With more consumers conducting pre-purchase research online, lead nurturing remains an important strategy in maintaining prospect interest during the early stages of the consumer decision journey, while content has gained momentum as an important sales support resource. This new environment creates a new model of collaboration between Sales and Marketing.
The Emergence of Thought Leadership
According to a new ITSMA study, 88% of buyers of complex solutions report that thought leadership is important or critical to their buying decisions. At the same time, Sales is challenged to sell with thought leadership versus more traditional sales approaches such as features and benefits selling or understanding the company’s competitive differentiation (see chart below).
|Question: On average, how well do your sales people communicate the following to customers and prospects?||% of respondents answering 4 or 5 where 5=very well (n=32)|
|Details of your offering||66%|
|Understanding of your accounts’ business and key business issues||64%|
|Your company’s differentiation||57%|
|What your company or brand stands for||53%|
|Mapping of buyer’s pain points to the company’s offerings||47%|
|Your company’s point of view on key business topics relevant to buyers||41%|
|Application of insights and thought leadership to solve buyers’ business issues||26%|
|Insights from recent research or thought leadership initiatives||26%|
|Source: ITSMA Sales Enablement Survey, April 2012 (abbreviated summary). (n=35, companies with revenues less than $500M to greater than $5B, see link for list of participating companies).|
More than ever before, Marketing is tasked with providing insights and thought leadership that Sales can use to soften and nurture leads. The above chart also implies the need for alignment between Sales and Marketing in reaching and converting prospects via thought leadership. The ITSMA study defines sales enablement as:
Content and initiatives designed to help individual sales people to increase productivity by reducing the effort, cost and time to move a prospect through the buying process.
Among the first channels for thought leadership early in the customer lifecycle, per the study, include public websites and social media, and content should be developed for each of your target customer groups across these channels especially.
The content you provide to your prospects in the lead nurturing process needs to be valuable from their perspective (not just yours) – so ask for their feedback. Then, implement feedback mechanisms to measure how broadly the content you create is shared by prospects. You should also monitor the path of content used in the lead nurturing process for each prospect and evaluate the content’s effectiveness as measured by sales conversions over time.
Marketing resource management systems can help by providing a central location for branded marketing materials aligned with each stage of the consumer decision journey, while also enabling Sales to localize marketing messages for their target markets.
It may be helpful to conduct a content inventory before adding content to your MRM system. As an example of optimizing content for the pre-purchase research needs of its buyers, T-Systems analyzed all existing sales content and then mapped the most pertinent materials to target groups, outcomes and parties. The full Q&A with Tamara Schenk, VP of Sales Enablement for T-Systems, is available on Scott Santucci’s Forrester technology blog.
As the need for content to support online pre-purchase research grows, the Sales approach is shifting from traditional models such as features and benefits selling to thought leadership. Marketing can support this shift by providing market insights and content to demonstrate thought leadership, and this content should be provided with specific recommendations to Sales for using content to help soften leads and shorten the sales cycle.
How are you using thought leadership to enable and empower your distributed sales force? Stay tuned for our second blog of this two-part series about improving distributed sales channels engagement with marketing technology systems.