News 5 minutes, 36 second read Grant Leboff, CEO, stickymarketing.com
Like members of a rock band who have fallen out but stay together because they are unable to make it as solo artists, sales and marketing functions have a relationship of co-dependency.
Yet, while they need each other to fulfil their joint aim of acquiring and retaining customers, it is quite usual, and well documented, that they often don’t get along.
One of the reasons for this is that the distinct and different roles that sales and marketing encompass are not understood by many practitioners, or the ‘C’ Suite responsible for running the business. With similar objectives, and functions that are often not delineated properly, for example – whose responsibility is lead generation? – friction exists regardless of whether sales and marketing departments are trying to ensure that they receive credit for results achieved, or are apportioning blame when business is not going so well.
Sales, or ‘personal selling’, to give it the precise description, is a marketing channel. While a company has a plethora of mediums by which it can communicate with customers, such as newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, billboards, social media, websites etc., human beings are one possible route to market.
Personal selling is usually required when a customer perceives that there is a fair degree of risk to making a bad decision. They, therefore, want the comfort of speaking – or even meeting – with a human being before they make a purchase. In the consumer world we don’t make acquaintance with salespeople in the aisles of supermarkets trying to close us for toilet paper, soft drinks or toothpaste, which are relatively low cost – and low risk – purchases. However, consumers often want to engage with salespeople when purchasing bigger ticket items such as cars, homes or expensive holidays, such as a cruise.
In the business world, where more expensive products and services are bought frequently, and where anything from a software platform to I.T maintenance, and legal services to training can be seen as core to a company’s success, then trust has to be earned, confidence won and reassurance provided. This usually requires some level of human interaction.
Marketing is brand-to-person
While sales is person-to-person communications, marketing, in this context, is brand-to-person communications. In the consumer world, where the vast array of purchases are made without human interaction, brand communications has always been valued. Conversely, for many organisations in the business-to-business environment, sales activity has often been the key driver of success. This is because there are a multitude of companies that will not be able to sell their offerings without some level of interpersonal communication.
Before the world wide web, buyer journeys in the business world were sales led. With no retail stores, or access to other information, buyers might initially request a company brochure. They would subsequently need to speak with a person to understand more about a company and the scope of its offering. With salespeople also generating leads for themselves through mechanisms such as cold calls, networking and visiting exhibitions, brand communications seemed like an expensive luxury to many small and medium-sized businesses with no direct way of understanding how this investment might contribute to their bottom line.
When marketing played a supporting role
Consequently, the vast majority of companies working in the business-to-business world were sales-led organisations with a marketing function that often played a mere support role to the sales team. This often involved nothing more than collating some promotional collateral and looking after business cards and letterheads. In more recent times, it may also have required looking after the website and some cursory posts on social media channels.
The tide though is beginning to turn. The web is now maturing, digital is ubiquitous in all aspects of our lives and demographic changes are resulting in digital natives becoming increasingly responsible for company budgets and purchases. The consequence is that buying journeys are migrating online. This results in two fundamental changes.
Firstly, years ago buyers in the business-to-business world revealed themselves very early in a purchase journey and required salespeople to guide them through. Today, this is not the case.
Investing more in marketing today
An increasing number of prospects are going through the majority of the buying journey anonymously, before making contact with possible suppliers much later in the day. As was always the case in the consumer world, brand communications are becoming ever more important in ensuring that a business is in the buying set of a prospect. Suddenly, sales-led organisations are going to have to invest more in marketing activities if they are not to miss out on an increasing amount of the available business.
Secondly, whereas sales and marketing departments were often quite separate, and their activities did not obviously impinge on one another in the daily running of the business, it now needs to be more joined up.
Marketers are having to use brand communications to take buyers further through the purchase journey, by building awareness in the right channels and generating content such as articles, videos, webinars, white papers and e-books etc.
Historically, it is salespeople who often had a better understanding of these journeys and they still have customer insights from personal interactions that can be really useful to the marketing team if this knowledge is shared.
Meanwhile, salespeople have always had to be where their customers are. Increasingly this is online. Therefore, salespeople are having to use social media and create their own content, or utilise material generated by marketing departments. They no longer only require great interpersonal skills but need to utilise some of the techniques used by brand communicators, a skillset marketers have always possessed. Salespeople now require a greater level of marketing support than perhaps they once did.
Avoiding a confused customer experience
Today, prospects may well visit a salesperson’s LinkedIn profile, jump from that to a company website, engage with some content and then send a message to another salesperson within the company. Without the communications from both sales and marketing departments being joined up, the customer experience will end up being confused and incoherent and could result in a potential buyer going elsewhere.
While it has always been preferable for Sales and Marketing teams to work together, communicate regularly, ensure there is strategic alignment and define the roles that each will undertake, changing buyer journeys are now making this an imperative. The companies that can’t integrate these two distinct disciplines into a meaningful customer experience will find themselves missing out to those organisations that can accomplish this objective. For those businesses that get this right, there is a huge opportunity.