How to Support Your Outbound Motion With a Sales Content Supply Chain

Your sales org is fundamentally different today than it was a year or two ago.

With the advent of sales engagement platforms (SEPs) and other tools which make it easy to scale outbound sales communications, Rolodexes and spreadsheets are things of the past, with technology taking over many formerly manual steps.

Those who have, until now, only flirted with the idea of operationalizing their sales content will need to make a call: create a distinct supply chain for your sales content or run the risk of not being able to scale. The bottom line is that every sales shop wishing to compete in this new sales ecosystem will have to start playing by a new set of rules.

What is the sales content supply chain?

The biggest predictor of whether or not a team will embrace an SEP is actually how involved, or at least “heard,” end users feel in the content creation process. Knowing this, some teams err too far on the side of rep-generated content, ending up with a motley assortment of content that looks something like the miscellaneous aisle of Aldi. The world may never know how blenders and beach balls are related, but darn it if they don’t end up next to each other.

To avoid either extreme, when reps are either too involved or not involved enough, the solution is a content supply chain, or a deliberate process for writing, approving, enabling, and sunsetting content in a way that supports your GTM strategy as well as captures the voice of your sales team.

It’s a big task to create a content supply chain (CSC), but avoiding this needed step will prevent you from scaling your processes. If you don’t scale, you won’t reach more prospects or promote tool adoption, which won’t give you the predictability you’re looking for from your SEP.

The Problem with Sales Content Adoption

Sales content drives adoption of the sales process. If reps don’t have confidence in your sales messaging, they’re going to go rogue and independently create their own. When they do this, you lose predictability, visibility, and the ability to scale what’s effective. Not to mention, you run the risk of some pretty “interesting” content going out with your brand on it. Trust us, we have seen it all.

Seeking to avoid these scenarios, as technology has allowed sales processes to scale, the creation of sales content has largely fallen on the shoulders of marketing. This makes sense, doesn’t it? Marketing knows how to produce content at scale, how to understand the buyer personas, and the importance of keeping voice consistent across multiple messaging campaigns. However, marketing content and sales content are distinctly different.

Briefly, marketing content has a one-to-many voice whereas sales has a one-to-one voice and should sound conversational. If you read an email aloud and it’s very different from what you’d say to your prospect in person, it needs to be reworked.

In candid workflow interviews with reps from companies spanning the spectrum, we continue to hear why they hesitate to use the content that has been created for them. This is often the biggest thorn in their shoes, even above unrealistic quotas.

This likely isn’t due to a power struggle or a culture war within their organizations, but it’s instead because sales content is fundamentally different from marketing content. Sales reps must have confidence in the sales messaging, and that can only happen if it’s written by people who understand sales.

If reps don’t feel confident in the messaging they’re sending out, they will not adopt the technology, they will continue with their former, more manual systems, and you will not see the hoped for gains in sales process effectiveness.

It will be like you just bought the team iPhones, but they keep going back to texting with T9 on flip phones because the new ones have been configured in a foreign language.

Functions in a Content Supply Chain

If you’re going to welcome sales folks into the writer’s room, possibly in collaboration with the marketing team, then it will be more important than ever to distinguish between the unique roles and functions which make up your sales content supply chain.

The size of your company and the volume of content you must produce each quarter will determine the headcount needed on your team. Here are the functions your content supply chain should include.

Content Management

With so many stakeholders involved in the content supply chain, you need a central person to manage communication among leadership and strategists, writers, end-users, enablement, and analysts. This is where content management is key.

A content manager will be responsible for ensuring anything that is supposed to happen as part of your content supply chain does happen and happens on time. Ensuring the content supply chain runs smoothly includes:

  • Keeping writing projects to a tight timeline
  • Ensuring feedback from end-users is heard at all levels
  • Retiring irrelevant content, and reiterating (A/B testing) content as needed
  • Reporting any issues in the chain to the program owner

To set your content manager up for success, make sure each function in the content supply chain is a clearly defined part of someone’s job and that the decision-making structure is in place before rolling this out to your team.

Content Creation

Whether or not you have a dedicated sales content writer, someone needs to be responsible for writing sales content on a schedule. In some cases, sales reps are the primary source of new sales content. In other cases, a marketing or sales enablement team will take on this task.

No matter who ultimately writes the copy, the most important thing to consider when writing sales content is that sales reps need to be consulted. If your team creates sales content without consulting sales reps and allowing their voices to have significant influence, you’re setting yourself up for failure as you will experience low adoption.

Content Enablement

Once your Pulitzer Prize-winning content is ready to go, your sales teams need to know what has been created for them, and when and how it should be used. Without a strong content enablement motion, you run the risk of letting good content sit untouched and underutilized in your sales engagement platform.

Good content enablement is like the signs in the supermarket, telling you what’s in each aisle and where the hottest deals can be found. Without these guideposts, how would you ever find the BOGO avocados?

In all seriousness, a content enablement strategy includes creating a system to notify reps when new content is ready, monitoring activity metrics for reps, measuring content efficacy, promoting a cohesive system of content organization, flagging the best content (like avos on sale), and facilitating a feedback loop between end-users and your team’s content governance.

For some teams, this includes a formalized content request process, allowing reps the opportunity to ask for the content they actually need.

Content Analysis

Once content is live in your SEP, it’s important to monitor the performance. A content analyst should be aware of any benchmarks and KPIs that are being used to hit goals. If the content is not being analyzed, an SEP can get overwhelmed with underperforming or redundant content. In this case, end-users may feel that they can’t trust the content or may not understand the best use case for each content type.

