How (and why) to build a content-driven B2B sales funnel

Synthesis Consulting Group
synthesis-consulting
11 min readAug 11, 2020

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Working closely with cross-functional teams, we witnessed many cases where relationships between Sales and Marketing turned sour.

Nobody in the organization wants these functions to be on bad terms, including (and especially) the Sales and Marketing teams themselves. Yet a lack of alignment and of truly cross-functional goals and initiatives often ends up in a breakdown of partnerships, or, in the very least — in organizational inefficiencies that harm results and lead to bigger workloads.

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at what causes these misalignments and, more importantly, how you ensure that marketing content optimally supports sales to convert leads.

A successful relationship between Sales and Marketing should result in a higher quality leads as well as better lead conversion. The reality, however, tends to be less benign.

A common mistake is companies underestimating the complexity of their sales journeys. This is especially the case in B2B sales where both digital and live interactions are involved — but often not aligned. Organisations tend to neglect the possibility of employing brand content and digital tools to help progress leads along the sales journey, and to supplement live meetings.

Common Scenario 1: When Marketing content and Sales interactions are not connected at all

When Marketing content and Sales interactions are not connected at all

A cringeworthy but not at all rare scenario: A potential customer is approached by a sales person and has come across the exact same offering on digital channels earlier. Yet the potential customer fails to understand it’s the same company or even the same product.

This sounds like it shouldn’t happen. But it does. More often than you’d think. And why? Because of a complete misalignment between Sales and Marketing. The very same company, product, or service is portrayed differently on different channels — with conflicting sales narratives, disconnected content, or even with different messaging.

When two teams both create their own messaging and narratives, they certainly both mean well, but the lack of alignment betwen them harms the sales journey and lowers conversion. When digital and live communication don’t cross-reference each other or aren’t aligned, what the customer will see is two different offerings under the same brand — one communicated by marketing, and one sold by a sales team.

Common Scenario 2: When fragmented marketing content ignores the complexity of sales journeys

When fragmented marketing content ignores the complexity of sales journeys

Slightly less cringeworthy, but not less harmful for sales performance: Marketing provides supportive content to be used in live sales interactions. But it fails to have impact, because it’s too fragmented and doesn’t take the complexity of the sales process into account.

Sales teams experience an array of complex challenges everyday. Juggling different customer-side stakeholder interests, dealing with quick changes of interest and shifting primary needs, all the way to justifying an offer against other providers. It’s crucial for sales representatives to have appropriate and useful tools that both justify a product need — and address purchase barriers.

Why marketing content and sales interactions need to be aligned?

A well alligned Sales and Marketing efforts should result in a higher quality leads as well as better lead conversion

Both scenarios underline how often organisations lack alignment and synergy between digital marketing content and physical sales interactions. The numbers speak for themselves: According to a Hubspot study, organisations lose a whopping $1 trillion a year from this disconnect. The list of problems ranges from decreased sales performance and productivity to wasted marketing efforts. The lack of alignment causes parallel and hence double internal efforts and investment. And last but not least it leads to unsuccessful conversions due to inconsistency in the sales process across different channels. A problem worth solving? We think so.

How to build a consistent sales journey across different channels and teams

To align the knowledge and expertise of both marketing and sales teams, and to ensure their efforts are successful, it’s crucial that content is created from the point of view of a potential customer.

By looking at the sales journey through the customer’s eyes, we’re able to understand the essential questions he or she has in mind during different stages, and to respond adequately — allowing the customer to smoothly move towards the purchase decision.

On average, a customer can have anywhere from 8 to 20 different interactions with both live sales representatives and digital channels during a period of 4 weeks to 18 months before making a final decision. It’s therefore crucial to design a sales process which would seamlessly answer our buyer’s needs and worries along the way.

From a customer’s viewpoint, we’re able to create content along five main competitive positions or “five fits”, as we like to call it. These five fits are based on the essential questions a customer has in mind. They determine whether they’ll will choose you — or your competitor. Each of the five fits has its own dedicated tools and content, allowing it to build affinity between the buying and the selling organisations. Designing content around these five fits allows to cater for any B2B sales journey.

