For Sales, Content Is Nice, but Context Is Everything

context is everything
Sales experts share tips on how to leverage data to cultivate a collaborative environment without sacrificing productivity.

There's no debate that the recent technical and digital shifts have transformed the way buyers and sellers interact. Companies are tapping into a wide variety of channel, behavioral, location, and other contextual data to engage with buyers in real time throughout their buying journeys.

The question remains, how can sales teams leverage the data at their fingertips without sacrificing productivity? Furthermore, how can tailored pieces of information be delivered in context to help prospective buyers make smarter decisions during the course of their workflow?

Selling to the Informed Buyer 
With the help of advanced sales tools, sales teams can capture online customer behavior, automatically process it, and get recommendations on the best actions to take. Sellers also have the ability to score these leads based on implied interests like website visits, email activity like opens or clicks, and white paper downloads. Predictive analytics can even be used to intelligently prioritize the prospects based on how closely they match a profile of the target customer.

Tools like these save a significant amount of time identifying leads, but it's not enough to close a sale, notes Scott Benedetti, vice president of sales for The Pedowitz Group, a marketing and sales firm.

"Salespeople often find themselves in a request and respond mode," Benedetti says. "Buyers may ask for pricing information because they think that's all they need and a salesperson will run to gather the information believing that this is furthering the sales process but in reality that's not selling."

Even if a prospective buyer requests specific product information, sellers should strive to have a conversation with the buyer to better understand what they're looking for, Benedetti adds. Given that a seller is more knowledgeable about the product than the buyer, it's the seller's job to make sure that the buyer fully understands the product and whether it's the right fit for his or her needs.

Of course, the challenge is to quickly demonstrate an understanding of the buyer's situation and develop and execute a winning sales strategy. When time is of the essence, a rookie mistake is to waste time fishing for clues to the prospect's interests.

For example, when following up with a prospect who downloaded a white paper, "don't start the conversation by asking 'have you read the paper yet or what did you think of it?' Benedetti says. "Obviously that person was interested enough in the white paper's topic to download it and you know what the paper is about, so use that time to instead mention additional relevant information that could be beneficial to the prospect." Providing value instead of small talk is a better use of both the prospect's and the seller's time.

Vinda Souza, director of marketing communications at Bullhorn, a CRM technology provider, agrees that sellers should seize every opportunity to provide relevant information. Even though buyers may conduct their own research, there's still an opportunity for a salesperson to play a "navigational" role in guiding buyers to the right solution, she maintains. 

"Even if someone has done a lot of research on the product and the marketplace, an experienced salesperson should be able to offer ideas or ways to use the product that that person hasn't thought of," Souza says. "Yes, buyers are more informed but they're still interested in having a salesperson help them make the best decision."

Optimized Collaboration 
To provide valuable and relevant information about a product, sales teams need help from other parts of the organization, such as marketing. In order to keep up with empowered customers, "what needs to transform from the sellers' point of view are the methods and processes in lead acquisition, lead distribution, and lead disposition," Benedetti notes. "Those top of funnel efforts need to be strategic, precise and occur quickly, which implies that marketing and sales need to be tightly aligned."

Research has shown that lost sales productivity and poorly managed leads can cost companies trillions of dollars. At the same time, the average salesperson doesn't spend the majority of his or her time actively selling, according to research firm CSO Insights. Part of that time is spent creating a sizeable portion of the content for sales pitches. According to a survey of salespeople conducted by CSO Insights, respondents indicated that they create 26 percent of the content they use to sell products but 69 percent only collaborate with marketing and other teams on an ad hoc or informal basis.

In other words, there are still plenty of opportunities for sales and marketing teams to work more collaboratively together. Part of the challenge is convincing employees to make changes to the way they work. One of the first steps is to develop a "top-down" collaboration strategy that includes senior executives, managers, and front-line employees, recommends Victoria Godfrey, chief marketing officer at Avention, a business intelligence solutions provider.

"If members of the C-suite like the CMO and CSO make it a priority to collaborate, it will be much easier to bring the various teams together," Godfrey notes. It is also important to "find a common denominator or a common goal," she adds.

The goal should be something measurable rather than lofty or vague. It's also critical to agree on a common set of metrics for measuring progress. With the advent of data and analytics tools, nearly everything is measurable but marketing and sales teams still need a "common language" Godfrey notes. "Make sure everyone understands and agrees on what would be considered a 'win' and the key metrics for measuring that," she says.

Furthermore, scheduling regular meetings can help streamline communications. The sales team, for instance, can share customer wins and obstacles and the marketing team can discuss upcoming campaigns. The meetings are also a good opportunity to discuss specific topics, such as ideas for reaching new audiences or relevant industry news.

There's more than one way to drive collaboration of course, but the point is to create a sustainable strategy for regularly sharing ideas and insights. By doing so, identifying and aligning the right content with the buyer's journey should become easier, Benedetti maintains. "When content is tied to the buyer journey and is specifically designed within the context of determining where buyers are in their process, it can become the most significant factor in enabling sales to enter the conversation by delivering insight and value," he says.