LevelUp interview series part III: The evolving role of content with Stephen Diorio

Angela: ? Hey Stephen. So glad to see you. Thank you for joining us live. We are getting started a little bit late but are super excited to have you on today to talk about content and the evolving role of content as part of our LevelUp series.

You published a model recently—the 21st-century commercial model. Do you want to tell everybody a little bit about that and give us the elevator pitch?

Stephen: Sure, sure. I always enjoy talking with the smart people of RFPIO, particularly you Angela.

I’ve been at this sales and marketing transformation game for a long time. I wrote a book about it at the turn of the millennium. But progress has been slow. We’re still managing content and technology and data: Those are the three biggest-selling assets of the people in the 20th-century model.

The whole notion of a 21st-century model is: “Hey. You know we’ve got to move away from more of the publishing mindset or of a field sales mindset to one that is more data driven and accountable.”

It’s a major initiative. It takes a holistic look from the CEO down at the whole sales and marketing technology stack. Our whole focus is to get assets. And again, that’s going to be important to our conversation today.

Assets, which drive growth. Assets are really data, content, people, technology and what you probably call “digital selling infrastructure.” When we work with growth companies, they think they’re driving a Formula One race car. But in reality, if they’re firing on two or three cylinders, they’re probably winning the race.

I think there’s an enormous opportunity for every B2B organization to just focus on return on selling assets. Content is probably the biggest culprit. Assets are very rarely used well relative to their creation.

The work you’re doing is a big part of the answer to this paradigm.

Angela: It’s a fun week for RFPIO, for sure. ?

So, in the 21st-century model obviously things are changing. It’s all about outlining, what is changing and what organizations need.

This is a fantastic segue into my first question that I’m asking all of my guests this week, which is: Have you seen the role of content changing in B2B sales specifically over the past year or two?

Stephen: I’ve been following content for over a decade and, as you know, content has become more and more important. We’ve also seen the birth of digital asset management and sales enablement in terms of tools and technologies that help get that content to customer-facing, employees—namely in sales.

So you’ve got that secular growth in content as an important part of the sales process. In the last 12 months, as you pointed out, the obvious thing is virtual selling. Everybody’s become a virtual selling rep, whether you are a field sales rep or not.

Our research shows that content—specifically relevant, complete answers and personalized content—is the number one impediment cited by sales leaders that’s holding back their ability to sell online.

Also, the free form of media is a big part of the marketing mix, but it’s so overstated. It’s much smaller relative to branded content, proprietary content, sales, generated content, product content, etc.

I think people have to start really looking at that mix—that media has got a role, but it’s a much smaller role.

Then the counterpoint to that is adding up “what is content”? To think about social listening, product launches, messaging, SEO… you would be shocked at just what percentage of all your efforts are fueled by content. Content really is the gasoline here. ⛽

The other big thing is digital channels. We’re seeing contactless selling, voice-activated selling, etc. We need answers to all those questions. They’re only as good as the content inside of it. We have algorithms that say exactly what to say–if you have the content.

Content has always been critically important, but even more important in the digital world. COVID-19 was an accelerant. Looking at this secular decline in media, in parallel, the budgets are just going to the moon right now. ?

Angela: ? The investment in content is something that’s changing. Buyer expectations around content are changing. Personalization is a huge theme for us this week. How do you get personal with content? How do you do it at scale? How do you do it as a B2B organization and in sales?

So using that—and what we know is changing—how do you think that sales teams and organizations as a whole need to be preparing or acting fast to really be ready for the 21st-century model?

Stephen: ? The new “buying reality”, as Gartner likes to call it. This “new breed of customer”. For Millennials, speed matters, completeness matters, being multi-channel matters, compliance matters, and—as you said—personalization at scale.

We drew a pretty famous picture that said, “If you take a content asset, and it cost you five hundred dollars to create. You version it for couple of markets and then you version it for a couple industries, version it for channels, and personalize it… the costs go to the moon. ?”

You simply can’t write your way out of the problem. 1:1 personalization at scale is a huge focus coming out of the mouth of every senior growth leader that we talked about. And the answer is assembly, modularity, taxonomy, governance, and organization.

That’s the answer. You got to assemble your way out of this. Think about the notion of what RFPIO is good at… you assemble answers from different parts of the company—fresh content, the right content—into one form: the RFP response. But virtually every answer mimics that motion—a sales call, a question.

So all of a sudden, if I’m on our chat bot, it’s the same thing. If I’m on a sales call, if I’m answering an email… it’s the same. That whole notion of assembling assets into a bespoke, contextually relevant, complete answer is the entire selling motion right now. And that’s going to force us to get out of a 20th century mentality, which is all about “single source of truth” and publishing perishable fresh content built in silos. We’ve got to abandon that.

We’ve got to think about content:

  1. As an enterprise asset
  2. As an end-to-end process
  3. As delivered through all sorts of touchpoints, including sales, marketing and service, functionally, but also response management, voice-activated response, chat

The distribution of content—the ability to find it and delivered to all those channels is now critical in what we call the 21st century cluster model. And it’s going to take a complete mindset change. ?