The Five Fits Framework

01 Category Fit

Customer question: Did I come to the right place?

Requirement: Do we reflect the market and its developments in both our digital channels and our live interactions?

02 Company Fit

Customer question: Do they serve companies like mine?

Requirement: Do we show enough proof that we understand our customers?

03 Position Fit

Customer question: Is this designed to help solve the problems people in my function or position have?

Requirement: Do we make clear that we’re able to help our customers with their challenges?

04 Solution Fit

Customer question: Does this solve the problems I have?

Requirement: Does our solution have a suitable feature set to fulfil customer’s needs?

05 Offering Fit

Customer question: Are the conditions of the product or service delivery satisfactory and competitive?

Requirement: Do we know the position/performance of our product in the market, and are we sure our terms are competitive?

A 5Fs Framework created by us, Synthesis Consulting Group

How the Five Fits Framework differs from traditional sales funnels

In the traditional approach, sales and marketing content are tackled separately — often using different terms, concepts, and frameworks that lead teams to approach the same challenge from different angles: Sales materials are developed, and marketing content is produced on top of that.

Instead of complementing and rounding off each other, marketing and sales materials end up competing for the same customers’ attention — sometimes to the extent of sending contradicting messages describing the same product or service.

The result of implementing this framework is a major shift. It allows digital content, live interactions, and sales materials to finally complement each other in a way that supports the sales journey at every step.

In practical terms

Whenever sales representatives need an additional tool or proof to support their argumentation, they can simply refer to digital web content at the appropriate sales journey stage. And they can reinforce that content with takeaway sales materials that are built around the exact same idea and message.

As for the marketing teams — whenever they need to come up with ideas and content for the website or other channels, they already know what specific informational needs, barriers, and motivators the materials should address. The closer synchronisation with sales gives marketing a powerful new tool to create the perfect content, and embeds this content firmly in the sales journey.

And the process of creating materials becomes easier, too. First, you define the content that caters to the specific customer’s sales journey stage and informational needs. Then you adapt this content for two different formats: Digital web content as well as internal and external sales materials.

Content needs for each step of the Five Fits Framework

01 Category Fit

Do we reflect the market and its developments in both our digital channels and our live interactions?

To prove the Category Fit, we need to bring potential customers to the conclusion that we understand their industry and its developments inside out. A powerful way to prove an understanding of the industry we operate in is through original and opinionated research — such as industry trend articles, reports, whitepapers, insight articles, and guides.

This may seem like it requires huge effort and time investment. However, such content is usually built around one central piece of research which is then spread out and re-used across different content formats over a long period of time. This helps to diversity content to appeal to a variety of different decision makers within customers’ organizations.

A good example of this type of content is the Elevate Security Learning hub which focuses on both: Highlighting and explaining their industry’s biggest challenges in their “insight” section, as well as providing potential solutions and trends in the “influences” section.

Elevate Security’s Learning Hub

02 Company Fit

Do we show enough proof that we understand our customers?

Most sales meetings at some point lead to the question whether we have worked with similar companies. The goal of Company Fit is to showcase and prove that we know the exact segment of an industry the potential customers operates in. This can be done with segment-specific content in a commonly used format, portrayed in case studies or reflected through different use cases.

A good example for proving both industry and company fit comes from Tetra Pak: They built an engaging content funnel, leading potential customers from a very light content format with industry trend snippets all the way to a slightly heavier one, namely category-specific case studies. Those in turn pave the way to what is both most valuable for readers, and most demanding in terms of effort and interest: Gated content with in-depth knowledge reports.

Tetra Pak’s engaging content funnel

Content is presented around the concept of gradually increasing engagement: The further the reader goes, the more invested he/she is, which gives a a clear ‘high quality’ lead signal to the sales team.

03 Position Fit

Do we make clear that we’re able to help our customers with their challenges?

Most sales processes involve numerous touchpoints with different roles inside the potential customer’s organisation. This is why it’s crucial to prove also Position Fit. The goal is to emphasize how the offering is suited for the person’s role, and to clarify reasons why it should be this exact person who brings the offering into the organisation. If, for example, our product is designed to be used by HR, then HR is definitely a stakeholder in the purchase decision process. We should therefore think about what kind of assistance, tools, or content we can provide for HR that would be of instant value.

