The sales cycle can be a lonely place; just ask a potential customer. If a prospect says, “The timing isn’t quite right, can you check back in 3 months?” most salespeople will set a reminder and call that prospect back in 3 months. The time between touchpoints is empty and devoid of any personal connection or even an attempt to make a connection, but this does not have to be the case; a solid content strategy properly mapped to the sales cycle will result in more closed deals.
What Content Should You Create?
A term tossed around consistently, let us first define the term “content” in this context; it is anything created to support an organization’s product or sales process. While there are many content styles, some of the most popular include:
Webinars – A video can be live or pre-recorded that teaches prospects about the product or service your organization offers. They are generally produced using GoToMeeting or Zoom (the software of 2020!). Webinars are great for lead generation as they often require registration.
Blogs – A written piece that covers a topic relevant to your industry, generally hosted on the organization website. These pieces are usually anywhere from 800-1500 words and are created with the SEO/keyword strategy in mind.
Video – Similar to webinars, videos can be live or pre-recorded, but the topics range from an explainer video, product demo or, anything really. Video is an excellent opportunity just to share thoughts or get a dialogue going. Video is also a bit more personal and can help establish rapport.
Infographics – A visualization of information, generally ideal for data-heavy and comparative content. While they can be engaging, infographics are losing popularity as mobile becomes mainstream.
Slide Shows – Slide shows are a great content style for walking through a process or list. It provides an interactive element as well, making it a more engaging content style. Networks like LinkedIn now provide support for slide show content in the timeline.
Podcast – Audio segments that can also incorporate video of varying length discussing relevant industry topics. Podcasts are perhaps the fastest-growing content segment. Often hosts bring on guests from adjacent or partner industries to share expertise. Podcasts are an excellent opportunity to create recurring content and establish thought leadership.
Case Study – An outline of work done with a previous client that explains the strategies and highlights the successes. Case studies are especially effective when targeting specific industries. Proving success in the past is a great way to develop trust with prospects.
Info/One Sheet – A simple, one-page document that clearly outlines the organization’s positioning statement and includes a brief description of the product/services offered.
Proposal/Presentation – While often viewed as simply a document shared when it is time to close the sale, a final (or initial) presentation or proposal should reinforce all the content and messaging the prospect has already seen.
To create meaningful content, it is essential to develop a well thought out content strategy that aligns with sales goals and plans. Creating content in a silo will indeed result in unproductive content. Often it is best to have marketing and sales come together; the sales team can help marketers understand where the cycle is faltering or what specific content they need. Content should always be relevant. “Evergreen” content, meaning pieces that will not lose value over time, will perform better. If every content piece ties in COVID, that might not resonate in 8-12 months, or maybe it will (please wear a mask).
Understand the Sales Cycle
Next, let us consider the sales cycle; this is the process and time it takes for a prospect to go from initial consideration to client to a referral. Each organization has a unique sales cycle, some long and some short. The most important aspect is to clearly comprehend the process to efficiently and effectively integrate the content strategy. Here are several important factors to consider when examining a sales cycle:
Length – The length of the sales cycle can tell quite the story. Are sales reps rushing to make the sale or avoiding asking for it? An error to either side could result in lost sales. A clear understanding of this cycle ensures content can be properly mapped to the right prospect at the right time; this can also help sales reps understand if a prospect is a fit. Knowing the length of the sales cycle is essential to forecasting and growth.
Obstacles – During the sales process, the sudden appearance of obstacles is all too common. Timing, price, or C-level buy-in are all examples of potential obstacles. If sales reps are armed with substantial objection handling messaging and content that reinforces that, those barriers can be traversed, ultimately building trust and rapport along the way.
Opportunities – Examining a sales cycle does not always have to uncover negative aspects. Perhaps there are missed opportunities? The right content at the right time could help expose those otherwise missed opportunities. Of course, discovering these opportunities will be rarer than finding problems, but new perspectives can be gained after refining the cycle over time.
No two sales cycles are identical; therefore the possible improvements are not generic but unique to each organization. Have a willingness to review the cycle more than once, trying to learn as much as you can. Make sure the sales reps have input in the process as they are navigating the sales cycle daily.
Map Content to the Sales Cycle
Let us imagine an imaginary sales cycle that has three stages. The first stage would be the initial discovery. The prospect submits a form on your website, or perhaps you speak with them at an event. They know little about your organization and are just starting their research. The next stage is when the prospect is familiar with your organization and has contacted a salesperson. They have expressed a clear need and an interest in the product/service your organization offers. The final stage is the presentation/proposal stage, where the sale is won or lost. The prospect has all the company and pricing info they need to make an informed decision.
So, what content makes sense to share at each stage?
In the first stage, the prospect is seeking information, answers to their questions, and solutions to their problems. Content shared during this stage should address precisely those topics. A mistake a salesperson could make during this stage would be to share pricing. Without proper context, pricing is meaningless and might just scare away the prospect. Content that is appropriate at this stage includes any piece that lends itself to be introductory in nature. If your company sells an inventory tracking software, perhaps a piece titled “5 Ways Inventory Tracking Saves Money” or a podcast episode titled “Intro to Our Inventory Tracking Software.”
On to the second stage: After deftly sharing content that perfectly addressed the prospect’s questions/concerns, the sale has progressed. It is time to change up the content a bit. With some rapport and trust established, this content should organically help move the prospect through to the final stage. In this step, try to reinforce the value you provide; offer an industry case study, ideally in the same industry as your prospect. If your service helps their competitors succeed, it will help them succeed. Perhaps a webinar or podcast with a current client, discussing how they use the product/service. The format for these content pieces is generally a bit longer and more-in-depth on the topics merely introduced in the first stage. Let the prospect hear about the value of your product/service from someone outside your organization. Of course, the salesperson will sing praises, but that praise carries more value coming from a satisfied customer.
We have arrived at the final stage of our sales cycle, and it is time to close. Almost always, some sort of presentation happens in the final stage of the cycle. The word presentation does not necessarily mean a 20-slide PowerPoint that takes an hour to get through. A presentation can simply summarize pain points, how your product/service addresses them, and ending with the price or pricing options. If a presentation is unnecessary, the proposal should still reflect the same brand and messaging that went into the other content types.
This sample sales cycle walkthrough shows how different content at different points makes sense. While the process might seem overwhelming, simply ask yourself, would I want to see this content at this point? Always remember to share the right content at the right time. Creating good content can be time-consuming, but with the right strategy in place, it is worth it.