The center of gravity is going to move away from content management and asset management and towards what we both call response management. That’s really a hub where a senior person—like yourself or a CMO—manages taxonomy, classification, compliance, approvals, organizations, quality control, planning, category, and asset management. Those are the control points.

The magic is going to be assembled into units that are completed and personalized and distributed through digital and human channels.

So that’s a whole mindset shift from the whole monolithic “single source of truth” where you write the content, dump it in there, then deliver it to just one person (the salesperson) because the website demands different content systems.

I think that’s a big challenge for organizations. Although the control point—the hub— is relatively thin. It’s a lot of what RFPIO does. So I think that’s my mindset. Moving from the 20th century to 21st century and response management is core to all that.

Angela: Shift in mindset—I definitely agree that organizations need to be shifting their mindset. If they haven’t already, they need to get after it.

But you said a couple of things that stand out, you said “shelf life” and you said “bespoke”. So when we think of traditional assets and asset management, they do have a shelf life. They have a limited time. They are depreciating assets.

You invest all this energy, time and money into building it and then it immediately starts to lose value. Kind of like driving a brand new car off the lot.

Whereas if we’re talking about the knowledge and the subject matter expertise. If THAT’S what is accessible to the entire organization. And people can actually assemble on demand and create bespoke content on a one-to-one basis. And you can actually find exactly what you’re looking for with a really good reason why it’s relevant to you… organizations can scale that. We can immediately take the boundaries off what was “building a library” and instead just make the knowledge accessible.

Moving back to sort of this notion of content as a strategic asset. You wrote an article recently in Forbes that caught my attention. I mean RFPIO and you have a great relationship and so we were happy to be an early recipient of that article.

But too often, you mentioned that assets are being managed as perishable inventory. Can you share a little bit more about that? And why do you see content as being a key part of strategy for organizations going forward?

Stephen: Absolutely. I think our big focus is to go into the board and say that content and data are your biggest assets. If you cannot put a value on them, you cannot manage them properly. It’s your job to identify those things.

The one notion is getting it to the CFO’s headset, the CEOs headset, and the leadership’s headset, and saying: This is your biggest selling asset.

It’s like Asset Management, inventory management, FIFO, LIFO, warehousing, all those types of things. That’s the mentality. We need to have it. It’s valuable. It’s an asset.

We put things on the shelves, we wrap them up. We can manage perishability by making good assets or nuggets or modules that are evergreen until the product gets updated. This notion of assembly and utilizing all of our assets is important. I think that the biggest metric is moving from “performance” to “Return on Asset”.

We need to start thinking of our expertise as an asset. And we need to leverage that across as many places for as long as possible.

That mindset shift to asset is everything. Modularity becomes critical, quality control, governance, inventory classification… the whole discipline changes.

Also where you put your resources. You said it best: We spend tons of money on garbage content marketing that is just overwhelming people and has no credibility.

The product managers, the subject matter experts, and the expertise inside your organization is the real thing clients are after and that has to get bottled. Video helps. Proposal response helps. That’s the good stuff. That’s the real asset of the organization. That should be elevated. Your focus on that expertise is critical.

Angela: ? That’s what value-based selling is. So many people are trying to shift to value-based selling, this is the apex to enable your team to do that.

Stephen: Everyone likes to talk about how complicated sales and marketing has gotten, what with 10,000 technologies in the stack. But this notion of assets and knowledge leveraging is simplifying. It makes things rational and it gets people focused on “what I need to manage”, versus all the little things.

Bottom line: The return on selling assets is phenomenally low in the content world. The bar is low and it’s pretty easy to lift it if you think that way.

Angela: ? ROA, is that going to be the next acronym that marketers and sales teams adopt? Return on Asset? We don’t need another acronym. ?

Stephen: I’m on the marketing accountability standards board. Our litmus test is: Can we prove the value of marketing to the board and the CFO? So we need to use that language.

But really, when you’re talking about assets and contribution from value and financial performance… smart things happen and teamwork happens. I think everybody in this growth game has to be connecting things to financial value in particular, because good things happen.

Angela: ? I think good things happen when you and I get together and have these kinds of conversations. I enjoy every single one of them. Thank you for being here! ?

People are hungry to keep the conversation going with you to explore that 21st-century model. Do you want to direct anybody to a certain place to connect with you or hear more about that model?

Stephen: Come to the Revenue Enablement Institute, we’re a bunch of nerds and professors. ? ?

You’ll see tons of case studies, voice of the customer from the CEOs and CROs of companies you know, it’s all out there in the public domain.

Angela: Awesome. Thank you, Stephen. Thank you for joining us for the LevelUp interview Series. Today, we spoke with Stephen Diorio, executive director, at the Revenue Enablement Institute. Join me tomorrow, as I speak with Matthew Volm, CEO and Co-Founder of Funnel.