“I’m not sure what we do from a marketing perspective—our marketing team handles that. I’m in sales, and my job is to connect with my prospects in whatever way I can.”
How many marketers have heard those lines from your sales team, and how many sales professionals have been the ones to say them? Personally, I’ve heard it from friends in the sales world, and genuinely I feel bad for them. That kind of thinking puts an unnecessary amount of pressure on you as a salesperson to go create business on your own, and it horribly undervalues what marketing does for the organization.
To be clear: marketing is a value center, not a cost center. The most effective businesses don’t view their sales and marketing teams as two separate groups; they see them as two sides of the same coin, and work to align them around a consistent go-to-market message.
Why does it matter whether sales and marketing say the same thing?
It’s a fair question. Your sales team is certainly going to be interacting more, as well as more intimately, with your prospects than any single marketing message. So, why is message alignment important?
Simply put: brand consistency.
As buyers become more and more capable of self-educating (and brands become better at providing content that answers their questions), the amount of the buying process they have completed when they talk to the sales team only grows. In fact, some numbers report that the buyer has completed 70% of their normal journey when they end up talking to a sales team member—a number that’s only going up in the future.
Imagine being a buyer, consuming tons of information on the website, learning all about the product or service you’re buying, and starting to consider how it will fit into your life to improve the pain you’re feeling—then you talk to the sales team and get a completely different message. It leads to confusion. When we’re confused as buyers, we start trying to rationalize and systematically evaluate our buying decisions. It slows down the choice and leads to nothing but paralysis by analysis.
Should sales or marketing control the message?
Trick question: the answer is both sales and marketing have to play a role. It is most likely the case that your marketing team knows the important information that needs to be put in front of your target audience. The marketing team is also uniquely qualified to own the visual expression of the brand, control the marketing channels for the company, and produce the content needed to fill those channels. On the flip side, the sales team is talking to prospects all day, every day. They are the ones hearing in real time whether the message supplied by marketing is working or falling on deaf ears. The sales team is also constantly fielding questions from prospects—what are they confused about? What stops the buying process? Why do people choose to work with the company? What about those who say no?
In a way, this relationship is much like a team’s coach and players.
The marketing department is like the coach. They watch from the sidelines and take in a macro view of what is happening. What is the competition doing that is beating your team? Are the strategies that are being used effective? What needs to change?
The sales team is on the front lines getting unique perspective into what is truly making an impact—they’re the players on the field. The impact of the strategy (message) laid out by the coach (marketing team) is immediately felt by the players. They know if it needs to change, what is actually finding success, and who on the other side is the biggest threat to their success. Perhaps most importantly, when they lose, they know why.
Just like in sports where a coach and his or her players must collaborate together to adjust the strategy, the marketing and sales teams in any organization need to be in constant contact in order to make a cohesive and effective go-to-market strategy take shape.
Aligning marketing and sales is no different than any other relationship.
If you want to communicate effectively with someone, it helps to actually practice the communication. One of the biggest mistakes made in organizations is separating the sales and marketing teams from one another. It might happen because the two departments are led by two different people, and those people don’t have (or refuse to make) the time to collaborate. It might happen because in your company culture, sales is constantly asking marketing for sales collateral and support, but doesn’t give them the time or space needed to develop a sound message and system for bringing in new business.
Remember, I sit in the sales seat at Element Three—and even I recognize how this can happen.
Every relationship is about give and take, but mostly it is about collaboration and good communication. In order to have this, a few things need to be in place:
1. Consistent, weekly communication between marketing and sales
This can be a weekly meeting with full teams, or if you have a large team on both sides it can come via leadership alignment
2. Combined scorecards
Keeping metrics in silos means team members will work to make the numbers that match their job title look good, potentially without thinking about how these metrics are impacting the bigger picture. Get to a point where you’re reporting on marketing and sales metrics together. It will naturally force sales and marketing to recognize how they fit together.
3. Systems for feedback
Those questions from prospects and customers that the sales team hears that I mentioned before? They don’t do any good stuck in salespeople’s brains. Create a system where the sales team is talking to marketing about their conversations—what from the marketing message is being mentioned in the sales call? Which work cases are most valuable? What are prospects consistently confused about? All of this is valuable, primary research about your buyer that the marketing team can use to refine the go-to-market message.
A well-oiled marketing and sales machine drives consistent demand.
This is more relevant now than any time in the past decade, as COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across industries. Recently, HubSpot released a study detailing just how significantly the pandemic has impacted their users. The results weren’t great. Fortunately, our team saw significantly higher results. In fact, in the sales and marketing scorecard we report on weekly, we hit our highest metrics of the entire year two weeks into the nationwide shutdown.
While there are many reasons for this (including a rock-solid account team that continues to deliver amazing success stories for us to tell to the marketplace), it is at least in part due to years of work aligning sales and marketing, and bringing a consistent, differentiated brand to the market. As Harvard Business Review reports in the often-cited article on how to market in a recession, strong brands are the ones who make it out of economic downturns with the fewest bumps and bruises. It’s important to have the two departments—marketing and sales—aligned on the same message and giving the market the same experience in order to build your strongest brand and find success regardless of market conditions.
“Whatever you are, be a good one.” This advice has served Joe well as he’s worn many hats throughout his career – from college soccer player to marketing expert to Business Development Manager. He’s passionate about using big ideas to build mutually beneficial partnerships, because “to help yourself is to help others.”
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