Try demonstrating product/service benefits in relation to a specific role. Personalised tools and frameworks (e.g. actionable audit tools or tests) are of high relevance for a narrow audience group, and instantly prove that the selling organisation understands function-specific needs.

A good example of for this approach is Pinpoint, a software development company which provides potential customers with a free tool to measure the efficiency of their recruitment process. The tool provides both instant value — and also acts as a means to get internal buy-in.

Pinpoint’s free tool designed for HRs

04 Solution Fit

Does our solution have a suitable feature set to fulfil customer’s needs?

Proving Solution Fit requires to indicate how your product/service helps a customer with jobs to be done and challenges faced. We need to convince a potential customer that this addresses their use case with benefits they would personally find valuable. This is usually done by giving an option to try a service for free, or by providing free product samples or demos, but also by describing product functionality and value in detail, giving out summaries feature lists and showcasing the product/service in use.

Juno, a one-stop-shop of services relevant to working adults, is a great example how they suit different possible use cases. They publish a showcase of their product with stories of how people adapted the product to their needs. The sheer number of possible use cases is tremendous, yet they found a solution to showcase a majority of them by letting users spread the word, displaying their first-hand experience. In this case, this approach to case studies also relates to the brand’s positioning and stresses the main feature — which happens to be personalization.

Juno demonstrates their service in use

05 Offering fit

Do we know the position/performance of our product in the market, and are we sure our terms are competitive?

If we successfully convinced a potential customer on all the points above, we are now at the point where barriers and concerns arise — just before signing the final agreement. The potential customer at this stage wants to figure out if there really are no better alternatives, and whether this is the best possible solution in practise. Proving the Offering Fit is the time and place to set competitive traps and show how the product/service will bring real value to the customer — by specifying the outcome of using it.

What’s the best way to do this? Invest into getting data and information required to build extensive, outcome-focused case studies. Build them. One well built case study highlighting ROI, can be the decisive factor in any sales journey — but it does require investment.

To make sure you have what you need to build strong, ROI oriented case studies, incentivize your sales team and incentivize your customers. The sales team can get extra remuneration for obtaining permission and data from a customer. And the customer can receive a discount or a free month of using your service in exchange for content and the permission to use their credentials or testimonials.

What makes a compelling case study? Pinpoint once again leads the way by providing very thorough customer success stories. Starting from customers’ initial goals and the problems they were aiming to solve — all the way to a detailed and specific showcase of the impact Pinpoint made to the organisation. With just one case study, many concerns and barriers are addressed with convincing (and true!) real-life examples. Those can be used during sales meetings to light-heartedly respond to questions, and they also provide materials for a potential customer to dig into independently on digital channels.

Pinpoint’s leads the way by presenting exhaustive case studies

The Key Take-Out

By carefully aligning marketing and sales with the Five Fits Framework, built around the potential customer’s perspectives, barriers, and motivators…

….you not only enrich live sales interactions with new tools and digital content…

…but also lead progress through the sales journey more smoothly… …which leads to improved conversion and in turn…

growth.

Getting started

  1. Map out initial perceptions (e.g. informational needs, motivators, barriers) of a potential buyer that need to be addressed for them to move smoothly along the sales journey and eventually make a purchase decision
  2. Think of tools and content that would help to convince a potential buyer that all Five Fits really do fit his or her case
  3. Check if your sales-related content supports multiple interactions and can be used in both digital channels and live sales meetings
  4. Make sure that your traditional sales tools formats (e.g. case studies) support your brand’s value proposition.

Feel free to share and test the Five Fit framework with your sales and marketing teams. We hope that this tool inspires you to collaborate in a more thoughtful way and create content which has a positive impact on your business.

Credits

Gailė Andriuškevičiūtė
Strategist at Synthesis

Andrius Grigorjevas
Partner at Synthesis, Head of Hypothesis

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Synthesis Consulting Group
synthesis-consulting

We align brand, product, and culture around one bold vision: Systematic business value development.