Think the sales force ‘doesn't get it'? Chances are, you don't get it.

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Four years ago, there was a big wall between the sales and marketing organizations at my company. We would sit in our corporate office, look out at our sales team and say, “They just don’t get it.”

Then I had an opportunity to spend some time in the field. Talking to one of our more outspoken sales reps, I asked him what he thought about the marketing department. Without even thinking, he said, “You guys just don’t get it.”

I’m sure this story sounds familiar. The field thinks corporate doesn’t get it. Corporate thinks the field doesn’t get it. 

Well, at least we agree on something.

The thing is, both sides are probably right to some extent. People sitting in a corporate office really can’t understand the day-to-day pain a sales rep has to endure. Similarly, a sales rep working independently out in the field probably has little understanding of the bureaucratic complexities in a corporate office.

As a b-to-b marketer, I view the sales force as my client. One of my key responsibilities is to provide them with the tools they need to be successful. So if my client thinks I “don’t get it,” then I have a big problem. 

Our b-to-b marketing team set out on a journey to “get it." We got out of the office and started spending a lot of time in the field. We went on sales ride-alongs, attended local sales meetings and listened to our sales reps and their customers. We immersed ourselves in the sales organization.

And you know what? We actually started to get it. Our marketing materials got better and started to reflect the issues that we saw in the field. And, as we tracked the adoption of those new marketing materials by our sales reps, we saw that the usage dramatically increased.

Then we took it a step further. We formed a sales advisory board and brought 10 of our best reps to our corporate office for a three-day work session. The result? A complete overhaul of all our marketing materials to make them more relevant and more useful for the field.  These new marketing materials were built for the sales force, by the sales force.

Now our sales advisory board meets every quarter, and we continue to develop new and innovative ways to support the sales force, together. We also have a little fun along the way.  Recent advisory board events have featured skee ball, karaoke and helicopter tours of Atlanta. Our advisory board has actually become quite the status symbol for the sales force. One of the most common questions I get from the sales force is, “How can I get on that advisory board?”

The best part of “getting it” is that we’ve seen a link between enhancement in our marketing support and the overall performance of the sales organization. In the past four years, revenue is way up, customer satisfaction is at an all-time high and customer churn is at an all-time low. I’m not going to suggest that marketing gets all the credit for that.  But let’s just say it’s a nice coincidence.

The lesson? Stop complaining and start collaborating. To be successful, sales and marketing need to work together. Marketing needs to listen, to understand what the sales force needs.  And the sales force needs to get more involved with what goes on at headquarters and help the marketing folks understand what they need to be successful. We all have skin in this game.

At a recent sales meeting, I gave a presentation on our marketing support for the sales force in 2011. Guess what happened?  A standing ovation. After the meeting, the same rep who told me four years ago, “You don’t get it,” approached me. He patted me on the back and said, “Hey, you’re finally starting to get it!  It’s about time.”  Well, no one said perceptions were easy to change. But we’re getting there.

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