Marketers and Sales people are like siblings that have opposite outlooks in life. In essence they have the same DNA, but were raised with different influences in their lives. In my early career I started out in Marketing, then had a stint of about 6 years in Sales (within a Marketing environment) before transitioning back into Marketing full time. During this time I was able to observe both sides and the content of this post (and the reverse angle) is part of what I came away with.
Sales can learn a lot from Marketing (Sales people: before you start shouting, I also wrote a post about what Marketers can learn from Sales People). I hope this will serve to contrast, compare and perhaps even advise. Here are 9 thing Sales people can learn from Marketers:
1. Have a profession
Sales is one of the few pivotal areas of business that has no formalized academic, and very few practical, qualifications. Yet all companies in the world rely on Sales to secure revenue. Who has ever met a person with a degree in Sales? I’m not saying a degree is necessary to do well in your job, but it may help explain why the average sales person stays in their role (or even in Sales full stop) for shorter periods of time than other professions. Think about the impact this has on an organization, its ability to plan, grow and be consistent. Recruiters are on the front line and have recognized this. Some will now place young sales execs in a new company and also provide formal sales training over the course of the first 6-12 months of their tenure – all as part of the package. This ensures sales people succeed and stay for longer, which in turn allows their employers to grow and hire more sales execs.
2. Have specialists
Sales varies as much as any other job, yet often sales people are placed in the wrong specialism. This is partly due to the fact that the high-performers don’t change jobs often and there is a long tail of sales reps that are yet to become high-performers. At a very high level, the direct sales pitch is different to the channel sales pitch, but there are other specialisms such as product and solution selling, B2B and B2C, highly regulated vs unregulated, SMB vs Enterprise, transactional vs long-term, low value vs high-value – the list and all its permutations goes on and on. So why is there no concerted effort to allow anyone wanting to get into sales to either become a generalist or specialize before entering into the job market?
3. Recognise Marketers as your genuine partners – they make you look good
Ok, perhaps a slightly contentious title, but long gone are the days when Sales operated in isolation. Marketing forms the key support function for sales by providing leads through technology and a plethora of sources, ranging from simple website enquiries to nurtured leads with a large number of campaign touchpoints. Marketing knows that Sales is their internal client, after all that’s who they do the work for. On the flipside, however, I often see Sales teams who don’t understand or make use of the functions and services Marketing can provide. Granted, that could also be laid at the feet of Marketing for not shouting loudly enough about it, but if a sales rep can increase their pay package and benefit to the company by aligning more with their marketing team, there is a certain expectation to be proactive about it. Recent research has shown that 65% of customers self-educate before engaging with sales. That means that Marketing is taking care of the early stages of the sales cycle (awareness, preference-building etc). This is good news for Sales reps, but it also means that the onus is on Sales to close business with less time available to them.
4. Plan ahead (avoid waves)
Marketing plans will often cover several quarters, if not the full year ahead. Various elements of the plan build on each other with the goal to drive consistent lead flow, awareness and exposure. It is important that marketing communications build a consistent and persistent message for the recollection to be higher than other every-day marketing messaging your prospects are exposed to.
Now read the above sentence again and replace “Marketing” with “Sales” – makes sense, right? Yet, why do so many sales people come across the phenomenon of “waves” of business. A spurt of prospecting results in a wave of new opportunities and deals – typically towards the end of a quarter. Then the next quarter comes along and the pipeline is empty. Sales then spends more time prospecting – probably half the quarter, leaving them to try and close as much business as possible before the end of the next quarter. This doesn’t only lead to new “waves”, but also to a pressurized sales situation: pressure on the sales rep to close business and pressure on the prospect to sign the contract. Neither party benefits from this. The solution? Plan ahead, divide your time appropriately to allow for consistent prospecting and closing. It’s all about time-management and delegation, folks. Know how you can engage Marketing and other support functions to help you – re-read the previous bullet point, if you have to.
5. Be more structured and integrated
As marketers we communicate with many thousands of prospects at any given time, across various channels. Most people will have heard of multi-channel and integrated marketing. This is the exercise of adapting and transferring content and messaging for one marketing channel into others, e.g. online, offline, social, video, audio, radio, TV, print etc. Integrating a campaign or message across multiple outlets increases its impact, reach, recall and likelihood of success.
Yet Sales often uses only two or three channels (mostly phone, email and qualified face-to-face meetings). Sales have many more at their disposal, which are often ignored, e.g. social media, events, special interest groups, and personal networks. Not only can these be utilized to reach more prospects, but they also require a dedicated and structured approach. There may be some readers who think this impractical, a waste of time or simply impossible due to time constraints. But if you compare this to endless hours spent cold calling and emailing where there are low conversion rates, how does that compare to getting actual views, face-time and exposure via social media feeds, in-person encounters and exposure to potential prospects? It is a matter of making this type of structured multi-touch outreach and integral part of everyday prospecting. The more you do it, the more natural and effective it becomes.
