How to write a sales script

What is a sales script?

A sales script is a collection of words that helps you in your selling process. A script is not a collection of ideas, or loosely related concepts. Instead, it is the words you want to say using the tone and cadence with which you normally speak, set down in paper.

Many sales people have a negative reaction to working with scripts, thinking that it will make them sound robotic or unauthentic. But it is far worse to go into a meeting and fail to get your point across. A script will simply help structure your thoughts and help you bring them out clearly.

When do you need sales scripts?

Sales scripts are incredibly useful when you need to put on a performance, for example during:

  • Cold calls
  • Presentations
  • Meetings
  • Negotiations
  • Difficult conversations
  • Sensitive issues where it is important to use the right words

There are a number of benefits from working with sales scripts:

  • It helps you discover what works during a sales presentation
  • It’s a great way to train new staff
  • Creating a sales system helps you step away from the coal face

Is there a structure you should follow to write a sales script?

A script is a conversation, and should be written in a conversational style. You need to convey your personality, but more importantly, you need to be honest and helpful. Customers today are bombarded with calls and have their guard up during initial meetings. Your reassuringly honest and helpful approach will help them warm to you.

The chances are that your conversation will follow 4 steps:

  1. Start the conversation
  2. See if you are talking to the right person
  3. Have a discussion about needs
  4. Agree a next action

Start the conversation

Everyone gets cold calls. No one is usually pleased about this. Why is that?

The first reason is that the call is an interruption. They didn’t ask you to call, they don’t know you, they were doing something else at the time and, quite frankly, they are tired of sales calls from call factories.

But you are different – aren’t you?

Not if you do the same thing everyone else does. After asking to speak to me and getting me on the phone, if you say “How are you today?”, I answer, “Fine, thank you”. But immediately I have my guard up. The question marks you out as a salesperson immediately. I don’t know you, you don’t know me. If we worked together, then we might ask the question and answer as we passed in the hallway as a pleasantry – but we don’t work together. So why are you acting like you know me?

Perhaps you could be surprising and just be honest. Say something like “Hi, I’m a salesperson at BIG Inc, and I wanted to see if you were the right person to talk to about computers?”.

You need to try different approaches and see which work. The test is not that a customer grudgingly lets you proceed, but that they willingly give you permission to continue. The right words will help you with this. If your customer does not respond, then try a different approach. But remember that being honest and helpful is better than being pushy and obnoxious.

See if you are talking to the right person

The best pitch in the world will fail if you are talking to the wrong person. You need to qualify your conversation as early as you can. It might be as simple as asking if the person you are speaking to is the right one for your product. If it’s not, ask who you should speak to, thank them and hang up.

Have a discussion about needs

Your salespeople are often already personable and approachable. They don’t need to manipulate the customer – they need to understand them first.

The best way to understand someone is to see what they have done before. For example, instead of saying “Are you interested in working with an insurance broker”, you could ask “When was the last time you used an insurance broker”.

If they have never used one, then you could focus on the benefits a broker can bring. If they have used one, but don’t use them now, you first need to explore the reasons why they stopped as it gives you clues about the service they expect. For example, the broker might not have explained the provisions correctly and the company might have suffered a loss. A small change in the words you ask can result in very different results.

A key part of making sure you understand your prospects needs is by not asking ice cream questions. An ice cream question is like asking, “Do you like ice cream?”. No one says they don’t like ice cream. A salesperson could take this as validation that they should try and sell ice cream to the prospect. But perhaps what they really want is a carrot cake with custard – and you haven’t discovered this need in your discussions, and the person that does wins the business.

Agree a next action

The goal of any sales interaction is to nudge the process forward. This means agreeing the next action step. Agree to call back. Ask for a meeting. Ask if the person would like a call back. The next action depends on your business process, but you need to make sure you ask for just one action out of the call – many options cause conflict as people struggle to make a decision.

Common questions about sales scripts

Are you in a business where your prospect gets a number of calls like yours?

If you are in a business where cold calling customers with pressure sales techniques is common, then you are going to start by talking to customers who already dislike you.

