Marketing Monday: Does your marketing plan work with your sales process?

Marketing means many things to many people, but the traditional definition generally includes what products you’re selling at what price, in what place and with what promotions.

Depending on your business, you might translate that to anything from what your slogan and logo are to what kinds of brochure or website you use to communicate with customers and prospects.

However you think of marketing, the ultimate goal is likely to make more sales.

Unfortunately, in organizations big enough to have separate sales and marketing operations, they often don’t see eye to eye.

A recent post on the Sales & Marketing Effectiveness Blog said:

You know the saying “plays well with others”?  Well, a study by the Corporate Executive Board found that Sales and Marketing don’t.  In fact, they say 87% of the terms Marketing and Sales use when describing each other are negative.  You read that right.  Almost 9 out of 10 times, we talk bad about the other guys.  Pretty amazing when you consider we both play for the same team.

Sales often thinks Marketing doesn’t understand how the customer buys.  Marketing thinks salespeople don’t understand the customers’ problems.  Unfortunately, everyone is usually right.

To test this, I asked a few friends who’ve been in sales for years to tell me what’s essential for success in sales.

Every single answer I got was customer focused — things like asking good questions, listening to the customer’s needs, understanding the customer’s timing so you make your pitch at the right time in their planning or budget process.

Not a single answer even mentioned prettier brochures, a better email newsletter template or many of the other things we marketers spend a lot of time pondering.

That doesn’t mean salespeople don’t appreciate professional product materials or that they don’t want good content available on an attractive company website. But in my unscientific study, the sales professionals I talked to thought of the customer first and everything else was in support of that relationship.

My suggestion if you’re trying to improve your marketing: remember that you and sales have the same goal. You both want to help the cash register ring.

Sit in on a sales call to see how that conversation happens. Ask a sales colleague what objections or questions he most commonly hears. Do whatever it takes to understand why your customers do or don’t buy.

Do your marketing efforts address what your company’s customers and prospects seem to care most about?

Meanwhile, pay attention to how the traditional sales process might be changing and look for ways marketing might need to shift to stay in sync.

For example, in a Harvard Business Review article, “The End of Solution Sales, ” co-written by my business school classmate Brent Adamson at the Corporate Executive Board, Brent and his coauthors wrote:

Under the conventional solution-selling method that has prevailed since the 1980s, salespeople are trained to align a solution with an acknowledged customer need and demonstrate why it is better than the competition’s. This translates into a very practical approach: A rep begins by identifying customers who recognize a problem that the supplier can solve, and gives priority to those who are ready to
act. Then, by asking questions, she surfaces a “hook” that enables her to attach her company’s solution to that problem. Part and parcel of this approach is
her ability to find and nurture somebody within the customer organization—an advocate, or coach—who can help her navigate the company and drive the
deal to completion.
But customers have radically departed from the old ways of buying, and sales leaders are increasingly finding that their staffs are relegated to price-driven
bake-offs. One CSO at a high-tech organization told us, “Our customers are coming to the table armed to the teeth with a deep understanding of their problem and a well-scoped RFP for a solution. It’s turning many of our sales conversations into fulfillment conversations.” Reps must learn to engage customers much earlier, well before customers fully understand their own needs. In many ways, this is
a strategy as old as sales itself: To win a deal, you’ve got to get ahead of the RFP. But our research shows that although that’s more important than ever, it’s
no longer sufficient.
What does that mean for marketing? Maybe it means a greater focus on helping prospects name their problem, rather than on extolling the virtues of your solution.
Just as my friends the salespeople try to listen to their customers to make more sales, it’s probably a good idea for marketing and sales to listen to each other to achieve increased profits.
Colleen Newvine Tebeau is a former reporter and editor who then earned her MBA at University of Michigan with emphases in marketing and corporate strategy.  She is a marketing consultant who helps small and midsized organizations with strategy and tactics, including social media and communications.
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