6. Be more creative
Sales like to look on Marketers as spending their time choosing fonts, colour and pictures – I jest. I think my next point further down will prove that to be wrong. Ok, while I may be poking fun the point is that whether you are selling to marketers or not, a little creativity will go a long way in the sales process. And I am not only talking about pretty designs, but creativity in the prospecting and sales process itself. If you, as a sales person, use the same techniques everyone else does, how do you expect to stand out from the army of sales people contacting prospects every day? You won’t. Be creative in what you do, how you reach out to your prospects and how you follow-up. Prospects will remember you for it. I won’t give step by step instructions here, as every person, industry or product will have its own style, relevance and angle that will be appropriate only to them.
7. Adopt technology
Marketing has changed considerably over the past 10 years. The number of tech tools available to marketers does not only influence the go-to-market strategy, but also measurement, ROI and evaluation of programmes. In fact, it is thought that CMO’s spend will be higher than that of CIOs by 2017.
The same opportunities for adopting technology to increase productivity and improve results also exist for Sales. With the rise of SaaS solutions an increasing amount of tools are becoming available to the sales organization. These range from sales communication tools for email and phone (for example inside sales dialing solutions that integrate with your marketing automation tools), to data and prospecting tools such as reports, interview and evaluations of target organisations and individuals, and notification and appointment request/setting tools that integrate with CRM and marketing tools. All of these can be used directly by the sales organization, giving higher visibility and effectively piggy-backing on your company’s marketing activity.
8. Measure more
In the old days of marketing it was enough to know the size of the print run, number of hits or clicks, page impressions for banners and other anonymous data of the same ilk. We had to trust in these, because it was impossible to measure anything else. User data, company data, or behavioural data? Not so much. All that has changed. With CMOs set to spend more on tech than CIOs, as well as the pervasiveness of Big Data, the tools to measure all marketing activities are available to everyone. As a result, activities that are not measurable – with some exceptions – become less important. Marketers, by default, are increasingly becoming data analysts. The terms ‘Performance Marketing’, ‘ROI Marketing’ and ‘Revenue Marketing’ are only some of the indicators for this development.
Sales can also benefit from this approach. Most sales people are obviously measured on performance, pipeline, closed sales opportunities etc, but from my own experience many sales reps only measure what is asked of them. They are too busy finding and closing business to measure anything else. Yet, those sales reps that are most successful are the ones that measure their activity more deeply. This starts with their own activity. Keeping track of, and knowing, the quantity of sales outreach (number of calls, emails, leads, opportunities, deal age, account mapping, opportunity cost etc) will show sales people what needs to be done to be more successful than the rest. This is directly tied to persistence. If you know that on average it takes 6-8 contact attempts to get to the right person, you adjust your prospecting accordingly. This alone will make you more successful than most other sales reps. Measuring other activity and knowing at which points you hit the tipping point (and more importantly, at which point other sales reps give up) will give you a competitive advantage.
9. Be strategic and tactical
No marketing organisation can only run strategic campaigns or only tactical campaigns. There is room and need for both, as they complement each other and address different requirements, audiences and as a result have different impact on audiences. Clearly, a strategic approach is more high-level and fosters awareness, perception and positioning. While tactical campaigns have specific calls to action triggering interest and reactions for individual products, value-propositions and offers. Marketing will adjust its messaging, delivery, design and content according to which approach their campaign takes. This aids to get the desired response and results.
Sales teams can also benefit from this type of approach. It is vital to know what is effective during any given time of month, quarter or year; the sales cycle stage; the market maturity; the company’s brand perception in the market; or the stage of the product’s life cycle – to name but a few. Knowing which approach to take – or when to combine both strategic and tactical outreach – is crucial to maximising effect, results and success. For example, a sales person may need to create awareness within their target segment first and would use a strategic thought-leadership approach first to increase recall followed by a tactical outreach. You don’t want to put the cart before the horse, otherwise you’re not going to go anywhere. In practical terms, during the course of the sales cycle a sales person may want to create value for the prospect first before discussing features, functionality, volume and discount. Seems simple, but is often not adhered to.
So, what’s the conclusion? Marketing does a better job than Sales? No. But it is clear that Sales and Marketing functions are amalgamating whether by choice or forced by technology. Is it an easy process? No. The business DNA of sales and marketing people are inherently different and so are the tasks asked of them. At least until now. But whether you are involved in it or not, on a management and leadership level the responsibilities are converging. Those that lead the way and succeed with this convergence will see the results on their bottom line. The missing link was filled by technology, the question is: Will the human element will follow suit?
Make the first step in your alignment with Marketing and share this post, or its counter-view (What Marketing can learn from Sales), with your peers or counterparts. The time is now and the competition is not sleeping. Good luck.