You might need to start by changing your business. Try and choose a product that isn’t pushed by everyone else and see if you can have a conversation about that instead. If you can get a meeting, then the prospect might be willing to talk about your other services as well.

Should you start with your elevator pitch straight away or ask a question?

Too many sales calls start with a canned elevator pitch – this is my company, this is what we do, this is how we can help you, can we set up a meeting?

This is like throwing a handful of sand in the prospect’s face and hoping they will fall in love with you.

Try breaking up the conversation, and getting permission to speak with them and explain what you do. That way you might get them interested and engaged, rather than overwhelmed and wanting to end the call.

Should you describe what you do or ask questions?

A number of research studies have shown that there is a clear statistical link between asking questions and the success of your conversation.

Many people suggest that you should ask open questions and get the prospect to do most of the talking. Research by Neil Rackham showed early on that there was no relationship between the type of question and the success of the sales call.

Instead, successful conversations followed a pattern that he labelled SPIN. Successful salespeople used questions to first understand the Situation, then the Problems the prospect had, followed by the Implications of the problems. Once they understood this, then they asked about Needs and the payoff or benefit from taking a particular course of action.

How does your prospect react to words?

It is very easy to offend someone without realising it. For example, if you use the word “you” when being critical, your prospect will stiffen up as they feel you are criticizing them. But if we use the word “we” when being critical, your prospect may be more willing to acknowledge that there is an issue to deal with.

Now read the last two sentences again. Do you feel any differently when reading the first sentence with the word “you” compared to the second sentence with “we”?

How do you deal with objections?

The best salespeople don’t handle objections. They prevent objections by bringing them up themselves and defusing them before they turn into an issue. Some of the best presentations follow a format where they introduce a big idea, and then go through the objections and responses that the audience might have.

Do closing techniques work?

You need to ask for the business at some point. Some people suggest that you ask early and ask often. Some subscribe to NLP and methods that come close to manipulation. Should you use these techniques?

The thing to remember is that a buyer can always pull out of the deal. When you are finished and walk away, the buyer might think about what has just happened, and decide that actually this deal is not for them. This is buyer remorse.

Instead, perhaps ask them what they think the next step should be. If you have answered all their questions, then they should be willing to move the process on. If they are not, then there is still work to do.

What kinds of scripts can you have?

You can create scripts for every interaction you have with a prospect – and for the other interactions you have in your business. Some examples:

  • Getting past gatekeepers
  • How to start a conversation
  • How to deal with different kinds of initial responses (can you play games?)
  • How to play the game – what can people do with your emails
  • How to ask for the business
  • How to respond to objections

What kinds of questions can you ask?

  • Budget
  • Reasons to buy
  • Reasons not to buy
  • Who is involved in the decision making process
  • How you make decisions

How do you know when your script is working?

Before you test your script out on a prospect, have your computer read it back to you. In Microsoft Word, you can enable playback, and the computer reads out your words. It’s a great way to listen to your words and experience them the way a prospect might.

Amateurs practice till they get it right. Professionals practice till they can’t get it wrong.

A sales script is a tool that will help you and your team sell more. It is worth taking the time to work on your scripts, cutting out words and jargon that aren’t clear. Make it easy for your prospect to listen to you and understand what you say. Use stories that show why they need you.

The idea of creating sales scripts to help you sell more is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Perhaps that is why so few salespeople and sales managers do it. By using this powerful tool, you and your team can grow your business and persuade more prospects to turn into customers.

How to do a content audit

A content audit is a planned review of your marketing content. Think of it like carrying out maintenance on your car – it’s something you should do regularly to make sure that your website and marketing tools are working well.

There are three steps to carrying out a content audit:

  1. Identify the types of content you want to review
  2. Create a database of your content and analyse it
  3. Make a plan to improve and develop your content

What types of content should you review?

Your website is going to be the single most important collection of content you have.

Even if you have more content in brochures, sales presentations and proposals right now, you can bet that over time more and more of this content will move onto your website so that you deliver the same message over every platform you operate.

You should review every web page on your site. This can be done manually, but it’s much better to use a combination of tools to help you out. This guide will focus on easy to use methods and the most you will need is the Microsoft Office package of software.

