Content for Sales Enablement

by Leslie Hancock

You've probably been hearing the term "sales enablement" a lot lately. It's the new hotness. Well, not so new -- it's been the up-and-coming hotness for a couple years now, and for good reason. A full 75 percent of organizations that have sales enablement functions in place report that it has a significant impact on their ability to achieve business goals like increasing sales performance and revenue. The degree of a sales enablement program's success, though, depends on the company's definition and level of commitment.

Photo by JD Hancock (CC license)

Photo by JD Hancock (CC license)

What Is Sales Enablement?

Definitions of sales enablement vary, ranging from the recruiting and training of sales teams to the processes and technologies that help generate leads and track sales performance. There's a growing consensus around marketing and sales alignment, though, as the primary driver of a successful sales enablement program. That’s how I look at it because the need for better alignment of marketing and sales has been starkly clear in almost every organization I’ve worked with or closely observed throughout my career, and those companies that have better alignment are easily more successful than those with poorer alignment.

Why Is Sales Enablement So Challenging?

Many companies have bought into content marketing and have ramped up impressive content operations over the past couple of years. At the same time, content-driven approaches like social selling, community building and thought leadership have greatly improved performance on the sales side. Everyone is producing so much lovely content, but they’re still doing it in silos.

There’s a historic disconnect between marketing and sales that’s baked into the process – marketing generates leads and hands them off to sales, returning their attention to generating more leads while sales nurtures leads into prospects and closes deals. However, the modern customer journey demands greater collaboration and alignment between the two functions than ever before.

How Can Marketers Create Content for Sales Enablement?

Right now, 90 percent of content that marketing departments produce is never used in selling situations, and sales reps’ chief complaint is that they can’t find content suitable to send to prospects. Moreover, up to 30 percent of sellers’ time is spent curating or creating content to suit their needs. As a content marketer, I hate knowing that. How many more deals could my clients be closing if their sales reps weren’t spending so much time and energy on content creation? I want to create content that doesn’t just build brand awareness and generate leads – I want to create content that empowers sales teams to close deals as well.

But it’s not as easy as simply being aware of the need for marketing and sales alignment and producing more sales-focused content. We have to truly collaborate with each other, and that can be difficult from a purely logistical point of view. When it comes down to it, sales doesn’t have time to communicate their content needs to marketing, and marketing doesn’t have the knowledge they need to produce effective sales content.

How Can Sales Teams Help Marketing Help Them?

From the marketing perspective, we don’t know what goes on in sales conversations – what questions prospects ask, what objections they present, what message or information tips the balance and closes the deal – unless sales reps tell us. And it’s typically really hard to get salespeople to slow down and tell us what they need. If they’re good at what they do (and we want them to be), their days are packed with sales calls, prospect meetings, and deals. When it comes to content, they’d often rather just do it themselves, thinking it’ll be easier and faster if they do. But it’s not.

Not only could it save a significant amount of sales reps’ time in the long run to collaborate with marketing for sales enablement, it would also reduce the risk of sales reps accidentally using old claims, inconsistent branding, poorly produced collateral that hasn’t been through legal review, copyediting or design, etc. It benefits everyone if marketing and sales work together.

How Can You Get Started with Sales Enablement?

So if your company is one of the majority that needs to improve alignment of sales and marketing, what do you do now? You need a sales enablement champion – preferably an executive empowered to manage the people, processes and technologies of both marketing and sales – who will communicate a vision, prioritize collaboration among the teams, and create a system of shared accountability for those involved at every stage of the sales funnel, from building brand awareness to closing deals. With an empowered champion and executive buy-in, you’ll have a much easier time building a sales enablement program capable of producing aligned marketing and sales content.

Hat tip to Bloomfire, one of my clients, which makes powerful software for sales enablement

Types of B2B Content

by Leslie Hancock

When you're building out a content marketing plan and/or writing content for a brand, you need to know where and how the content will appear in its final form(s). Is it a thought leadership piece that will be coming out in an industry journal? Is it sponsored content that will appear inline with someone else's publication, as if it's one of their articles? Is it an article for the brand's own blog? Is it social media content? These considerations can subtly or overtly change the tone, appearance, purpose and audience of your writing, so you need to know before you put fingers to keyboard.

However, there are tons of buzz-words around content development and distribution. For example, do you know what native advertising is? Do you know the difference between brand journalism and public relations? What about the role of blogging for B2B brands? Don't worry -- we're here to help clarify the differences.

The Table of Content

Here's a simple yet really helpful way to classify your B2B content. The Table of Content is derived from Felix Salmon's "Native Advertising Matrix," published on the Reuters Blog in 2013 (used with permission). I found it to be a useful way to explain to clients the distinctions between types of content they might consider producing and where it should be published, so I tweaked it and had a designer make it better for us.

