Organizations are in a constant tug-of-war: providing the most relevant training and tools necessary for sales reps to be successful, all the while trying to continually pack their pipeline with viable leads and new business.

But in today's sales landscape, where 60-90% of sales training knowledge is lost in the first 30 days of training and 80% of marketing-created content goes unused by sales teams, it's time for organizations to reconsider their tactics if they want to improve sales performance and productivity across the board.

Here are five steps you as a marketer can take to address today's sales-force performance and productivity challenges and get the most out of your sales team right away.

Step 1: Identify content needs

Find the problems and gaps with your current training and sales content, including determining what content is missing or outdated, as well as identifying issues with your content creation process.

Here's how to do that effectively:

  • Survey sales managers and reps, using an online survey to find out what they think of current content and what additional content they think could assist them.
  • Identify sales reps' gaps in skills, knowledge, and processes with short online quizzes. Conduct an audit of sales content to make sure you have the content that's relevant to each of your buyer personas for each stage of your buyer cycle.
  • Give each content piece a grade based on the seven attributes of effective sales content: engaging, actionable, reusable, trackable, findable, responsive, and targeted.
  • Interview content creators. Talk to writers, graphic designers, instructional designers, and others who build your sales content and training materials, as well as the subject-matter experts involved.
  • Map your current content model. Document your existing process for creating content, including details on how you organize and deliver content. Identify inefficiencies and gaps in the process.

Armed with the resulting information, meet with your main stakeholders (see next step) to get agreement on this new approach to sales support—and to develop realistic, measurable goals and milestones for the year.

Step 2: Select the team

To get corporate-wide support for your strategy and the collaboration needed for each of your sales content initiatives, create a center of excellence with representatives from various functional areas, including the sales enablement, corporate learning, content marketing, product marketing, graphic design, customer support, and HR teams.

The members of this center of excellence do not have to meet often, but they should have input into the sales content strategy, goals, processes, and technology decisions. In fact, they should help establish goals and a phased action plan based on your findings and recommendations from Step 1.

This team should also help come up with content and sales training standards to ensure that your content is consistent with corporate branding and messaging. Team members would also be responsible for communicating any important developments and promoting sales enablement to each of their respective functional areas.

Step 3: Establish the methodology

To establish an effective methodology for your new sales support program, follow these five key steps:

  1. Identify content gaps, then agree on a timeline and plan to fill those gaps.
  2. Create a collaborative content creation process for administering and maintaining a team of editors, subject matter experts, and content creators and contributors.
  3. Organize and manage content in libraries with categories and tags. Content should be easily found and accessed by the right people at the right time in the sales cycle. Accordingly, you need to establish naming conventions, categorize and tag content, and determine user access levels and groups.
  4. Create a content delivery and measurement system via a clear delivery architecture. Use technology (see Step 4) and processes to effectively distribute content and track usage. When this process is in place, you can correlate consumption of sales content with sales performance, from an individual and a group perspective.
  5. Apply resources to manage the program and support users. Assign a content manager to ensure that effective content is built and delivered on time and on budget, and a program manager to administer and optimize the support system on an ongoing basis.

Step 4: Select a platform

Once you've agreed on the methodology, you can make a decision on what technology you'll use to organize, distribute, and track usage of your content. The platform should also have the capabilities needed for your content creators and your subject matter experts to collaborate effectively and follow their workflow processes.

Key features to keep in mind when evaluating platforms are ease of use, compatibility with multiple content formats, mobile-readiness, adaptability, and cost-effectiveness.

After evaluation and selection, develop an implementation plan and set up milestones for deployment, as well as training sessions for all users and stakeholders.

Encourage and monitor adoption of the technology and take action quickly if adoption rates are falling short.

Step 5: Build and manage a content ecosystem

With your process, team, and platform in place, begin implementing your sales support system. Follow a content publishing process for best results:

  1. Build: Create content so that it's engaging for a time-constrained, short-attention-span world. If high production values are not needed for a particular piece, build it quickly rather than delaying until you have visual perfection.
  2. Organize: Manage content in libraries, with categories and tags matching your sales methodology, including relevant personas, target industries, geos, and stages of the buyer cycle.
  3. Distribute: Deliver using your technology platform. Promote your content (via your platform, internal social media, emails, during live presentations, etc.).
  4. Track: Use the analytics tools in your technology platform to monitor usage, sales compliance, and training certification; and, where possible, determine what content led to higher rates of sales success.
  5. Optimize: Use the results of your reports, input from reps and content strategy team, and periodic audits to continually improve your content and processes.

* * *

Once this five-step plan is in place, remember to revisit the process periodically, since it consists of continual production along with regular audits, reorganization, content categorization and content update and creation.

You will be well on your way to improving sales force productivity so your team can close more deals.

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image of Marc McNamara

Marc McNamara is the chief content strategist at The Value Shift, which delivers effective sales content, training programs, and tools. He specializes in helping B2B sales and marketing organizations craft the right content and engineer critical processes for productivity.

LinkedIn: Marc McNamara

Twitter: @mcnamara_marc

image of Brian Cleary

Brian Cleary is the chief strategy officer at bigtincan, a mobile content enablement company. He is responsible for setting the technology road map, leading product and corporate marketing initiatives, and developing strategic technology partnerships and field leadership strategies.

LinkedIn: Brian Cleary