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Reframing the Sales Enablement Problem

Enterprise B2B content marketers have a new chasm to cross. For a while, many of us have been consumed with building a robust inventory of awareness-stage content. Now we face a hairier, more audacious challenge, farther down the funnel. Yes, indeed…It’s the chronic Sales Enablement Problem.

Recent observations confirm the dreaded (but all-too-familiar) conclusion: Sales content still isn’t meeting salespeople’s expectations. What’s wrong with it, exactly? Many things — or so we’re told. According to CSO Insights, more than 50 percent of sales organizations say the quantity is lacking; 56 percent claim the quality is subpar. Presumably, part of this failure is owned by sales organizations — 43 percent of which say they are responsible for creating their own customer-facing materials.

One way to turn this around would be for marketers to create more sales enablement content. Seemingly, sales decks could benefit from professional storytelling skills, right? If only it were that easy. So far, marketing-produced material hasn’t exactly set the sales team on fire. In fact, it’s rarely used,compared to content that sales reps create themselves.

If we’re going to rigorously tackle the Sales Enablement Problem, we need to do something radically different. But where to begin? First, we need to be sure we really understand the debacle we’re trying to solve.

Reframing the Problem

Sales professionals seldom use the content that’s created by marketing. Why? A variety of explanations have been tossed around: Sales reps can’t find the content, it isn’t relevant, sales doesn’t know how to use it, and more. We can, of course, strive to correct several of these issues by purchasing a sales enablement content management system (CMS), activating a metadata tagging system to catalog the material, and developing usage tips or “cheat sheets” for key pieces.

Let’s say we achieve all of this, and sales teams start using more marketing-generated content. Will these improvements ensure that they continue to use it? Not necessarily. Maybe increased usage isn’t what we should be aiming for at all.

Perhaps there’s a better problem to solve. Let’s try reframing the quandary. Consultant and author Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg demonstrates this method using the problem of “The elevator is too slow.”

Image Credit: “Are You Solving the Right Problems?” by Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg, Harvard Business Review, 2017

Using this paradigm, what happens when we swap “The elevator is too slow” with “Marketing-generated content isn’t used by sales”? It isn’t much of a leap to reframe the Sales Enablement Problem as “Marketing-generated content isn’t moving the prospect/customer conversation forward.”

Quite easily, we can see the most obvious fixes for the sales content usage problem don’t sufficiently resolve the reframed issue. Case in point: Making sales enablement material more easily findable may boost content usage, but it may not move buyers closer to a purchase. However, producing content that functions as a gateway to the customer’s next action is far more likely to nudge buyers forward.

More than anything else, sales enablement content should feed buyer momentum. Sales content must build bridges between and among customer interactions — fostering a continuous, cohesive and mutually beneficial dialogue. In turn, content marketers should be focused less on updating “collateral” and more on fulfilling the needs of a series of interconnected customer interactions — to ultimately nurture a relationship.

Creating for Context

The context for modern sales enablement isn’t a library; it’s a conversation. When we create for this context, we should obviously think about how a buyer might want to interact with a seller. How likely is it that a buyer’s preferences might clash with the most favored selling method for a particular offering? In these cases, how might we help sellers move the relationship forward?

Answering these questions (and more like them) requires more collaboration between sales and marketing than we typically see today. Marketers need to ask sales reps how they intend to use content in a customer interaction, as well as what they want to happen next. What is the next action they’d like buyers to take? There’s a big opportunity here — namely, a chance for sales reps, with marketing’s help, to design a dialogue.

Sales enablement content should empower sales teams to spark, guide, and punctuate a conversation. Admittedly, content marketers have a huge learning curve here. (Among the telling clues: Traditional ice breakers and “leave-behind” pieces, which fall woefully short of stimulating and sustaining B2B buyer momentum). Most of us have no idea how many unique situations sales finds themselves in. Clearly, there’s more than one way to guide an interaction. This is why marketers need to think about sales material as being dynamic, customizable, multi-dimensional, and modular.

Getting Started

How do the most successful sales conversations unfold? Find out. Identify patterns and sketch out the progression. Then, work with sales to create modular content that accents those interactions and advances to the next one. Start small. Run a pilot. Ask sales teams to record the content they used and the buyer actions they requested, as well as the actual outcomes. Using this foundation, you can begin to identify sales content benchmarks and track buyer momentum.

In the meantime, change the way you respond to content requests from the sales team. Don’t just fulfill it because (hallelujah!) you think it will get used. Look for opportunities to create material that empowers sales reps to flex, pivot, and traverse at key points in customer conversations.

After all, if buyers can choose their own adventure, why shouldn’t marketing-generated content empower sales reps to do the same?

What do you say, B2B marketers? It’s your move.

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