If your business is creating content as part of an overall inbound marketing initiative, it’s easy to think that if you publish often enough, the traffic, leads, and sales will magically pour in.
More often than not, however, what we see here at IMPACT is that when businesses publish lots of content, they get an initial boost in web traffic but still fall short when it comes to dramatically increasing sales. This is because our marketing teams don’t always know what our sales teams need to be more effective. On the other hand, our sales teams don’t understand why they should use content in the sales process and how to do it, so they haven’t bought into the process and don’t help create or use content.
What we’re left with is a frustrating mass of confusion between these two teams that should be working together toward the same goal — generating revenue for your business.
If you don’t know how to help your marketing and sales teams work together to properly create content for the sales process, you’re certainly not alone.
To see incredible inbound marketing results, you need to get really good at creating sales enablement content for your team that they can use in their selling process. When this works as it should, your sales team can use the content your marketing team creates to close more deals infinitely faster. Our clients here at IMPACT that have mastered this selling technique have earned an unbelievable ROI — some seeing millions in revenue just by integrating a simple process we’re going to share with you in this article, including:
What assignment selling is and how it works.
The importance of building a content-driven sales culture.
Everything you need to know to teach your sales team about using content in their process to shorten the sales cycle and increase their sales.
If you put these tips into practice — many that you can use immediately — you will finally be able to get your sales and marketing teams working collaboratively to create content that not only generates more web traffic but also produces plenty of leads and sales.
Ready to build a healthier revenue and ROI by using content in your inbound sales process in a way that guarantees results?
Here’s what to know.
What assignment selling is and how it works
In 2013, Marcus Sheridan, the author of They Ask, You Answer and one of the principals here at IMPACT, wanted to compare two groups of people filling out forms on his swimming pool website: those who ended up buying and those who didn’t. He wanted to know if there was something specific he could point to that would explain the difference between these two groups. In other words, what made some of the people walk away, and what made others buy?
After analyzing the data, Marcus found that if a prospect had visited 30 pages or more of his website, they were much more likely to buy. If they viewed 30 pages or fewer, they wouldn’t buy as often.
This is when Marcus began assigning prospects at least 30 pages to read before each sales call to see if it would help closing rates. After implementing this simple process, which he dubbed “assignment selling,” his closing rates went from 25% to 30%, to over 80%.
Assignment selling is so effective because we spend too much time educating prospects on our sales calls, and not enough time actually selling. The fact is educated prospects are much more likely to buy. The choice that we have to make is whether we are going to spend the time educating our prospects ourselves or let our content educate them for us so that ushering prospects toward a sale is quicker and easier for our sales teams.
We need to understand the power of great content to move the sales needle — and that more often than not our buyers are willing to consume that content more than we think. If we intentionally integrate content into our sales process, we’re going to be dramatically more successful.
The method works, and if you properly design it and teach it to your sales team, you will be incredibly effective.
Learn more about They Ask, You Answer, which has loads of helpful information about using content in the sales process, or talk to an advisor if you have questions about what assignment selling is and how it can work for your business.
First, build a content-driven sales culture
When we explain to our sales teams how this process works, we can’t expect them to know what to do overnight. We not only need to train our sales teams how to use content in the sales process, but we also need to make it a culture within our business if we want to see the greatest success.
This can’t be a “program” because this means it might be easy to get started but will ultimately die. You want to establish a culture of using content in your selling process so it becomes part of your sales and marketing teams’ everyday focus and has room to grow and ultimately set roots.
To establish this type of culture in your business — where people trust that the content-creation process will make selling easier and everyone is eager to contribute — you need to do the following:
Get buy-in from sales and leadership
In order for something to be a true culture, your team needs to know the what, how, and why. You are pushing people outside their comfort zone to become the voice of trust in your industry and teach others about what you do — and there’s a good chance you’ll be met with resistance.
Most will say they don’t have time or it’s not worth it, but this is an indication that they don’t see the value in what you’re trying to do because they don’t understand it.
Does your website adequately educate prospects about the thing you do, and are you willing to address your buyers’ questions?
Do you all agree that establishing that trust is what ultimately gets a prospect to buy?
Should your sales and marketing teams focus on establishing trust with buyers?
Do you believe buyers’ habits — how they seek and consume information about what they need — have changed?
If your company’s leaders all agree on these points, you’ll be in a better position to offer this solution to growing your business using content in the sales process. Set up a workshop or some learning opportunities to get the ball rolling.
To learn more about how to set up something like this for your team, talk to one of our advisors, and we can walk you through the process.
Hire a content manager
If we truly want to leverage our team to produce content, we can’t expect them to turn into world-class actors or writers. What we need is their intelligence. Our sales teams are the subject matter experts of what we do, and they are an incredible resource we can use to answer our buyers’ questions.
What you do need is one person on staff who purely owns the content production. They pick the right content marketing tools, they create the publishing calendar, they write content, interview subject experts — everything. We call them content managers, and it’s important to have someone in-house who isn’t already wearing a bunch of hats to take the reins; otherwise, it will never get done.
This is a full-time job for someone who is a strong writer and interviewer who can get to the crux of what your business does in a way that translates to your potential buyers.
Your content manager will meet with your team to create at least three pieces of content per week. If this person is embedded in your organization, they will be able to establish a better publishing rhythm and a stronger relationship with your subject-matter experts. We’ve seen this lead to a domino effect of success with business growth.
Form a revenue team
If you truly want to create a successful content culture in your sales process, your marketing and sales teams must work as one.
Here at IMPACT, we call these teams that combine sales and marketing “revenue teams.” They are made up of key players from your sales and marketing teams, and are centered around the shared goal of increasing revenue through traffic, leads, and sales.
They meet weekly to:
Develop content your sales team needs to attract qualified buyers.