You also need to look at all the offline material you have, and think about how you can start to create a single collection of material that you can use across the various platforms you use.

Don’t limit yourself to just traditional sales and marketing material. Everything a reader sees from you should be reviewed, including analysis you send out, spreadsheets and presentations. Everything a reader sees affects their opinion about you and what you do.

Each page should have a clear purpose. Taking a guide from copywriting, Jonathan Kranz in Writing Copy for Dummies says that your copy should help you in one of three ways:

  1. Make sales
  2. Attract customers
  3. Build relationships

Content that helps you make sales

Order forms

The order form is your online close. It’s like having a salesman hand a pen to a prospect and say ‘Sign here’. You want your form to be easy to understand and simple to complete.

Google images screenshot of order forms
Order forms screenshot

Source: Google Images

Specification pages

What does your customer get for their money? Companies selling software as a service online now almost always have a number of pricing options from a free trial to different levels of upgrades. Do your specification pages get across the features of different products clearly?

Google images screenshot of specification pages
Specification pages

Source: Google Images

At this point, the customer is making a choice between your products or taking a decision to buy from you or someone else. They are going to make a list of all the things you offer, and compare it with all the things someone else offers – and the longer list for less money could well win.

Sales Landing Pages

You could call every web page you have a landing page. But, when it comes to making sales, you probably have a few that are designed to make someone click through to a specification form to choose between options, or to an order form to place the order.

These pages are critical in the sales process. The copy needs to be clutter free and communicate benefits. Here is a list of examples showing how well designed landing pages clearly get across exactly what the reader needs to do next.

Content that attracts customers

Advertisements

The traditional way to attract customers is through getting their attention by advertising. The right kind of advert can result in sales that are an order of magnitude greater than another one. The wrong kind of advertising can reduce sales and be worse than no advertising at all.

Some of the adverts your company might place include:

  • Facebook ads
  • Ebay product descriptions
  • Youtube adverts
  • Print adverts
  • Paid for editorials
  • Sponsored content

An advertisement is successful if it convinces you to buy the product being advertised.

With an advert, in addition to the copy, you have to pay attention to the number of words, the space it occupies, which words are most dominant and the design and layout of the content. While this is important in all content, it is particularly important in an advert where the reader may only give you a fraction of a second to get their attention and interest them.

Long tail pages

An advertisement tries to attract a few people from a large number that view it.

The internet, and search engines in particular, have created the ability for advertisers to target specific markets.

This means that an advert can now be written to attract exactly the people whose needs match your product’s benefits.

The way that these people search is by asking questions and entering in longer phrases into a search engine. 70% of search traffic falls into the long tail category.

This means that pages that answer specific questions that readers have will first attract them to your website and then, if the content they find is good, get them to explore more of your site.

Email templates

Don’t forget about the emails you send out, either on a regular basis or on autoresponders. Make sure you capture these in your audit and check if they are still working for you.

Content that builds relationships

As you get further away from the point of sale, you need content that will help you build a relationship with the reader.

This includes pages about your products and services, pages about you and your company and contact forms.

This also includes marketing material such as brochures, case studies, white papers, tutorials, guides, data and research material.

Most of this content will not lead directly to a sale, but it will build your reputation and credibility with the reader and help them relate to you and your product.

Get started with a spreadsheet

You need a database to get started with a content audit. The easiest way to begin is to start with a spreadsheet.

Open a blank spreadsheet. Title it ‘Content Audit’ and enter in a number of headings:

  1. Sl. No
  2. Title
  3. Link
  4. Purpose
  5. Status
  6. Next Action
  7. Date

Select the cells and click Format as Table and select a table format.

Screenshot of Excel's Format as Table button

When you are done you should have a sheet that looks like this.

Example of a Content Audit Spreadsheet
Content Audit Spreadsheet

Enter the title of the content in the Title field.

Use the Type field to identify the content, for example:

  • Web page
  • Order form
  • Brochure

Use the Link field to link to the content on your website or a network folder if you have one.

