What’s Old is New Again

I’ve been in the sales and marketing space for the better part of my twenty-year career – on both sides. There are some themes that have spanned those two decades: the challenge of creating alignment between sales and marketing; the advances in technology; the shift in power from the seller to a more informed buyer. But one theme stands out from these: the sales content conundrum.

Quantity vs. Quality

As a quota-carrying sales rep, I never seemed to have enough content: too little collateral, too few case studies, not enough presentation materials. What little content did exist was difficult to find or never quite hit the mark. Everything seemed to require some degree of customization. Shared folders weren’t a thing yet, let alone sales enablement applications. To overcome those obstacles, I became really good at creating the content I needed. I wrote. I became a PowerPoint master. I created custom everything. That’s a small part of the reason I made the switch to marketing. Now that I’ve been in marketing for the last ten years or so, I’ve gained a new perspective: There may have never been an issue with having “enough” content. It may have always been about having the right content for the immediate task at hand.

A Content Tsunami

The past four or five years have seen an explosion in content. The rise of content marketing and persona-driven marketing are to be credited (or blamed, depending on your perspective). Rightly so, marketers have endeavored to create content that hit a multidimensional bullseye for persona, buying stage and asset type. The proliferation of content has been like a tsunami washing over sales forces. We’ve gone from having too little content to having to deal with volumes of it.

There’s an App for That

The timing was perfect: the sales enablement movement has added fuel to the sales content bonfire, leading to an eager vendor response. All this content burdens sales with yet another set of tasks – finding, accessing, customizing and sharing a plethora of content – that stands to make sales less productive. According to SiriusDecisions, sales spends 64 percent of its time on non-selling activities and content is a big part of those activities. The vendor community seized on that opportunity, creating various tools to simplify how sales works with content. At last count, there are over 75 companies addressing the various angles of sales content.

My best estimate is over 10,000 B2B firms are either piloting or adopting tools to address the problem. That’s the good news; there’s lots of investment going toward addressing this problem. Unfortunately, we’re also seeing more and more failed pilots and false starts. There are always multiple factors that determine success or failure of any tech initiative, but I suspect one that ranks high is perhaps the most basic: having a clear understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve.

The Story Comes Full Circle

This brings my tale full circle to my own experience as a seller and the lessons I’ve learned then, as well as the last decade on the marketing side. According to SiriusDecisions, only 35 percent of the content created by B2B organizations are actively used. The reason the other 65 percent goes unused generally boils down to two things: it’s unfindable (hard to find) and unusable (irrelevant and low-quality). Stop and consider this: if sales is only using roughly a third of the content that’s available, and the other two-thirds is either difficult to find or just bad, is the problem one of volume or one of quality? Do we have a supply problem or a demand problem? And how would we know?

Top-performing reps and top-performing sales organizations have always made their number with the content they have. I’ve seen this first-hand where content was an issue and our best reps still made their number while our underperformers, with the same content, did not. The 35 percent in the Sirius example, in my experience, is actually more like 10 percent; 10 percent of content is high-value content used most often by sales. There are, of course, some exceptions. Some industries such as life sciences and financial services are extremely “content intensive” with product and regulatory information and thus have more content to manage, automate, etc. But for the vast majority of B2B selling organizations I believe the 10% rule applies. For this reason, the mission-critical task for sales and marketing is not to address the content tsunami and invest in tools to store, access and automate the volumes of potentially low-value content. The critical task is to identify the 10 percent.

If you buy into this argument, there is a series of next steps: identify the 10 percent; share that 10 percent with all sales through proper enablement; and determine which tools are needed to power this approach.

In the next installment in this series we’ll address the first question: Identifying the 10 Percent.