Content analysis is the cornerstone of a fluid content lifecycle, which ensures that content is retired, reiterated, and refreshed on a regular basis. This may include time-bound content, A/B testing, and iterating on your core messaging.

How to Assign These Functions

The assignment of these functions to your team varies based on the scope of your sales engagement operation and team size. For example, a start-up with thirty total people in the company will not be able to hire for each of these functions, but an enterprise company with a large sales team may hire (or contract out) for the majority of these functions.

Content Lifecycle

Once content has been created and enabled, it needs to be maintained regularly to ensure high adoption rates and predictable performance. Establishing a process, ensuring clearly defined ownership, and keeping a system of organization are all key aspects of a content lifecycle that promotes growth in your revenue org.

Process

Your content committee should work together to establish your playbook for a content lifecycle that supports your go-to-market strategy. When determining your sales content needs, consider the heart of your strategy. What has worked well for another org may not work well for yours.

If your content is heavy with time-bound events, for example, your content manager should frequently retire sequences, templates, or snippets that are no longer relevant. However, if your content strategy lies mostly in nurture sequences in a 12-month sales cycle, you’ll want your content manager to spend more time A/B testing and less time disabling content.

By Content Type

Each type of content is going to have different needs within the lifecycle. If you haven’t yet clearly defined all sequence types within your org, now is the time to do so.

Quick tip from the Content for Revops Guide: “Consider strong sales motions in your org and understand that “every sales strategy and play requires content. If there is not content for each sales play, salespeople are left on their own to strategize and execute independently and outside of the organization’s intentions. This creates performance inconsistencies, less visibility, and half-hearted adoption of your organization’s sales strategy.”

Once you’ve identified each content type, understand how long each type will be relevant for your team. For example, timebound events are going to need to be retired more frequently than core outbound messaging. Certain content types should be A/B tested at a more granular level than others.

Your organization may prioritize certain sales motions depending on your goals and stage of growth (i.e. inbound vs. outbound vs. events), so your content strategy should reflect this, too.

Ownership

Once you determine the primary owners of the content lifecycle, ensure the decision-making structure is clear. On many teams, several functions are performed by the same person. In the case that they aren’t, someone monitoring performance will need to sync closely with someone enabling end-users, and they’ll need to coordinate with one another on an agreed upon cadence.

Content supply chain roadblocks and interim solutions

Establishing a content lifecycle strategy within your org can be a heavy lift, and most companies don’t begin from an ideal state. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t make actionable changes now.

You will need to approach the transition thoughtfully and incrementally. If you think you’re going to get there overnight, you may be disappointed.

Successful change management relies upon anticipating your biggest obstacles and making plans around them. For instance, if that resolution was to give up sugar, you might have thought about skipping your niece’s candy-themed birthday party. Again, too soon.

Here are some of the sugar bombs waiting for you, depending on your organization’s size. We’re here to help you see them coming, so you can make a plan for success.

Start-ups

The biggest challenge we see in our start-up clients is headcount; each team member is already pulled in 100 different directions. Thus, to fully implement a strategic content shop, individual contributors will have to wear multiple hats.

You will want to make sure, when assigning these roles, that you have clear metrics and outcomes assigned to each one of those roles. Accountability will be key; make sure you have at least two people involved in the process to ensure quality.

For instance, think about what happened that time you submitted a resume without asking someone to proof it first. Yikes. That’s why we suggest having a second pair of eyes on all content going out with your brand on it.

Once you have those two people identified, you can begin to slowly migrate content management responsibilities onto their plates. If they are reps, and are consequently rewarded for hitting quota and using time to make dials, be sure they have recognition or compensation set aside for these new responsibilities (i.e. a shoutout on Slack from your VP goes a long way toward incentivizing others to follow best practices).

SMB

Our friends in SMBs may have been in the sales realm for a while, with reps who are used to doing their own things. Your biggest challenge will be getting buy-in from members of your team who are used to writing their own content without oversight. Selling them on the idea of scaling content across the org will be a lot easier once you prove out the concept.

At first, they may go all Braveheart on you, standing up to perceived tyranny. However, if you involve them in the process and seek their feedback along the way, you will co-create a peaceful democracy where voices are heard, even if not everyone makes the laws.

The key to success will be to identify change agents within the team who can carry out these functions (writing, managing, analyzing), adopting the new system and sending the “all clear” to those who are still waiting for Mel Gibson to rally the troops. Eventually, they will stand down and recognize how beneficial it is that good content is “magically” appearing in their SEPs.

Just make sure that your enablement team is in close contact with end-users as new content rolls out. The feedback loop will drive adoption and show reps that their voices are being considered in the messaging strategy.

Enterprise

This comes as no surprise to our enterprise friends, but your biggest hurdle will be bureaucracy. Because there is a serious change management lift ahead of any internal change, you will need to understand the interests and pain points for the executive sponsors behind your SEP and the leadership level folks overseeing demand generation.

If they are bought in, then they can help you identify management who will support the change. From there, we suggest assigning functions within a single team or market segment (you can call it a pilot). Center it around reps who are already very involved in creating (even if informally) content which is frequently shared and adopted with others.

While you know your organization best, the same fundamentals are true for any enterprise organization. It takes buy-in from internal champions to turn the ship. Anticipate that it will take time, but it’s possible. We have helped other enterprise clients through the change management process, and we can act as a guide for you, too.

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