6 Simple Ways to Use Content to Shorten the Sales Cycle

by Marcus Sheridan

selling

I had a great conversation the other day with a B2B client in the medical space that was happily telling me how his company’s sales department was blown away with the impact their content marketing efforts were having on shortening the sales cycle. Specifically, he related a story where they recently closed a deal (in the millions) that only took 4 months to wrap-up. Although you may be thinking 4 months is a long time, it’s nothing when you compare it to their average sales cycle, which is 18 months.

From 18 to 4 months—all because of the power of content. It’s a classic case of:

Great teaching + Helpful Information= Trust

When you take away all the fluff found in the content marketing space, that little equation is what all of this stuff comes down to, and its importance cannot be overstated.

The fact is, there is no better sales and trust-building tool in the world right now than great content.

And when companies understand how to use their content to shorten the sales cycle, that’s when incredible things can happen.

It is for this reason I decided to write this simple post on different ways content can be used by sales departments small and large to get great results:

6 Ways to Use Content Marketing to Shorten the Sales Cycle

1. Talk about money on your digital platforms: I’ve been yapping about this for over 4 years now, but the need to openly and honestly address consumer questions about cost and price on a company’s website has never been greater. If consumers feel like we’re hiding something as a business, they’ll lose trust and no contact (be it phone, email, walk-in, etc.) will ever be made. But if we’re willing to talk about the things *they* care about versus what *we* think they should care about, then magic can happen.

Powerful Fact: Of our many clients here at The Sales Lion, the #1 traffic, leads, and sales generating content is always on the subject of cost and price. No matter the industry or the type of business, this reality is true in every space we’ve ever worked in—B2B, B2C, and B2G—services and products—it’s the same thing. People care about money.

A great example of this comes from the folks at Block Imaging (client), showing an extremely successful video they made discussing the cost of a used MRI machine.

2. Online Quoting Tools/Apps: This again coincides with #1 but more and more companies are developing apps to use on their websites that can essentially guide prospects and shoppers through the buying process (again, this applies to product and service based businesses). The specificity of these apps can vary, but giving shoppers and consumers the ability to immediately learn more about what something may cost is an incredibly quick way to earn trust, build your database (through lead capture), and also separate qualified from unqualified leads.

There is nothing more frustrating for a sales professional than to go through the entire quote/proposal process and find they are not even close when it comes to budget. By openly discussing numbers and costs early on, sales people will save major time, prevent significant frustration, and have a higher overall morale.

3. Pre-Sales Appointment Content: It’s a crying shame when sales departments allow their prospects to go essentially “uninformed” before the initial sales appointment. This often occurs because of the silos that exist in organizations between sales and marketing, which leads to sales people not knowing what content tools are available to them for helping prospects and also means the sales team is likely aloof of what type of impact company content is having on consumers.

At River Pools, this eBook gets downloaded over 50 times a day and is a major part of the sales process.

At River Pools, this eBook gets downloaded over 50 times a day and is a major part of the sales process.

The fact is, the more educated a consumer is before the initial sales appointment the more likely they are ready to make a decision—and every sales person in the world needs to clearly understand this, therefore motivating them to push content consumption early on in the process.

4. Use video to promote familiarity: Here is another problem most companies have: Prospects and consumers generally don’t know what their sales person actually looks like until they are in the initial sales appointment and can see them for the first time. This being said, what would happen if before every sales appointment a video of the sales person was sent to the prospect telling them a little about themselves, their job, and why they love what they do?

With the simplicity of quick video production and sending tools today, there is no reason every prospect can’t see and get to know their sales person before the face to face meetings actually occur.

5. Use content to resolve concerns before and after the 1st sales interaction: In almost every sales interaction there are obstacles, concerns, and issues from the prospect. Unfortunately, many sales professionals fall short of properly helping prospects overcome these issues. But the best sales teams in the digital age not only are very aware of the potential concerns of their prospects but also actively seek out to address these issues with content throughout the sales engagement period.

Tip: Using your sales team, create 10 videos that address the 10-20 most common concerns of your prospects. Once created, have the sales team use these videos throughout the sales process. Also, include these videos in follow up emails as the prospect is still making his or her decision.

6. Use content to get to the decision makers: Anyone that has ever been involved in sales knows getting to decision makers can be difficult when trying to close a sale. And for those occasions when it’s simply impossible to get a face to face meeting with a company CEO or decision maker, emailing that person an article or sending them a personal video can often times be just the trick to getting a decision maker’s attention and advancing further down the sales funnel. With so many contact opportunities in today’s age (LinkedIn, email, website forms, etc.) there is no reason a decision maker shouldn’t be touched by content in some way, shape, or form.

Your Turn

As you might imagine, I’m just scratching the surface here as to the number of ways in which content can shorten the sales cycle. Tell me, what ways have you seen content alter your company’s sales methodology? What are your most effective means of using content to generate more sales success?

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan Stelter August 13, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Hey Marcus –

Longtime follower, first time commenter. I like video personally. There’s buzz going on in the inbound marketing world now that web pages with diverse content forms (images, videos, and text) are now outranking pages with higher traditional SEO metrics (domain/page authority). I think any way you can make any content piece more interactive, the better. I’m going to make an introductory video for my website, and see how that affects both conversions and rankings.

You also hinted at something very interesting – there’s no one right way to do content marketing. That’s the cool thing about the web – you can be as creative as you want to be. My personal experience with most businesses is they don’t want to do this, which makes them blend right in with everyone else.

Don’t be afraid to push the envelope, without being obscene or offensive.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 17, 2014 at 1:13 am

Dan, so thrilled you took a moment to comment and introduce yourself :)

Yeah, I think the rumor is true– the more types of content on a page, the better off the user experience and the happier all parties involved.

We’ll see where it all takes us :)

Marcus

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Tom Southern August 14, 2014 at 5:51 am

Excellent reasons for persuading business bloggers to take time writing their content. Business blogs have been slow and inactive in realising the value of using content to woo customers. There’s a real need for posts like yours to get business bloggers to un-bore their blogs.

Useful content and interesting content doesn’t always have to be a turn off to visitors. I think the use of video to add value to products and services is a big persuasion argument (Do hospitals really buy second-hand MRI scanners?!).

Another way businesses could use content to shorten their sales cycles are Q&A webinars (or Google Hangouts).

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 17, 2014 at 1:11 am

Love the idea of Q and A webinars Tom, and appreciate you stopping by bud!
Marcus

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Richard Browne August 14, 2014 at 9:45 am

Marcus, as always great, pragmatic content marketing advice. One additional tip would be to go where your prospects hang out on line, and solve their problems with solutions. Don’t sell your products, solve their problems (as you’ve been banging the drum on). Finding these watering holes and being helpful helps bring the prospects to you, rather than having to chase them down. If they come to you, they are half way to being a customer.
Best
Richard

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Marcus Sheridan August 17, 2014 at 1:10 am

Great point Richard, appreciate it bud!!

Marcus

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Jeremy Abel August 14, 2014 at 10:50 am

Hi Marcus,

My face LIT UP with a smile when I read this article! Great set of tips for a group of people who must find a way to modernize the way they help today’s buyers.

I’ve been able to speed up the sales process by creating videos and articles that answer common customer questions. Although I don’t have specific stats to share, knowing that a lead has already consumed a piece of content that explains some of the technical elements of our solutions (e.g. WordPress, responsive design) allows us to make better use of the meeting time; also, these resources can be helpful when we encounter a group of decision makers- allowing those who weren’t involved in the initial meeting to reference these tech specs at their convenience.

One of the big areas for improvement is case studies. The benefits of a company’s offer depends on the buyer’s specific needs. While we could send the lead a case study which lists out every single benefit that our client experienced, the benefits to our client may not be weighted as heavily by the buyer. Identifying the primary needs is something that’s usually addressed during an initial (discovery) meeting. To digitize this key asset of the sales process (while making the best use of our time and the lead’s time), sellers should consider customizing the case study so that it highlights the benefits that are relevant to the buyer’s needs, and then assigning them to read it prior to the next meeting.

Again, excellent tips Marcus! It’s amazing to see how many ways content can assist in a company’s growth. Loving this new era of inbound selling :)

Jeremy

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 17, 2014 at 1:10 am

Jeremy, LOVED this comment man (but that is seemingly always the case when you come by these parts :-).

The idea of customized case studies is dang awesome brother. :)

Have a great Sunday,

Marcus

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Tom Horn August 14, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Marcus, I recently took your lead and began sending out confirmation emails to my appraisal service clients. In this email I included blog posts about what to expect during the appraisal inspection, including what appraisers look for and what they should expect out of their appraiser. This can help because they will then know what I will be looking for and they can assist me with helpful information like recent improvements they have made that may help their home’s value. It’s too early to know the results of these efforts, however I believe it is helping educate the homeowner and in so doing I might gain a loyal reader to my blog. Thanks for all that you do.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 17, 2014 at 1:08 am

Tom, I’m pumped to hear you’re doing this bud. Just keep going, experiment, track, test, and of course—let me know how it ends up going for you!! :)

Marcus

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Daryl August 15, 2014 at 6:59 pm

Great info Marcus!

I’m especially intrigued about the first point about money on digital platforms. I totally agree with your sentiment – that being open about how prices builds trusts with potential clients. So why are so many companies unwilling to give even rough estimates of their prices?

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 17, 2014 at 1:07 am

Beats the heck out of me Daryl :-)

But eventually, they’ll all have to, because that’s what the information age is all about.

Thanks for dropping by,

Marcus

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google August 21, 2014 at 9:47 pm

This paragraph gives clear idea designed for the new viewers of blogging, that actually how to do blogging and
site-building.

Reply

Chris September 12, 2014 at 7:26 am

“The fact is, there is no better sales and trust-building tool in the world right now than great content”.

Wow that is a bold statement!

I sell study abroad programs strictly online and have been involved in content marketing for about 2 years now. We have seen great results but still if I compare our conversion rate with off line agents that offer the same service but are able to convince clients face to face there is a HUGE difference in the conversion rate. We convert about 1% of our traffic to clients and the off line agents I know converts about 10-20% of visits to clients.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan September 12, 2014 at 8:09 pm

I’m sure what you’re saying is true Chris but I also know at some point, the tide will turn, and someone in your space is going to dominate the industry without the use of off-line agents. Time will tell though…

Best,

Marcus

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