The Twin Pillars of Profit: Sales and Marketing

Twin Pillars of Profit Sales and MarketingIn many companies, sales and marketing often find themselves on opposite sides of a strategic discussion, with each believing they are the most important component to getting product into the hands of customers. Marketing believes sales are prima donnas who spend their days wining and dining customers on the golf course. Sales believes marketing is expensive, can’t be measured, and slows the process of closing a sale. What an unfortunate and completely unnecessary battle. A battle loved by competitors who have learned the secret to successful sales and marketing alignment.

Which is more important, sales driven marketing or marketing-driven sales? Having been on each side of this equation, I would argue the answer is that both are equally important. Your marketing organization must understand the sales process and create strategies and plans to enable the sales team to be successful. The sales team must accept that marketing is delivering programs to drive both top and bottom line growth. If sales and marketing don’t work in concert with each other, the resulting ROI will be far less impressive.

In my career, I have found the best marketers to be those with sales experience, who understand how to create marketing programs and content to effectively communicate messages that compel action. In contrast, the most effective sales people are those who truly understand the value of marketing and take the initiative to bring the customer perspective to the company’s marketing efforts.

In a paper titled “Want a Happy Customer? Coordinate Sales and Marketing,“ Benson Shapiro the Malcom P. McNair professor of marketing at Emeritus at Harvard Business School stated “Nowhere is the need to work together more important than in the twin customer-facing functions of marketing and sales. Sales and marketing look similar at a distance … But, when you get near the functions, you begin to understand the differences and to appreciate the challenge of coordinating and integrating them for improved operating performance and outstanding financial performance.” He goes on to say, “If marketing and sales do not cooperate, the company’s strategy will be inconsistent and weak; and execution will be flawed and inefficient.”

So, how do we boost sales and marketing alignment and turn them into twin pillars of profitability? Sales and marketing share the common goal of driving business, but they view this goal from different perspectives. The first step is to understand those differences.

SALES AND MARKETING ALIGNMENT

Marketing has a long-term, broad market, strategic viewpoint and is charged with making the company and products viable for the future. The marketing team is about developing the best products at the best price, and communicating the right messages to the right target audience. They are focused on reaching as many prospects as possible at the same time. Marketing is concerned with driving brand awareness to build credibility for the company and its products. In marketing terms, this is the pull effort designed to draw customers to your brand, your products, and your sales teams in order to drive demand. A goal to develop clever messaging, or being too focused on product features versus how your solutions meet customer needs, will miss the mark in bringing potential customers into the funnel.

The sales team is the face of the company to your customer base. They are on the front lines of driving business and as such are critical to success. Strong sales people aspire to be fighter pilots who move at the speed of sound, hate to lose, and want to get the job done. They are typically near-term, results driven individuals, which can lead to some of the challenges found in a completely sales driven organization.

Sales is concerned with promoting individual awareness in order to build personal credibility with customers. The sales team participates on the push side to drive products through the channel and into the hands of customers. If the goal to hit a top line revenue number is the sole motivating force of the sales team, there is danger this short-term focus will come at the expense of profit margin.

An additional danger is from deep discounts used to achieve immediate sales that inadvertently signal to customers that your products are of inferior quality. This is a perception with potential long-term detrimental impact, and one difficult to overcome.

At the core level if the sales person is the pilot, the marketing organization should be the navigator, providing directional guidance.

OPEN COMMUNICATION IN THE WORKPLACE

The second step to effective sales and marketing alignment is to establish a clear communication channel between your sales and marketing organizations. I am amazed at how many companies silo their sales and marketing teams so much that they rarely talk other than to place blame for missed revenue goals.

Years ago when I was launching a new product at Intel I established a field product team that consisted of field sales and application engineers who dealt directly with our customer base. The purpose of the FPT was to make sure we were developing the product and designing messages to address real and specific customer needs. I had seen all too often the product strategy of, “Build it and they will come” and I wanted to change the paradigm. I used a phased approach with initial meetings focused on product definition to make sure we were developing and delivering a product the customer actually wanted.

Phase 2 covered recommendations on the best ways to market the products to the target customers. The sales teams understood the customers’ thought processes and purchase criteria better than any factory team, and we used this information to design our marketing strategy, messaging, and collaterals for maximum effect.

It is my opinion the FPT should be a mandatory component of every product development effort. Not only will companies develop better products by having direct customer input by way of the field, but the sales team will be more motivated to sell the product because they feel a part of the process. To me this is the best example of sales driven marketing.

The sales and marketing relationship has changed, and will continue to change over time. Technological advances will bring new opportunities and challenges to sales and marketing alignment. Marketing automation tools will provide the opportunity to better identify and nurture high quality warm leads, saving the sales teams time in the sales process. If your marketing department does an effective job in providing potential customers with the right information, they will contribute to the close in significant ways.

The Corporate Executive Board Company conducted a survey stating that B2B buyers are “57 percent of the way through the purchase decision before engaging a sales rep.” This highlights just how important marketing nurturing is to the ultimate sales close. The challenge will be to make sure the technical link between sales and marketing is designed to provide two-way communication to avoid losing critical customer data.

Forbes Insight and Turn jointly conducted a global survey of more than 300 US marketing executives and found that, “Marketers proactive in leveraging data-driven marketing were three times more likely to achieve competitive advantage in customer engagement/loyalty (74 percent vs. 24 percent) and almost three times more likely to have increased revenues (55 percent vs. 20 percent).” To me, this demonstrates a measureable positive ROI for marketing spend, and a strong argument to your sales team on the value of marketing.

Companies who learn how to maximize their sales and marketing alignment will reap untold benefits with more efficient and effective marketing, shortened sales cycles, and higher revenue and margin. Having the right B2B marketing partner who understands the sales organization and process will contribute to both top and bottom line growth, and can lessen tensions between your sales and marketing organizations.

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