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Content Selling Tactics: Introducing Champion Content

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.”

In today’s post, we want to talk about a specific content selling use-case which we call champion content. Champion content is content designed specifically for your internal champion who is interested in your solution but must navigate his/her own organization to help advance the deal. There are many more applications of content selling we will continue to explore in upcoming posts, but champion content has a tremendous impact on pipeline acceleration for those that have built it into their selling process. As a result, is the perfect example to talk about the effectiveness of content selling.

content selling

Will content work for my buyer?

We get this question all the time and frankly, the person to answer that question is your buyer. Before designing your sales and marketing process, you will need to understand who your buyer is and what their preferred buying experience (we’ll outline this in the next section of this post). What we can tell you is that it’s 97% likely that your buyers consume lots of content during their buying experience. Today’s buyer has three well-known traits that illustrate this point: the buyer is more informed than ever before, prefers to work digitally, and prefers third party objective content. As a seller you have two choices: you can fight this trend and continue selling status quo or you can embrace this trend and infuse content selling into your buying experience design. Your foundation will be to design a remarkable buying experience for your buyers. Content will be a critical part of this process.

Building a buyer-centric sales marketing experience

In order to answer the questions of what content to build and when to deliver it, you will want to follow the following steps to design the buying experience that your buyer wants.

1. Buyer persona development – The most important factor in content selling is to understand what content your buyer values most. Personas are a valuable tools for determining content preferences. This exercise is not just a “who is the decision maker, influencer, and recommender” exercise, but a deep understanding of each critical buyer involved in the purchasing process. Each persona should explore the following:

  • Who the buyer is from a demographic perspective
  • The role that the buyer plays in the organization
  • What the buyer’s objectives, priorities, and challenges are
  • What a day in the life of the buyer looks like
  • How the buyer makes purchasing decisions
  • What content they value in their capacity as a buyer

2. Buying experience mapping – Once you understand who your target buyer is and their content preferences,  you need to map the steps a buyer takes to purchase a product like yours. The map should start with the status quo and follow each step until purchase (and beyond). For content selling purposes, the map should detail the content that buyers consume as they work their way towards a purchasing decision. You should talk to buyers and internal employees such as sales people to make sure you understand the buying experience.

For each step in the buying experience you want to understand the following details:

  • Their key objective(s)
  • Key activities
  • Information and content they consume
  • How they communicate
  • What they need to get to the next step
  • The key questions and objections
  • The roadblocks that prevent them from advancing in the process

3. Remarkable buying experience design – Once you understand how your buyers want to buy, you can design a remarkable buying experience for them. You should detail the touchpoints where marketing or sales will engage with buyers during their buying experience. For each touchpoint, you want decide who will interact with them (sales, marketing or both), how they will engage (email, web, phone for example), and what you will deliver (content). In most cases, content will be delivered across the entire buying experience.

4. Operationalize your content – When it comes to making sure that sales leverages your content, you need to make sure you train sales on content selling. The key elements of content selling training  include:

  • Buyer personas
  • The buying experience (step by step)
  • How to identify who the buyer is, where they are in the experience, and the subsequent plays to run at each step
  • The plays to run at each step
  • Content training including where to find content, what content to use, and when to deliver it

There are two other aspects to operationalizing this process:

  • A dedicated content creation resource – There should be a dedicated person or persons whose job it is to create content for sales and work with sales on a regular basis to update and optimize the content.
  • A centralized content repository – Sadly, we constantly find situations where marketing has created content and sales has no idea where to access it. The content repository should be easy to use and constantly updated.

The four characteristics of great sales content

Sales content is different than marketing content. Marketing content such as ebooks and webinars are typically designed to appeal to large segment of buyers in order to capture leads. Sales content is more focused on very specific questions, concerns, and objections of the buyer. This doesn’t always mean that there needs to be a completely new content build-out. You should perform a content audit to find re-usable content. In many cases, the content is available in some form and can be repurposed for your content selling efforts.