In the Purpose column you can use any categorisation that works for you, but as a starting point you can label each row as:

  • Sell
  • Attract
  • Relate

In the Status field, enter in comments about the content. Use this cell to put down your thoughts and ideas in a short paragraph.

In the Next Action field, enter a specific action you need to take. Limit this to a word, or a short sentence. For example use:

  • Delete
  • Send to editor
  • Re-write
  • Add image

Use as many types of actions as you need, but make sure they are specific and you can take action and tick them off. If you are unsure, write out those thoughts in the Status field, not the Next Action field.

Don’t worry about priority now. Use the Trigger Date field to enter when it should be done. For example:

  • Immediately: Use today’s date.
  • Soon: Use the end of the week.

Use this field to indicate importance when you fill in the spreadsheet. If the task is important, schedule it sooner. If it’s less important, push it further out.

If your website is quite small, or you don’t have a large amount of analytics and sharing data, then you can start to fill in the rows listing your content now.

It might take a few hours, but when you are done you will have a list of all your content, and a list of actions that need to be taken.

Remember to also work through your offline content. Put all your pdfs in a folder, or link to them on your network and enter them into your spreadsheet as well.

When you are done, sort the table by Trigger Date, selecting Oldest to Newest.

Screenshot of Sort option in Microsoft Excel
Sort the spreadsheet from Oldest to Newest

Now you will have a list of all your pages, ordered by Trigger Date, which is the same as having a priority order.

If you have a small site, then this is all you need to do to get started.

What metrics can you use to improve your content?

Metrics fall into two broad categories.

  1. Metrics that measure quality
  2. Metrics that measure success

Metrics that measure Quality

Microsoft Word has built in tools to help you improve the readability of your content.

First, select File – > Options and make sure that ‘Show readability statistics’ is selected.

Screenshot of Microsoft Word Options for Readability Statistics
Microsoft Word Options for Readability Statistics

Copy and paste your content into a blank Word file and run the Spelling and Grammar check on your content.

Screenshot of spelling and grammar check

Once the spelling and grammar check is complete, the key readability statistics come up.

Screenshot of readability statistics pop up page

Edit your Content Audit spreadsheet with four extra columns

  • Word Count
  • Passive Sentences
  • Flesch Reading Ease
  • Flesh-Kincaid Grade Level
Screenshot of Content Audit spreadsheet with readability metrics
Content Audit spreadsheet with readability metrics

The word count will help you make sure your content is the right length.

Try and eliminate passive sentences, or at least keep them under 10%.

Most guides recommend that you try to have a Flesch Reading Ease score of 60 – 70 (the higher the number, the easier it is to read) and aim for a Flesh Kincaid Grade level of 7 – 8.

Metrics that measure success

At the point, depending on how technical you are and how big your site is, you might want more information on the traffic to your site and a variety of social metrics. A good tutorial post on Moz takes you through the steps to get much of this data, and all you need to do is have a modified spreadsheet to store your data.

Now, start making improvements

A Content Audit is something you should carry out regularly. Once you have set up your database and key metrics, it should be easy to update it over time.

Once you have gone through this process, you can refine it and add more metrics if you need. You will also find that you will start to create content that is right the first time because you know what will be picked up during the next audit review. If you document the process you follow, it can also act as a style guide for training purposes.

By having a carefully designed and regularly run Content Audit, you can make sure that your content helps you grow your readership and business.

Should you outsource content marketing – views around the web

Is there any research showing whether working with a partner to create content for your business is a good idea or not?

Skilled-up commissioned a survey of 200 professionals that found that a third of them found it difficult to find individuals with the right expertise.

This ranked third in a list of challenges they faced doing content marketing.

Bar chart of top three challenges faced by content marketers: budget, time and expertise
The top three challenges faced by content marketers

The Entrepreneur looked at the costs of hiring an internal creative team and the costs of an in-house writer, designer and web developer can quickly go over $100k.

If your company make a gross profit of $20 on every $100 of sales, this means you need to bring in an extra $500k of sales to cover the costs of the team.

An alternative view says that firms are bringing content creation back in-house as it becomes increasingly core to their revenue generation strategy.

Google’s algorithms value quality over quantity, and outsourcing to a cheap provider that creates low quality content can make your results worse, not better.

