SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Elizabeth White, Yeshim Deniz, Roger Strukhoff, Jason Bloomberg, Pat Romanski

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Treat Your Content with More Respect

Data from IDG Connect shows how important content is to sales

This morning I attended a webinar by IDC and IDG Connect, 2012 Sales Enablement Strategy: Content is King so Why Does Sales Feel Like a Jester?. Yep, it was the subtitle that got me!

To set the stage, we need to understand what buyers are doing while they're buying. Many of you have probably heard the rumor that salespeople are being limited in their participation during the buying experience. According to this data from IDG Connect, it's true.

Take a look at how buyers say they spend their time during their buying process:

  • 23% in discussions with colleagues
  • 21% with sales team interaction
  • 19% searching the web
  • 19% with educational content
  • 18% reviewing promotional content

Have you noticed where they spend the most time? Time spent with content or searching for it comprises 56% of the buying experience.

Unfortunately, when IDG asked buyers what was lacking with the content that salespeople provided to them, their responses reflect that not a lot of respect is being paid to content by those who produce it.

Buyers top complaints about content include:

  • 33% say there's too much content that's not useful
  • 29% say content is not relevant
  • 24% say content does not meet the needs of all the people involved in the decision
  • 23% say there's not enough educational content

Other observations included content that was too long, too much text and not enough video or audio, and their inability to easily share content with others. In the age of social media, that's hard to believe.

The kicker is that only 7% of buyers said that nothing was lacking in the content sales provided to them.

There are some critical points to consider in regard to these responses. According to IDG, the number of indluencers in a purchase decision have increased by 20%. When they are brought into the deal, then come with their own questions and concerns. This halts forward momentum and they turn around and go back to find answers. (I refer to this as the step back stage of the buying process)

IDG Connect also shared that buyers say 7 pages is plenty for a vendor white paper, but that most white papers they review are still running 20 or so pages. Buyers say these take too much time and effort to read. This is not new information. Eccolo Media's B2B Technology Collateral Survey has been reporting this trend for the last few years. Apparently we're not paying attention.

Short is the new black and variety of content formats is growing in importance.

But the fact that 62% of buyers say that content is either not relevant or is not useful should be a huge wakeup call for marketers. This is - yet again - validation for using personas as the foundation for content strategies and development. We've got to know our buyers (all of them) if we're going to create content that engages them.

Buyers aren't the only one finding that content needs to be treated with more respect.

Salespeople say that only about 1/3 of the content that's available to them is useful in the pursuit of sales opportunities. But, wait, there's more at issue here that needs to be rectified.

When asked why they found shortcomings with available content, their responses included:

  • 41% say they don't know what to use, how to use it effectively or when to use it.
  • 30% said that it required customization before they could use it.

Additional comments included that it was in the wrong formats, hard to find or outdated.

This is akin to more "tossing stuff over the wall" from marketing to sales.

Here's the bright side of the research IDG Connect presented:

68% of buyers say their sales reps have become more important to them as a source of insight and guidance over the last three years in relation to other sources.

Buyers may be spending less time with them, but they're counting on them to filter through the clutter and noise they'd otherwise have to sift through on their own.

Marketers and sales support staff need to work more closely together and spend more time helping salespeople understand how to use content more effectively and when during the buying experience specific content is most beneficial.

Make sure to ask salespeople what types of content they use and how they use it. If that differs from buyer preferences, show them the proof and teach them how to use other forms of content to improve their effectiveness. Map content for sales and set them up to have the right conversations.

Apparently there's still a lot of work to be done. Just because marketing creates content and deploys it in marketing campaigns does not mean they're done. Tossing content to salespeople without context or as an afterthought is costing your company customers.

The real kicker - the majority of buyers that IDC surveyed said they want shorter buying cycles. But the lack of relevant information to educate them, and all other influencers, is slowing things down.

Think about it...

More Stories By Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee, CEO & B2B Marketing Strategist of her firm Marketing Interactions, helps companies with complex sales increase and quantify marketing effectiveness by developing and executing interactive eMarketing strategies driven by compelling content.

Her book, eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, was published by McGraw-Hill.

Her articles and blog posts have been used for university ezines, published in CRM Today, Selling Power, Rain Today and Enterprise CRM News. Marketing Profs has incorporated her blog posts into a number of their "Get to The Point" newsletters.

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