Sales content should be designed to:

  1. Move buyers from one stage to the next – If you have designed the buying experience, then you will know the steps buyers go through on the path to purchase. Content should be designed to move them from one step to the next.
  2. Answer questions or objections – When you design the buying experience, you want to understand the questions and objections buyers will have at each stage. Then, you build content to help answer these questions. Sales will attempt to help buyers with their questions, but trusted content is more likely to be credible to the buyer.
  3. Overcome roadblocks – An example of a roadblock might be a business decision maker having to convince IT of a technology purchase. Content can help buyers overcome these roadblocks.
  4. Suit the consumption patterns of your target buyer – People always ask me “Do buyers read white papers (insert other content types here)?” There are market trends you can use to answer that question, but the best way to answer that question is to ask your buyers in the buying experience mapping process. It is at that time, you will identify their desired content types (whitepaper versus video), content length (short 1-2 pages or thorough), and voice (peer, internal expert, or third party objective source).

What is champion content?

Champion content is a great example of using content to facilitate the buying process and ultimately accelerate your sales pipeline and close more deals. Champion content is provided to your internal champion to help them sell your project internally. Many sales organizations are aware of the situation: “our champion likes what they have heard and are bought in”. The process looks like it is moving forward so the sales rep moves them to 40-60% in the pipeline. What is happening on the buyer side is another story. Your champion now needs to maneuver internally and there are many potential roadblocks that stand in the way of the process. For example, the champion will need to get buy-off from a number of different stakeholders. There is a minimum of 3-5 stakeholders that will influence your purchase and depending on your solution. There might also be multiple departments, multiple people, and more importantly, competing agendas. Sales people often lose visibility into the deal at this point and in many cases, deals will stall or the buyer will drop out.

For many sales organizations, the predominant issue is the buying committee or other stakeholders in the process, but your solution might have other potential roadblocks like infrastructure, regulatory, or compatibility issues. The goal is to get in front of the process and create champion content to help buyers more effectively and efficiently resolve these issues on their end.

Four examples of champion content

Champion content can take many forms, but four common types include:

1. Champion content bundles – Let me start with an interesting use-case: A cloud company wanted to understand why a large segment of their deals were falling out of the buying process. Everything seemed to line up for them. All of their leads were inbound, their brand was very hot, and despite having “middle of the funnel” issues they were a leader in the space. They went through the process of talking to buyers to understand what was happening during the buying process. What they found was that their champions were gung-ho, but they could not win over their pivotal decision makers internally. By identifying the buying bottleneck, they were able to create champion content to help overcome these issues. They created content that challenged status quo and made the case for re-considering one’s current infrastructure. They also created content designed to overcome very specific roadblocks such as risk and security issues. The content was a mix of internal thought leadership from the company and peers (their current customers). Sales had a choice to deliver written content or video depending on their buyer ‘s preferences. As a result, deals that would have been lost were now being won and the sales process was shortened by a month.

2. The champion deck – Steve Hays, CEO of Insidesalesteam.com, helps his champions overcome internal resistance with “the champion deck”. His sales process typically starts with a champion who then needs to sell the idea to other stakeholders in the organization. In order to help their champions navigate internally, they created a champion deck. The champion deck includes a real-world, “no-brainer” ROI model for everyone. Steve said: “The ROI has to be really straightforward but compelling. You aren’t there, so you have to build it to avoid the typical questions people raise.” Also, if they can use the buyer’s real numbers, they will insert them into the deck. Another key part of the champion deck is comparisons to other alternatives including competitors and in-house alternatives. If they can include alternatives they know the buyer has already evaluated, they will insert them into the deck. Finally, they try to include relevant case studies of similar companies to the buyers. The champion can then use this deck to help sell internally.

A venture capitalist recently told us a story of one of his portfolio companies changing their sales fortunes with the champion deck. They were getting a significant number of first meetings but deals were stalling. Their breakthrough came when they finally realized what was happening on the buyer’s side. Even though the champion would clearly be the owner of this solution, a project like this touched multiple departments and a significant number of stakeholders. The concept was new to the market and as result the champions could not sell the concept internally and were giving up. They solved this problem by simply creating two power point decks – one for selling and the other for their champion. The champion deck helped sell the benefits to the various constituents. The results have been spectacular. They will continue to build other forms of champion content such as written content and eventually video.

