Content was anointed King the minute buyers started using the Internet to search for products and services. Marketers prove their allegiance to the new ruler because of its power as a market-awareness and lead generation tool. No doubt, we use content to acquire, grow, and maintain the prospect’s attention for the purpose of populating and perpetuating the pipeline.

Content marketing, as the practice is called, is a semi-automated mechanism that gives organizations the ability to extend their sales-reach—to keep in touch (i.e. network, email, tweet, or just plain interact) with more prospects than ever before. The principle involves automating the ‘task’ of staying in touch (and relevant) with prospects that aren’t yet ‘sales-ready.’ Content-marketing helps to develop, maintain and move relationships forward until they are primed for a conversation with a sales rep. That’s what people mean when they talk about lead nurturing.

Content-marketing is lead development. It is not selling however. You need salespeople to sell. And salespeople need their own content designed to support their selling process. They need content they can use to communicate with prospects through email. They need content appropriate for use on social networking platforms like LinkedIn. They need content for sales call follow-up and for leaving voice-mail messages. They need customized presentations in various formats. And, they need content that makes their proposals stand out from the competition’s.

In short, they need content to convert opportunities into deals. Let’s call this ‘Content-Selling.’ The need for content selling is particularly evident in complex B2B sales where sales cycles are longer and decisions are rarely made by one person. Long sales cycles consist of long stretches of follow-up and information-sharing, intermixed with relatively fewer occurrences of live conversations.   In other words, a large percentage of a rep’s communication is done through content.

Content for salespeopleSo who’s in charge of the content piece of ‘content-selling?’ Most organizations leave it entirely up to sales reps to produce the sales content they need. It’s assumed the ‘raw ingredients’ for such content are available for easy extraction from the plethora of marketing content—which is true to a small degree.

Availability of raw materials isn’t the only factor to consider when deciding who should be in charge. Studies have shown that the typical percentage of time a sales rep spends with a prospect is 35% (or less). What are reps doing with the remaining 65% of their time? You can bet that a good chunk of that time is spent composing, developing, creating, and distributing content of their own making.

How much of that content is effective? Which content works the best? Is the content consistent with your brand and your messaging? There’s no way to know that answer when you’ve got reps independently crafting and distributing content. This points to the need for a more institutionalized approach to content-selling. I believe there are plenty of opportunities to apply content-selling that will leave more time for reps to hold quality conversations with quality prospects and at the same time ensure a higher level of effectiveness of sales content across the organization.

We can find these opportunities at many points through-out the sales cycle. Creating templated sales emails is a great example of where content-selling can be applied. Rather than leaving reps to fend for themselves, recreate the wheel and rewrite the same emails repeatedly, look for how you can offer reps best-practice emails that can be shared across the team to be used at a moment’s notice. Think about the opportunities to create targeted paragraphs, attachments, links, and call-to-actions for various situations, objections, or buyer profiles.

Think too, about what content reps need to keep the momentum going. With long sales cycles, reps need to ‘stay in touch’ to keep the ball moving. Staying in touch is what reps do when they don’t have anything to lead with. What you really want is for reps to continually and consistently offer value that builds momentum and interest. My mantra is that Time Kills Deals. If that is indeed true, then content is the defense.

Along with the content itself, think about creative ways to communicate and distribute the content. An attachment to an email is common-place and unlikely to generate excitement or the will to act. A video email, or a document sent with a personalized audio message is much more likely to stand above the crowd. So to, is a personalized web-page for the prospect to view. Here’s the take-away: each and every communication between your reps and their prospects gets factored into the prospect’s decision calculations—if not consciously, than certainly sub-consciously.

Content-selling deserves a well-thought-out content plan. Start by identifying who’s in charge of the process. If it will be crowd-sourced by your reps, that’s ok as long as someone is in charge of evaluating the content for effectiveness and for producing best-practice content based on those results. You’ll also need a method for sales team collaboration. Next, identify the types of content needed for various stages in the sales cycle. If appropriate, identify what variations are needed to make the content relevant to various buyer profiles. Also, take a look at the variety of delivery mechanisms. Are you giving reps a way to share information effectively with their prospects?

Content-marketing doesn’t go far enough into the sales process. There needs to be a well-orchestrated symphony of content for both Marketing and Sales organizations. That can’t and won’t happen if each member of the band is left to create their own music.

Technology Footnote: Tools that are particularly appropriate and relevant to this post are: ToutApp, PointAcross, Bloomfire, Postwire and BombBomb.

Author, Nancy Nardin is the foremost expert in sales productivity tools. As President of Smart Selling Tools, she consults with many of the top sales productivity software vendors as well as end-user organizations looking to select the right tools. Click to get Nancy’s What & When weekly digest with invitations to complimentary webinars and informative publications. Follow Nancy on Twitter @sellingtools or subscribe to her Tool Talk blog. Nancy can be reached at 916-596-3035. To schedule a free 30 minute consultation.