Content marketing is generally considered an approach used primarily by the marketing department. It’s designed to achieve marketing objectives such as stronger brand awareness and loyalty that, over time, contribute to bottom line results (check out this Inc. article that explains why content marketing can be so effective).
What often gets overlooked, though, is that content can, and arguably should, also be used directly by the sales team as a tactical tool to grow sales and stem redemptions and defections. Properly used, content selling can answer three of the biggest questions salespeople ask when trying to increase their net sales:
- How do I create more opportunities to sell?
- How do I demonstrate why a client/prospect should choose my products/services (which is especially important when selling intangibles like financial and professional services as well as technology solutions)?
- How do I reduce redemptions/defections?
As a former salesperson myself, I can talk from direct experience about how content selling can help meet these challenges.
But first, let’s clearly define content selling. To me, it’s a two-fold process made up of 1. developing insight or perspective (aka, content) that’s of high value to your client or prospect, and then 2. packaging that content in ways that the sales team can distribute and use directly with their clients and prospects, whether through PowerPoint, email, white papers (or shorter derivatives), tweets, posts, or whatever.
So given that definition, let’s look at how content selling can answer these three sales quetsion.
How do I create more opportunities to sell?
In my previous life as a mutual fund wholesaler serving financial advisors, and later in my efforts to sell professional services and technology solutions, one of my biggest challenges was having a good reason to call/meet my prospects and clients. It wasn’t enough, to take an example from my mutual fund days, to provide market or fund/product updates – that information was readily available online and wasn’t necessarily timely or insightful – in other words, it wasn’t that valuable. What I needed was something that would help my clients/prospects with their “higher order needs” – needs that went beyond the product or service I was selling and related to bigger, more important, issues related to their overall business challenges. Developing the right content, based on insight that is relevant, timely and valuable to advisors (often related to their bigger business challenges), would have helped me earn the right to have more conversations/meetings in the first place. And the more conversations I could have had, the more opportunities I would have had to sell.
Not only that, but providing valuable content on an ongoing basis may alone create sales opportunities that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. According to one financial advisor I recently spoke with, one of the wholesalers she deals with (but doesn’t yet do a lot of business with) is so good at adding value that she’s finding reasons to do business with him, despite his company not being on her preferred list. Content selling can be the process that enables a salesperson to add enough value that their prospects will find reasons to do business with them.
How do I demonstrate why a client/prospect should choose my products/services?
This is one of the biggest challenges that exist in all of business because today’s environment is defined by commoditization and an over-abundance of product/service options to choose from. In that situation, how does a salesperson express what makes their product/service/organization valuably different so that the business is given to them?
When content selling is done properly, the content developed is based in part on the organization’s competitive advantage – it needs to tie back to the things that the organization does best (see my post on the Three Simple Circles of Content Marketing for more details on how to create effective content). When I was selling professional services, the most important thing for me to know was how our services differed from the competition and could better help our clients/prospects with their challenges. With that known, content was then created that always explicitly tied back to our competitive advantage, clearly demonstrating why our clients/prospects should choose us over the competition.
How do I reduce redemptions/defections?
By having a history of conversations in which really valuable content is shared for the betterment of your client/prospect, you become more of a business partner than just a sales person (as cliche as that may sound). The benefit of that change in status is that In times of difficulty, when your product or service isn’t meeting expectations, it is this status of “business partner”, based on a historical provision of value, that will motivate your clients to cut you more slack than they may have otherwise – assuming the failures are short term in nature (there’s no getting around a poor product or service).
Going back to the earlier anecdote, if a financial advisor is trying to find reasons to do business with you before even becoming a client because you’re adding so much value, imagine how many chances your current clients will give you if you or your products/services do mess up, based on the history of value you’ve provided. Your client’s patience won’t be infinite but you’ll definitely have more time to fix the problems before she redeems/defects than you would have had without a history of providing really valuable content.
And that’s the potential for an effective content selling approach – not only does it earn you the privilege to have more conversations in the first place, as well as the ability to clearly differentiate you from your competition, it also helps you develop a relationship that warrants second and third chances in the off chance they’re needed.
And that leaves only one question left for your client to answer: where do I sign?