3. The buying map built to help sell internally – We met with a CEO of a new, open source platform in the early stages of trying to get enterprise acceptance. Their champions were really excited about their solution but they were facing significant internal roadblocks. For most buyers, there was typically an incumbent solution that had been in place for awhile. While their solution would be considered an upgrade, in most cases the status quo worked fine and the current system had internal fans who resisted change. Their champions were not only having trouble navigating their organization, but many had no idea where to start. They realized that their champions needed a game plan for winning consensus internally. To solve this problem for their buyers, they took the buying map they had created internally for the sales and marketing teams and published it for their buyers. Now their champions had a step-by-step process that they could use to win over their organization. The map told champions who to talk to, what to say, what documentation to provide, and soundbites to help them generate interest. The map also outlined potential roadblocks and how to overcome them.

4. Ecosystem content – Greg Alexander has a great example that illustrates buyer-centric content selling. When a buyer is evaluating technology, there are often other solutions that are necessary to round out an overall initiative that a buyer is trying to achieve. Alexander says: “The first instinct of the salesperson is to focus in on his or her product and feel threatened by the presence of other vendors, but if the buyer is presented with an incomplete solution, then they will likely drop out of the buying process.” Instead today’s sales person should be prepared to help the buyer with their options. They might say: “We have worked with many organizations with similar challenges. Here’s our product and it’s a piece of the solution/puzzle. Here are the other three pieces you will need to be successful.” The buyer can then be presented with a series of options backed by case studies. One sales enablement manager solved this issue by providing sales with not only case studies but also with vendor comparison guides for complementary solutions. Interestingly, they included non-partner vendors in order to provide truly helpful content for their buyers. They also had internal solutions consultants who were specifically trained on helping clients design their perfect solution. (versus most sales engineers who focus on helping buyers technically assess a product). Sales was initially resistant to this content, but sales reps won deals using this process and it spread to the point where sales reps were submitting requests for more vendor comparison guides.

As more organizations embrace a buyer-centric approach and lean heavily on content, we will see more examples of content selling helping accelerate pipelines and win deals. Stay tuned on the TOPO blog as we continue to write about more use cases across the entire buying process and provide more examples of content selling in action.

Craig Rosenberg is a co-founder of TOPO and the author of the sales and marketing blog Funnelholic. He loves sales, marketing, and things that drive revenue. Follow him on Google+ or Twitter.

  • MySales4Life

    You’ve captured the A-Z nicely in this article. Well done!
    Thanks

  • Michael Cannon

    Craig…super insightful post. I’d like to dialoged with you one portion of the post that starts with “Sales content is different than marketing content…” While this maybe mostly true today, I do not think it’s going to stay this way. It cannot if true content selling is to be a reality. I believe organization that follow your advice will end up producing customer/buyer content that both marketing and sales will use to support all phase of buyers journey. And, to do this effectively they will need to create messaging-enabled content. Here is a link that defines messaging-enabled content. http://tinyurl.com/bmc7enm
    Thoughts?

  • Christopher Engman

    Hi Craig. Very insightful. I am the CEO of the world leader and only global provider in account based marketing Vendemore http://www.vendemore.com/presentation . To use champion content and cut it into smaller pieces distributed through IP-targeted ads has shown to be really successful regarding engaging unengaged people in the buyer’s organisation.

    Parts of the Champion content has to be light weight content. Light weight content is for example short videos, half a page article, light reference cases from the buyer’s industry. To engage unengaged people around the Champion we need to think like politicians and talk about lighter topics.

    One great example of light weight content made to engage mid funnel and the unengaged crowd around the Champion is a case with IBM and their IT-security part. In this case we used IP-targeted ads targeting the listed accounts. The ads were content ads and all the stories were about how hackers work to penetrate banks. This is an interesting topics even for the unangaged people around the Champion and it works fantasticly well.

    If you like Craig I can share some other examples later.

    Thanks for a great post.

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