried only about the numbers, they may stop using pieces that target a high-level exec, because the numbers are low, without realizing that the reason for low numbers is that there is a smaller–but critical–audience for the piece.

    3. It can provide an excuse not to engage directly

    In transactional sales environments, properly organized and targeted content may be able to replace many of the roles of the salesperson. In complex sales, however, this is hardly the case. When making a decision involving risk, humans need to talk to humans. Trust is critical.

    Unfortunately, the hype around sales content can lead salespeople and their managers into complacency, convincing them that they’ve done enough if they’ve sent all the “right” pieces of content and analyzed all the data about it. This can have the effect of showering buyers with content that may or may not be what they need, while creating distance between them and your company. That distance will cause lost sales, to companies who pay the buyer more personal attention.

    4. You can get caught up in the “cool” factor

    Sales content delivery tools provide some pretty cool features. It’s neat to see when someone has opened your case study! It’s awesome to be able to follow up right away with a targeted phone call relevant to the piece of content they just read. It’s pretty darn cool to be able to track how many of your opportunities are interacting with your content and when, and which slides seem to be most popular, based on how much time buyers spend looking at them.

    But without a proper strategy and process, the cool factor will always be just that: Cool, but without much substance, like a sparkler that provides some enjoyment but then fizzles out. Calling someone right after they engage with your content only provides a momentary “wow” factor, and as more companies jump on board, even that will become as boring and annoying as targeted advertising has become today.

    What to do instead

    Don’t get me wrong: Sales content is great, important even. Sales content management platforms are terrific tools. Just don’t expect them to solve all your sales effectiveness problems.

    The solution in this case is not nearly as sexy as eye tracking software. In fact, if you’ve been reading my blog for long, you might even find the solution downright boring, because it’s been said so many times. But it’s still the right answer:

    Start with strategy. Build a process based on the strategy.

    Having done that, then you can align your content with your process, use it to target the right people at the right time, and use all those metrics to actually improve sales performance.

    Of course, I think Membrain is the best product on the market for accomplishing this. Membrain makes it easy to build your sales process directly into the salesperson’s workflow. You can use it to place the right bits of content directly into the salesperson’s hands at the right time based on who they’re talking to and where in the sales process they are. And if you still want to use content delivery tools, we can plug those in.

    Along with the right tools and strategy, you need to train your salespeople how to use content to supplement, not replace, their customer engagement. Membrain provides tools to help with this as well, by tracking salesperson activities and behaviors at each stage of the process, prompting them to take the right actions, and holding them accountable to their engagements.

    If you want to see how Membrain can help you execute your sales strategy and leverage content effectively, contact us for a demonstration.

    George Brontén
    Published September 6, 2017
    By George Brontén

    George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes.

    Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn