The 10% Rule

In Part 1, I suggested that only 10 percent of sales content was the good stuff. The gold. The high-impact content that should be at the fingertips of every rep. My very unscientific claim is based on my own experience as a quota-carrying sales rep as well as my observations of top performing reps over my twenty or so years in sales and marketing. In my experience, top-performing reps make their number with the content they have and underperforming reps fail to do so with that same content.

The rise of content marketing and sales enablement have created a tsunami of content that has, in turn, created a sudden abundance of content that sales must sift through to find the gold. According to Sirius sales spends 64 percent of its time on non-selling activities and content is a big part that. The 10% Rule claims that the overwhelming majority of content is not the “gold”. Another stat from Sirius appears to support this claim: only 35 percent of the content created by B2B organizations are actively used and the reasons the other 65 percent goes unused generally boils down to two things: it’s unfindable (hard to find) and unusable (irrelevant and low-quality). The 10% Rule claims that we don’t have a supply problem…we have a quality problem and we need to seek out the 10% first before grabbing our surfboards to ride the content wave.

This is a manageable number that (dare I say) can be optimized in most organizations. Optimizing the 10 percent not only makes sales more effective, but the lower volume of content impacts efficiency by reducing the time and steps spent on finding, creating and sharing sales content. Here are six steps that I believe sales leaders can use to address the sales content conundrum.

Step 1: Defining Sales Content

Not all content is sales content, so let’s start by defining it. The now famous 67 percent stat from SiriusDecisions reminds us that two-thirds of the buyer’s journey is digital in nature. While sales may play a part of some early-stage interactions, we also know that most buyers consume content that is publicly available via search, vendor websites, blogs or review websites. Most of this content is created by marketing teams to loosen the status quo and educate the buyer, and most of it requires no interaction with sales. The content we want to focus on is the content sales reps share with prospects once the relationship has transitioned from marketing to sales and once sales owns the interaction.

There are some common scenarios for this:

  • Marketing has passed a marketing-qualified lead (MQL) or marketing-qualified account (MQA) to sales and sales now owns the interactions with the prospect.
  • Sales is prospecting to create sales-generated leads (SGL) and owns the interactions.
  • BDR or inside sales is outbound prospecting to create tele-generated leads (TGL).
  • BDR or inside sales is responding to an inbound inquiry to create a tele-qualified lead (TQL).

These interactions are typically via phone, email, web/collaboration or in-person. I discount social interactions from this only because most content shared via social channels should be 1) curated by marketing; and 2) automated for sales sharing and thus should not be weighted like other content is weighted. Another simple clarification for sales content is that we’re referring to public content, which is shareable with prospects and not internal reference material.

Here are some examples of sales content that fit the criteria:

Product/Solution Slicks White Papers Proposals
Feature Comparisons Analyst Reports Quotes
Buying Guide Presentations Scope of Work
Case Studies Product Demos Contracts

For simplicity, let’s refer to any one piece of sales content as an “asset.” And yes, some of these assets can be offered by marketing without a sales interaction. But these are still the common assets that sales most often shares in prospect interactions. Now that we know what we’re looking for, we can move to Step 2: identifying the high-impact assets.

Step 2: Identifying High-Impact Assets

There may be several ways to identify high-impact assets but there are two I prefer: a Top-Down approach and a Bottom-Up approach.

Top-Down Approach

The Top-Down approach requires us to take an inventory of sales content wherever it may live – meaning 100 percent of sales content and not just the 35 percent referenced by Sirius or the 10 percent by my 10% Rule. Hopefully your inventory process will begin in your current repository of sales assets: a shared drive, shared folder or dedicated repository. For most of us it won’t be quite that simple. We’ll need to look in the various nooks and crannies where content may live – laptops, email, CRM or other areas. As we go about the process we want to look for the aforementioned asset types in a “check the box” approach.

Bottom-Up Approach

The Bottom-Up approach can be more tedious and time consuming, but it’s a great way to get to the gold. For this approach, we begin by identifying 5-10 wins with accounts that fit your profile. We then need to deconstruct the buyer’s journey for each win. Whereas the Top-Down approach relies heavily on a subjective score that a rep assigns to each asset, the Bottom-Up approach is more objective. We can observe the assets that are used in winning deals.

Another advantage of the Bottom-Up approach is that it allows (or requires) us to do some journey mapping. If you have not yet mapped the buyer’s journey for key wins, this may sway the vote for this approach. And if you have done journey mapping this time around, you will focus exclusively on the sales assets that were used throughout the journey. The Bottom-Up approach may also be best if you have a small team.

If you have the time and resources, it’s hard to beat the combination of both approaches which can run in parallel. One team runs the process for a Top-Down approach and another works the Bottom-Up approach. We then meet back up to see what we have.

For the Top-Down, Bottom-Up or Combo approach there are three Golden questions we need to answer:

  • What assets are used most often?
  • What assets are commonly used in Won opportunities?
  • How customized by sales were those assets?

