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It's no secret that content has changed the way marketers reach and engage customers. Done correctly, content marketing builds awareness for your company. It distinguishes your brand from thousands of other marketing messages. It fosters engagement and relationships with customers – not just transactions.

But here's the thing: Content isn't just a marketing tool anymore. It belongs in every sales rep's toolkit. In fact, in an era of self-educating buyers, content is a must-have for sales reps.

You might be thinking, "Sales reps have always used content. We love one-page product descriptions." True, but modern sales teams need a robust content strategy – one that extends beyond pushing a company's products and services. To understand this need, let's first take a trip into the past… 

A Quick Sales History Lesson

Pre-Internet

Before the internet, purchasing power rested with the seller. Buyers had limited information about the vendor, and to find out more information, they had to interact with the company through sales and service staff. So, much of the sales content focused on the product. Sales reps had product brochures and FAQs at their disposal.

Early Reaction to the Internet

With the arrival of Google in 1998, the role of the buyer began to change. Potential customers could search and find information about vendors. They began to take more and more control of their buying journey, and in turn, sales began to have less sway in buyers’ decisions.

Unfortunately, many sales organizations were slow to react to this shift in purchasing power. Reps continued to act as gatekeepers of sales information. Marketers would cast a wide net of leads, and when a lead was deemed "sales-ready," the prospect's contact information was passed over to a sales rep, who, in turn, tried to close the deal. As a result, many sales reps relied on traditional content – things like product brochures and product demos.

Enlightened Reaction to the Internet

Wise sales organizations started to notice something. If they waited until buyers were "sales-ready," they were waiting too long to interact with their buyers. If they wanted to win deals, they needed to start interacting with their buyers earlier in the buying cycle, long before they were "sales-ready." In fact, sales teams that engage buyers sooner are 56% more likely to hit their numbers.

To engage buyers sooner, sales reps needed to be more proactive. They couldn't wait for buyers to come to them. Instead, they had to engage buyers sooner, and to do that, they needed different types of content. They couldn't shove product brochures in the faces of someone who was struggling to define their business problem. Vendor selection wasn't even on that buyer's mind. They needed educational blog posts, ebooks, infographics, and trend reports that would help buyers along the way.

The Implications for Sales Teams

There you have it: a short, simplified history of sales. So, what does this mean for sales teams? Four implications immediately come to mind.

1. New Mentality: Educate Buyers (Not Just about Your Product!) and Nurture Them

As Forrester's research indicates, buyers would prefer to avoid sales reps, especially while they are researching solutions to their business problems.

In part, that's because sales reps don't meet buyers where they are. Salespeople often assume that buyers are, well, ready to buy, and consequently, reps are eager to push their product on prospects, even when prospects aren't ready to see a demo or sign a contract.

To be more effective, sales reps need to adopt a new mentality. Instead of closing, closing, closing, they need to listen to their buyers and determine where their buyers are in their journey. Often times, that means helping buyers educate themselves early on, as they try to define their business problems.

Thus, educational, rather than promotional, content is a must-have for sales reps. This type of content might be rich in statistics, or it might show how other companies identified and resolved their problems. It can come in the form of videos, industry trends, research reports, infographics, slide decks on SlideShare, analyst perspectives, and much more.

2. Good Content Can Help Establish Credibility

Engaging content can make sales reps trusted sources of information and education, and when sales reps can be of service to their buyers, they can build relationships, which create preference for your company and help win deals.

As Bob Johnson, an analyst at IDG Connect, has noted, “Our research shows poor content cuts the likelihood of a vendor making the shortlist by 30%.” Eep.

So, make sure you're selecting the best content to share with your customers.

3. Think Cross-Channel

Often times, sales reps' go-to channel for sharing content is email. But salespeople should not limit themselves. They can use social media to attract new customers and maintain existing relationships. Likewise, messaging apps can be powerful ways to nurture relationships with prospects and existing customers.

When choosing a channel to share content, think about the recipient's mentality. For example, messaging apps exist on phones. Chances are good that a buyer doesn't want to receive a link to a 40-page analyst report on their phone. That's a lot to read on a little screen. Email might be a better channel for sending the report.

4. Work with Marketing

Marketers know how to engage customers during the early stages of the buying journey. Meanwhile, classically trained sales reps are experts at the later stages of the buying journey. A good content strategy stretches across the entire buyer journey and incorporates the wisdom of both sales and marketing organizations.

As reps try to engage buyers earlier, they must rely on the expertise of marketers, who know how to attract buyers, educate them, and nurture them. At the same time, marketers must recognize that they aren't closing deals. So, they need to rely on the feedback of the sales organization in order to improve their late-stage content.

And according to CSO Insights, there's plenty of room for improvement:

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By taking these recommendations to heart, sales reps can better prepare for the future, reach and engage buyers sooner, and improve their win rates. As the buying journey continues to evolve, sales teams need to ensure that they are adapting. In 2017, that means meeting buyers earlier in their journey, listening to them, and providing them with the content that is right for their current stage.

Need More Help Planning Your Sales Content Strategy?

Check out this workbook. It provides you with the framework for building your strategy.

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Posted by Mark Bajus

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