• Many organizations that implement sales asset management (SAM) technology achieve some level of benefits, but over one-third still cite content findability as a top challenge
  • To maximize the benefits of SAM technology, sales enablement practitioners need a realistic understanding of how reps spend their time and prefer to engage technology
  • Sales asset creation and curation must align to specific selling motions and be informed by the behavior and preferences of top-performing reps as they interact with buyers

SiriusDecisions Summit 2019, which will be held at the Austin Convention Center on May 5-8, is a must-attend event for sales, marketing and product leaders who drive growth and innovation in high-performing B2B organizations. I spoke recently with Heather Cole to get a preview of one of the topics she will cover at Summit, entitled “Sales Asset Management and the Productivity Promise: Are We There Yet?

Your session title for Summit suggests that some organizations are not achieving the productivity gains they expected from their investments in sales asset management (SAM) technology.

That is correct. Our recent study shows that companies that invest in this technology experience a failure at some point in their journey to meet expectations for what they needed or wanted to have happen. And this usually occurs within the first year – and sometimes within the first 90 days. They set these high expectations when they create a business case and ask for this relatively large investment. They are often changing their processes to accommodate the way the technology supports assets, so they must drive significant change to maximize the investment. Many organizations underestimate the effort and alignment it takes to realize these benefits. Our study showed that SAM adopters logically expected some very basic benefits such as improved content findability, but that remained a top challenge for some organizations.

Sales Rep Talking on the PhoneThese investments in SAM technology create the expectations and promises that things will change and be better, in terms of the findability and usability and effectiveness of sales content assets. And when they are not immediately better, or when the perception by reps is that nothing is substantially better for them, it creates a level of disappointment that can become very problematic very soon after the SAM system is deployed. Without sales team engagement early and often, it becomes an uphill battle.

What are some of the symptoms or perceptions that can occur?

Even though the SAM solution almost always shows some benefits, the content usability expectations are not being fully realized in many cases. The company is still not getting the type of usage and impact of sales content that it expects. There is rogue content being developed and used by sales reps. There is still poor visibility into how content is being altered, and the effectiveness of the content is not being accurately measured. So you still have many of the same problems you had before you purchased and implemented the technology, but with a much heftier price tag.

The cause of this disappointment is an overestimate of what technology alone can do to solve the problems of sales asset findability, usability and measurement. While automation is a necessary element, organizations also need to focus on their internal processes and the sales assets themselves, as well as adopt realistic expectations that align with their overall tech stack and culture.

Has this disillusionment been severe enough to slow down the adoption of SAM technology?

Not really, because people know that sales asset management needs better automation. I have never seen an organization rip out a SAM system and put their assets back on a file-sharing platform or intranet. Don’t get me wrong – there is a good news story here as well. We analyzed a laundry list of benefits associated with SAM technology adoption and found a list of 10 benefits that consistently meet or exceeded expectations. But over half of them were more geared toward content creator needs, not rep productivity.

Even if adopters are disappointed with the initial results that they experience, they will put up with it or reconfigure it, or consider switching to a different SAM vendor. But whether a different vendor will truly be better is a different story – SAM buyers need to take a hard look at their processes, practices and selling environment. Our study clearly showed us that the unrealized expectations clearly point to poor rep engagement and content process. Technology cannot make your content better by itself, and reps’ adoption does not happen on its own.

You mentioned that organizations need to change their internal processes to achieve the full benefits of a SAM system. What specific changes are required?

One of the biggest problems is engaging the reps to actually use the system. Eight of the top 10 technology challenges indicated by SAM adopters were caused by or a result of the lack of seller adoption and ongoing engagement with the SAM platform.

One common misstep is assuming rep behavior change. If you create content for sales to use and your expectation of reps is that they work in their sales force automation (SFA) platform all day long, you might then decide to buy a SAM solution that delivers content through that SFA platform. But then you discover that reps don’t really live in that system. That is what you wish would happen, it may even be a mandate, but in actuality reps spend time in many other places, such as their email and calendar platforms. They often don’t even go into the SFA platform to create an opportunity or update information until they know for sure that a deal is going to progress or close.

So there are some inherent flaws in the thought process around pushing content to the reps through the SFA system. Because if the reps aren’t engaging – not only engaging with content, but engaging with the platforms where you expect them to be when you expect them to be there – everything falls apart. Essentially you are thrown back to the initial problems you were trying to solve, which are findability and usability of content.

The result is that both SAM vendors and buyers are starting to reconsider the value of integrating the solutions into their SFA platform, even though this connection is critical for pushing content to the rep at the time of need and measuring content impact by attaching it to an opportunity. Organizations implementing SAM solutions need to take a careful look at the realities of their own operational environment. They must set their expectations accordingly, and adjust their processes. And most importantly, they must deploy these solutions in such a way that will maximize the likelihood that sellers will actually engage and gain the intended productivity benefits.

However, SFA integration pales in comparison to the crisis of content we see in many organizations. Finding content is only part of the problem – it has to be the right content to drive deals forward.

Why is content a bigger problem?

If you don’t have the right assets that actually help sellers sell, no technology will fix that on its own. The technology can help with findability, but it will not magically make content better. In other words, do the reps find the assets valuable to support their interactions? If they don’t, it stands to reason that it is not resonating with buyers either.

If you have massive gaps in your sales content and you invest in a SAM system, you are still going to have gaps in the content until you accurately assess what reps find useful. Whether you’re just putting everything onto a portal, or making it a highly functioning guided-selling experience, you need a deep understanding of the selling motion. Yes, you can have a better view of how existing assets are used, but this does little to expose gaps. It’s very important to talk to successful reps and ask how they actually execute. What has worked for them? What is their go-to content that they use over and over again in various situations? And what do the buyers find valuable? Being able to see if a buyer viewed content is an interesting data point, but a rep can tell you if the message in that content is resonating with those buyers.

Our focus at Summit will include insight from our study findings, which focus on the state of sales asset management processes and challenges and productivity benefits organizations have realized from their SAM investments. We will also discuss the various approaches organizations can take to increase those benefits. Tech integrations and content workflow are critical, but ultimately sales engagement requires that your sales assets – and indeed your entire sales enablement program – be tailored to how your reps actually work and what resources they need to sell more effectively.