Assessing the sales/marketing divide

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Among marketing's most time- and money-consuming duties is developing collateral for sales reps. Marketers carefully devise the campaigns and branding, and print and distribute brochures, white papers, best practices studies, features lists and pitch letters—all to assist sales in selling.

And sales? Well, sales mostly ignores it all.

In fact, salespeople's most time-consuming duty is identical to marketing's: Devising their own brochures, pitch letters, follow-up notes and features lists. It's a duplication of effort that epitomizes the abiding disconnect between marketing and sales departments.

"We think this particular marketing activity--the building of messaging, putting it into tool kits and delivering it to the field--is a broken process," said Tim Riesterer, CEO of messaging consultancy CMM Group. "Sales feels it doesn't have the right stuff at the moment of truth in the sales cycle, and with good reason, because marketing tends to build stuff based on a marcom checklist."

Riesterer said this disconnect ultimately is harmful to the sales process.

Sales teams the difference

"Differentiation in competitive markets is everyone's biggest concern, but the question is, `What is the biggest point of differentiation?' [The differentiation] is usually the sales force, because it has face-to-face contact with the customer. Thus, if we lack the ability to create proper messaging for sales, it will have a significantly negative impact on the bottom line."

It is generally agreed that too many salespeople spend too much time out of the field cobbling together?poorly, at that?their own presentations. In addition to analyzing the amount of time sales devotes to nonselling activities, metrics can reveal the proportion of marketing materials that go unused, and the percentage of sales reps that try to develop their own messaging.

A 2004 study by the CMO Council showed that as much as 40% of a typical sales rep's time is spent in creating presentations, customizing messaging and preparing for pitches. Naturally gifted salespeople tend to succeed despite this; everyone else performs below potential.

"This impacts sales' productivity, which is their time and energy preparing to go into the field, compared with the results they get from that preparation," said Joe Galvin, VP-research director at Sirius Decisions, a best-practices consultancy. "The question is, what's the more productive task?putting together another presentation or thinking about the business challenges and how your solution can help?"

Gaining control of the messaging process also can improve marketing's accountability for the dollars assigned to it. In addition to helping demonstrate that the cost of developing collateral materials is not wasted, proper messaging can improve such key metrics as average deal size, win rate and sales cycle length, according to analysts.

"Does the seller know, when he talks about a product, that a related service might be very relevant?" asked John Aiello, CEO of Savo Group, maker of software that automates the delivery of tailored customer messages. "He would, if marketing provided the appropriate collateral when it counts in the sales cycle. When you put customer messages against metrics such as average deal size, the measurement becomes clear."

Realignment-driven changes

TeamQuest, a software company serving corporate IT departments, recently reorganized its sales teams around industries. The new verticality of the sales process made it obvious to management that better-tailored messages were in order. In addition, the realignment was a golden opportunity to cure its marketing-sales integration woes.

"Before we overhauled our customer messaging, marketing would start campaigns and throw them over the wall to sales," said Jennifer Merfeld, TeamQuest's director of marketing communications. "We had no idea if sales was picking up on the campaigns and using consistent messages. It was like a black hole."

TeamQuest used CMM Group to analyze its messaging processes, and together with sales created new collateral. Distribution and customization was improved with a new intranet portal, allowing salespeople to input data on customer needs and business drivers, then download the proper collateral and slide presentations tailored to specific customers and their pain points.

The system was launched in January. By April, TeamQuest identified the first sale closed via the new messaging system, a deal eight times the company average and finalized in one-third the length of a typical sales cycle, Merfeld said. She also said customer feedback about the better solutions-based orientation of TeamQuest proposals has been very positive.

Measuring overall effectiveness of improved customer message management shouldn't be difficult because of the activities that can be linked to it. A study by consultancy CSO Insights identified companies that described themselves as "worldclass" in terms of consistent customer messages provided effectively to sales, and with collateral driven by market segments and customer needs.

As a group, the "worldclass" companies outpaced other firms in quota achievement by 25%; had win rates that were 20% higher; were three times more successful in proposal closing; and five times better at eliminating excessive discounting.

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