Brainstorm which pieces of content your sales team can use in their selling process to close deals faster.
Understand what content isn’t useful in the sales process so that marketing won’t waste time creating it.
Even though some people on the team will be more focused on marketing (e.g., creating content) while others will be working on sales efforts (e.g., closing deals), the team plans and acts as one.
IMPACT Editor-in-Chief Liz Moorehead provides everything you need to know about creating effective revenue teams in this video:
Build an internal content management system
You might have a learning center, but do you have an internal resource where sales can easily find the content they need and share it?
You can’t assume sales will know what content is out there. What you must do is build a repository of helpful information that anyone can use at any point in the process — in other words, they know where the toolbox is, and they can find the tools.
Paperflite is one of the many content management tools out there that we recommend clients use. It helps your sales team group content into different collections and categories, so they don’t have to go rummaging through desktop folders or request that a team member send them files.
You also need to establish a system where, when marketing creates content, sales is notified about the new resources available to them.
To help your prospects meet that magical number that accelerates them through the sales funnel and turns prospects into buyers (whether it’s 30 or another number — you’ll figure out as you go what this tipping point is), you need to use assignment selling. This makes sure your prospects are well-educated — and therefore more ready to buy — before you go out to sell.
It’s important to train your sales team on this until it’s second nature.
Assign sales content to prospects
When you’re using assignment selling in your sales process, you are essentially asking prospects to do a little homework before your sales call.
It might sound a little something like:
“Hi, Mary! I’m looking forward to meeting with you next Wednesday. I’ve attached a guide to read before our meeting that will answer all your questions in advance and go over options you need to consider. This way, when we meet, we can make the most of our time together and focus on your specific needs. If you can’t read this before our meeting, let me know and I will reschedule for a better time. Can you confirm you’re able to do this before Wednesday?”
This is effective because it:
Gives a definitive “why” this assignment is important (it will answer your prospect’s questions so you can better use your time together).
Offers a tease about what’s in it for them (we’re explaining all the options you need to consider).
Shows your prospect that it’s important to complete the assignment before meeting with you (if they can’t get to it, you’re rescheduling).
Asks for confirmation they will complete the assignment (so you can be sure when you go on that sales call, you’re not wasting your time).
By sending these assignments, you are strengthening your good-fit leads while also weeding out any bad-fit prospects you don’t want to meet with anyway.
In short, assignment selling is the best and most efficient solution for your sales team when it comes to shortening the sales cycle and zeroing in on the right potential buyers.
What to do if prospects say “no”
Speaking of bad-fit leads, if someone isn’t willing to make time to read your content, then education doesn’t matter to them and they’re basing their decision on price.
You can say something like, “This will prevent you from making mistakes and will help us make the best use of our time, but if you can’t, it’s OK. It just means we aren’t a good fit.” Your prospects want to know you have their best interest in mind, which helps build trust. Most prospects will do their homework, but if they don’t, following up with them is a waste of time.
You are the teacher, and it’s your right to ask your prospects to learn what you put your time and effort into creating. Selling is an equal partnership, where you are educating your prospect on how to find the best solution for their problems, and as such, they owe you their time in return.
How to properly design an assignment selling timeline
Now that you understand why assignment selling is so impactful in the selling process and how to get everyone on board, here is how to design your assignment selling timeline to be most effective for your team.
Content for a prospect’s first contact
With a prospect’s first contact, whether they fill out a form or call, the first round of content needs to answer any questions they have, which at this point are likely higher in the sales funnel.
Send an email with links or documents that answer these top-of-the-funnel questions, which might read something like: “Thanks so much for filling out that form. We bet you have a bunch of questions, and we’ve produced a guide that’s going to walk you through them.”
Have a clear plan as to which assignment the fielder is going to send, and be mindful of the time this step takes to reduce loss.
Content for a prospect’s second contact
Your prospect’s second point of contact with your company will typically have three outcomes, and each scenario necessitates an individual assignment:
Not a good fit: Send a note that thanks them for their time and leaves the door open for future engagement with your business.
Maybe interested: Send content that further educates your prospect and helps them further down or out of the sales funnel.
Ready to buy: Send content that helps them finalize the process and explains how to buy.
Map out your typical sales funnel and know which content you will use for each. This way your team doesn’t have to guess — they know what to do and can quickly pull the trigger.
Content for a prospect’s third contact
When your prospects enter the third point of contact, which is typically the “maybe” group that needs more information, their two likely outcomes are “not a good fit” or a “sale.”
They will then get the assignments you have ready for these stages, such as a thank-you note or information on how to finalize their sale.
Your revenue team should meet frequently to brainstorm which assignments go out at which point of contact and continue refining the process. Each piece of content shared should be extremely intentional and help your prospects move further toward a sale or out of your pipeline.
Implement assignment selling in your company to use content in the selling process effectively
When you take the time to properly design your assignment selling process and teach it to your sales team, you will see unbelievable results in shortened sales cycles, skyrocketing closing rates, and incredible ROI when assignment selling is done well.
But instead of just telling you, we can show you too.
IMPACT’s client Dalinghause has successfully tracked how their prospects are engaging in the assignment selling process and are able to tie each prospect back to revenue. They’ve accomplished this by using HubSpot’s campaign tools (which use tracking codes to survey which content they’re engaging with) and point-scoring properties (to track how engaged prospects are). As a result, they’ve not only been able to scale their selling process with content, but they’ve also been able to report on how well it’s working for their ROI.
Another example is IMPACT client AES. Since they’ve started using assignment selling as part of their process, they can account for hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue that can be tied back to specific pieces of content.
The truth is, our prospects will always want to learn about what they’re buying and be informed consumers. The question for you: Are you willing to be their educational resource, or will you leave it up to your competitors?