What about assessing lost deals, you might ask? Again, if you have more time and resources, a good practice is to add 5-10 lost opportunities that reached your final buying stage. For the resource-constrained amongst us, focus on the wins.

Step 3: Taking Inventory

The inventory process is not pain-free, but it’s essential and a templated approach goes a long way to making it doable. As the chart below depicts, we want to capture various attributes for each asset. And because I really want you to try this I’ve also created a spreadsheet for this template that I am happy to share with you. See the form at the bottom of this post.

Attribute What it Means / Example
Name of Asset Name of the current file / “Platform Benefits”, “First Call Deck”, etc.
Asset Type Product Sheet, Sales Presentation, Buying Guide, etc.
Content Category What type of content is it? / Brand, Sales, Product, Competitor, etc.
Buying Stage What stage(s) is the asset used? / Status Quo, Evaluation, “Stage 2”, etc.
Public vs. Internal Shareable or not? / Public can be shared and Internal is for reference only
Buyer Persona(s) With which persona(s) is the asset used?
Format(s) What format(s) is the asset in? / Web page, PDF, Video
Status What is the current status of the asset? / In Progress, Complete, etc.
Shared & Enabled Has the asset been shared with sales and has a training occurred?
Certification Does the asset require a certification prior to use?
Rep Score What is the score that sales gives this asset 1(low) -10(high)?
Priority What is the priority for this asset relative to others? / 1-3 Scale

Now that we have all of your sales assets inventoried and labeled, 🙂 let’s move to the next step.

Step 4: Fill the Mission Critical Gaps

We can use our inventory tool to identify any gaps in sales content. In addition to three Golden questions, there are two essential attributes that we want to look for first: buying stage and buyer persona. Before moving on to anything else we want to ensure that we have at least one asset for each buyer persona in each Buying Stage. It’s worth repeating that: we need to have at least one asset for each buyer persona for each Buying Stage before going further. For example, if we sell to three buyer personas and we have five Buying Stages there are 15 “boxes” we need to see on our grid. Note that some assets can be used across multiple personas as well as multiple stages and so the count of assets may be less than the Discrete Personas x Total Stages equation.

Again, my strong suggestion is to make sure you have this baseline of content in good shape before you go any further.

At this point we should also have an initial answer to the three Golden questions:

  • What assets are used most often?
    In the Top-Down approach, Sales tells us this with the asset score. In the Bottom-up approach, we can observe it.

  • What assets are commonly used in Won opportunities?
    In the Top-Down approach, we again use the asset score from Sales. In the Bottom-Up approach, we can observe it.

  • How customized by sales were those assets?
    With either approach this should be observable.

If we observe any mission critical gaps we need to fill them by prioritizing this content. Once the gaps are filled, we can move to Step 5.

Step 5: Train, Enable and Certify

With our mission-critical content in hand, we now need to operationalize the content. This is a fancy way of saying we need to hold a training session for the assets to ensure that sales is ready to use them effectively. If you have a regular cadence for training or sales enablement, get this content on the next agenda. For most organizations this would also justify a special, dedicated enablement session. For any assets that require certification, you’ll want to account for those additional steps and resources as well.

Step 6: Enhance and Renew

Now that we have answered the Golden questions and established a baseline of content to cover all buyer personas across every buying stage, we can begin to think about enhancing our inventory. But don’t grab your surfboard and head for the tsunami just yet.

There are a few things we might consider for Step 5:

  • Take the alternate approach: if you started with Top-Down take a shot at the Bottom-Up or vice versa.
  • Look at lost deals: if you weren’t able to get there in the preceding steps, add this review to your content analyst. Again, start with 5-10 losses that fit your deal profile that made it to the final buying stage.
  • Add new content formats to the arsenal. Some buyers prefer long-form to short-form, video to documents…give them what they want!
  • Refresh the inventory with new titles. Add a second, third or fourth asset to each of the baseline scenarios in accordance to your content marketing plan.
  • Experiment with new asset types you have not yet tried. I love value actualization assets like ROI calculators and interactive buying guides. Pick a new type to pilot and remember to build in time for training and enablement.
  • Look at your content through a new lens, like industry. Adding a lens is an excellent way to enhance your asset library. Ask the question: What changes for this persona and stage when we look through an industry lens? Do IT buyers in financial services prefer that you are using relevant terminology or jargon? Are there certain trends in manufacturing that heighten the value prop of your solution? Look for ways to deepen the content through this type of lens.

These six steps will go along way in simplifying the landscape from the 100 percent to the 35 percent and eventually the 10 percent of sales content that has the most impact. If this feels like a big commitment – it is. But one that is worth the effort. Finding the gold will make sales more productive (and effective) and deepen the alignment between Sales, Marketing and Product. But there’s one more step to take. We need to understand our options for powering sales content with the right tools and technologies.

In the final installment in this series we’ll explore the numerous options for powering content: Powering the 10%.