The Table of Content by Leslie Hancock; derived from work by Felix Salmon; designed by JD Hancock

The Table of Content by Leslie Hancock; derived from work by Felix Salmon; designed by JD Hancock

The Table of Content applies primarily to long-form content, but it encompasses some short-form types as well. For example, content marketing spans social media (where content can be as brief as 140 characters or fewer), to blog posts (typically 500-1,000 words in the B2B space), to white papers and eBooks and beyond. You may be able to repurpose and reuse some of your longer content by distilling it into smaller and smaller modules under the COPE (create once, publish everywhere) philosophy of content production and distribution. But a thought leadership piece will have a very different tone, purpose and audience than a piece of marketing collateral, like a brochure, meant to generate sales leads.

Public Relations

Public relations (PR) is earned media, meaning it's free publicity about your brand that is shared by reporters via broadcast or print media. PR is usually written by the media outlet's editorial staff, but it can also result from press releases the brand's communications staff writes and then shares across the wires for news services to pick up. PR can be far more powerful than paid media like advertising because it can reach a wider audience and is regarded as being unbiased and therefore more credible than paid advertising. 

Sponsored Content

Sponsored content can be long or brief, but it must be written and designed to match the publication in which it is meant to appear. Those articles in magazines and online publications that look just like staff articles but say "sponsored content" or something similar are paid articles that subtly or overtly promote a product or service, but they are couched in an informational or entertaining vehicle that is (one hopes) relevant and interesting to the publication's regular readers.

A Facebook post that you pay to promote is also a form of sponsored content, appearing in the reader's newsfeed with just a "sponsored" tag to reveal that this is marketing content. A blog post written by the person who owns the blog for compensation is also sponsored content (e.g., a popular "mommy blogger" who reviews toys sent to her at no charge in exchange for exposure on her blog).

Native Advertising

Native advertising, like sponsored content, must be written and designed to fit in with the publisher's content and usually appears inline with the regular feed. Where the primary goal of sponsored content is to get people to read it, the primary goal of native advertising is to get people to share it. Native advertising content, like an advertorial, is usually written by the brand's staff, an agency or a freelance copywriter.

Brand Journalism

When brands publish their own news and/or news about their industry, that's brand journalism. Some companies have full publishing operations in-house. With brand journalism, there is no expectation of an immediate return on investment. Instead, the goal is to build brand awareness and a positive image for the company by offering content with continuing value, credibility and honesty.

Thought Leadership

Similar to brand journalism, thought leadership content is not intended to have an immediate return on investment. It's more about building credibility and trust for the company's leadership and the brand in general within the industry. So if your company's CMO is seen as a marketing innovator whose ideas other CMOs want to emulate, it reflects positively on your brand to have that CMO on board and publishing or speaking regularly. Thought leadership can be published by the brand (such as on the corporate blog) or by industry publications, but it is typically written by a company executive, often with the help of a B2B ghostwriter.

Content Marketing

The goal of content marketing is to attract and retain an audience by consistently offering relevant and valuable content. The idea is to woo customers and change their behavior by building trust, credibility and brand awareness over time rather than through outright selling. Content marketing can take many forms, from social media to blogs to web content, print media, and more. Content marketing is essentially omnichannel, but it's typically written and designed by the brand's editorial staff and published by the brand on one of its owned channels.

Marketing

The difference between marketing and content marketing is that plain old marketing sells the company's products or services in a fairly direct way while content marketing is meant to be more subtle and indirect. Marketing copywriting includes collateral like brochures and sales sheets, web landing pages, email, direct mailers, and more. There's usually a clear pitch, persuasive language and a call to action (CTA) associated with marketing communications. Marketing is still more relationship-based than advertising, though. Marketing content is usually written by sales staff, an agency or freelance copywriters, and it's published and distributed by the brand.

Blogging

Blogging has become ubiquitous, though it was a bit slower to catch on in the B2B space. Pretty much every company has a blog at this point, and it can be used as a place to publish company news, tell employees' stories, highlight the company's philanthropic activities, establish thought leadership, curate other people's content about important industry developments, or any other kinds of content the company wants to include. Blogs are useful because they're so flexible and offer a place to create somewhat less formal and more varied content for a variety of audiences -- completely under the brand's control. Typically, corporate blogs are written by brand executives (or by B2B ghostwriters and credited to brand executives) and published by the brand.

How effective or essential each of these types of content is or can be is a topic for another post, as is the question of how to build an overall content strategy with an effective mix of content types. Be sure to subscribe to B2B Ghostwriting to be notified when new posts are published.