Hiring professionals and training them may be better in the long run.

But is your only choice between internal and external content creation?

Just over half of all companies keep their content creation in house.

Very few use only outsourcing but the rest have a mix of internal and external content.

Interestingly, large companies are more likely (61%) to use a mixed approach rather than just using in-house content.

The need for content is going to increase and three quarters of small businesses are using content marketing.

Keep some of these stats in mind when thinking about how to design your content machine:

  • $1 in every $3 is going to be spent on content marketing
  • 15 blog posts a month generate 1,200 new leads on average
  • Less than half of B2B marketers have a written content strategy
  • 85% of transactions will be carried out without talking to a human by 2020

How much content should be on your website?

Sketch showing increase in the amount of content on the internetYou need to get your point across in less than 10 seconds

The amount of material on the internet is growing every second.

It’s impossible to read and remember everything. In 2008, a study of web use showed that:

  • 17% of page views lasted less than 17 seconds
  • 4% of page views lasted more than 10 minutes
  • 28% of words were read on an average web page (593 words)

Readers ruthlessly discard pages that do not interest them.

But, if they find something that interests them, they hang around.

The magic number is 10 seconds.

If they stay this long, then they will look around some more.

And if you can interest them for 30 seconds, then they could look around for ages, or at least 2 minutes, which is the same thing on the web.

But, you need to have good content to get readers in the first place

Sketched histogram showing the number of words on webpages

Search engines appear to think that if you have less than 200 words on your web page, it’s not worth reading.

An image heavy site is going to suffer if there isn’t enough text in the page for the search engine to read.

Each image should have a description of its content. This also increases the accessibility of the page.

So what is a good length for content on a page?

Data from serpIQ shows that top ranking pages have 2,000 to 2,500 words and they suggest that 1,500 words could be a good target.

So its crucial that you can create good long form content that helps search engines rank your pages and put them in front of prospects.

Break up your content so it can be scanned quickly

Many readers decide if a page is worth reading by looking at the headline, scanning the sub heads and getting a feel for the docment.

According to Neilsen, pages should be:

  • Concise
  • Scannable
  • Objective

Your sentences should be short and to the point.

Use headlines and bullet points to break up the flow.

And let the facts speak for themselves.

 

 

 

What kind of person should your content speak to?

Your content needs to be adapted to target different people in a business. People will have different views depending on the role they have.

  • Initiators are the ones that will get things going, sparking interest in your product
  • Users are the ones that actually use the product when it is introduced into the company
  • Gatekeepers are the ones that control the purchasing process
  • Influencers are people whose opinion matters in the process
  • Deciders have the power to make the final decision and authorise the purchase

Initiators

An initiator is someone who identifies a need and brings it to the attention of other.

An initiator’s interest could be sparked by a number of things.

  • An employee could notice that equipment was broken and notify purchasing
  • A senior manager could get an email on your product and ask someone to look into it
  • An engineer might be looking for a specialist add on

Anybody in an organisation could be an initiator.

Your content will motivate them to take action if it resonates with them, describing the need they have and the benefits they could get from engaging with you.

An initiator’s view is likely to be positive, as they are the first to recognise the need they have and want a solution.

Initiators need content that they can send on easily to others, with a note suggesting they look into it further.

The types of content that might work with initiators are:

  • Short emails asking for a referral
  • Short emails stating a benefit and asking for a meeting
  • A newsletter with industry updates
  • Checklists
  • Numbered lists of best practice (7 things you should do …)

Users

A user is someone who will actually use your product.

A user could be an employee on a line that works with your product. It could be the driver of a truck you sell, or an engineer that works with the machine you develop.

The user may be interested in all the things your product can do for them. Or they might be very averse to the idea of changing from what they are doing now.

It depends on whether they are excited or fearful of the change brought by your product.

Content aimed at users should:

  • Stress the benefits
  • Show how the features are different
  • Show how there is little risk
  • Show how the product is being used by others
  • Ideally, let the user feel and play with the product – offer free trials and test equipment

A user has the ability to champion your product or bring out all its flaws.

