Have you ever seen your content manager at work? He or she is hunched over the keyboard, pounding out your latest great content piece, or on the phone cajoling a freelancer to get something turned in that’s overdue. Or maybe the content manager is begging someone for budget, or frantically emailing the head of sales for front-line input into what kind of content is needed.

All that hard work! Busy, busy, busy! And, if your sales enablement strategy isn’t a good one, all to little effect. If the manager’s boss sees that — despite the effort and the investment — the needle hasn’t moved, that hard-working content manager could be getting a pink slip.

The problem isn’t the content manager. There are a lot of them out there working their keisters off to create content. The problem is what happens after that content is created.

Content's Use By Date

Many companies have substandard strategies for sales enablement. In other words, they have implemented no structure or system for getting the right content in sales’ hands when sales needs it. According to Sirius Decisions, 60 to 70 percent of all content sits unused, and the real numbers can be even higher. In one example cited on Sirius Decisions’ blog technology provider CDW shared that a recent project to consolidate three sales portals into one revealed that 93 percent of all content produced or stored in the portals went unused.

CDW’s content team was clearly working its fingers to the bone — but for what? Content for many is a rapidly-perishable commodity: it stays fresh as long as it’s fresh in sales’ minds. Once it slips from the forefront, it’s as if it didn’t exist. And when a need arises for similar content a few weeks or months later, the team might end up creating a new version of the same content. 

If you’re lucky, your content manager has a good memory and the time to recall before you embark on redundant content creation. If not, you’re paying to have the same material written again and again.

The Not-So-Secret Ingredient to Sales Enablement

Instead of pursuing an ad hoc, short-attention-span approach, smart companies put an enablement strategy in place that emphasizes structure. Structure is the not-so-secret ingredient that makes sales enablement work. It allows sales reps to find what they need fast. It’s like the organization of shelves in the library, where things are grouped in a sensible way so they can be located quickly. However it often goes ignored until the structure problem begins to crush the ROI of other enablement investments.

The rush toward creating more content is an example of this. Content is visible and thus easy to justify when developing a budget. It can be responsive to tactical demands from sales. And it’s something that’s reasonably easy to affect change around: just allocate the budget, bring in the staff and get them to work on white papers, reports, videos and podcasts. 

That’s great — unless sales can’t find it when it’s needed. 

Then it’s just busy work — and expensive busy work at that. At $600 per content item, if a company with 2,000 content items has 70 percent of them unused, that's a waste of $840,000 per year on unused content. That wasted content also competes for attention with high-value content. When it comes to sales, more content is not always “more.”

Other companies have swung the other way, toward a focus on delivery. In other words, they’ve shifted focus toward devices and technologies to encourage adoption. Again, these are great things, but without paying attention to structure they’ll only end up frustrating the sales force faster.

Clean Out the Dead Wood

To its credit, CDW went through the exercise of implementing a structure, which helped it understand the effectiveness of its content generation efforts. It managed to archive about 70 percent of its 3500-plus content items to bring the best content to the fore. In cases like this, there’s a good chance that some extremely helpful content has been submerged in the system and was simply inaccessible to sales staff because of issues of structure.

Once you address the structure issue, things start to fall into place. First, you can revisit the numbers around content. Is 60-70 percent going unused because it’s not good, or because it’s hard to locate? Once you make it readily accessible, you can make a real evaluation, and it may be that you can reduce spending on content after seeing the true numbers about your existing content’s effectiveness. You can certainly cull the dead wood, and you can use scoring to promote content that’s proven to work. And you can increase the amount of time sales spends selling by slashing the average of 20 to 40 hours sale reps spend searching for and creating content from scratch.

Next, your delivery and adoption issues will be improved. If you’ve nailed the structure, usage both on desktops and mobile devices should climb, exactly because adoption rates will be up. Again, you’ll have a better view of the performance of your now-unfettered content and you can make decisions based on reality. You can also take this to the next level — if your enablement structure is sound, you can shift from sales finding content to content finding sales when sales needs it most.

But until you tackle the structure problem, you have no way to get the right content in to sales’ hands when they need it, and you have no realistic way to evaluate that content. And with no way to evaluate the effectiveness of your content, a sword hangs over your content manager’s head — which is no way to reward someone for their hard work.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  CarbonNYC [in SF!]