Here’s what Irwin Hipsman, Brainshark’s Customer Community Director, said in Antwerp recently: “Research has shown that American companies spend 25 percent of their sales and marketing budget on content production and distribution. We’re not quite at this stage in Western Europe yet, but perhaps we should be preparing ourselves for an enormous tidal wave of content marketing linked to CRM and marketing automation software. The challenge is two-fold; not just to create more relevant multimedia content, but also to ensure we continue to manage all produced content properly.”

Hipsman wasn’t exaggerating when he referred to the CRM situation ten years ago: either you didn’t have CRM software at the time, or it was a mess. It’s easy to compare this with today’s situation: either you don’t have a content strategy yet, or it’s a mess.

Ten years ago there was no talk of centralised management of prospects, leads, opportunities, customers and former customers, and this had lots of consequences. Now we are seeing the same thing in another area of sales and marketing: product documentation and recent or old PowerPoint presentations are used haphazardly; all social media activity stops if individual employees stop using it; new customers and contacts have to wait an age before starting to receive the newsletter; local marketing departments avoid using the international website because it takes too long to change anything; each department keeps its own separate record of visitors to client events. And so the list goes on.

Just like all sales information has to be recorded in CRM software, so does all information about marketing communication activities. There’s no operational reason for not doing it; with a vast range of add-ons available for all major CRM packages. We also think the planning is relatively easy to resolve: select the client’s purchasing situation and willingness to buy as a reference point, and let sales and marketing communication work together in harmony.

The more CRM and marketing automation is integrated in organisations, the more important content management becomes. Various employees creating content here and there will eventually lead to problems. So what’s the challenge? To standardise content and its associated workflow. Hipsman concluded that in order to achieve this, you have to start by setting up a ‘content department’.

PS: Brainshark’s Irwin Hipsman came to speak with us and Marketo at a LeadFabric event. We then met him again at his hotel and got him in front of the camera.

Today’s buyer, Buyer 2.0, wants services from suppliers that are as low risk as possible with proven profitability. In most cases they’ve already worked out and documented in detail what they think they need beforehand. This doesn’t just mean that selling has become more expensive; it also means you have less influence over your client.

To start with, your marketing communication has to be appealing and flawless. Buyers want to inform themselves, so they need to be able to find background information about you quickly via all possible channels. They’ll probably look for your reference clients, comparative product information, confirmation of their decision-making criteria, or a better understanding of the impact your solution will have.

B2B companies are meeting this demand with content marketing and producing more and more resources to help them answer each of these specific questions. These answers are then distributed through traditional channels as well as online, e.g. videos, webinars, blogs and social media.

You also need a well-trained sales team. Kris Verheye from Belgacom, one of the speakers at our Corporate Performance event and boss to 200 account managers, said about these tasks: “A salesperson is a guide who together with the customer seeks to provide maximum value from the purchase, justification of the budget, and the most suitable project supervision. He also leads a virtual team that has to ensure the right resources are used at the right times internally.”

This salesperson profile is miles away from the archetypal salesperson and the people who make promises (“you’ll see, that’ll be fine, you don’t need to worry, because we are the biggest, we have the most experience”) still employed by many companies. The new salesperson profile also costs more. That’s fine, modern B2B salespeople know they have to be versatile and that comes at a price.

You can recuperate this greater marketing and sales cost by and increasing your price and your chances of success. Kris Verheye adds: “We win more tenders than before by being more selective and by increasing the entire organization’s view of existing deals. We document potential deals better and share this information with more people so that we have more ideas for adding value and differentiation to our approach.”

Another important aspect, finally, is that everyone who collaborates on preparing the deals also speaks the same language. This is only possible if all departments use a shared method which is also supported in the reporting. “It allows us to harmonize each individual’s internal activities with the customer’s willingness to buy. This has an important effect on our internal operation so we work much more efficiently on the right things,” add Kris Verheye.

This article is part of a series of articles created following our Corporate Performance event on sales effectiveness. You can more articles and videos here.


An average buyer has already completed 57% of their buying process when they first make personal contact with a salesperson. Buyers select potential suppliers partly based on information they find online (as Kris Verheye explained to Belgacom earlier in this blog). So you can count yourself lucky if you even make the Request for Proposal shortlist. And if the sales team is systematically discounting your handful of leads (86% of leads are not followed up by sales), you definitely have a problem.

So with buyers looking en masse for online information, it’s best to just keep pumping out online adverts, isn’t it? “But what was the click-through rate on your last banner campaign?” asked our client Tom De Baere from Newtec at this month’s Business Meets IT seminar on marketing automation. “If you’re very lucky you’ll hit 1%.”

So we need a more intelligent and focused approach in the battle for prospective clients. De Baere: “You start by giving them free content to make them aware how to tackle a certain problem. In a second phase you ask for contact details and content to explain how they can resolve this problem. Then you ask for specific information about the recipient and try to facilitate them throughout their buying cycle.”

But if you don’t listen to your buyers to get the information you’re looking for at the right time, your message will never get through, no matter how many times you try to explain it or how profitable it might be. De Baere: “How are your emails going to be opened? How are you going to reach potential clients who have so far remained inaccessible? Content marketing only makes sense if you link your content to the buyer’s position in the procurement process. Systems such as marketing automation software make this possible.”

The Return on Investment (ROI) follows on from the conversation about converting leads into sales and your average return per sale. This is how Newtec calculated that their marketing has to generate just 15 extra qualified leads for their investment on marketing automation to be earned back. “Change management, a clear vision and a good internal implementation process are at least as important here,” says Tom De Baere.

lead FU in perspective

Thanks to a more intelligent marketing process, monitored and measured by marketing automation, Tom De Baere can now present marketing qualified leads and prove how much he is contributing to the business. Good lead scoring ensures that the sales team almost only ever produce sale-ready leads.

Relevant content marketing led to an increase of over 16% in Newtec visitors in 2012, and there’s also an 11% increase this year (for comparison: in previous years the online number of visitors increased by 2%). A marketing process designed to meet the needs of a prospective client’s buying process and marketing automation management software resulted in 12% more contacts in 2013.

Marketing automation also needs relevant content to be able to function properly. Lots of companies get stuck here because they leave everything up to the marketing department. But it’s every employee’s responsibility to advise buyers. Everyone’s a salesperson, and everyone’s a marketer.