Getting sales and marketing on the same team

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There has long been a critical, crippling disconnect between the marketing and sales functions in many b-to-b businesses. In b-to-b, the activities of marketing are primarily focused on facilitating and equipping salespeople—whether directly or indirectly—to be successful in finding and closing business. Yet therein lies the problem. Neither marketing nor sales thinks this interface is working particularly well.

Marketing thinks that salespeople ignore corporate branding and positioning standards in a rush to close sales, that they underutilize the leads and sales collateral that marketing provides, and that they are always asking for ad hoc, "my case is special," support. Sales responds that corporate messages and generic sales collateral aren’t helpful in closing orders, that the leads that marketing provides aren’t qualified and that marketing is generally unresponsive.

The result of this dysfunction is that in many companies, as much as 80% of marketing expenditures on lead generation and sales collateral are wasted—ignored as irrelevant and unhelpful by sales. Furthermore, 40 to 60 hours of a typical salesperson’s month are taken up by re-creating, often badly, the sales-ready, customer-relevant collateral that marketing should have generated in the first place.

Another upshot of this dysfunction is that, particularly in weak economic times, b-to-b marketing budgets and staffing get slashed. If marketing does not show how it affects the bottom line, it "gets no respect" and becomes expendable—as has been demonstrated by the dramatic retrenchment in marketing expenditures in many b-to-b firms over the past 18 months.

B-to-b marketers must face the fact that up to 70% of final customer brand images and preferences are established by sales. If they want to increase their effectiveness and impact in driving revenues in b-to-b firms, they must learn to be more effective in equipping and supporting the sales process. In particular, they must cost-effectively generate qualified leads and develop sales-ready, customer-relevant sales support and training materials.

Better lead generation is an issue of enhancing sales efficiency—getting salespeople in front of the right people. B-to-b marketers can become more effective at generating qualified leads by first working with sales to arrive at a consensus concerning what differentiates qualified from unqualified prospects, and then by adopting best practices and campaign management technologies for generating, sorting and managing leads.

Secondly, firms must rethink how marketing, in particular, can be more successful in using process and technology to improve sales effectiveness—that is, to improve the quality of each sales interaction. Although there are many aspects of the sales effectiveness challenge, from marketing’s perspective, the issue is how to drive customer messaging through the sales channel so that salespeople are empowered and the brand is sustained and enhanced.

The first step is for marketing and sales to collaborate in developing a compelling go-to-market message template, or "message map," that shows how a company’s value propositions, customer success stories and product/solution features relate to each specific selling situation—that is, to each customer business requirement and competitive situation.

Every customer communication or messaging effort initiated by marketing or sales—ranging from requests for proposals (RFPs) and sales proposals to sales training and marketing campaign content management—must be subordinated to this message map.

Companies that fail to achieve and enforce conformance to something like a message map inevitably present many inconsistent messages to the market. Investments in improved technology do not help much in this case—technology only makes the delivery of bad messaging more efficient.

However, once a consistent go-to-market messaging strategy is in place and agreed to by both marketing and sales, technology investments can make a tremendous difference.

Effectiveness tools

Aberdeen research suggests that a best practices approach to customer message management and deploying the supporting marketing and sales effectiveness technology will encompass five interrelated steps:

n Work on processes first. Lay out processes for gathering the voice of the field. Establish a consensus message map. Organize marketing efforts and sales assets around the message map.

n Organize static assets. Increase field access to relevant assets, including static information and collateral; organize around segments, markets, competitors and business requirements. Relevant delivery technologies include content management, portal tools, search engine technology and digital asset management.

n Provide improved sales coaching. Hasten the rate at which new salespeople come up to speed and current salespeople learn about new products. Track their knowledge acquisition and competence.

n Provide dynamic, customized sales support. Examples include a real-time update of presentation content, automated assembly of content into sales materials and real-time collaborative selling support.

n Continually measure performance against marketing and sales’ joint objectives. This improves collaboration, sales effectiveness and brand message management.

The bottom line

The marketing/sales divide in b-to-b firms is a quiet disease leading to a tremendous waste of marketing effort and expenditures, inconsistent customer messaging, poor or delayed sales readiness, fewer sales calls and less effective selling dialogues. The bottom line? Higher costs, lower revenues and shrinking margins.

Both marketing and sales must acknowledge the problems and commit to resolve them. Marketers must invite sales to the table to reach a consensus regarding what constitutes a useful lead and the message map.

Next, adequate technology must be deployed to organize static and dynamic information and sales assets around the message map, make it readily accessible to the field, better coach and monitor sales’ understanding and use of the information, and empower the actual selling process in real time.

Together with better lead generation and distribution processes, these steps have the potential to dramatically revolutionize the relationship between marketing and sales in b-to-b firms.

Harry Watkins, Ph.D., is research director, Aberdeen Group, Boston Mass. He can be reached at [email protected]

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