Your content needs to convince them that the cost/benefit equation is positive and the benefits to them are greater than the costs and risks.

Gatekeepers

A gatekeeper has the responsibility of ensuring that a process is followed when making a purchase.

Others can enthuse about the product and its benefits. A gatekeeper must make sure that a rational approach is taken and:

  • The purchasing process has been followed
  • The right people have been involved in the decision
  • The company has been vetted
  • Its credentials are good
  • References have been verified
  • The company is in good financial standing
  • The company’s products are the right ones
  • Alternatives have been considered
  • The price has been negotiated to the lowest possible
  • Guarantees are in place
  • Service level agreements have been negotiated

There can be a raft of documents associated with a purchase, increasing with the complexity and cost of the purchase.

The more expensive or disruptive a product is to operations, the more care gatekeepers will take in ensuring that the process has been followed.

A gatekeeper almost always has a score sheet in place. Your content needs to answer their questions and tick all their boxes to have a chance to succeed.

This is where the strength of the relationship and personal rapport has the least impact.

Your content is doing the selling for you, sentence after sentence.

Influencers

An influencer is an expert within the company, or a person with experience that is respected.

This person may be brought into the process to provide an independent opinion on your product. The might be seen as knowledgeable but uninvolved, so without a conflict.

The influencer’s opinion carries weight, and they may be able to persuade people on the fence to decide one way or the other.

Content targeting the influencer needs to inform them without being threatening.

For example, you may want to persuade an organisation to move from a hydraulic solution to an electric solution and a key influencer is an expert on hydraulics.

In this case, content that is simply dismissive or negative of hydraulics is unlikely to be accepted well.

You will need to carefully explore the pros and cons of both solutions, and bring in factors such as future trends, increased operating and maintenance costs and the lack of experienced hydraulic engineers.

If you can get the influencer nodding in agreement, then you may have created an ally.

The types of content that may help here are:

  • Trend analysis
  • Forecasts
  • Scenario analysis
  • Case studies
  • Lifecycle costs
  • Product lifecycle analysis
  • Capability matrices
  • Product maturity cycle

An influencer needs to agree that the strategy of going with your product is the right one.

Deciders

The decider is the ultimate decision maker. In smaller companies it might be the CEO or FD, who authorises the purchase after listening to the case. In larger organisations it may be a consensus reached by the purchasing committee.

A decider needs two things at the point they are approving the purchase:

  • They must have a gut feeling that this is the right purchase
  • They must have a credible business case for the purchase

The decider may be involved at the very start, approving the decision to investigate your product and at the very end, approving the decision to purchase your product.

They are unlikely to immerse themselves in the detail of the product, your company or the way in which the product will be applied. They will delegate this to the right colleague to investigate and report back.

Content that targets the decider needs to be short, clear and to the point.

Deciders make up their minds in 3 to 30 seconds on whether there is any point going ahead.

They are also very aware of trends, what is happening in the market and have a keen political instinct.

Content that may help influence a decision maker include:

  • Industry articles about best practice
  • Cost/benefit analyses about strategic decisions
  • Press releases showing other companies and how they have benefited from the product
  • A succinct business case
  • Short emails asking for referrals
  • Invitations to exclusive content or events

The more familiarity a decision maker has with you – seeing you in their inbox or at events, the more comfortable they are that there is something of substance in you and your company.

The less familiar they are, the more likely they are to dismiss you or ask for detailed evaluations.

Wrapping up

Your content needs to speak to multiple people within a company.

The same product specification sheet cannot be used for a decider and a purchasing agent.

You need to craft your content so that it can be used to target different individuals in the company, and speak to them in a voice they recognise, understand and agree with.

If this happens, then when they come together to make a decision, they are more likely to support the case for buying your product.

This post is based on material in ‘Marketing: Real People, Real Decisions’ by Solomon et al, (2013).

How to use content to market to businesses

Business markets are different to consumer markets in a number of ways.

  • There are far fewer business customers than individual customers as each business usually has been created to serve a purpose.
  • A business is a collection of individuals, and they often make collective decisions.
  • They have developed processes to manage the way in which they operate, and their buying processes will support their operations.
  • It takes longer for them to make a decision, as they are usually dealing with complex and inter-related issues.
  • Finally, the one question businesses always ask is what is the payback from this purchase?

Each purchase must serve a purpose

Most businesses do not buy on a whim. Purchases made by businesses usually need to be justified – and this is done by making sure there is a need for the product.

How will this help my business is the question we need to answer.

This means that you need to show how your product fits into your prospect’s business. Unlike an iPhone, which talks about how good it is and makes you want it, your content must focus on your prospect’s specific needs.

There are several people involved in the buying decision process

Any purchase that is over a minimum threshold will usually involve other people in the business in addition to your main contact.

Not all of these individuals are on your side. They could respond to your approaches with a number of emotions:

  • Some may not know about you
  • Some may not like the idea
  • Some may have had bad experiences with companies like yours
  • Some may be fearful of the change this means for them

Describing your product in just one way will not address all these needs and fears. You need to rework, reuse and reposition your content so that it can be used to make it easier for all these individuals to buy into the product you are putting in front of them.

You may go through a number of processes during the sale

It would be nice if you spoke to one person and that person made the decision and you could get the sale away.

But that’s unlikely.

Instead, you probably need to go through a number of processes – let’s call them obstacles or hurdles if you prefer. From companies that have an email only contact policy to a strict tender procurement schedule, there are a variety of things that can trip you up.

If you have the right content in place, you can approach these hurdles with less effort. Email only policy? No problem, here are a set of emails to five senior managers asking for a referral to the person who manages this process. Tender to complete? Use a combination of existing content with personalised additions to show you have read the brief and understand the requirement to stay in the process.

Use your content efficiently. A good content library can be your hardest working salesperson.

Sales cycles are getting increasingly longer

You have to be prepared for a long sales cycle. In high value sales, it can take 18 – 24 months to go from initial contact to first contract. Quite often, you can start a contact with a salesperson and find that that person has moved on and you have someone else following up and trying to close the business.

With good content, the relationship is stronger between your company and the prospect. The salesperson uses the content to educate the prospect about your company, and if you have to change the point of contact, the prospect is still familiar with your material and the transition is easier.

Sales increasingly fall into simple and transactional or complex and consultative

The middle ground is vanishing in sales.

Simple products are sold on Ebay and Amazon and the quality of your ads will determine sales.

Complex products require explanation and education, and the quality of your sales material will determine your success.

Either way content is crucial, from tightly worded letter perfect ads to detailed use cases of a product, the way in which you use content to define your product help you sell more.

Payback

In business sales, payback is everything.

You might use more complex words like return on investment or internal rate of return, but you still need to show when the prospect will get their money back and start making money.

Content can help you make the calculation clear.

From a clear financial model to a more refined explanation of tangible and intangible benefits, well-structured content can make the case for you day after day, explaining to your prospects why they should do business with you.

How do you make a successful content machine?

What are the essential components of a successful content machine?

Someone who likes writing

You need someone on your team who is passionate about writing.

Words still make up the vast majority of content on and off the internet, and are an incredibly effective way to package large amounts of information.

The right writer will be able to use words to describe what you do in a way that brings out your own passion for your product. And someone reading that will feel emotionally connected to the words and hopefully feel better about working with you.

An idea of what your customer wants

It is crucial to think about what your customer wants.

A description of the things that matter to you about your product are unlikely to be the same things your reader is interested in.

The best way to find out is to ask them. The next best is to carry out in depth research – what do they read now? What kinds of questions do they ask? What trade magazines interest them?

You will always get more engagement if you write about things that interest your customer.

Technology

It’s easy to get scared by the technology out there. But the great thing is that a content machine exists for every budget, from zero to multi-million dollar spending levels. You can build a server with scavenged hardware or use a SAAS platform. Just make sure that you understand, or have someone on the team that can understand what the technology can do for you.

This is important – the technology can do almost anything – the important thing is what you want from it.

Lower barriers

There will always be barriers within your organisation. Approval processes, legal reviews, opinions about style and so on.

You have to work with everyone else to systematically lower the barriers so that you can actually get your content out once you make it. Streamline approvals, make sure reviews happen on a schedule, agree a style guide and stick to it.

Processes

The best way to lower barriers is through process. Getting everyone involved in working through an acceptable process is a start. Do some experiments. Inevitably, there will be some teething problems. Fix them. Keep working on getting the process accepted, and making it easier to use. Make it slick – get rid of unnecessary steps and focus on the important ones. Don’t let the process get in the way or become an end in itself.

Time

You have to spend the time on your machine. Time is like fuel for a content machine – you need the time to create and share your content, and then use it to sell more and grow your business. The time has to come from somewhere – your time or someone else’s time. However you do it, make sure that you have put aside time to work on content every single day.

Your content needs to answer your prospect’s questions

Did you ever really make a sale by avoiding a prospect’s questions?

Perhaps you did. Perhaps the biggest sale you made was when you evaded every question, dodged objections and danced around the prospect, deftly avoiding any commitment.

Maybe in the days when the prospect knew nothing about you and decided to trust you anyway, going ahead with the sales process.

What happened when eventually, they had to make a decision?

I bet that it all fell apart. If the prospect was not satisfied that they understood what you were selling, I bet they decided not to go ahead.

Today, your prospect can find out everything about you pretty quickly. The chances are they don’t need to though, because your competitors are already in front of them, telling them what is considered best in class in your industry. By the time they meet you, they are expecting to get some answers and, if you don’t, they’ll go with the other company.

Knowledge is no longer power in the information age. Sharing knowledge is in – sharing your knowledge to help a prospect understand their options, evaluate your offering, compare it to others and make a decision.

Trying to keep things secret is a good way to lose business. No one has the time to humour you.

And, you definitely can’t shout at your prospect and tell them to stop asking you questions.

6 psychological buttons your content should press

Dr Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is a must read for any content marketer.

Written in 1984, the 6 principles he describes are still relevant today: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking and scarcity.

How can we use these principles in our content creation process?

Reciprocity

Create good free content that you can give away as part of your sales process.

This is why marketers create free guides, tutorials and books that visitors can download and read. By getting something from you, your visitors are more likely to reciprocate when you want something from them.

For example, they may be more engaged when you ask them to participate in a survey, or think of you first when they are ready to make a purchase.

Social Proof

No one wants to be on the outside of a group, looking in. At the same time, no one wants to be the first to do something that hasn’t been tested or proven.

Marketers in large organisations need to be especially careful, balancing the need to show off their company with not doing anything that could cause organisational problems later.

Use the principle of social proof in your content to show that what you doing is best practice in your industry, how the best companies do similar work and point to industry leaders that back up your point of view.

Commitment and consistency

Your content needs to get to the point. People will pay attention to content that interests them, and take the time to go through it.

But, if your writing meanders and waffles and doesn’t seem to have a clear line of argument, your audience will give up and go somewhere else. A clear message, consistently delivered will help you keep them engaged.

Liking

Cialdini points out that we tend to think more highly of people we like. Liking can take several forms, from liking how attractive someone is, to how they are or what they do.

You can make it easier for people to like your content by making it easy to read, using headlines to break up the text and pictures that help make your point.

Authority

How can you show that your content has authority?

Try and work on material that shows how your approach is unique. Show your expertise and credibility by publishing useful and well researched content.

Scarcity

Don’t make your content like everyone else’s.

  • Make it valuable, better than someone else’s paid for content.
  • Make it rare, have it be so good that it stands out.
  • Make it hard to copy
  • Make it something that you can do better than anyone else

Use these principles as a checklist when planning and creating content.

The anatomy of a great About You page

McGraw Hill used a great ad – the Man in the Chair ad – in the 1950s that showed a grumpy looking man sitting in a chair. Next to the image are a number of sentences, the gist of which is that he doesn’t know what you do, who you are, who you have worked for. The final sentence asks what it is you want to sell him.

The essence of this story is that you need to build up to the sale by educating the prospect about you, your business and your credentials.

Your About You page will help with this if it answers the main questions someone asks:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Where are you based?
  4. Why do they need you?
  5. When can they get in touch?
  6. How can you help them?