Savvy salespeople know that the “always be closing” approach is a thing of the past. Consumers now call the shots, and pushy salespeople can no longer dupe this hyper-connected audience.

Still, many marketers haven’t fully graduated from the ABC mentality and continue to push their solutions on potential clients. But this solutions-oriented approach puts pressure on prospects and overlooks the most important phase of the sales cycle: discovery.

Prospects need the right education to understand overarching industry trends before they can recognize a problem or even realize that they need a solution. Failing to nurture leads through the initial discovery phase is a sales team’s most costly mistake.

Fortunately, you can use content to build mutually beneficial, relationship-based sales opportunities (no pushiness required). By starting meaningful conversations, building trust, and educating your audience, you can put yesterday’s stale sales tactics to rest and start closing more nurtured leads.

Refocus Your Sales Process Around Discovery

Prospects engage with a brand at least eight times before making a sale, though some studies suggest more. You have ample opportunities to teach prospects and help them understand their needs before offering your service as the solution. Content that speaks to your prospects’ needs guides them through the consideration stage and ultimately leads them to choose your company come purchase time.

Here’s how you can use content to put the emphasis back on discovery:

1) Educate yourself first.

In the mad dash to differentiate yourself, it’s common to focus on your solutions, your products or services, and your strengths. But the sales process isn’t about you; it’s about your customers. Step one of the sales process is discovery, and your dialogue needs to begin from a place of education. Ask questions in sales calls, and allow prospects to educate you before you educate them.

2) Uncover what prospects need to know.

Review your prospects’ FAQs, and map out potential articles that could answer their questions and supplement various stages of the sales cycle. Whether it’s about competitive products or services, ROI, or your process, think about and plan for these potential hurdles. This will yield a wealth of content topics your internal content team or an external agency can tackle. Even a small arsenal of 10 to 15 articles will arm you with the persuasive content you need to educate prospects and shorten the sales cycle.

3) Collaborate with Marketing.

Before you can leverage content in the sales cycle, you need to listen to prospects and let the marketing team in on their objections. Use inbound marketing software to learn what blog content your prospects have and have not seen. Selling is an interactive and collaborative process. If you understand your prospects’ individual situations and levels of knowledge, you can speak to them.

For example, at Influence & Co., some prospects ask for short-term engagement with us. But thought leadership isn’t a quick fix and requires a long-term strategy. To set effective expectations, we developed content that explains how content creation elevates brand perception, adds value, and positions them as thought leaders over time as a result of consistent content placement. If we don’t help prospects understand the underlying strategy around what we do, they’ll never become satisfied customers. A successful inbound campaign takes time, and we illustrate the “why” through content that’s rich in statistics and examples.

4) Adopt the drip campaign mindset.

In this automation-heavy marketing world, some inbound leads are mistakenly enrolled into generic email campaigns that simply promote the solution. But inbound software can now customize workflows based on visitors’ behavior. Salespeople need to adopt this line of thinking, too.

Effective drip campaigns focus on listening, discovery, and education. Referencing the right content at the right time on a call can boost conversions and shrink the sales cycle. Customer-oriented content isn’t just a lead nurturing asset reserved for marketing automation; it should support your outbound sales efforts, too.

5) House your content on a public portfolio.

Sales reps don’t have the time required to sift through blog posts, find the perfect articles, and walk prospects through every step of their journey to purchase. To make content more accessible for your whole sales team, you need to organize it in a public portfolio such as Pocket or Google Docs. Add tags with keywords so reps can locate content relevant to their prospects’ questions in an instant.

Getting your marketing and sales teams to use this approach may take some encouragement. Explain how content can simplify the sales process and arm the sales team to overcome potential objections and breed understanding.

The more truly relevant content you share with prospects, the more informed and comfortable they’ll be to make a purchase. You need content to support each step of the sales process so your sales team can tackle objections and guide prospects to the right solution. By delivering the right information that educates rather than sells your solution, you can start forging more meaningful and lucrative relationships.

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