Content selling is the practice of leveraging content to support sales as they facilitate the buyer’s progression through their buying process. Sales is trained to understand who the buyer is, where they are in the process, and what they need. Once they understand those factors, they use content, along with some strategically designed sales plays, to help move the buyer along. This approach is fundamentally different to the standard “close-close-close” approach and it works. Greg Alexander from Sales Benchmark Index is a major proponent of content selling and he told me in an interview that sales leaders who have adopted this approach are typically at 150% of quota and have a job expectancy rate of 3-4 years (versus the more typical 18 months). He has said on numerous occasions: “In the future, a piece of great content will outsell an average sales rep. The self-directed buyer will begin to make complex purchases with zero rep involvement. Scary for some. Exciting for others.”
The sales technology market is growing at breakneck pace. At last years Sales 2.0 conference, it was estimated that there are over 2000 Sales 2.0 solutions on the market. If you don’t believe those estimates, then look at the number of sales solutions listed on the Salesforce.com AppExchange. I counted 746 applications as of August 7, 2013.
There are a number of reasons for this growth:
Webinars are an essential part of any content marketing and demand generation program. One question I always get about webinars is: if buyers are so busy, how does anyone have the time to sit through an hour long webinar? Loren MacDonald from Silverpop once wrote a brilliant answer to this question: “Many people view webinars as an hour of free consulting and training”. Webinars allow organizations to open a classroom for an hour and provide valuable, interactive content to their prospects and customers. As such, they are a very effective tool for driving customer engagement. They also tend to convert at a high rate because there is a deadline to register. With written content, people can “get to it when they have time”. With webinars, people who want to attend will make sure they register in a timely fashion.
One of the most important factors in creating a scalable, repeatable revenue machine is sales and marketing alignment. In aligned organizations, sales and marketing are working together in a coordinated effort to achieve the ultimate goal: revenue. There is compelling data that highlights the effectiveness of aligned organizations:
- Organizations with tightly-aligned sales and marketing had 36% higher customer retention rates and achieved 38% higher sales win rates – MarketingProfs
- Companies with dynamic, adaptable sales and marketing processes had an average of 10% more of their sales people on quota – CSO Insights
- Aligned organizations achieved an average of 32% annual revenue growth while less aligned companies reported an average 7% decline in revenue – Forrester Research
- B2B organizations with tightly aligned sales and marketing operations achieved 24% faster growth and 27% faster profit growth over a three year period – Sirius Decisions
Despite these statistics and years of emphasis, sales and marketing alignment continues to be a struggle. The good news is that there is a desire to change. The biggest impetus for this new mind-set has come from sales. Sales now realizes that buying behavior has changed and marketing now must own a significant portion of the buying process. A recent Sirius Decisions poll of 300 sales leaders highlights this: “The top third of the sales cycle has gone away. Salespeople believe that the beginning of the traditional sales process has evaporated and that buyers are self-servicing their needs instead of engaging with salespeople.” Sales needs marketing now more than ever.
Account based marketing is getting serious attention these days. Vendors, bloggers, and market research firms are fueling a resurgence in account based marketing’s popularity. ITSMA coined the phrase in 2004 and B2B vendors have been doing this type of marketing for years (but without calling it account based marketing). For the last several years, sales and marketing teams have been trying to re-think demand generation, understand technology such as marketing automation, wrap their hands around inbound marketing, and have now realized: “Well wait a minute, we sell to companies – we need to build our sales and marketing machine accordingly.”
Here is ITSMA’s definition of account based marketing:
“Treating individual accounts as a market in their own right”
A structured approach to developing and implementing highly-customized marketing campaigns to markets of one, i.e., accounts, partners, or prospects. This approach involves marketing and sales taking a close look at key business issues facing the target, mapping them to individuals, and tailoring campaigns to address those issues.
One of the most critical functions in converting leads to opportunities is a sales development team. Sales development is a group whose main job is to identify, connect with, and qualify leads. When a lead is qualified, they hand the qualified lead over to a sales person who is in charge of working the rest of the sales process and hopefully, closing the deal. Some organizations call this role lead qualification, lead development, account development, telemarketing, or inside sales. For this post, we will call the role “sales development”.
Your revenue often depends on having a high-functioning sales development function. I am one of the biggest proponents of the sales development role. Here is a brief write-up that includes my views from Marketo’s Definitive Guide to Lead Qualification: