Sales enablement has gone far beyond such sales force automation tools as CRM solutions that merely help sales personnel be more efficient. Today, the key sales enablement solution is marketing and its main driver is content.
“The agendas and responsibilities of buyers are blurring, and there are many reasons why people buy a complex technology,” said Brian Chertok, marketing director at Kronos Inc., which specializes in workforce management technology solutions. “The question is, how to reach prospects by function and vertical, and also find the business issues that bring them to my salespeople.”
Chertok relies on marketing technology tools, specifically Eloqua's marketing automation and Web analytics solutions, to study prospects' online behavior. The company uses this technology to serve up to Web visitors the business issues they're interested in, to download and to inform conversations with sales, Chertok said.
Another marketer combining technology with content marketing is Ferris Stith, PR and social media manager at direct mail and fulfillment company PostcardMania. This winter, Stith shifted her tactics on LinkedIn from simply listening and responding to instead using it as an educational outreach tool. Now PostcardMania offers free articles, case studies and white papers to specifically targeted LinkedIn members. Leads jumped tenfold, Stith said.
“Last week, I brought in 33 leads; the week before that, 21,” Stith said. Three or four leads a week previously was the norm from this channel, she said. “It seems to be increasing every week as I'm finding new ways to connect and engage prospects, and turn them into leads.”
Stith has targeted LinkedIn's special-interest groups, appealing to specific verticals such as dentists, insurance agents, landscapers and HVAC companies. She'll offer compellingly titled free content (”7 ways to build a landscaping empire,” and “Want more customers for FREE?” are two recent titles) and post the company's website on LinkedIn to access the content and capture leads.
But Stith is finding that prospects are connecting just as fast, or faster, with her than she can connect with them.
“When I post comments on discussions that are already happening on LinkedIn and forums, those will usually trigger someone to talk to me privately, where I then engage with them a little more and warm them up,” she said. “Once they're really interested, I'll pass them over to sales to follow up and give them price quotes.”
With content driving sales enablement, it's no surprise that content management solutions are becoming more prominent. For example, Ebix Inc., a supplier of e-commerce software solutions to the insurance industry, uses sales-enablement company iCentera Inc.,to ensure accurate document management of its myriad technical specs, training guides and manuals.
“Clear, concise and reliable communications is important to every business,” said Val Troffer, VP-products and service at Ebix. “But it is mission-critical for success at Ebix.”
In addition to providing a closer alignment of marketing and sales, the process also benefits from analytics, according to Craig Nelson, CEO of iCentera.
“Marketers might produce thousands of documents and want to know which ones are making a difference,” Nelson said. He said that the iCentera solution puts all these documents into an “electronic binder,” which can then be tracked to determine which content was most useful in leading to conversions.
While marketing is busy supporting sales, sales must do its own share of marketing, Nelson said. Making sure sales understands the content that marketing is distributing, and has ready access to it when dealing with prospects, helps support a company's brand as well as its top line.
“Yes, marketing owns the messaging and branding, but branding is happening on the sales call these days as well,” Nelson said. “It's incumbent on the sales rep to provide the right reason to buy, and that's where content management comes in.”
Fifth Third Bank has developed its own content portal for prospects, targeting business customers, with activities carefully tracked to inform the company's CRM database.
“We built a new site, www.53.com, with about 200 pages oriented toward business customers,” said Dianne Hardin, digital marketing direct-commercial bank division, at Fifth Third Bank. “Our new online Resource Center in particular is the "lead bait,' with white papers, videos, podcasts and webinars. This is where conversations about solutions drive down to products. Now we have something for prospects to experience on the site and a reason to be there.”
Hardin said the bank holding company now is in a position to merge the accumulated information in its CRM tools with its marketing automation database, allowing it to understand the behavior of prospects. She also finds that content at the service of sales can have a useful life span beyond an individual campaign.
“When the program began, we promoted the Resource Center and found that it was still being referenced as a result of that campaign nine months later,” Hardin said. “We also had significant close rates and new prospects in the pipeline.
“From that first program, we directly attributed $3 million in closed revenue and $18 million in new pipeline in the first nine months,” she said. “Our marketing automation investment was less than $100,000.”